Schiller Institute Conference April 13-14 New York
The Ideal of Highest Humanity, The Common Philosophical Foundations of Western and Asian Culture
21 April 2017
by Helga Zepp-LaRouche
The hope-filled vision of President Xi Jinping for a "Community of Shared Future for Mankind," which he conceptualized along with Win-Win cooperation on the New Silk Road, has also been adopted in a Resolution of the UN Security Council, which means that it is officially, even if in any case so, now an overarching Principle which binds all nations of this world through a higher perspective. With this concept, for the first time a strategic initiative has been put on the agenda which can replace war-causing geopolitics with the ideal of a united Humanity. In the 3 ½ years since Xi Jinping proposed it in Kazakhstan in September, 2013, this idea has rapidly become widespread and inspired more and more nations, and particularly among less developed nations, has promoted a previously absent optimism that in the near future poverty can be overcome, and that humane conditions of life for all people on this planet can be created. Countless people from different nations and cultures perceive: We are standing at the beginning of a new epoch of Universal History!
But why is it so that many governments, heads of state, politicians, and broad-minded people recognize in an instant the enormous potential embodied in it, to define the common goals of Humanity from the standpoint of the future, while others state that hidden in the Belt and Road Initiative are the sinister intentions of China, replacing imperialism and colonialism with more of the same? How is it possible that the same factual object, namely that a concrete development concept for all of Humanity is being realized, only to be interpreted in such different ways? These opposing points of view obviously have to do with the different axioms of thinking from which the question is approached.
The former publisher of the London Times and one of the leading mouthpieces for the British Empire, Lord Rees Mogg, once criticized the thesis of Samuel Huntington that it will unavoidably come to a Clash of Civilizations between Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism. He advanced the notion that the real conflict would play out between the old values of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism, and the new values, those of the New Age, the neo-liberal society, modernity. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, in his recent Annual Press Conference made a similar point regarding "the Values of the Free West," which it relentlessly tries impose on all non-Western countries. "These are probably not the values espoused by the grandfather of today’s Europeans,“ said Lavrov, "but something new and modernized, a free-for- all, I would say. They are radically and fundamentally at odds with the values handed down from generation to generation for centuries in our country, which we would like to cherish and hand down to our children and grandchildren. When during foreign policy battles we and many others face a demand to accept these new post-Christian Western Values, including permissiveness and universality of liberal approaches to the life of the individual, I think it is indecent on a human level. But in terms of professional diplomats, it is a colossal mistake and a completely unacceptable overestimation of your influence on international relations.“
It is self-evident that the overcoming of Geopolitics and the notion of a Unipolar World, also the imposition of "Western Values“ must be replaced with a real dialogue of Cultures. But how shall a real understanding take place between philosophies and art forms from completely different cultures which are separated from one another by different languages, traditions, and customs? Does one need a Lingua franca or pop songs, in English, Arabic, Hindi, or Chinese, in order to understand one another?
Or is there something more profound, universal, belonging to all cultures, and without abusing in the least their uniqueness, which puts them in a position for a real exchange and allows reciprocal enrichment—a kind of cultural "Win-Win“ harmony?
Much confusion regarding this issue came into being because the characterization of foreign cultures is often not presented in a positive light, or at least objectively, as the historians and culture experts of colonial powers were always dependent on maintaining the Right-of- Interpretation, not only for their own, but also for foreign cultural histories. As a result many Europeans and Americans know little about the best of Asian cultures, while the Asians often only get to know the British interpretation of European history.
In European intellectual history for the last 2 ½ millennia two fundamentally opposed directions have been in conflict, which one could describe as a battle between the Oligarchical System and the "Republican“ System for the Common Good. The view of man of the first, associated with Sparta, Lycurgus, claims all privileges are for the ruling elite and denies to the broad masses the right to mental and material development, as they thus remain subjects easier to rule over; the second
The most important of the various western versions of the Oligarchical model base themselves on a more less mechanistic comprehension of the world in the tradition of Aristotle, which does not allow real qualitative advancement.The progressive model, oriented on the common good, is based on the wise Solon of Athens, who saw the purpose of humanity in its progressive motion, but especially in Plato: thinkers in his tradition grasped humans, thanks to their creative Reason, continually capable of formulating adequate hypotheses on the lawfulness of the universe, which potentially lead to a limitless deepening of knowledge as well as development of humanity.
