China’s Scientific Development, or Scientific Development Perspective, is the current official guiding socio-economic philosophy of the Communist Party Of China. It was ratified into the CPC’s constitution in October 2007 under the leadership of President Hu Jintao. Key ideas include:
- A post-ideological vision of technocratic scientific government driven by pragmatism, analysis, experimentation and empirical validation.
- De-politicised, low public profile, collective, expert decision making. Efficient corruption free policy.
- A coordinated and interventionist approach to policymaking as opposed to laissez-faire.
- Policy targeting wide social gains in utility, not just economic growth – eg also addressing inequality and environmental damage.
- Maintenance of broad popular support for government based primarily on performance not democratic participation.
- Active participation in government and transparency at the elite academic level.
- A more passive role for the masses including a much greater emphasis on paternal guidance compared to modern Western Democracy. Increasing press freedoms and policy making participation at the popular level as society develops.
- Compared to Western Democracy, a greater focus on China’a evolution, on contentment in the future rather than the present.
One recent author, writing about China, Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, argues that it is more helpful to think in terms of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World than George Orwell’s 1984 – “Orwell emphasises the role of fear in keeping people in line, while Huxley pays more attention to how needs and desires are created, manipulated and satisfied”. Yet this statement sounds too cynical, this article will reveal the Scientific Development Concept to be a genuinely idealistic vision of paternalistic government.
Another recent author writing about China, Martin Jacques, asks if democracy is a necessary component of ‘modernity’. Over the course of this essay we will develop a new elitist model of modernity, which we call the New Eastern Perspective. For example, Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore 1959 to 1990, has said “Americans have become as dogmatic and evangelical as the communists”. We will explore how moral dogma can be conceived of as the precise opposite of modernity. So when Lee Kuan Yew says democracy is turning America into an increasingly ideological society, he means America is regressing, is moving away from modernity. He does not limit himself to American politics, for example, he has described how so called progressive American intellectuals have turned political correctness into a naïve religion. Western politics has become a debate between the morality of compulsion vs the morality of inequality, instead utilitarian Chinese government employs whatever methods promote the greatest good. To Western eyes the New Eastern Perspective appears heartless and authoritarian. To Eastern eyes Western government appears naive and individualist. Lee Kuan Yew’s New Eastern Perspective underlies both the Scientific Development Concept and the Singapore Model.
Over the course of this essay the New Eastern Perspective is revealed by examining the mechanics of the Scientific Development Concept. Sometimes this perspective is simply described as ‘pragmatic’, but a proper description goes much deeper. This essay shows how the Western and New Eastern perspectives have their roots in fundamentally antithetical religious models. Whereas Christianity preaches utopia, egalitarianism and individualism; Confucianism describes competition, elitism and collectivism. In a sense, the New Eastern Perspective can be understood as a combination of 18th Century Enlightenment Rationalism, 19th Century Darwinianism, and 20th Century Technological Empiricism. Although the philosophy essentially dates back to Ancient times, it has only recently begun penetrating human culture, and is being embraced by the East not the West, hence the ‘New Eastern’ label. Bruce Gilley has described this idea as the “Platonic Republic Of China“. Note, instead of including detailed footnotes, I have simply put the more famous concepts / phrases / words / people etc in quotes and / or brackets.
One fascinating aspect of the Scientific Development Concept is the extent to which it reflects the traditional Confucian model. Over the next few paragraphs, we will quickly explore the evolution of Chinese government, contrast it with Western Government, and highlight the similarities between modern and traditional Chinese government.
Looking back at the evolution of Western government, the separation between Church and State is extraordinary. Long ago, when despots competed for territory by dint of military conquest, the separation between Church and State was understandable. Yet as society became increasingly idealistic, it is deeply surprising that the Church was not given responsibility for policymaking. At one time in Europe, almost every citizen was deeply religious, so why wasn’t the Church put in charge of policymaking? If the Pope is God’s representative on earth, surely we want him to design our government. The answer revolves around the nature of Christianity, it is not a very practical moral philosophy which can be sensibly applied to government, it suggests a socialist utopian state, a model which would have been highly controversial and ill equipped to deliver growth.
Confucianism, however, is very different from Christianity. Confucius (551BC – 479BC) was more a philosopher that a conventional religious figure in the Christian tradition who preaches faith and forbearance. Just as Plato focused on government (eg “The Republic” c380BC), so did Confucius. Both Plato and Confucius concerned themselves with techniques of human development, the evolution of society, and the ideal form of government. Consequently, Confucian philosophy was ideally suited to government, and the separation between ‘Church’ and State vanished as society evolved. Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy describes how Roman subjugation of Greece drove a wedge between the individual and the state. This damaged the social cohesion of Greek society which had been so famously exemplified by Sparta, and from this individualism Stoic philosophy evolved. Stoicism lacked both the idealization of government, also the extroverted rational utilitarian pragmatism of government. Aggressive Roman subjugation of the Jews went further, it turned Christianity into a far more passive path than Stoicism, an egalitarian utopian system with much less emphasis on self discipline and self developlment.
In other words, Chinese and Western government began diverging around 300BC because Roman conquest began destroying the idealism, cohesion and rationality of prevailing philosophy; giving rise to individualism, passivity and moral dogma; separating church and state; and creating a damaging gap between morality and effective government (now bridged by democracy).
By about 600AD Chinese government had reached a stable form which persisted for the next 1,300 years up until around 1950. The traditional Confucian Model of Government during this long time period relied on policy experts – the “scholar bureaucrats” or “imperial elite”. The “Imperial Examination” was an examination system designed to select the best administrative officials for the state’s bureaucracy. It was open to a wide cross section of Chinese society, the core of its syllabus was Confucian Philosophy, and those who passed it were appointed to the civil service. Whereas in Europe the military, the rich, the masses and the church all fought for power, in China the civil servant scholar bureaucrats enjoyed unrivalled authority. Some of them worked in the court as state officials, the majority remained at the local level. Becoming a civil servant was not a route to riches, it was an idealistic profession, akin to joining the priesthood, or the academic ivory tower. It was not a vertical power structure, it was a scholastic form of government, essentially China was run collectively by the academic elite.
The Confucian Model of government was widely admired, and it consequently persisted despite occasional upheavals. For example, even after the Mongol Invasion of China in 1276, the Mongols embraced Confucian government. Confucian government spread to neighbouring counties. In Japan it took on a militararistic form – instead of elite intellectuals, the shoguns were elite warriors. In general China was politically stable, peaceful and prosperous. However, by around 1800AD China was clearly being left behind by the West. Why? Perhaps Confucian philosophy stagnated and became too traditional, too ideological. Perhaps also war was a vital driver of European economic reform and China was too peaceful and too isolated. Whatever the reason, in the 1800s China’s relative backwardness became increasingly unsustainable. British traders began smuggling Indian Opium into China, when the Chinese Government tried to prohibit the dangerous drug, the British went to war with China in order to safeguard British trading profits (“Opium Wars”). China lost Hong Kong to the British, later Vietnam to the French, then Korea to the Japanese, then Taiwan, Manchuria, Tibet etc. By the mid 20th Century China had been utterly subjugated.
