Part I

The European ‘Enlightemnet’ &The Middle Kingdom

Michael O.Billington

Enlightenment spokesmen saw Chinese oligarchism as a model for the West. This drawing falsely protrays Confucius as an Oriental Despot, and is inscribed (not shown in this version) with Voltaire’s anti-Christian diatribe:

“Only from wholesome reason does he interpret,
Without dazzling the world, enlightening the Spirit
He speaks only as a sage, not as a prophet.
Nonetheless, he was believed, and even in his own country.”
Related Articles

Fidelio, Vol. IV, No, 2. Summer 1995
This article is reprinted from the Summer 1995 issue of FIDELIO Magazine.

For related articles, scroll down or click here.

Go to Part II

The Enlightenment and the Middle Kingdom

by Michael O. Billington

Political prisoner Michael Billington’s “Toward the Ecumenical Unity of East and West: The Renaissances of Confucian China and Christian Europe,” and “The Taoist Perversion of Twentieth-Century Science,” have appeared in previous issues of Fidelio. Excerpts from Section I of this article were originally published as part of “Phil Gramm’s ‘Conservative Revolution’ in America,” a special report in Executive Intelligence Review, Vol. 22, No. 8, February 17, 1995.
There has been a recurring phenomenon in western European history, whereby a temporary but intense glorification of the Middle Kingdom—as the Chinese call their country—has been espoused by that grouping of oligarchical ruling families best described as the Venetian Party. In each case, the China being glorified is not that of the Confucian cultural and scientific tradition, but rather, the China of one or another period of economic and social decay, when Confucianism declined in favor of Taoist or Buddhist influences. For example:
  • During the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries, Venice collaborated with the genocidal Mongol regime. The hordes of Genghis Khan laid waste to much of China in the same bloody manner they did to Russia and the West, leaving millions dead and a decimated economy in their wake. While the Venetians welcomed the Mongols into Europe and conspired with them to destroy the enemies of the Serenissima, they deployed one of their slave-trading families, the Polos, to solidify relations with the Mongol chief Kublai Khan, who had established the capital of the Empire in present day Beijing. Marco Polo’s reports on this diplomatic and trade mission glorified the brutal, cult-ridden Mongol despotism, giving them credit for those aspects of Chinese culture and economy left standing from the splendor of the Sung Dynasty (A.C.E. 960-1279) which the Mongols had not utterly destroyed. [See Box]

  •  The European Enlightenment of the Eighteenth century was built to a significant extent on the defeat of the efforts by G.W. Leibniz1 and his collaborators to establish the “Grand Design” of an alliance of East and West, both an economic alliance tying Asia and Europe together economically, and also an ecumenical alliance between Christianity and Confucianism. Leibniz had worked closely with the Jesuit missionaries in China who followed the ecumenical policies of the founder of the China Mission, Matteo Ricci.2 This effort was largely destroyed in the early Eighteenth century, but, ironically, was followed by a period of almost fanatical infatuation in Europe over all things Chinese, which went hand and hand with the Enlightenment. Three leading figures in this “Chinoiserie” were the Physiocrat François Quesnay, Voltaire, and Christian Wolff. Those aspects of Chinese history and culture which Leibniz had identified as the source of greatness, were written out of the history books, while the term “Enlightened Despotism” was coined (by Quesnay), alleging that the Chinese model of feudalistic rule by a select few over the ignorant peasant masses was the “cause” of China’s development. The fact that the Eighteenth-century emperors of China were, in fact, regressing once again into just such a despotic rule, was to a large extent owing to the sabotage by the Venetians of the potential East/West alliance during the reign of the previous Emperor, K’ang Hsi,3 who had worked closely with the Jesuits to bring the ideas of the European Renaissance into China.

Enlightenment figures like Voltaire and his fellow Deists seized upon the description of Confucian philosophy propounded by the enemies of Ricci and Leibniz—arguing that China was great precisely because the Chinese worldview was not consistent with Christianity—in order to use this distorted picture of China in their efforts to destroy the fruits of the Christian Renaissance in the West.

  •  A third recurrence of this process began in the early Twentieth century under the direction of Bertrand Russell, and continues to this day. Russell’s efforts on behalf of British intelligence to destroy the republican movement of Sun Yat-sen, and to prevent the industrial development of Asia, were based on a portrayal of the Chinese peasantry as Enlightenment “noble savages,” content in their ignorance, poverty, and Taoist cult beliefs, who had only to guard against the twin evils of western industrialization and the “elitist” Confucian tradition within China. Russell’s efforts contributed significantly to the emergence of the Maoist peasant revolt.

The entire Communist period, at least until recently, has been characterized by a belief among China’s leaders that their nation’s survival depended upon the raw power of the peasantry to feed the nation through primitive, human-wave methods, regardless of what disasters, natural or man-made, might be brought down upon them. Plans for development inevitably stop short of proposing the modernization of agriculture and the transformation of the peasantry into an urban-based citizenry—which most of the leadership fears would threaten the existence of China’s essential character.

The past twenty-five years have seen an increasingly open embrace of Russell’s ideology by certain Western interests intent more on looting the mass pool of cheap labor in China, than in helping China develop as a modern nation. Sustaining this looting process depends on keeping the majority of the population in a state of utter backwardness and ignorance, while demanding ever greater “free-trade” reforms.

Rapid population growth accompanied the three major periods of influence of the Confucian (Sung) Renaissance, while population collapse followed each recurrence of Taoist/Legalisty rule. In addition to the Sung period proper, there were two major revivals of Confucian ideas as guides to the institutions of the Empire, each leading to a period of dramatic economic, scientific, and cultural advance: First, the early Ming Dynasty, following the devastation of the Mongol occupation in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries; and second, the early Ch’ing Dynasty, following the collapse of the Ming in 1644. British Empire “Legalist” policies, combined with their manipulated anit-Confucian Taiping Rebellion, resulted in another population collapse during the Eighteenth Century.

