Saturday, August 25, 2007

Spontaneous Generation

Joel Hunter and Josh S have been sparring over the theological significance of the -- somewhere between "alleged" and "unconfirmed" -- discovery of microbial life on Mars. Here's the news article that started it off, and here's some of the commentary: Joel Hunter starts, John H, Matthew Johnson, Joel's questions on its significance, and Josh S and Matthew Johnson's answers.

This is a strange debate that would have made no sense before Louis Pasteur. Let's review the history of belief in spontaneous generation among natural philosophers. Aristotle and many others believed in it for insects, fleas, mice, and so on. FThis seems to be the pretty general folk belief of unreflective humanity absent any modern biological education.

But a minority current, wielding the slogan omnium vivum ex ovo ("everything living from an egg, i.e. from something already living") began to make headway against this belief, based on purely scientific arguments in the late 1600s -- until the discovery of microscopic life. That pretty much sealed the case for spontaneous generation. Microbes appeared everywhere touched by air, no matter how you sealed it.

But in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, spontaneous generation died for three reasons:

1) Louis Pasteur's famous experiment disproved it empirically, at least for the present and short spans of time, and demonstrated that air was full of living spores.

2) Similarly, the unified field theory of biology (otherwise known as Total Common Ancestry) relied on the fact that when life had appeared once, it could no longer appear spontaneously again. This meant that all living creatures could be treated as descended from a single common ancestor.

3) Finally, increasing knowledge of the complexity of even prokaryote cellular life began to open up the possibility of arguments like those of Michael Behe, that even bacterial cells show irreducible complexity.

Suddenly the way was open, as it had never been before, to see any form of life, even bacterial, as a unique creation of God, in a way that a quartz crystal or a nebula isn't. The origin of life for the first time became a topic on which Christian theologians were generally expected to have a different viewpoint from natural philosophers. But this is a development which I think has no foundation in the text of Genesis 1 at all, and was purely governed by the scientific developments I listed above.

Let's look at Genesis 1 on the origin of plants:

And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

For comparison, let's look at the following passage on the origin of the sun, moon, and stars:

And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.

Contrast the two bolded phrases. Reading it without Louis Pasteur and Michael Behe in mind, they can naturally be read as saying that God's creation of plants was mediated by natural processes: He spoke (primary cause) and the earth brought forth (secondary cause). But with the sun and moon, He spoke (primary cause), and He made (no secondary cause). This is in fact the argument made by Gerald Schroeder in his books, Genesis and the Big Bang and The Science of God: although science cannot show any case, or even any genuinely plausible scenario, of life originating from inorganic matter, it must be so because the plain word of Scripture teaches it.

But why is it that the average Christian today is convinced that the origin of life is a miracle that demands God's direction intervention, but that the sun could have been naturally formed by a contracting cloud of gases? Not because of anything in Genesis, but because science has so far not been able to successfully explain the origin of life, but it has successfully (more or less) explained the origin of nuclear fusion.

As for me, I'll stick with Schroeder's reading.

P.S. If there IS life on Mars, it still might be of terrestrial origin -- and unless it is chemically radically different almost certainly is.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Worldly Asceticism and Chinese Christians

Here's a funny factoid (I'm getting this from memory and haven't relocated the source). At Yale, the Buddhist club is entirely white in membership, while Campus Crusade is 60% Asian.

Something of the background to this comes from a book I read a while ago: Chinese Christians in America: Conversion, Assimilation, and Adhesive Identities by Fenggang Yang. The writer's story itself is fascinating. Like Jim Ault, he went to a Christian church (here's their web page) to do sociology and ended up being converted. Unlike Ault, who became a documentary film maker, Yang eventually got a respectable academic job (more here), and perhaps for that reason his book lacks the luminescent beauty of Spirit and Flesh -- academia is pretty tough on good story telling.