With the Chinese State facing extinction, the government of scholar bureaucrats was utterly discredited and Mao Zedong, leader of China 1949 to 1976, put in place a completely different form of government. In fact Mao’s government was the very antithesis of Confucianism, instead of elite academics making policy by consensus, Mao created a proletarian personality cult which revolved around his personal leadership. Academics were persecuted and the Chinese Communist Party was filled with hard-nosed and frequently violent peasant revolutionaries. Although Mao and Confucius both believed in equitable society, Confucius was a humanitarian not an egalitarian. Mao Zedong’s violent populist socialism was famously unsuccessful, yet despite killing millions he remains a popular historical figure in China today simply because he defeated the foreign armies occupying the country and restored independence.
Since Mao’s death China has been gradually restoring a more Confucian model. The Scientific Development Concept clearly echoes Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore Model. Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, and he is generally regarded as the Philosopher King who built modern Singapore. He was educated in the West, yet his political philosophy is Confucian. Western intellectuals generally consider him to be the world’s most eloquent and convincing autocrat.
Singapore has a degree of “people’s democracy”, but it is best described as an authoritarian country run collectively by elite academics, many of whom have scientific backgrounds, it is a modern take on the traditional “scholar bureaucrat” model. Also following the Confucian model, government in Singapore has unrivalled authority over both society and the economy, and is deeply paternalistic. The government exercises control over the press, and government-linked corporations produce a significant proportion of the country’s GDP. At the same time Singapore is consistently rated one of the least corrupt countries in the world, and has a highly developed market economy with income tax peaking at just 20%. Singapore has a population of 5 million, 20% of whom are non-resident. Despite her wealth, fourth highest GDP per capita by PPP in the world, Singapore achieved the highest rate of growth in the world in the first half of 2010, 17.9%. According to the Economist Intelligent Unit, Singapore also enjoys the highest quality of life in Asia, and the eleventh highest in the world.
Famous acts of social engineering in Singapore include: creating the best school system in the world in terms of academic achievement in science, creating by far the most cost effective and enviable health care system in the world, creating the best government housing program in the world, also probably the best social security model in the world, forcing government schools to teach all lessons in English, killing native languages (such as Hokkien), banning chewing gum, forcing hippies to have hair cuts, promoting eugenics, occasionally imprisoning or exiling political activists without trial. Westerns find some of these policies laudable, others outrageous. This essay sets out to explain the philosophy behind such policy decisions.
During the Age Of Enlightenment Western philosophers began re-examining traditional moral assumptions based on the idea of rationality and science. Judaism, for example, defined good and evil primarily in terms of moral laws such as those listed in the “Ten Commandments”. Christianity stressed more generalized moral principles such as “Turn the other cheek”. Nevertheless, neither of these ethical systems proved very effective in real life. For example, killing in self defence is vital to the survival of both men and nations. Although all men have an intuitive sense of right and wrong, Enlightenment philosophers searched for a rigorous definition.
Science’s emphasis on functionality clearly demands the following definition: Right is that which makes the world better, and wrong is that which makes the world worse. A well meaning act is one motivated by the desire to make the world better, a good act is one which does make the world better.
Utilitarianism, the concept that ethical dilemmas should be solved by the rational maximization of human contentment, became popular. The theory tore apart the idea of moral laws and human rights, horrified Christians, and famously inspired the French Revolution.
The English politician Edmund Burke, who is now considered to be the founder of political Conservatism, not only criticised the French Revolution, he correctly predicted that it would end in disaster. Burke had three essential arguments, one rational, two anti-rational. His rational argument was pragmatic, he believed the revolution was too heavily driven by radical, untested, and idealistic metaphysical arguments. He said: “What is the use of discussing a man’s abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them.” This line of reasoning advocates caution, an essence the French Revolution sadly missed. Deng Xiaoping once said words to the effect of: Don’t leap across the river, wade across feeling for the stones. Burke’s other two arguments were intrinsically anti-enlightenment. He rejected Hobbes’s argument that politics can be reduced to a deductive system akin to mathematics, he claimed the complexities of human society are too great, and human intellect is too limited. Consequently he advised against radically challenging the accumulated behavioural inheritance of the ages. Burke also rejected the cold rationality of Rousseau and Voltaire, and described himself a believer in “human heart-based” government which values man’s instinctive moral prejudices. Enlightenment critics rejected these anti-rational arguments. In one case we have the traditional morality associated with Conservatism, in the other case we have the humanitarian morality associated with Liberalism.
Yet utilitarianism does have a problem. Would utility increase if a student stole some money from a rich man? Probably yes (because the marginal utility of money is much lower for the rich man). Should the incompetent be allowed to breed? Probably not (survival of the fittest promotes evolution).
The problem is that utilitarianism assumes citizens are perfectly selfless and will happily sacrifice their lives and property for the greater good. In the real world humans do not have the communal idealism of ants, consequently society would rebel against utilitarianism. We can understand why Burke called for human heart-based government.
Burke also has a point on complexity. The failure of Soviet central planning (no market price mechanism) is testament to the difficulties of calculating utility. Clearly there are limits to what can be achieved.
By limiting the scope of utilitarianism, allowing it to operate only across increasingly broad groupings, complexity reduces, decisions become steadily less radical, and the results increasingly resemble conventional human law. For example, if we treat all mankind equally, the optimization can no longer prevent the reproduction of incompetents. Although this technique gives good general principles, it fails on specific cases. Utility grouping is at the heart of jurisprudence, elsewhere it is of limited use. (Note: Kant’s deontological ethics are essentially this technique. Under Kant: We generalize to get should the poor be allowed to steal from the rich, apply universal law and there are no rich any more, negating the proposition. Utility grouping is not a purely rational ethical system because there is no justification for grouping. For example, why should incompetents be treated the same way as all other humans?)
So even though utility is theoretically the correct measure of good, it suffers from a mismatch between human idealism and utilitarian theory, also it is too complicated to calculate. Yet all is not lost, utilitarianism still works very well in some applications, indeed it is the foundation stone of economic science. There is also a way to overcome the idealism and complexity problem. Ensure the utility maximization is constrained by the level of idealism prevailing in society (use existing laws or opinion polls to set the boundaries), and proceed in small steps continually validating the results. This principle is the key to the Scientific Development Concept, as we see shortly.
This idea of bounded utilitarianism is not as radial as one might think. In Plato’s Laws he discusses the problem of forcing idealistic policy decisions onto society without their consent (a issue he ignored in The Republic). He says force should not be used, instead we should imagine a doctor administering treatment, he has to explain the procedure to the patient and win his consent (Laws 720a).
In order to understand the Scientific Development, or any other system of government, we need to understand the extent to which government aligns itself with the common good. For example, Fredrick the Great, King of Prussia 1740 to 1786, was an example of a famously benevolent and progressive despot who transformed his country from a relative backwater into an intellectual and military superpower. An interesting question is what mechanisms, if any, protected the Prussians against selfish / incompetent Kings? The answer is brutal: in 18th Century Europe incompetent regimes tended to be annihilated by their neighbours, because in the long run the common good, the flourishing of society, brings economic success and military power. For example, the Ottoman Empire eventually disappeared because its failure to embrace Prussia’s progressive values left it weaker than its European neighbours.
