March 27, 2013 § 3 Comments
This is the last extract from my book in progress on the history of moral thought. The book is now, in fact, no longer in progress, as I have completed it. This might be the final extract, but it is not from the final chapter, but the penultimate one, Chapter 19 (I have already run an extract from chapter 20). Chapter 19 explores moral debate in modern China, particularly after the fall of the dynastic system, and the creation, first of a republic in 1911, and subsequently, after four decades of conflict and chaos, of Mao Zedong’s communist regime in 1949. This extract is about the problems of moral thinking in post-1949 China, and the fraught relationship between communism and Confucianism.
For more than two millennia, the identity of China, and the character of its social order, was defined primarily in ethical terms, and given philosophical shape largely by Confucianism. When that tradition, and the social order and dynastic structure it sustained, broke in the twentieth century, inevitably there was chaos, a chaos made more turbulent by the distinctive role of ethics in Chinese society.
In Western Europe, Christianity had provided, for more than a millennium, a shared identity for peoples otherwise divided by language, nation or tribe, and a crucible within which all philosophical, political and moral discussion took place. The Church was the continent’s common voice and its moral guardian. Religion, certainly as it was understood in Europe, barely developed in China. The state, in the form of imperial bureaucracy, performed many of the roles and duties historically taken by the European Church, providing moral instruction, constructing a collective identity, and creating a sense of shared values. Not only was the social role of the state different in China, so was its relationship to the ruling class. In Europe, different sections of the elite – nobles, clerics, merchants, the landed aristocracy, the urban bourgeoisie – had vied with each other for the reins of power, and had fought to control and constrain the authority of the state. Through these struggles the space was cleared for what we now know as civil society, a space that became central to the development of moral debate. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 21, 2011 § 5 Comments
Two catastrophes have hit Japan over the past fortnight. The first was the earthquake and tsunami that struck on 11 March, devastating parts of north-east coast of the island of Honshu, destroying communities, leaving thousands dead, tens of thousands more homeless and creating a crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It is a catastrophe in the face of which Japan has shown remarkable resilience and in the course of which its technology and organization has proved highly effective.
The second catastrophe is the one to be found in the Western media. In this catastrophe a proud, modern high-tech country has been humbled by the irresistible force of nature, a nation lies gripped by fear and on the edge of collapse, reduced to begging for aid from foreign countries. Most of all, it is a catastrophe dominated not by the earthquake or the tsunami but by an apocalyptic drama at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant. « Read the rest of this entry »