The book was based on his work in an independent evangelical church for ethnic Chinese in the DC area (main services are in Mandarin with English and Cantonese translation and a separate earlier service in English). His aim was to solve this puzzle: if Chinese immigrants to the US are interested in preserving their culture, why do they convert to Christianity, especially in the narrow evangelical form? And if they are interested in assimilating, why do they attend a Chinese church, instead of a mainstream American one?

Without denying that conversion is first and foremost a matter of the Spirit (he's a Christian, remember?), he makes a strong case that the church he studied saw Chinese Christians neither as assimilating, nor as not assimilating, but rather constructing an "adhesive identity" in which their Christianity functions as a means of identifying with the best of both American and Chinese identities and rejecting what is evil in both.

With regard to Chinese identity, as immigrants (many have crossed multiple boundaries, such as mainland to Taiwan, Taiwan to SE Asia, SE Asia to USA, and so on), they find their Chinese ethical beliefs relativized -- Christianity offers a way to re-anchor them in a transcendent moral framework. Yang summarizes:

Religious conversion in postmodern pluralism can be an act of preserving traditional culture. Postmodern pluralism has a tendency to relativize traditions. The Chinese highly value their cultural traditions, especially Confucian moral values, but traditionalism alone cannot justify the authority of such a system of ethics.* These Chinese immigrants find a good match between Confucian moral values and evangelical Christian beliefs, and the conservative Chinese faith provides an absolute foundation for their cherished social ethics. Therefore, religious conversion to evangelical Christianity indeed helps these people to maintain their Chinese identity. Without the institution of the Christian church, the preservation of traditional Chinese culture could have been more difficult within postmodern pluralism (pp. 198-99).

Christian universalism is, he concludes, constructive not destructive of traditional Chinese culture -- albeit only when that culture is understood as rejecting Buddhism and other explicitly religious elements. "While universalism is achieved, particularism is also affirmed."

Their Christian faith also affirms their American identity. The church Yang studied is a conservative Christian one, one that strongly affirms the basic story of conservative Protestantism: America was built on Christian principles, but has gone astray through forgetting those principles. As one Taiwanese writer wrote in the church newsletter:

The founding spirit of the USA is originated from Christian doctrines. American laws and the humanitarian spirit all have roots in Christianity. Internally this made the American social political system healthy, the nation strong, and the people prosperous. Internationally, then, the USA can advance her military, political, and economic developments, and has become the leader of the free world (p. 123).

A guest pastor preached in Chinese:

We have to work hard to uphold God's words in America . . . We have seen the decline of the strength of the U.S. and the emptiness of American churches. We should have a sense of responsibility for this nation and for all peoples in the world. We must take up the burden to evangelize all peoples in America and the world, not just the Chinese (p. 125).

Statements like this are found all over conservative Protestantism in the USA, but they have added significance here in being written and spoken in a ethnic Chinese church, to an ethnic Chinese audience, and even in Chinese. The implication is clear: Chinese Christians can know and embody the spirit of our founding fathers better than most Americans do -- because they are Christians .

Central to this adhesive identity is the "worldly asceticism" of this generally high-achieving Chinese congregation, embodied in success, thrift, temperance (teetotalling), and sexual restraint and marital fidelity. Yet these "Protestant" values, Yang typically finds enunciated most explicitly in contrast to the surrounding American society, indeed in contrast to the American church.

Here's a story about thrift from comments at a Board meeting:

American society is a consumerist society. This consumerism has influenced our American-born kids. They want to buy this and buy that without thinking of necessity. The kids are indulged too much (p. 110).

And when the pastor bought a house that cost $350,000, and received a non-interest loan from the church, he was criticized"

We should keep expenditures within the limits of income 量入爲出。This is a good Chinese tradition. A good Christian should follow this principle even beeter. When you take up a huge financial burden [like Pastor Tang did], how could you live in peace and focus on ministries for the Lord (p. 111).

"Pastor Tang" was voted out in 1995.