Today Political Scientists talk about the concept of “government legitimacy”. Because science (and rationality) define goodness in functional terms, legitimacy also has to be defined in functional terms. In fact, legitimacy is exactly the ‘utility maximization with constrained idealism’ concept we have just been discussing. In other words:
A government is legitimate if and only if the people generally believe that:
(a) Policy is fair (b) Policy is optimal.
By fair we mean reasonably compatible with prevailing moral ideology.
By optimal we mean performing at least as well or better than that all fair alternatives.
By performance we mean increases in the public good, especially economic growth.
Notice that the principles of both competence and consent are integral to this definition. Following Plato’s example of a doctor administering treatment, we would define a legitimate doctor as one who administers the best treatment his patient will accept.
This utility maximizing model of legitimacy echoes the 20th Century American political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset. He explained how “performance legitimacy” (utility) is the source of a government’s stability. A loss of legitimacy ends in tyranny or collapse. For example, the Soviet Union was an example of an illegitimate regime. Growth underperformed the West and citizens regularly tried to escape. Increasingly despotic policy was forced on the people, and they in turn became increasingly revolutionary, until eventually new leadership threw in the towel.
How does democracy, as a general system of government, relate to legitimacy? Obviously (a) holds, but what about (b)? If it is generally believed that voter choice guarantees optimal policy, then democracy achieves a sort of automatic “democratic legitimacy”. However, political scientists, including Lipset, do not believe this to be the case, and instead the persistence of democracy is still believed to revolve around its ability to generate “performance legitimacy”. (Why? Because history has many examples of poorly performing democracies electing tyrants)
Until very recently, Western political scientists generally believed that 20th Century Western democracy was economically outperforming all other models of government, demonstrating superior performance legitimacy. If this was ever proven widely incorrect, the decline of democracy follows axiomatically. For example: Robert Kagan, foreign-policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has said: “We lived under the illusion that economic success required political liberalisation. All the [democratic] optimism of the 1990s rested on this assumption. Now it appears that the causality is less certain… The old struggle, the one that long predated the Cold War, has returned.”
Now that we have equipped ourselves with the concept of legitimacy, we can analyze the Chinese model of government. In fact the Scientific Development Concept simply targets utility directly.
Instead of democracy, China employs policy experts, today generally scientists and engineers, who optimize policy in order to maximize goals such as economic growth subject to the fairness constraint, the popular support constraint. Chinese officials are not allowed to use terror, which is egregious “despotic power”, such as that employed by Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong (In Scientific Development Concept see “harmonious” & “liberal”).
In the last thirty years these experts have delivered an average annualized GDP growth rate of 10%, approximately matching the “Japanese post war economic miracle”, but outclassing it given size and starting point differences. It is an unparalleled achievement, and just as Lipset predicts, Chinese government is consequently hugely popular with the Chinese masses and politically stable.
By far and away the biggest threat to legitimacy in China today is, according to popular opinion polls, corruption. Many Chinese believe that corrupt civil servants at the local level are damaging their living standards. Responding to those concerns is a top priority; and the expected next Chinese President, Xi Jinping, is a famously scrupulous fighter of corruption.
Plato’s Laws opens with the question of government legitimacy, he naturally chooses a utilitarian definition as well. However, because Ancient Greek states faced huge military challenges, they defined utility in terms of military rather than economic power. So we have:
“ATHENIAN: [So] the definition you gave of a well-run state seems to me to demand that its organization and administration should be such as to ensure victory in war over other states. Correct? CLINIAS: Of Course. MEGILLIUS: My dear sir, what other answer could one possibly make, especially if one is a Spartan” (626c)
Yet Plato then reveals a number of failings in this definition of utility. For example, in his Sea Battle example (706a), Plato points out that short terms gains in military power can lead to long term negatives. He goes on conclude that military power is only a side effect of virtous government, that military power is only roughly correlated with virtue, therefore it is an innefective measure of utility, so the simple maximization of military power cannot be the sole aim of government. Eventually he offers a better definition of utility which so completely defines the concept that “[all government needs to do is] constantly aim, like an archer, at that unique target… ignoring everything else”. Plato’s definition of utility, in my opinion the ideal definition, is described later in this essay.
Non-Ideological Scientific Policymaking
The vast majority of people believe that reason has limits; government policymaking can not be derived from a set of intellectual axioms; science and ethics are irreconcilable. Readers who try to grasp the concept for the first time, will invariably find themselves shocked by it, and will tend to demonize it. For example, Saul Alinsky was an American community organizer who is hated by many non-specialists and has even been called a ‘Role Model for Satanists’. In his book “A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals”, Alinsky said we must forget our obsession with moral value judgements and root our decision making in pragmatism. What does he mean here by pragmatism? It is letting go of assumption, of dogma, of morality, of emotion; it is creating something arguable, measurable, objective, scientific (further reading “William James on Pragmatism”). Deng Xiaoping once said: “I don’t care if it’s a white cat or a black cat. If it catches mice it is a good cat.” This rejection of morality, this dehumanization of truth, this elevation of functional analysis over moral judgements, horrifies many people. Depending on your perspective, priest or scientist, it is either Satanism or truth.
Recall: “Edmund Burke rejected Hobbes’s argument that politics can be reduced to a deductive system akin to mathematics” Of course Hobbes though it could be done, but he didn’t know how. Now the Scientific Development Concept adds flesh to his idea.
Recall that under the Scientific Development Concept, the goal of government becomes the maximization of utility constrained by the necessity of maintaining public support. Now we consider the mechanics in more detail and see how it transcends ideology and becomes purely scientific.
Chinese technocrats translate the concept of social utility into a basket of numerical indices which include, for example, a growth index, a green index, a poverty index (“Glasshouse Forum – China Model”). The goal of policy makers then becomes the optimization of this basket. Behind the calculation and optimization of policy are vast numbers of academics, economists and statisticians (eg “IFTE CASS”). Chinese technocrats regularly experiment with new policy ideas at the provincial level, and if successful introduce them nationwide. In democracy politicians are generally elected by asking people what they think and then adopting similar positions, in China the government cares far more about how people feel. From that data it is in principle possible to calculate the best basket of statistics which most accurately reflects social utility. Policy making loses all ideological colour, it becomes a purely scientific process, a vast optimization problem driven by statistics and experimentation.
Massive localised infrastructure investments have leveraged the type of economy of scale economics which Paul Krugman won a Nobel Prize describing. Shanghai has magnetic levitation trains and sky scrapers, but out in the countryside many peasant farmers still plough their fields with oxen. Although these localised investments have dramatically increased inequality, the benefits gradually trickle out across the entire economy, even the peasants gain. Now China leads the world in high speed rail, it is not just a sweat shop economy. In China there are cities that specialize in steel manufacture, other in solar panels, others in paper towels, others in plastic toys, there are even entire towns devoted to the manufacture of hand painted reproductions of famous artworks. In the West development is generally left to market forces and democracy, but leveraging economies of scale is hugely beneficial. Had China more democratically distributed resources it could not have so rapidly achieved mastery. Whereas governments in most advanced democracies spend less than eight percent of government revenue on capital investment, this figure is close to fifty percent in China. In Western democracy, voters choose welfare as the overriding government priority, but analysis shows that infrastructure investment usually delivers greater social gains. The creation and incredible expansion of a highly competitive science and engineering focused educational system has also greatly contributed to the economic revolution. In the West competitive education systems are often seen as morally unfair, but Chinese scientists focus on results not popular opinions. Of course, if the Chinese people absolutely insisted on children of all levels attending the same school/class, policymakers would have to work with that – yet they push the envelope as far as they can. Many senior Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao, have engineering degrees and industry backgrounds. Abandoning Western conceptions of fairness and freedom in the rational engineered pursuit of net social gain is the key to China’s spectacular and unprecedented economic growth.