Naturally, with them variations and nuances emerge, as with the Manichean ideology that Good and Evil will always accompany each other, of the pre-Christian Weltanschauung, which have survived into the present in the modern Gaia cult. But in the end, all forms of appearance of the first system, Empiricism, Positivism, Scholastic, the deductive and inductive methods, the French and English Enlightenments, and for example Locke, Hobbes or Newton, up to the critical method of the Frankfurt School or the Deconstructionism of the Present, are variations of the Aristotelian tradition. Common for all is the idea, the essential source of knowledge is experience through the senses, Man is by nature evil, and must be controlled by repressive forms of government, and finally, the world is a closed limited system.
In contrast, the tradition drawing on Plato includes such diverse thinkers as Augustinus, Bonaventura, Nicholas of Cusa, Johannes Kepler, Gottfried Leibniz, Gotthold Ephrahim Lessing, Friedrich Schiller, the Humboldt brothers, but also Albert Einstein, Vladimir Vernadsky and Krafft Ehricke, to name but a few prominent thinkers. These thinkers have in common a fundamental optimism about the role of man in the Universe, that human mental creativity is itself a power in the further development of the physical universe, and that there is a connection between the harmonic development of all human mental and spiritual capabilities, the positive development of the commonwealth or of the state, and the laws of the cosmos.
Virtually all progress of knowledge in the natural sciences or in great classical art in European civilization is uniquely thanks to the Platonic tradition. They are due to the capability of humans, not to be dependent on the random external influences, but through the Power of Reason to determine with scientific precision where the next, higher qualitative breakthrough to expand knowledge must take place.
It is easy to demonstrate that the viewpoint of the critics, who impune China’s policy of the New Silk Road with secret motives, is but a projection of their own geopolitical motives onto China. They think like the famous chamber valet, described by Hegel in his The Phemonology of Mind, who could only imagine the World Historic Individual in his underwear, as he must daily help him in dressing and undressing. They themselves are imprisoned by the "new values“ spoken of by Rees Mogg, or the "post-Christian values“ for Russia, rejected by Lavrov. They simply cannot imagine that there are people and even governments who are truly committed not only to the welfare of their own population, but also are for a harmonic development for all humanity. And they hate the moral claim arising out of this mentality, as it puts into question their alleged right to the principle, "Everything is Allowed.“
On the other hand, mutual understanding is easier to achieve when one turns to the philosophers and poets of the optimistic tradition, for then, a striking similarity among thinkers is found, and although they come out of completely diverse cultural circles, nevertheless come to the same insights about the nature of Man and the purpose of existence. The most auspicious example of this concordance is that of the philosophical and aesthetic principles of Confucius, whose influence has impacted many parts of Asia well beyond China for 2 ½ thousand years, with those of the great German Poet of Freedom, Friedrich Schiller, where both dedicated their life’s work to the ennoblement of mankind. An important similarity is also found in many aspects of other thinkers such as Mencius, Nicholas of Cusa, Gottfried Leibniz and Wilhelm von Humboldt.
Common to all these great minds was the tireless struggle with the question of how life together among humans can be shaped, such that the inherent creative capabilities within them can unfold in the best way, and brought into concordance with the world order such that Natural Law’s Right to Happiness can be attained by all of society.
For Confucius man is by nature good, everything bad is from a lack of development, and, he has the freedom and moral obligation to improve himself through an act of his own will. Everything depends on this inner power, as an external evil is by no way always an evil, but on the contrary a test of character through which he can emerge strengthened and with purer Principles. Schiller developed the same thoughts with his concept of the Sublime, a state of mind which one can attain when his identity is bound to universal ideas which go beyond his limited physical existence, and which yield not a physical, but better, moral certainty. Also Schiller emphasized Freedom of Will. "All other things must; man is the being who wills,“ said Schiller in his writing "On the Sublime,“ and, "The morally educated man, and only this one, is entirely free.“ Only the person, who has a beautiful character, who finds joy in exercising Justice, Well-being, Moderation, Steadfastness and Devotedness, and who doesn’t lose these qualities even when hit by an array of great misfortunes, is Sublime.