In discussing sexual restraint, Yang quotes a mother of three teenagers:

I was worried for my second son. He is a high school student. The teens fellowship group [which is mostly English-speaking ABC's or American Born Chinese] once was on the edge of becoming a social and dating club. Several parents were worried about this when they sensed the tendencies, but we didn't know what we could do. These are youth at a rebellious age in this free American society. But God is really wonderful. Right then the assistant pastor [who was a white American] gave a sermon: "True Love Waits." It was an excellent sermon. My boy understood the preaching very well and liked it very much. The pastor asked these young people to make a commitment to God, write it down, and keep if for themselves, that they would wait for the true love. After that the teens fellowship returned to normal (p. 113).

Yet American churches can also a source of corruption. One guest preacher told a story about how a big church near a university campus invited two Asian student Christian fellowships (one Chinese and one Indian) to have a joint activity at church. The Chinese and Asian Indians students made the food while the Americans would prepare the program:

The food was of course very delicious, but the program was just unbelievable. The host church provided bingo games -- a kind of gambling -- and belly dancing. During the dance by a half-nude woman, the Christian students were so embarrassed that they all tried to hide their heads. It was just so awkward.

This is the problem of American churches. They have become empty physically and spiritually. . . In these seminaries the Bible is taught as not credible or believable. There is no prayer. Professors of theology smoke in the class and grow ponytail hair. How could these people speak God's words? . . . All failures of America today are because of their rejection of God
(pp. 123-24).

Here's a story about success, from a pastor's sermon as paraphrased by Yang:

A Chinese family used to attend an American church. The parents became unhappy about their daughter's getting some B grades in school. When they asked about it, the girl replied, 'I have done my best.' When they asked again, she ruffled, 'I am doing better than many of my friends in school and church. They get C's and B's but their parents still love them without a fuss. Why are you so harsh on me.' The daughter felt disappointed to be Chinese, and the parents felt helpless to respond. Later they found a Chinese church and switched there. After a while, the girl came to tell her parents, 'Compared with other parents in the church, you are not really harsh.' Her gradual change pleased the parents (p. 116).

Yang comments: "A changed reference group and her growing Chinese identity, nurtured in the Chinese church, helped this girl to excel in school."

He also quotes a popular woman speaker in Chinese churches, who uses the American ideas of pride, self-confidence, and "dare to be different" in distinctly, well, different, ways:

"Having American friends is necessary for your kids, but only to a certain degree. . . . Some Chinese children become problem teenagers because they are too Americanized. Don't say 'We must immerse ourselves in American society.' What is American society. Student who are participating in math contests are seen as nerds by [white] American girls. We need to teach our kinds 'Dare to be different.' Teach them to have self-confidence about what they do and be proud of what they are. We must have rules. For example, don't allow your kids to stay overnight with other kids."

She went on to say that white American parents, including those who attend churches, often have low expectations of their children. They ask their children to "do your best," which is often only an excuse for failure. Mixing with such children could bring bad influences on Chinese children. She suggested that it would be more desirable to mix with children of immigrants, such as Asian Indians or Koreans, because they were more conservative in moral values. Better yet, she suggested, bring your children to the Chinese church:

"It is necessary to have friends after school . . . The Chinese church provides this. In the fellowship group it is easier to provide such an environment. We Chinese have a proverb, 'He who stays near vermillion gets stained red, and he who stays near ink gets stained black' 近朱者赤,近墨者黑。Mencius's mother moved three times 孟母三遷 [in order to have good neighbors for her child]. It is very important to have proper friends (pp. 115-16).

Again as Yang points out, they defend their selective distance from American society not just in terms of preserving Chinese traditions, but also in terms of adhering to universal Christian values. "The Chinese church is a plausible structure that helps these immigrant and their children maintain their distinctive value system.