Exploring the popular support power boundary, we can see that better policy generally exists, but not better policy which is ‘feasible’ given the public’s conception of fairness. In a country of strong individualists, neutral observers would likely judge actual scientific policy to appear excessively laissez-faire. Yet the science of policy making, the maximization of utility, transcends ideology and is purely mathematical. The subjective slant is a consequence of the popular support condition. The gap between ideal government policy and actual government policy making is therefore determined by the wisdom of policy analysts and the public support their suggestions command. As the ability of the government to inspire public confidence in policy innovation improves, it is able to close the gap between the ideal and the feasible, therefore creating better policy, further improving public support in a virtuous circle. When this process plays in reverse, as is occurring in some Western Democracies where support levels are at historic lows, a vicious circle takes an increasingly damaging toll on growth (eg American health care reform).
Returning to Plato’s example of a doctor administering treatment, a good doctor is not only one who correctly identifies the correct treatment, he is one who can persuade his patient to accept it. To Western eyes, one of the most controversial aspects of Chinese government is control of the media. We will return to this point later, yet we can see here how vital it is to educate the public about policy choices.
In 400BC Plato talked about the concept of non ideological government, of government by reason instead of opinion or tradition, so it is hardly a new idea, but the breakthrough is in the framework Chinese scientists have built to embody the principle. The public support constraint was too often missing in the past, resulting both in hopelessly ambitious policy, and hopelessly unpopular policy. Also, statistics and science have made it possible for the first time to objectify policy, greatly purging policy making of human foibles.
Consequently modern China and Singapore are the first enviable examples in history of ‘scientific government’ / ‘ideology free government’ / ‘enlightened authoritarianism’.
Note: Maximization of social utility is the essence of Wen Jiabao’s “Scientific Democracy”, ‘the “substance” of democracy, not the Western technique’. It is also probably the essence of “Democracy with Chinese Characteristics”, and arguably, the principle underlying the traditional Confucian “Mandate of Heaven”.
Before Lispet, the 19th Century German sociologist Max Weber offered the most compelling modern definition of legitimacy. Weber, who was skeptical of democracy, which he believed regularly elected charismatic tyrants, defined a type of legitimacy based on (1) The perception that a government’s powers are derived from efficient set procedures, principles, and laws which are not arbitrarily violated by government officials. (2) Government being run by a dehumanized expert bureaucracy inseparable from pure rationality, and within which decision making is based on concrete rules and tactics developed solely around concrete goals.
Of these two principles, immutable law and perfect bureaucracy, the later is by far the most important. For example, in Plato’s Laws he describes his legal code as both imperfect and in need of constant revision by wise lawmakers (857d). He says “Knowledge is unsurpassed by any law or regulation; reason, if it is genuine, should have universal power… [Yet because reason is so hard to come by in real society] we need to choose the second alternative, law and regulation, which embody general principles, but cannot provide for every individual case” (865d). Discretion is also build into modern legal systems, they generally avoid mandating punishments, instead trained Judges carefully weigh up the magnitude of transgressions by analyzing the minutia. By contrast, California’s famously irrational and un-progressive “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law was the product of direct democracy. In Ancient China, the Legalists, concerned with the corruptibility of officials, excessively codified the Chinese legal system. Their consequently anomalous and frequently tyrannical decisions lost popular support and paved the way for Confucian government. Confucius, by contrast, emphasized the development of a perfect bureaucracy rather than the inviolability of precedent.
Where Lipset defined government legitimacy in terms of optimal utility, Weber defined it in terms of optimal execution. Both Weber and Lipset are describing the same end point in different ways, Weber’s ‘infinite rationality around concrete goals’ is exactly Lipset’s ‘optimal solution to concrete goals’, infinite rationality delivers the optimal solution. Recall: “Edmund Burke rejected Hobbes’s argument that politics can be reduced to a deductive system akin to mathematics.” Weber and Lipset’s utility maximization is a purely rational system. Where Hobbes embarrassed himself is equating this rational system with Cartesian geometry. Even economic science is bigger than geometry, and most people would describe it as bigger than mathematics, it includes ideas from psychology as well, yet it is still rational.
Christians object, the subject is too deep and too broad, pure rationality is impossible, it can only be solved by un-arguable faith in divine revelation. However, the New Eastern Philosophy follows Enlightenment idealism, it puts its faith in rationality. What does this really mean? It means that objective truth exists and is rational; also that human beings can comprehend, communicate, and argue it. What about the role of intuition? Intuition is a facility that produces conjectures, rational philosophy simply claims that every conjecture can be objectively analyzed and judged. Moralists, on the other hand, believe in conjectures which can not be justified and must be simply assumed. Compared with rationalists they tend to be much more dogmatic individuals, because their analysis stops, whereas rational philosophy becomes increasingly nuanced as the analysis progresses (which is why Plato said the more we think the less we know). A third category exists in the modern Western World, the post-modernists. This group deny the existence of truth altogether and try to imagine ways of building a society based on untrammelled individualistic subjective anarchy.
Weber explains how a dehumanized expert bureaucracy inseparable from pure rationality is incorruptible. It is a machine, the subjective human motivations of policymakers are infinitely diluted by perfectly objective rationality. Plato describes (715b) “laws which are not established for the good of the whole state are bogus laws, and when they favour particular sections of the community, their authors are not citizens but party-men… [those who make genuine laws] are usually referred to as ‘rulers’, but I call them ‘servants’, not to mint a new expression, but because I believe the success or failure of the state hinges on this point more than any other…”. How does man achieve this selflessness and objectivity? Plato says the common man must develop piety, the exceptional man intellect. Weber’s expert bureaucracy echoes Plato’s exceptional man.
Looking at Singapore and China today we see a Webber like government structure evolving. Hu Jintao, President of China, along with most of the current leadership, was educated at a top Chinese university and studied science. The days of an all powerful leader, such as Mao or Deng are gone. In China, especially since Hu, a scholastic government of expert scientists has evolved, and the media profile of leaders is very low. What about ‘Grandpa Wen’, Prime Minister of China, who was famously seen on television during the Qinghai Earthquake wielding a shovel? He puts a human face on government for the sake of the masses, but behind the scenes decision making is collective and scholastic.
In the West authoritarian governments once revolved around charismatic despots with vertical power structures. This is also true of Russia today. In Democracy leaders try to embody popular ideological principles and court publicity. Supporters encourage the leader to be strong and impose his vision on the bureaucracy, detractors complain the leader is a tyrant and he should demur to opposing voices. Weber is about the depersonalization of power, the antithesis of old-fashioned despotism and democracy. In fact democracy, with career politicians, lawyers , advertising executives, and the general public making important decisions, is unquestionably in violation of Webber legitimacy.