For Confucius, the education of personal character is achieved in addition to literary studies through the six, "free arts,“ learning the rituals, music, archery, charioteering, writing, and mathematics. For him poetry and music play the most important role as they broaden the imagination and power of conception. Schiller writes about this in his critic about "Bürgers Poems:“In a time when our mental powers have been compartmentalized and their effectiveness scattered, as a necessary consequence of the expanded scope of our knowledge and the specialization of professions, poetry is virtually unique in its power to reunify the soul’s sundered forces, to occupy heart and mind, activity and wit, reason and the power of imagination in harmonious alliance, and, as it were, to restore the entire
According to Lun-Yü from the translation of Richard Wilhelm, Confucius focused on his students in the following way: "My young friends, why are you not engaging yourselves with poetry (Shi Ging)? Poetry is congenial to stimulate the imagination, she lets us view life as in a contemplative mirror thus cleansing our emotions; she awakens social nobleness, she arouses anger against injustice and deceitfulness, she permits the emergence in families and the state of intentions for moral actions. And otherwise, broadens our knowledge of whole organic world, namely the names of birds, and animals, herbs and trees.“
Likewise in Lun-Yu, Confucius recommended: "He who wants to be a scholarly person should read poetry in order to develop in himself a soul oriented to Truth and Beauty, then read the moral laws in order to stay on the true path, and then learn music to be able to harmonically ensoul himself.
Between Confucius’s highest ideals on the intellectual, moral, and aesthetically educated person, the Junzi, and Schiller’s concept of the "Beautiful Soul,“ there exists an intimate inner connection. In "Grace and Dignity“ Schiller writes: "We call it a beautiful soul, when moral sentiment has assured itself of all emotions of a person ultimately to that degree, that it may abandon the guidance of the will to emotions, and never run danger of being in contradiction with its own decisions. Hence, in a beautiful soul individual deeds are not properly moral, rather, the entire character is.“, and further, "It is thus in a beautiful soul, that sensuousness and reason, duty and inclination harmonize, and grace is its epiphany.“ In Confucius, it is said this person "can follow the wishes of his heart, without infringing on proportion.“
For Confucius this development of the individual, up to the highest Ideal of the intellectual, moral, and aesthetically educated person, the Junzi, the noble, was the precondition for a well structured state. "When the personality is well-educated, only then is the home administered; when the home is administered, then the state can be ordered; when the state is ordered, only then can the world have peace.“ "Once humanity is in order, thus will also Heaven and Earth and the whole procession of Nature come to order, all disruptions of the course of Nature are but the result of disorder among Man and the faulty development of character in the ruler.“ Exactly the same, Schiller drew the conclusion for the failure of the French Revolution caused by the Jacobin Terror that a great historical moment has found a little people, where the objective potential for a transformation existed but the subjective moral preconditions were missing. From now on, any improvement in
And also with him, this is also the precondition for the well-being of the state. In the 4th Aesthical Letter, "Every individual man, one can say, carries by predisposition and destiny, a purely ideal man within himself, to agree with whose immutable unity in all his alterations is the great task of his existence. This pure man, who gives himself to be recognized more or less distinctly in every subject, is represented through the state;“ and Schiller adds, this congruence should not come to pass, in that the state represses the individual, but "that the individual becomes the state, that the man in time ennobles himself to the man in the idea.“
It is also clearly the idea of a more perfect future, which guides action in the present. This clear vision also gives the criteria for making an educated prognosis about the future. As Confucius says on that, the path to the highest Truth leads to clearly recognizing the future. In the book, Proportion and Mean, Zhong Yong, 2.5 he speaks of the duty of man to search for Truth, as "Who seeks Truth, chooses the Good and stays with it.“ The path of the highest truth makes possible that man can recognize in advance, if a kingdom is about to flourish, then there are favorable signs, but if a kingdom is about to collapse, then there are ominous signs.