But it is important not to exaggerate the degree of separation . Speakers have to exhort Chinese parents to find Chinese (or at least Asian) friends for their children because structural integration is so universally presumed. Measurable success in mainstream American society is a universal goal. Yang wrote:

Why should one succeed? What is the purpose of success? This would be an important research question. However, I could not even ask this question directly in my interviews because it would sound silly or out of place. Success is a goal that is taken for granted (p. 108).

(He does conclude that success is seen as a way to give glory to God and especially to prove to non-Christian Chinese that Christians are not ignorant or supersititious.)

Elsewhere he writes:

New Chinese immigrants generally trust the educations system, so they send their children to public schools and prestigious universities; they trust the economic system, so they work hard and invest wisely to gain tangible rewards; they trust the socio-legal systems, so they seek gradual changes toward equality. However, they do not trust the media and entertainment industry for encouraging liberal moral values and unconventional lifestyles (p. 197).

This overall trust in American institutions is a rather striking difference between Chinese conservative Protestants and white conservative Protestants, who are notoriously suspicious of these institutions.

I find a few things particularly interesting about this picture:

1) the degree to which Chinese-American Christians have come to treat Christianity as the fulfillment of the Law -- the Confucian law. This model, of Christianity being the only way to preserve the spirit of what I call the "archaic law" in modern society, is something they are trying to live out right now.

As he notes on pp. 147-48, the church newsletter is called "Living Waters" and has John 7:37-38 -- but the first issue also had on the mast-head a poem by the famous Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi:

A square pond opens up like a mirror;
In it glowing light and white clouds are waving together.
No wonder this lagoon is so clear
Because from the springhead comes the living water.



Lovely, isn't it? And to make it better, the title is "Afterthoughts on reading the Book." OK, well, the book he meant wasn't the Gospel, but then again, the book David meant technically wasn't the Gospel either -- although the Gospel was found in it.

2) In emphasizing thrift and frugality and "worldly asceticism" more generally, I think Yang's Chinese church members have really identified an area where American churches have strayed far from the Weberian Protestant ethic and the teaching inculcated in Proverbs. I was embarrassed by the American Christian of those stories. If Americans were straying from this to sell all they have to the poor that would be one thing, but they are instead straying from this to buy McMansions, electronic gadgets, closets full of clothes, and endless nights out at restaurants. I don't usually do the moral scold thing (at least I try not to) but this is really worth scolding about.

What did John Wesley say? "Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can." Maybe it's a dangerous phrase, because most people seem to think "Well, I'll work on that first one, and maybe the second, and when I've got 'em down cold, I'll see about the third", but if you do all three, not just one or two, you will do good for your own soul and others'.

3) Their relentless pursuit of success I am less certain about, although with it goes the trust in mainstream institutions. Both are quite different from many streams in American evangelical-dom in which meritocratic success seems to happen if at all, by chance. Are Yang's church members gaining the world to lose their soul? Let us hope not -- but the possibility can't be denied. And let us hope that their trust, which is in itself always a good thing, will be not be betrayed. I don't think anyone has ever said it before, but I do believe "It is better to have trusted and been betrayed, than to have never trusted at all."

4) Their way of understanding Christian universalism as fulfilling and completing both their Chinese and their American identity is worth considering, regardless of one's ethnic or national origin. "Adhesive identity" as Yang says makes one comfortable in more than one identity and more than one place. This could be a fruitful way of phrasing Paul's conception of the simultaneously Jewish-Gentile Christian church, as I've tried to describe it here. The New Testament is bi-cultural and one can reasonable expect that certain insights in it are best achieved by those who are likewise bi-cultural.

God grant that this will be the motto for this Chinese church's Confucianism and Americanism:

I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation
I understand more than the aged, for I keep Your precepts (Ps. 119:99-100).