Weber’s model of government also allows transparency, because decisions are rational and empirical they can be subjected to scrutiny. Long a feature of Singapore, Chinese politicians had worried that too much transparency would feed unhelpful debate at the popular level, but the SARS crisis, which occurred under Hu, demonstrated the importance of transparency. So in China and Singapore today we have a transparent Weber legitimate government under academic scrutiny. Proper scrutiny of rational policy making is impossible at the popular level because the masses have limited skills. Instead the popular press is controlled, an issue we will come onto later. Note: Western commentators frequently complain that there is little transparency in the selection of senior officials. But the transparency revolves primarily around the science of policy making, expounded upon in academic journals etc, human resources decisions are much harder to explain and much less relevant.
Both Christian and Democrat thought process are coloured by the assumption of egalitarianism. This is a moral philosophy which holds that all human persons are equal in fundamental worth and moral status. Out of this principle, one can derive various egalitarian political doctrines, including democracy. In opposition to this moral philosophy is the Platonic, Confucian and Nietzschean concept of the “Superman”. This philosophy is associated with Hitler who infamously treated the masses as expendable farm yard animals. Yet Hitler was an uneducated violent megalomaniacal psychopath who was despised by the German elite. Hitler was an ideologist not a rationalist, he peddled populist conspiracy theories and was elected by the masses. In many ways he personified the very opposite of true elitist philosophy as exemplified by Socrates and Confucius.
Although elitism deeply disturbs egalitarians, Weber would not say that the policymaking experts are perfect Philosopher Kings, simply that they practise their speciality with a great deal of perfectionism, and therefore within this sphere of knowledge they achieve a much higher level of wisdom than non-specialists, achieved by moving past assumption toward objectivity. So the ancient philosophical concepts of inequality are also expressed in the increasing specialization of knowledge in advanced societies.
Transparency International rates authoritarian Singapore as the third least corrupt nation on earth. This absence of corruption comes about because government ends up in the hands of specialists who love their subject and practice it scrupulously. Western minds find it enormously difficult to imagine specialist rational policy making. Western newspaper articles speculate on what Hu Junto’s personal life is like, what kind of a man he is. They are outraged by the idea that it doesn’t matter. Yet this morality not reason, and nonsense. (The most extreme example is Eric Gill, he was a contemptible man, but an admirable specialist).
Note: On Weber in The Scientific Development Concept, see “laws and rules of procedure”, “Human Resources”, “Cadres”, “Think Tanks”, “power exercised in the sunshine”.
Fredrick Hayek argued that the distributed competing opinions of the marketplace are the closest we can come to objective knowledge. He argued that by handing Napoleon unrivalled responsibility for objective knowledge during the French Revolution, the results were not only imperfect, they were disastrous, and created a horrific tyranny. Hayek disliked democracy generally because he rejected the ability of popular consensus to divine objective knowledge. For example, he famously said of Pinochet: “Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism”. Although he did not advocate “woodenheaded laissez-faire”, he became associated with “small government” and “privatisation”.
What does Hayek mean by marketplace? He believed market prices perfectly reflect utility. Therefore individuals must compete to maximize utility, we must never assume a particular individual has access to greater truth, he must prove it by competition. In essence Hayek is saying that objective knowledge and authority can not be assumed, and must be won by demonstrable gains in utility.
So Hayek’s competition echoes Lipset’s demonstratable gains in performance legitimacy, and as already mentioned, Weber’s definition of legitimacy amounts to exactly the same thing. Yet Weber’s definition is the most positive, because Hayek ignores the capability of rational counterparties to debate theory and coalesce around an agreed opinion. Philosophically, the need for competition comes out of the imperfections of human comprehension. Bruce Gilley’s failure to understand this point condemns his essay “The End Of Politics in Beijing”, which is fixated on the issue of “contestation”.
So the endpoint of human governmental evolution is complete rationality and objectivity, and with it maximal effectiveness, maximal power. What about the individual? Plato and Confucius both argued that total devotion to the community is a feature of enlightenment, perfect love if you will. Combining these, the end point of an individual’s evolution, enlightenment, is infinite objectivity and infinite selflessness. So we have derived the nature of enlightenment mathematically, like Pythagoras we have arrived at a pure rational selfless divinity. We will return to this concept later, it is the Eastern theological viewpoint which is antithetical to Christianity. Man begins the self-centred animal steeped in genetic instinct, he evolves to become a pure rational atom in the infinitely powerful hive, his sense of self vanishes, he conquers his human ego, his species evolves into omniscience and omnipotence, man becomes God.
Of course, even though we have derived the end point of governmental evolution mathematically, science can not tell us how the ideal state would look, because the complexity of the problem is too great, and even if it could any less than perfect society would rebel against it. Instead we must slowly progress toward the ideal, applied science works forwards not backwards, toward the pure perfectly simple goal.
What constraints holds us back from this goal? Lets give an example. The classic example of immoral policy which appals many Westerners is Plato’s termination of disabled infants described in The Republic. Greek City States, however, faced horrendous military and resource challenges, so these policies were relatively uncontroversial in his day. Lawyers in the supreme court of the United States would reject this policy as utterly immoral, but long ago it was widely accepted because it was vital to human survival. It is not just that policymaking has to have pragmatic and rational foundations that transcend ideology, in fact ideology is no more than an unexamined transitory consensus built on emotional attachment to past judgements concerning past challenges.
Yet these constraints can not be thrown off so easily, for they are tools of the mind designed to lead us toward the truth. Unlike the mindless computer, the human Chess player does not analyze every path, he builds up a system that helps to focus his analysis. If we threw out all our principles we would be blathering babies. So we must work though them, maintaining detachment, dropping the bad and embracing the good. That is the path to enlightenment.
Earlier I mentioned that Plato objected to the defining of utility in terms of military power and offered an alternative. That alternative was virtue, Plato’s word for enlightenment. He described judgement as the key attribute of virtue (631c), just as we earlier described selfless reason as the key essence of enlightenment. Plato also describes various attributes of virtue including self control, courage and physical exercise, we might say that selfless reason does not suffer from greed or fear, also that exercise is wise. So an optimal state is one which optimizes the collective intelligence of society. Military power, economic power, and all good things flow from this enlightening essence, so naturally it is the correct target.
How does a legislator try to “inspire states with good sense and purge them of folly”? Plato, for example, talks about the artistic pursuits of singing and dancing. He explains that songs and dances echo particular thoughts, circumstances, objects, feelings etc. These particular forms set off emotional reactions, which ultimately resolve into feelings of pain or pleasure. Good education is primarily about aligning good forms with pleasurable feelings, and bad forms with painful feelings. In this way, even naïve individuals behave wisely. Eventually individuals develop an intellectual capacity which allows them to transcend this instinctive training, those who excel at this are called wise. The old wise members of society should mingle with the young, and inspire them (Dionysus discussion). Looking back at human history, Plato explained that societies which loose the ability to associate pleasure with good and pain with bad disintegrate; dictatorship is poisoned by the personality of tyrannical rulers, democracy is poisoned by populism. Hence, managing cultural forces effectively is a key aspect of statecraft.