Nicholas of Cusa, who founded modern natural science with his new scientific method of thinking at the level of the Coincidence of Opposites, conincidentia oppositorum, and also precise measuring, and likewise conceptually made the decisive step for formulating a representative system of nation states, is prior to Schiller the philosopher who has the greatest affinity to Confucius. He had the same idea, that the Sage can recognize the future, on the basis of a recapitulation of the overall development of the universe to his time, through prior knowledge in his mind of that which he seeks. Without this prior knowledge one knows neither what is the proper question, nor if that which is found is really what was sought.
For Schiller too, it is the inner educated ideal of a better future, with which he acts on reality, in that he gives it direction towards the Good. In the 9 th Aesthetical Letter he demands that this ideal must be fully educated in the heart before it can befall to encounters with the "dubious society“ of reality. "Live with thy century, but be not its creature; give to thy contemporaries, but what they need, not what they praise,“ and with this Schiller demands the same inner moral independence as Confucius, which can only be achieved with a completely human education of character.
It thus matters not merely to realize in oneself the highest ideal, but to actively contribute to the betterment of society. Likewise true knowledge is not won by mere contemplative observations, but by active transformation of society. Confucius says about this in the book "The Great Learning,“ Da Xue, "The highest knowledge is that reality is impacted. Only when it engages reality has knowledge reached its heights, as then, ideas become true; when the ideas are true, only then is consciousness just; when consciousness is just, only then will the person be educated; when the person is educated, first then is the home regulated; when the home is regulated, only then are states well governed; when the state is well-governed, only then is there peace in the world.“
With Nicholas of Cusa the same idea is expressed so, only when all microcosms are developing in the best possible way, can harmony in the macrocosm come into being. At the same time this development is not static, as the further education of one, engages like a fugal counterpoint in the development of the other and leads to a harmonic development of the totality. Such Cusa-like thinking, albeit in a Confucian way, emerges from the words of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when he says the Belt and Road Initiative is no Chinese solo act, but a symphony, performed by all nations.
Schiller in his later years occupied himself with the question how the resolution of inner conflicts, both in the single individual, as in society, could be portrayed in poetry, and whereby the "voluntary unification of inclinations with the law, to the pinnacle of moral dignity of a more refined Nature“ is nothing less than "the Ideal of Beauty applied to the real world.“ He depicts here the Ideal that reality should strive for, in the sense of Percy Shelly, that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
And why should it not be conceivable that Mankind becomes adult, that we cease to attack each other like uneducated four year olds, or to express it otherwise, to arrest the development of Humanity in senseless geopolitical conflicts? Why should it not be within our immediate grasp, to eliminate poverty from this world, to make possible universal education for all children, with that making the Beautiful Soul the goal of education, as Wilhelm von Humboldt did, but also Confucius?
The most crucial question for Confucius and Schiller was educating Love of Mankind, which Confucius valued higher than life itself, more important than Fire and Water, and which Schiller called, "the most beautiful phenomenon in the soul-filled creation, the omnipotent magnet in the spiritual world, the source of devotion and the most sublime virtue,“ where man becomes all the richer when he loves. For Confucius, the Love of Mankind was the highest morality, making possible all other ethical values, as in Lun-Yü, where Confucius says, "All deeds of man must be embodied with it, otherwise they are worthless.“ To this belongs also that man must have compassion for one another. For Lessing, the most compassionate human was also the best, as he is ready to act on the foundation of all civil virtues and demonstrate all manners of generosity. It is told of Confucius he never satisfied his hunger when eating next to a man in mourning, as he didn’t want to enjoy his meal, when another suffered.
Likewise in Lun-Yü Confucius emphasizes how important it is for a state to continually cultivate its citizens for Love of Mankind, otherwise it is doomed. Confucius said: "To lead a people lacking education into war, is to guarantee their doom.“ The analogy for the present is obvious and requires no commentary.