*Why not? Traditionalism here is basically "Confucianism" and that is unable to serve as a transcendent justification for three reasons: 1) Confucianism in China itself was attacked as being part of the old "feudal" system -- many reflective Chinese find it no longer tenable purely on its own as a basis for ethical behavior; 2) Confucianism is above all a system of social and political ethics and the American system is not Confucian; and 3) the Chinese he studied are professionally and occupationally thoroughly integrated into American life and do not want to be in a traditionalist enclave.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Cintamani Government, Christian Style

The only ruler to whom the sixth century French historian Gregory of Tours gives unmixed praise is Emperor Tiberius (ruled 574-582) -- the ruler in Constantinople. He introduces him thus: "Tiberius was a just and charitable man, equitable in his dealings, successful in war [no word on whether these successes fit "just war theory"] and, what is more important than all his other good qualities [take that, "wise Turk" afficianados!], a true Christian" (p. 234-35).

Later on, Gregory describes in more detail his rule:

He distributed among the poor much of the treasure which [the previous emperor] Justin had amassed, and the Empress frequently rebuked him for reducing the state to bankruptcy. 'What I have taken so many years to save,' she used to say to him, 'you are busy squandering in a prodigal way, and without losing much time about it, either.' 'As long as the poor receive alms and those whom we capture are ransomed,' Tiberius would answer, 'our treasury will never be empty. This is the great treasure, as our Lord explained: 'But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.' Let us indeed lay up for the needy in heaven a share of what God has given to us, so that the Lord may deign to give us increase in this world.' As I have told you, Tiberius was a great Christian and a faithful one: as long as he continued to take pleasure in distributing alms to the poor our Lord went on providing him with more and more to give.

One day when he was walking through the palace he noticed on the paved floor a marble slab carved with the Cross of Christ. 'Your Cross, O Christ,' he cried, 'is marked on our foreheads and on our breast as a sign of protection, and here we are walking on it.' He ordered the flagstone to be dug up immediately and removed from where it was. When they had prised it up and it stood on end, they found a second one underneath, marked with the same sign. They told Tiberius what had happened and they had the second flagstone lifted. Underneath they found a third one, and Tiberius made them that up, too. Beneath it, they found a vast hoard of treasure, amounting to more than a hundred thousand pounds of gold. This was taken out of the ground and, as his custom was, Tiberius was able to make even more generous contributions to the poor. Because of his humane charity, the Lord did not ever suffer Tiberius to be in want
(pp. 283-84).

High-octane prosperity gospel among sacramental Catholics, taking the politics of Jesus seriously, refusing to water down the Sermon on the Mount -- the possible titles of this little snippet are endless. But I chose to highlight this tale's exact structural identity with a similar Buddhist story of reckless generosity, which soon leads to the problem -- the supply of money dries up -- and the supernatural solution.

Unfortunately, the historians of the East Roman Empire know nothing of this story. Somehow the rulers are always more Christian on the other side of the fence.

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Recently updated my side bar to reflect some of my changing blog reading habits. If your blog disappeared it is almost certainly because you haven't posted at all this summer. Shame on you ...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Few Words in Defense of Bigness (and other comments on recent iMonk/BoarsHead content)

At the Boar's Head Tavern John H recently described (a propos Hot Fuzz) the British class system as it pertains to supermarkets. Despite Jason Blair's description of an analogous heirarchy in Minnesota, like John H I am not sure anything similar exists in the US. And I think I know why: because in the US no supermarket chain has national reach. Maybe Target, but they don't always sell food. Walmart is close to national too, but again I don't think it plays a big part in the food market. (Sam's Club does, but it is interesting that the NE has Costco, which seems not to exist in the Midwest.) Moving from Massachusetts to B-ton, I had to learn a whole new set of supermarkets: goodbye Star Market or A&P; welcome Kroger's and Marsh. And except for Aldi's, WalMart, and Super Target (I'm assuming that's a different line of the same chain as "Target") heard of any of the chains listed by Jason. OK, my point: if you have a country which is very big, and where people move around a lot, but the chains are regional, there is too much churning of customers to build a very stable class hierarchy. Bigness (at least of the country) and mobility (at least of people) is coming in for a lot of knocks on the "traditional conservative" blogosphere these days, but it has some compensations . . .