So comparing China’s Scientific Development Concept and Plato’s Laws, China’s heavy focus on living standards is materialistic, it is the equivalent of focusing on military power, it misses the true essence of human evolution from which all material gifts follow. Yet to be fair to China, it is not entirely blind to this point. Also, as Plato points out, all paths eventually converge. Plato says (709a): “I was going to say that no man ever legislates at all. Accidents and calamities occur in a thousand different ways, and it is they that are the universal legislators of the world. If it isn’t the pressures of War that overturn a constitution and rewrite the laws, it’s the distress of grinding poverty; and disease too forces us to make make a great many innovations… the all-controlling agent in human affairs is God” So by pragmatically solving the challenges of life we are lead, by God, in an evolutionary process toward the perfect source of all skills: selfless reason / collective optimality / omnipotent omniesence.
Note: one of the most exciting arguments in Plato’s Laws revolves around inequality (738d). Plato explains that poverty should not be understood as a lack of wealth that the government should somehow minimize, rather inequality creates a state of greed which pulls the individual away from optimal decision making, and therefore damages utility, which is collective optimality. Thus the presence or absence of inequality is a purely rational matter which is addressed by the correct solution to utility maximization. We can extend Plato’s argument in the other direction by applying the lessons of socialism. In an imperfect society personal gain is a key source of motivation, and equality damages it, hence reducing collective optimality. So rational philosophy addresses the issue of inequality, in an imperfect society running a private enterprise economy, by: balancing the negative impact of inequality – wisdom and access to capital for innovation; with the positive impact of inequality – motivation and allocation of capital to those best able to utilize it. This realization has not made it to the Scientific Development Concept – instead, inequality is treated as a lack of wealth that needs minimizing.
Hayek’s market competition principle is sometimes used to justify democracy and a free press. Yet this misses the gigantic disconnect between popular opinion and truth, there is no market price mechanism accurately measuring utility. The BBC once ran an opinion poll asking who is the greatest Brittan of all time, Princess Diana placed higher than Newton. An expert opinion poll that didn’t mention Diana wouldn’t have sold. Today 30% of Americans believe that Sep 11th was a CIA plot, this is an absolutely extraordinarily stupid idea, yet it sells!
Earlier we spoke of Plato’s ideal doctor educating his patient in order to accept the treatment. Education is everything, not just because individuals require specialist skills in the workplace, not just because wisdom brings contentment, but also because the government needs the public to allow it to pursue good policy. In fact the Western world is tottering on the brink of total disaster precisely because of its free press.
For example, consider the words of Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK 1997 to 2007, in the postscript of his autobiography: “Three years out of office have given me time to reflect on our system of government… I think there is a tendency for those of us in democracies to become smug about the fact that we are democratic, as if universal suffrage and no more were enough to give us good government… Democracy needs to mature; it needs to adapt and reform. I would say that the way we run Westminster or Whitehall today is just not effective in a twenty-first-century world. Many might say the same about congress in the US… [Also] The role of modern media in modern democracy is an issue every senior politician I know believes is ripe for debate. Yet it is virtually un-debated… Every walk of life involving power is now subjected to regulation except one: the media.”
So control of the popular press is a widely used tool in China which helps (1) Maintains popular support and shrinks the gap between ideal and feasible policy (2) Steers the masses towards a more effective existance. At this lower level there is no rational debate, so the masses need to be manipulated by a well meaning paternal force (“guidance”, “core values”). The Western alternative has a negative impact on society. In the UK, for example, the self serving media tycoon Rupert Murdoch inflames the passions of Sun readers in order to sell copy, and the English are consequently famous for their naive viewpoints on Europe. In other words, a laissez-faire market in news and opinion does not optimize long term human virtue, the government must intervene for the greater good. Essentially all intellectuals concur, but some are wary of the practical difficulties and dangers interventionism can give rise to. Nevertheless, Western popular opinion is clearly incorrect in so far as it fails to recognise any degree of goodness or idealism whatsoever in Chinese Government media control. Western popular opinion rejects paternalism both because it can not conceive of a Weber legitimate government which has the people’s interests at heart, and also because it rejects elitism and believes popular opinion is worthy.
An extradionary example of media failure in the West is Nuclear Power. The arguments for nuclear power are absolutely overwhelming, yet the masses remain implacably opposed, despite a looming environmental catastrophe. In China the popular press is overwhelmingly positive towards nuclear power, and the Chinese masses are enthusiastic about it. In the West politicians are still trying to build Nuclear plants, in China many new reactors are in the pipeline.
Although the average Chinese man is allowed a certain degree of awareness-raising power, petitions and populist campaigns may be quickly clamped down upon. Blatantly challenging government, for example by publishing a petition for democracy, carries a jail term. After the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake the collapse of several schools became an issue which a number of people blamed on corrupt builders. Once the issue was brought to the attention of authorities continuing debate was deemed unhelpful, particularly given the emotive nature of the issue and the way in which it was descending into a witch hunt, so the press was ordered to stop writing about it. In China today, press censorship is not a major threat to popular support, rather local government corruption is the major issue.
The government do not need to clamp down on academic debate, because a Chinese intellectual debates the advantages and disadvantages of democracy with his intellectual fellows, he does not condense policy ideas into simple ideological messages designed to inflame the masses, he does not publish his thoughts in the popular press, he certainly does not publish petitions. An intellectual who wishes to change policymaking must convince his fellow intellectuals, he can not approach the masses directly. Notice this is the precise opposite of censorship in tyranny, eg Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot primarily targeted the intellectuals – enlightened censorship is about controlling the masses, despotic censorship includes the elite.
John Stuart Mill was a utilitarian, yet he saw no conflict between utilitarianism and personal freedom because he embraced Adam Smith’s arguments about invisible hand. Smith argued that in a free market, an individual pursuing his own self-interest tends to also promote the good of his community as a whole, because the total revenue of society as a whole is identical with the sum total of individual revenues. Mathematically this argument is complete and utter non-sense! Most obviously, it fails to account for the decline in the marginal utility of money as individuals acquire more of it. Also, it fails to account for more complex paths to greater social good. Forget the mathematics, what about the soldiers who fought for their country in WW1? Were they optimizing their self-interest? Socrates must have rolled over in his grave.
As we have already mentioned, utilitarianism actually assumes the collective idealism of an ant. Ants have no notion of personal freedom, the success of the society is everything. For example: In Brazilian ant colonies (Forelius pusillus), some ants remain outside the nest at sunset and seal the hole to protect the colony inside. Since they cannot enter after it is sealed, they remain outside and die by morning. If the Spartans had known they would have made a song about it! In Sparta childcare was collective. In Plato’s Republic he explains how the nuclear family corrupts children. Instead of giving their love to the community, they give their love to their family, in the ideal society love is de-individualized. In Plato’s Laws he recognizes that such idealism may be unrealistic in the real world, instead he suggests children should learn to return their parent’s unconditional love. Plato’s Laws sets out to build the second best state, a state which recognises human selfishness; it concentrates on improving conventions, unlike the Republic which concentrates on intellectual perfection. It includes concrete laws, power boundaries, religion, traditionalism and private property.