For both, Confucius and Schiller, cultivation of the individual and society by means of aesthetic education, whereby Art, which itself must attain the highest standards, plays the most important role. Schiller demands from poets as from artists generally, to elevate themselves to the highest moral and aesthetic heights, before he practices his art. "The task of ennobling that personality to the highest degree, of refining it into the purest, most splendid humanity, is the first and most important business he must address, before he may venture to stir members of the elite. There can be no greater value to his poetry, than that it is the perfected imprint of a truly interesting disposition of a truly interesting, perfected mind.“
In his poem "The Artist“ Schiller assigns artist a responsibility for civilization: "The dignity of Man into your hands is given, Its keeper be! It sinks with you! With you it will be risen!“ The same idea is found in Confucius in particular regarding music: "Music rises from the heart. When the emotions are touched, they are expressed in sounds, and when sounds take definite forms, we have music. Therefore, the music of a peaceful and prosperous country is quiet and joyous, and the
In a very beautiful treatise on music, Confucius writes: "When the likes and dislikes are not properly controlled, and our conscious minds are distracted by the material world, we lose our true selves in the principle of reason, and nature is destroyed. Where man is constantly exposed to the things in the material world which affects him, and does not control his likes and dislikes, then he becomes overwhelmed by the material reality, and becomes dehumanized, or materialistic. When a man becomes dehumanized or materialistic, then the principle of reason in nature is destroyed, and man is submerged in his own desires. From this arise rebellion, disobedience, cunning, and deceit, and general immortality. We have then a picture of the strong bullying the weak, the majority persecutes the minority, the clever ones deceiving the simple-minded, the physically strong going for violence, the sick and the crippled not being taken care of, and the aged and the young helpless and not cared for. This is the way of chaos.“
"So music is connected with the principles of human conduct. Therefore, the animals know sounds, but they do not know tones. He who understands music, comes very near to the understanding of of Li, and if a man has mastered both Li and music, we call him virtuous, because virtue is the master of fulfillment.“
"Truly great music shares the principle of harmony with the universe. When the soil is poor, things do not grow; and, when fishing is not regulated according to the seasons, then fishes and turtle do not mature. When the climate deteriorates, animal and plant life degenerates, and when the world is chaotic, the rituals and the music become licentious. We find, then, a type of music that is rueful without restraint, and joyous without calm.
Therefore, the superior man tries to create harmony in the human heart, by a rediscovery of human nature, and tries to promote music as a means to the perfection of human culture. When such music prevails, and the people’s minds are led towards the right ideals and aspirations, wee may see the
How can it be possible, that between a philosopher from China, who lived almost 2 ½ thousand years ago, and a German poet, who was active 200 years ago, can show such a similarity of ideas and methods? Naturally, Schiller knew Confucius, dedicating to him the poem, "The Sayings of Confucius,“ which ended with the lines:
Restless forward you must strive,
Must unfold in breadth,
The inner affinity between Confucius and Schiller is because both are inspired by the same ideal of a sublime humanity, and which they were deeply convinced would be achievable in the future as the true identity of Mankind despite intermittent setbacks.
Already a hundred years earlier Leibniz— taking note of the fact that the Emperor Kang-shi came to similar mathematical results, drew the conclusion that there must be universal knowable principles—and more generally recognized this same affinity between Chinese and European culture, writing:
"By a unique decision of destiny, as I believe, it is so that the highest civilization and the highest technical civilization of mankind are now collected, as it were, at two extremes of our continent, in Europe and in China, which like a Europe of the East, adorns the opposite end of the earth. Perhaps the highest Providence pursues the goal, whereby the most civilized and at the same time most distant peoples are reaching out their arms, and all found between them, gradually leads to life filled by Reason.“
Even though the Europe of today unfortunately doesn’t keep actual its cultural high points, instead turning to, using the words of Lavrov, "post-Christian“ values, nonetheless the ideas of Plato and classical Greece, the Italian Renaissance and the German Classics belong to European culture, which with the new paradigm of the New Silk Road and the Dialogue of Cultures bound with it, can at anytime be made alive again with a new Renaissance. If each nation and each culture makes alive again their highest cultural achievements and best artistic traditions in their populations, presenting themselves to other nations and cultures their best aspects, it is certain a new Renaissance will come, seizing upon and working with the best from Universal History, but beyond that enthusiastically creating things new, corresponding to Mankind achieving maturity.
No one be like the other, though like be each to the highest! How to achieve that? Each one be in his person complete.