And here is a very interesting post by Michael Spencer about the real grassroots visible unity among Christians in Appalachia. It's a lovely essay, informed by his discerning love for the people of the region in which he works. But I can't help but notice that almost all of the instances of visible unity which he highlights take place in the public sphere, not the church sphere. This isn't "altar and pulpit fellowship" -- this is strong ministries directed at public schools, hospitals, the drug abuse problem, along with the pervasive blessing by the church of family events: funerals and weddings. The base of it all is the assumption:

There is a general feeling in our community that most people are Christians, or if they are not, they will be when they face some of life’s realities. Conversions in our community are frequent, and almost always take the path of a person raised inside the faith returning to the faith of their family and church; the faith of grandparents and parents.

Now in areas with large non-Christian populations this feeling cannot be reproduced. But also it relies on a good deal of practical "Constantinianism" -- the identification of public institutions with the Christian community. You can see the logic here:

Because our community has a large public school that is the primary source of community pride and identity, local churches and Christians focus on ministry in the public schools. This means that organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes are generously supported by churches and the school administration. The lack of religious and cultural diversity in our community means that demonstrations of Christian faith are common in the public schools. Teachers have no fear of prosecution if they read the Bible or lead a class in prayer.

Local ministers have also used the “Ten Commandments” cases in a neighboring county to promote a strong, across-the-spectrum support for public display of the commandments. One day I was giving a test over the Ten Commandments in a high school Bible class, when I noticed, in the middle of the exam, that someone had hung a large, ornate copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall. I had no idea where it came from, but the students were grateful. (emphasis added).

Note that it is not just the relative lack of diversity, but also the identification of Christianity with the community's public institutions that makes this visible unity possible. I don't think this is an accident; I tend to feel that it is "Constantinianism" which is the real check on sectarianism; or to put it differently, it is paying attention to the needs of people defined by locality (a category of public life) which blunts the urge of any creedal body to define the needs of people by ever-more finely divided belief. The question is: how far do you want to go in either direction?

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Father and Ruler: Twin Foundations of Human Life?

There is no life without a father, no supports through life without a ruler. Yet for generations people say, "Loyal duty and filial piety are not equally perfectible." How can this possibly be true? Ruler and father provide the grand foundation for human ethics, loyalty and filial devotion constitute cardinal principles for vassals. How inconceivable that the two, rather than complements to be practiced together, might actually prove mutually harmful! The problem lies, quite simply, with whether the motivation is selfish or selflessly righteous: when acting selfishly, both virtues are diminished; when acting righteously, both virtues can be attained.

Should a son, if his father deploys armies against his ruler, follow his father or follow his ruler? I say, "It is enough that one's physical being honor its dwelling place, while one's ethical will abide by righteous principle." A person who physically dwells with the monarch should abide by the monarch; one who physically dwells with the father should abide by the father. The follower of a ruler must then decline his ruler's charge, indicating, "A son cannot injure his father, so I wish not to receive a command." He should protest to his father as well, "Can you not relinquish your army and revert to our ruler?" Then, if his ruler suffers defeat, the subject dies honorably for him; if his father falters, the son completes mourning duties for his father before resuming service to his monarch. The person who follows his father, on the other hand, must warn him, "As my ruler cannot be targeted for assault, can you not leave your army and revert to our ruler?" Then, if the ruler suffers defeat, he dies honorably for him; if his father fails, he submits to punishment and awaits the pardon of his ruler, resuming service after completing mourning for his father.

No person in ancient times understood filial devotion like Shun, none understood righteous principle like Confucius and Mencius -- men meticulous about ruler/subject, father/son relations. Had they tragically confronted such dilemmas, they would have acted only in this manner. With reference to Congjing and the Zhuangzong emperor, the former accepted death as the cost of abiding by his ruler -- an event to lament! (Ouyang Xiu, trans. Richard Davis, Historical Records of the Five Dynasties, p. 151).