In fact the rational philosophy of the New Eastern Perspective totally repudiates the work of John Stuart Mill who argued for personal liberty, ie the idea that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”. Mill failed to understand that freedom is an illusion, primitive man was imprisoned in a cruel untamed world of Darwinian challenge, advanced man is imprisoned in society. Mill also failed to realised that as individuals evolve rationally they become more idealistic and less individualistic. The naturalistic doctrine of the Soul holds that just as an acorn is destined to grow into an oak tree, so the human soul has, to some degree, an evolutionary destiny. Hegel described the Ancient Greeks as conceiving of human life being free only within nature…. remaining confined by nature… advancing to pure thought only in philosophy and not religion… Hegel rejected this limitation, this grounding of spirit in nature, bogging down of spirit in immediacy; and he speculated that the purpose of life is to suspend immediacy, to find freedom, by the raising up of consciousness in religion. Yet Hegel’s objection to immediacy, his idea of individual escape from it, came out of his blindness to the time dimensionality. Eventually mankind masters nature and constructs his own, so becoming, in a sense, God.
What condemned the Enlightenment revolution? Western attachment to individualism is the key. The problem of individual suffering and freedom (problem of evil & free will) condemned the acceptance of a pure rationality which transcends human self-interest. For example, Christian Philosophers failed to reconcile suffering with rationality, rationality appeared too cold, they consequently abandoned rationality as the all embracing essence of truth. Why is individualism the key to this failure? They could not comprehend the rational goodness of an ant hive which has no individual rights, attaches no importance to individual life, has no morality, nor any dogma, and is the perfect rational machine completely devoted to the wellbeing of the hive (Plato’s Laws uses the expression ‘swam of bees’ instead of my ‘ant hive’ expression, and he later contrasts it to a herd of animals, which is a real world human society of less than perfect citizens). They also failed to understand the evolutionary timescale. Suffering in the here and now is the source of man’s evolution, pain in this finite moment is irrelevant, only the infinite future matters to God.
Plato’s Republic makes much of the link between democracy and individualism. In fact Plato believed democracy actually creates an increasingly individualistic society. Democracy, he believed, leads not only to the destruction of collective idealism, it also becomes increasingly irrational and unethical because man refuses to subject his consciousness to higher standards, believing himself already worthy. For example from Plato’s Republic:
Democracy?… In the first place, are they not free, is not the city full of freedom and frankness, a man may say and do what he likes. And where freedom is, the individual is clearly able to order for himself his own life as he pleases. Thus in this kind of State there will be the greatest variety of human natures. This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States, being an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower. And just as women and children think a variety of colours to be of all things most charming, so there are many men to whom this State, which is spangled with the manners and characters of mankind, will appear to be the fairest of States… Eventually we find… complete equality and liberty in relations between the sexes… the father standing in awe of his son, and the son neither respecting nor fearing his parents, in order to assert what he calls independence… the teacher fears and panders to his pupils, who in turn despise their teachers and attendants… You would never believe – unless you had seen it for yourself – how much more liberty the domestic animals have in a democracy. The dog comes to resemble his mistress, as the proverb has it. They are in the habit of walking about the streets with a grand freedom, and bump into people they meet if they don’t get out of their way. Everything is full of this spirit of liberty….What it adds up to is this, you find that the minds of the citizens become so sensitive that the least vestige of restraint is resented as intolerable, till finally, as you know, in their determination to have no master they disregard all laws written or unwritten…
So democracy deteriorates, at first it’s a light hearted disregard for the ideals of statesmanship and honour, but the decline becomes progressively more serious. Eventually the individualism results in total moral and intellectual breakdown and then tyranny. Roman Democracy suffered from the same problem, the society became increasingly corrupt, violent, sexualised, chaotic. The first Roman Emperor, Augustus, was hugely popular for restoring values. Another example is Weimar Germany. We have the post Freudian increase in sexual liberation, Max Stirner’s individualist anarchy, cabarets, prostitution, homosexuality, pederasty, drug taking, conspiracy theories (eg Jewish Banking), economic chaos, a bitterly divided partisan public who can not agree on policy, finally tyranny. One of Hitler’s popular priorities was reinstating German values.
Why is democracy so popular today? Considering a list of history’s famous philosophers, it is striking how few supported democracy. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas and Hobbes where all clearly opposed. Lock, Rousseau, Voltaire and Kant decried the despotic monarchs who clearly failed to govern either in the interest, or with the consent, of their subjects; yet none of them advocated democracy. Rousseau, for example, championed the aristocracy of Sparta compared to the liberal democracy of Athens. Kant described democracy as a tyranny of the majority. Marx and Nietzsche were clearly opposed. Even Foucault, a 20th Century philosopher, objected to liberal democracy. Perhaps the first heavyweight champion of modern democracy is John Rawls, yet his seminal Theory of Justice was only published in 1971. So, serious philosophical support for democracy only developed within the last 40 or so years.
The 18th Century historian Edward Gibbon, writing in his famous book “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, describes the height of the Roman Empire as follows: “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom”. Winston Churchill wrote “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”. So Churchill argued that democracy is a necessary evil because power corrupts. Yet he certainly didn’t believe, as naive modern political scientists generally do, that democracy always outperforms authoritarianism. Note: Churchill failed to appreciate Webber’s point, a government inseparable from pure rationality is incorruptible – if this can be constructed power is not corruting.
Today democracy, once derided by intellectuals as incompetent and morally bankrupt, is often described euphorically as the ‘end point of government evolution’. However, the intellectual climate in the West profoundly changed during the 1960s. For example, in the 1960s sociologists began arguing that the differences between men and women are a consequence of nurture not nature. By the 1970s intellectuals coalesced around a nurture viewpoint, and critics were vilified. In the 1980s the discovery of the psychological impact of testosterone completely undermined the theory. Yet looking back, the nature vs nurture debate was totally absurd, intellectuals allowed political morality to poison common sense. The Credit Crisis is the most recent example of modern wisdom failing, rational expectations and invisible hand are clearly fallacious, but they were adopted for primarily political reasons. So some argue that not only has the Western intellectual world not progressed since the 1960s, it has regressed back to the 1600s when Galileo’s theory of the earth revolving around the sun met massive opposition, and Enlightenment philosophers would surely be horrified by the prevailing state of blinkered and herd like Western thinking.
The goal of maximizing human contentment splits into a deep philosophical divide according to the emphasis one places on the present as opposed to the future. Philosophers such as Plato stressed evolutionary development achieved by challenge rather than measures of contentment such as the absence of pain or want in the here and now. For example, for Plato fulfilment is not a passive possession, it is rather productivity in the strife for enlightenment. Also, for Plato, the aim of government is not simply the fulfilment of its people, but also the fulfilment of future generations achieved by the evolution of society.
As a young man Deng Xiaoping was sent to France to participate in a work study program. The night before his departure, Deng’s father took his son aside and asked him what he hoped to learn in France. Deng replied: “To learn knowledge and truth from the West in order to save China”. Deng had been taught that China was weak and poor and needed to be rescued by learning from wealthy neighbours. Inside this sentiment is a strong emphasis on evolutionary growth not the simple fulfilment of human needs in the present. Democracy, especially in mature developed economies, by contrast emphasizes primarily maximization of contentment in the here and now – ie ‘humanitarian’ goals. The Scientific Development Concept, with its idealistic intellectual foundations is not just development orientated, it goes as far as explicitly mentioning “spiritual growth” in a clearly Platonic sense.
