November 15, 2005


The Confucian renaissance (Todd Crowell, 11/15/05, Asia Times)

In his 19th-century classic, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German sociologist Max Weber argued that Asian values were incompatible with the development of a modern economic system. He saw in the brand of Christianity practiced in northern Europe the only ethical system with the attributes needed to make capitalism work.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many Asian intellectuals might have agreed with him. Commenting on Confucianism, the Chinese leftist thinker, Chen Duxiu, said in 1916, "If we want to build a new society on the Western model in order to survive in the world, we must courageously throw away that which is incompatible with the new belief, the new society, the new state." [...]

The latest government line is that Confucianism can serve as a moral foundation to help build a more "harmonious society" in keeping with President (and Communist Party General Secretary) Hu Jintao's efforts to address social problems such as the polarization of society and a wide spread "money first" mentality.

It is little surprise that Chinese leaders are seeking to rehabilitate their country's most famous and influential thinker. In the moral void opened by the decline of Marxism and the abundance of material temptations, Confucianism can help provide the nation with a much-needed ethical anchor. And success in these endeavors would allow China's leaders to strengthen their hold on another Confucian bequest - the "mandate of heaven", or the right to rule.

Anyone can ape capitalist forms -- though they derive from Judeo-Christianity generally and protestantism in particular -- but without the bases they can't build a decent society nor an enduring market economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 15, 2005 8:15 AM

The decline of Marxism helped to open a moral void? Twisted.

Posted by: jdkelly at November 15, 2005 8:32 AM

The problem with relying on Confucious for economic growth is that Confucious was anti-market and anti-merchant. Traditionally, China has saw merchants as parasites and really abused them.

The Overseas Chinese did not have problems reconciling growth and Confucius because they never had control of a government in the lands they were in.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at November 15, 2005 10:35 AM

Yes; it is poorly worded. He probably meant, "in the authoritarial and ethos vacuum created by the disappearance of Marxist ideology and economic policy ..."

Taiwan is a fine example of a society that, without a significant Christian foundation, has managed to sustain the Capitalist economic model and morality. True, the Chiangs were ostensibly Christian, and there are Catholic schools still on the island. But the more influential moral system is based in Confucianism and Buddhism. Taiwan is very welcoming of all religions. The freedom of religion that exists there is remarkable and it was the Protestant Church of Taiwan that played a strong role in pushing for political reforms when the island was a one-party dictatorship. The philanthropic activity of private Taiwanese in the world is amazing, given the country's size and population. The question, in the context of OJ's discussion, is: would Taiwan be this moral without having been so influenced (relative to China, say) by the West, and by the United States in particular?

Posted by: JiTui at November 15, 2005 1:14 PM


It's notable that all the Asian successes are essentially creations of Britain or America; Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, etc.

Posted by: oj at November 15, 2005 1:33 PM

More baptism of desire.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 15, 2005 3:14 PM

oj, that's absolutely right. The more spiritual pollution by Britain or by America in particular, the better.

Those countries that tried to take a different path, whether that path was Soviet Russia's, Communist China's, Nazi Germany's, or Imperial Japan's, all brought disaster upon themselves or their neighbors.

More and more, the desperate intellectual search for a non-American road to prosperity looks like a modern variation on the medieval quest for the Holy Grail.

Posted by: X at November 15, 2005 4:08 PM