This short essay encapsulates in brief form so many themes, I can only briefly touch on two of them here.

1) Are there real moral dilemmas? Is public virtue and private virtue the same thing? Here Ouyang Xiu states his emphatic belief that no, there are no real moral dilemmas and no there is only one virtue, which is appropriate for both public and private life. "Only after a man serves his parents with filial piety can he serve the ruler with filial devotion," he says elsewhere (p. 233). Can we dismiss this as merely the "Chinese" view? Can we say that not having ever heard the Machiavellian insight that private virtues can be public vices and vice versa, he was simply a dogmatic thinker put forth his ideas without any vivid experience of opposition. Obviously not since, the whole point of the essay is that many practical Chinese of his day were convinced that private and public morality did not coincide, that sometimes to be a good public official or general, one had to be a bad son (a rather extreme example of that is here).

As I've written before, Ouyang Xiu is typical of the Neo-Confucian in the intensity of his belief in the complete congruence of morality at all levels and his resulting emphasis on duty. (One of the most arresting examples of this is the life of Lian Xixian, from which a tidbit can be found here.) Sima Qian, on the other hand, is much more willing to admit the idea that public and private morality might not be totally congruent, or that what is right might be adjusted to some degree according to circumstances.

2) Is government something that appeared late in the history of humanity, an invention or formation of the bronze age, or is it something as fundamental as fatherhood? Ouyang Xiu expresses here the assumption that government is necessary for life and equally fundamental. Ibn Khaldun, the famous fourteenth century Arab historian thought the same:

Consequently social organization is necessary to the human species. Without it the existence of human beings would be incomplete. God's desire to settle the world with human beings and to leave them as His representatives on earth would not materialize. This is the meaning of civilization . . .

When mankind has achieved social organization, as we have stated, and when civilization in the world has thus become a fact, people need someone to exercise a restraining influence and keep them apart, for aggressiveness and injustice are in the animal nature of man. The weapons made for the defense of human beings against the aggressiveness of dumb animals do not suffice against the aggressiveness of man to man, because all of them possess those weapons. Thus something else is needed for defense against the aggressiveness of human beings toward each other. It could not come from outside [the human race], because all the other animals fall short of human perceptions and inspiration. The person who exercises a restraining influence, therefore, must be one of themselves. He must dominate them and have power and authority over them, so that no one of them will be able to attack another. This is the meaning of royal authority*.

It has thus become clear that royal authority is a natural quality of man which is absolutely necessary to mankind. The [Greek] philosophers mention that it also exists among certain dumb animals, such as the bees and the locusts . . . . However, outside of human beings, these things exist as the result of natural disposition and divine guidance, and not as the result of an ability to think or to administer (Ibn Khaldun, trans. Franz Rosenthal, The Muqaddimah, pp. 46-47).

It is one of the major changes in modern thought since the nineteenth century that very few would no assert that royal authority (=sovereignty) is a "natural quality of man which is absolutely necessary to mankind." Ibn Khaldun recognized, as Ouyang Xiu would as well, that there were places where sovereign authority was weak or even virtually absent, yet he did not think that such places were the remnants of mankind's original condition (the legendary "hunter-gatherers" that are our touchstone of natural humanity) but aberrant examples under unusual conditions. One can only speculate about the immense importance of this assumption, that government is some late appearance on the human stage, not part of essential human nature, to the nineteenth and twentieth century libertarian and insurrectionist theories of government.

Ironically, the notions of the eons of government-less "hunter-gatherer" existence defining human nature was first created by anthropologists, and yet the whole enterprise of such deductions about human society in the prehistoric period (for that is what they are -- deductions) has been declared to be an illusion by more than one prominent anthropologist. If that is the case then the viewpoint of Ouyang Xiu and Ibn Khaldun may be worth a new look.

*That is, sovereignty (which Ibn Khaldun knew only in the monarchic form).

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