The One Child Policy and the Three Georges Dam are down to earth examples of Scientific Development Concept compatible policies which policy makers in a less future centric system would likely reject. A more idealistic example is the government’s drive to promote Classical music in China motivated by the calculation that advanced aesthetics are an important component of human spiritual growth.
Speaking of the rise of China and the intellectual hegemony developing around it, Niall Ferguson wrote in the Financial Times: “I am trying to remember now where it was, and when it was, that it hit me. Was it during my first walk along the Bund in Shanghai in 2005? Was it amid the smog and dust of Chonqing, listening to a local Communist party official describe a vast mound of rubble as the future financial centre of south-west China? That was last year, and somehow it impressed me more than all the synchronised razzamatazz of the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing. Or was it at Carnegie Hall only last month, as I sat mesmerised by the music of Angel Lam, the dazzlingly gifted young Chinese composer who personifies the Orientalisation of classical music? I think maybe it was only then that I really got the point about this decade, just as it was drawing to a close: that we are living through the end of 500 years of western ascendancy.”
In Taoism this divide between the present and the future is an example of a classic Yin / Yang duality. For Platonists, it is an example of a classic Mortal / Immortal duality. The Western political system is Yin, it is exemplified by the nurturing love of the mother. The Chinese system is more Yang, it is exemplified by the challenging father who encourages his son to climb trees, even though he may hurt himself and it requires physical exertion, because it stimulates the child’s growth.
The cohesive nature of China’s society, compared to more individualistic modern Western societies, combined with a greater focus on growth and tolerance for pain brought about by a lower per capita GDP, allows the Chinese government to pursue far more idealistic policies than citizens in the West would tolerate. Historians of The Great Leap Forward marvel at the self sacrifice displayed by the Chinese people who were prepared to put their children into nurseries and work day and night for the cause. Press censorship also allows popular support for painful idealistic government policies to be pushed far further than in Western democracies.
These several factors give the Chinese Government the ability to follow policies with levels of evolutionary idealism that shock Westerns democracies. In Russia a great deal of personal idealism was wiped out by the excesses of Stalin who turned his people into a nation of pessimistic materialists. This is certainly not the case in China. Her people are today easily the hardest working on the planet. In the segment showcasing the Chinese invention of movable type at the Chinese Olympics, the nearly 900 performers who crouched under 18kg boxes donned adult nappies to allow them to stay inside for at least six hours. Despite the sacrifices, performers were grateful for the opportunity to participate in the historic event and viewed it as an honour.
Yet goes further, the pace of change in China, and in Asia generally, is having a profound impact on the psychological makeup of the people, evolution is not a distant scientific theory, it is at the very heart of life. Thirty years of 10% GDP growth works out as 145 years of 2% growth. Imagine all the Western growth between 1865 and today being squeezed into 30 years! I once watched a television program in which a Western reporter was shown a model of Shanghai in the future. The official excitedly described the total transformation of the city. The reporter asked, and was was shown, where the official currently lives. “But that’s a park!” he said incredulously. Laughing, and proud, the official said “Welcome to Shanghai!”. How did the Industrial Revolution change Western Society? Love of technology of course, no wonder the Japanese love electronics. Did the expansion of education and entrepreneurship contribute to a sense of justified elitism? More strangely, what about Victorian Morality and the Gothic Revival? More obviously, “Social Darwinism”. Human evolution is now China’s theme, more so than anywhere else on the planet.
The Eastern Model of God, Man, Enlightenment
Although non-ideological policymaking policy appears immoral, this was Plato’s ultimate form of government, his Republic, which would transcend the ossified traditions of Spartan Timocracy (meritocratic aristocracy). Plato rejected the assumptions underlying Greek society and religion, but instead of embracing postmodernism his sense of teleological positivism actually intensified. The process of acquiring wisdom, for example by pragmatically solving problems in order to survive, the process of rational thinking, of discarding ideology and illusion, was Plato’s process of ‘spiritual enlightenment’, the movement of consciousness from the flawed subjective human perspective back to the flawless objective divine. Man begins in separate selfish incompetence and evolves into perfect cohesive selfless rational unity. The most famous Neo-Confucian philosopher, Zhu Xi, espoused the same idea. He called his enlightening principle “gewu”, which is the “investigation of things”, the “paying attention to books and affairs”. He was also anti-traditionalist, also pragmatic, and he described God as a rational principle. It must be quickly added that one of the reasons people find the concept of ‘rationality’ so offensive is that the word carries excessively linear connotations – what we are really talking about is an objectivity described by Buddhists as “detachment”.
It is interesting to digress briefly here and consider the difference between Confucius and Plato. As mentioned earlier in this article, Platonic Philosophy was essentially rejected by Western Society, whereas Confucian Philosophy effectively became both China’s state religion and its governing philosophy. The essential failure of Plato was his almost total focus on the rational path (except in his little read Laws). Confucius realized that not every member of society could follow in Socrates’ footsteps, consequently he created two parallel paths, one philosophical and rational, one traditional and moral. Confucius: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” When reading Confucius, it is vital to keep this in mind, he frequently mixes the approaches, so in one line he might recommend filial piety, and in the next radicalism.
This concept of the righteousness of detachment from ideology goes to the very heart of metaphysics. There are in fact two completely different conceptions of God. Instead of detached pragmatic intelligence, the Christian religion advocates love, traditionalism and faith. The concept of good & evil reverses: In one case ideology is evil and pragmatism is good, in the other case the precise opposite is true. The Christians say God is the loving shepherd who cares for his sheep, the other conception describes a God infinitely detached from finite humanitarianism and only concerned with evolutionary idealism. Instead of a single lifetime on Earth, there is reincarnation, death is meaningless, human life is not sacred. The black death was not a tragedy, it was just a moment in man’s evolution. Just as the St Matthew’s Passion is a mixture of harmony and discord, plague is an integral part of the celestial music. Instead of egalitarian utopia, we have evolutionary struggle, exceptionalism is good and mediocrity is evil. Yet this exulted viewpoint is far beyond the masses, so the Jewish Religion taught a single lifetime of passive sufferance followed by eternal utopian bliss in the hereafter (Christianity added nurturing love). As this perversion spread beyond the lower classes, the truth was completely lost to Western Society. The rot goes way beyond the technical details of the Western conception of God, it includes the moral system, the concept of enlightenment, the purpose of life (the infamous idea of a Semitic perversion of civilization – Max Müller). Because this description of God is patently absurd (problem of evil), it has become increasingly unsustainable as humans have advanced, and an unwarranted and destructive pessimism and atheism has now taken hold of Western Civilization.
I hope readers have enjoyed my big picture philosophical arguments designed to put the detail into perspective. I hope readers can grasp the validity of the scientific approach, which is so radical on first exposure, and grasp the essence of Eastern philosophy. In fact this article has presented the reader with several key converging lines of reason: the detachment from ideology, the inequality of knowledge, the evils of individualism, the illusion of freedom, the evolution of society. In my opinion a new chapter has turned in the pages of history, and it will be the most dramatic and exciting one yet. I believe we are looking at a new Age of Enlightenment. Blinded by Christianity, Western philosophers in the 18th Century failed to grasp the marvels of rational philosphy. At last the new era can begin. It’s probably not the end of history, but it is certainly the opening of a new chapter.
Here’s a video that discusses some of the ideas of Scientific Development in China: