Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The 'Confucian Model' of Developing Society

The third type of a moral or civilizational strategy I call the Confucian model. This Confucian model is not a dual model, as is the Brahman model. The Confucian model calls for only one elite, and an informal one at that. This elite is one of gentlemen, and what makes a gentleman is a state of mind, a noble state of mind. In the Brahmanic model, people who have clean hands absolve and guide those who have dirtier hands. A Confucian model places both ruler and ruled in civilized roles.
Confucius tried to improve society by developing and codifying civilized roles and role patterns. The main role is that of the gentleman, Khun-Tzu, the noble man, at home in the world, although he knows that the world is quite barbaric. He is a good host to his fellow humans. His main virtue is Jen: gentleness, humanity. A ‘nobleman’ is someone who cares, someone of ‘good will’, someone who thinks that trying to lead a good life makes a difference. A ‘common man’ in this sense is someone who lacks this conviction or this feeling, even without being of ill will. A ‘common man’ regards all this attention to gentleness and humanity as unimportant or even an illusion.
Confucius suggests to us how we may become noble. He gives precepts for how to behave like a noble person. Some precepts, such as the principle of the golden mean, are similar to the precepts of Aristotle. A noble person is neither cowardly nor rash, neither avaricious nor wasteful. A noble person strikes a balance between two extremes. A Confucian strategy gives responsible people a feasible model that fosters the ennoblement of the community and its citizens.
An excellent introduction to Confucianism is in Huston Smith’s The Religions of Man. One quotation:

‘Goodness, the gentleman, propriety, government by virtue, and the arts of peace - such were the values to which Confucius had given his heart. His entire life was lived under their spell. They then, together, were to comprise the content of deliberate tradition. Held before the individual from birth to death, they would furnish that ‘habitual vision of greatness’ which Whitehead has called the essence of all true education.’

Confucius formulated doctrines about right relationships between people, e.g., the right relationship between man and woman. His ideas on this subject are nearer to those of St. Paul than to those of modern feminists, but of course the content of such precepts is bound by time and culture. When Mohammed prescribed four wives as the maximum, he was only improving dramatically on existing conditions. For us here, the content of Confucius’ precepts is not important. Today he might have formulated the right behavior for people ‘living apart together’, the right relations between a homosexual minority and a heterosexual majority, the right approach to illegal immigrants, and so on.
Confucius showed the possibility of practical and efficient social systems and government, systems not based on egotism and exploitation, and being neither crude nor cruel. Aristotle held similar ideas. He compared a statesman who produces an orderly society to a potter who produces a good pot.
A basic consideration of Confucius, again as with Aristotle, is the relationship between rights and duties, between privileged positions and social responsibilities. Here too, Confucius believed that a balance should exist. Confucius strove for a society that would exist somewhere between tyrannical order and anarchistic chaos or, in Schiller’s terms, between Barbarei and Wildheit. Confucius wanted order, but he wanted it to be a human order. His is the saying: ‘A tyrannical regime is worse than a devouring tiger’. Charles Darwin wrote that the Chinese civilization is more of a model than any of the other world civilizations.
A Confucian strategy designs a social architecture of institutions and role patterns and gives these institutions and role patterns cultural or even spiritual significance. It humanizes by making roles and institutions more humane, and making them vessels of self-respect. The traditional sectors of our own society are already familiar with such ideas as ‘good government’, ‘a good housefather’, ‘good seamanship’ and ‘good business practice’. These ideas are part of the Confucian world of responsible, prudent people who consider one another not as individuals, but as good citizens who care about quality and civilization.
Confucian models imply stable relationships. Predictability is both a benefit and a cost in systems that strive for structural harmony. Because the Chinese state became strongly bureaucratic over the centuries, Confucianism became associated with bureaucracy. But the Confucian model is not bureaucratic.
Dutch sailing regulations include the statement that the captain of a ship has to do everything according to good seamanship, even in unregulated situations, even if good seamanship were to contradict these regulations. In the same sense, it is legitimate in war to do some illegitimate things. According to some, the same holds in love - hardly a Confucian activity since the eighteenth century.
The Confucian approach to good government is also relevant for large organizations: a good employee policy, a good organizational structure, systematic attention to quality, and the fostering of self-respect and mutual respect. We find satisfaction in making things go well, in getting things done well. Everyone is saturated with norms and values. The street cleaner, the film director, and the attendant in the ticket window, all have their codes of honor and self-respect. For small organizations and temporary work settings the Confucian approach is less relevant, because particular circumstances, personal peculiarities and personal relations play a larger role.
A Confucian approach to civilization, of course, is not limited to Confucius. I have already mentioned Aristotle. The classic Romans knew humanitas: tenderness, tact, openness for people and for circumstances, a sense of joy and festivity. The Middle Ages maintained the idea of chivalry. In all these cases male values were tempered by female values, without abandoning the male values. The Provençal troubadours were the priests of this new doctrine of knights: strong, reliable, noble men, ‘leaders of men in war and peace’, courting noble women.
Interestingly, medieval lore acknowledges, be it reluctantly, that even base people and scoundrels may be loftily disposed. So we may include Robin Hood and - never forget - Maid Marian, as our role models.
If ever we forget history, future psychologists will explain Richard Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitania and their ilk as archetypes within the human soul. These psychologists would be only half wrong. Maybe all that would remain of this lore would then be Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, possibly in the guise of Roger Moore.
The humanists of the early sixteenth century rediscovered not only dusty books, but also the spirit within those books - the classical civilization. From the French humanists came the idea of the honnĂȘte homme, the honest man, and then the gentilhomme, the gentleman. This man was strong, decisive, not to be fooled around with, robust, able to stand the barbarians around him, while correct, reasonable, caring, and cultured.
In each case, the essence boils down to the same: a friendly, caring, civilized but strong and competent host to others, in an unfriendly, barbaric and dangerous world. Still, the gentleman feels at home in the world, and makes others feel at home as well. In this sense the Confucian world, with all its deference to religion, is more humanistic than religious. It judges religion for what religion does here, how it makes people at home here. Machiavelli would say that a good religion entails good institutions, good institutions entail good habits, and good habits lead to prosperity and success in all things.

From: The Ten Global Challenges: How People Make the World. An Essay on Politics, Civilization and Humanity. Ordering the book

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