Note chages in time scale at A.C.E. 1000 and 1600
Source: Colin McEvedy and Richard Jones, Atlas of World Population History.

Such a policy of forced backwardness for the masses coheres with the ancient Taoist and Legalist view—that man is one with the beasts and the inert objects of nature, rather than in the image of the Creator, relegating the majority of China’s population over generations to a state of degraded, unchanging manual toil in conditions not far removed from those of the animal species—which has been the source of the recurring breakdowns of civilization throughout Chinese history. It is this degraded view of man which, throughout history, has tended to corrup?Othe Confucian scholars, giving rise to the syncretic “Three Religions” movement, amalgamating Confucianism with atheistic Taoism and Buddhism.

Chinese Legalism and ‘Oriental Despotism’

Despotic rule is well known to the Chinese as Legalism, the name applied to the philosophical system which developed in direct opposition to Confucius and Mencius under the direction of, primarily, Shang Yang (c. 390-338 B.C.E.) and Han Fei Tze (d.233 B.C.E. ). Han Fei Tze was a student of Hsun Tze, considered by historians to be a Confucianist. The difference between Confucius and Hsun Tze, however, is as great as the difference between Plato and Aristotle. Confucius and, especially, Mencius viewed man as fundamentally good, as defined by the quality of “jen” (agape¯, or humaneness) which is granted to man by Heaven as a reflection of the perfect jen of Heaven; Hsun Tze, on the other hand, like Aristotle, viewed man as devoid of any inherent qualities different from the beasts, which learn only through accumulated sense perceptions and instinctual reactions to rewards and punishments. Hsun Tze wrote:

The nature of man is evil; his goodness is acquired. His nature being what it is, man is born, first, with a desire for gain. ... Second, he is born with envy and hate. ... Third, man is born with passions. ... To give rein to man’s original nature and to yield to man’s emotions will assuredly lead to strife and disorderliness and he will revert to a state of barbarism.

The only solution to man’s evil nature, is for a powerful leader to impose order through harsh and strict punishments and rewards. This, not coincidentally, brings to mind the infamous quote from Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, that man is governed only by “original and immediate instincts: hunger, thirst, the passion that unites the two sexes, the love of pleasure, and the dread of pain.”

This bestial view of man became the foundation of the first unified Chinese empire, the Ch’in. The Ch’in Dynasty lasted only fourteen years, from 221 to 207 B.C.E. , during which the Confucian classical texts were destroyed and those scholars who resisted were buried alive. The poor and indigent were declared guilty of the crime of poverty, and mobilized into slave brigades to build the Great Wall and other such projects. This followed the prescriptions of Legalist theoretician Shang Yang, who wrote:

If the ruler levies money from the rich in order to give alms to the poor, he is robbing the diligent and frugal and indulging the lazy and extravagant. Poverty must be due either to laziness or to extravagant living.

Although the Legalist Ch’in Dynasty was overthrown soon after the death of its first Emperor, Ch’in Shi-huang, the Legalist doctrine remained a powerful influence throughout Chinese history, always confronting the Confucian worldview, and corrupting it when unable to replace it. Mao Zedong explicitly modeled his reign on that of the tyrant Ch’in Shi-huang, bragging that he killed even more “counter-revolutionary” intellctuals than did the Ch’in Emperor.

It is this “Legalist Oriental Despotism” which has been repeatedly seized by the Venetians as a model for the West, falsely crediting this degenerate form for the progress achieved in China during the periods guided by Confucianism, especially that of the Sung Dynasty Confucian Renaissance identified with the work of Chu Hsi and his associates during the Eleventh and Twelfth centuries.

Thus, the Venetian/British interests represented by the Club of the Isles4 today, are attempting to impose their policies of enforced backwardness on China’s interior, while exploiting the cheap labor driven into the coastal free trade zones. This “China Model” is then portrayed as the ideal to the rest of the developing sector, including, in particular, the glorification of the Taoist nature cult as the ideal for a world religion. Such Taoism is the core ideology of Prince Philip’s Unity of Religions

advocates, as well as the theoreticians of “Liberation Theology,” such as Catholic theologian Hans Küng and others associated with the World Council of Churches. In order to prevent a global, ecumenical alliance based on the concept, proposed by Pope Paul VI, that “Development is the new name for peace,” Hans Küng and others have counterposed a pseudo-ecumenicism aimed at reducing all religions, emphatically the monotheistic religions of the West, to forms of pagan, Taoist ideology.5

‘Natural Law’ vs. ‘Conscience’
in the Middle Kingdom

To understand how the practitioners of the Eighteenth-century European Enlightenment used China in their battle to destroy the influence of Leibniz and the Platonic Christian tradition in Europe, it is necessary to investigate the foremost philosophical battle which defined the course of history in China—the parallel in Chinese culture to the conflict in the West between those advocating the worldview of Plato on the one hand, and Aristotle on the other. The fundamental conflict of antiquity identified above, with Confucius and Mencius confronting the Taoists and the Legalists, has come down to modern times in the form of the conflict between the opposing ideas of Chu Hsi (A.C.E. 1130-1200) and Wang Yang-ming (A.C.E. 1472-1529).

Chu and Wang are, unfortunately, popularly described as the leaders of two different schools within the same general philosophical tradition, known as “Neo-Confucianism” in the West, just as Plato and Aristotle are often fruadulently linked together as co-thinkers in something called “Greek philosophy.” Although Wang Yang-ming and his followers, even today, attempt to portray Chu and Wang’s thought as compatible, with minor differences on secondary issues, they are in fact the antagonists of opposite, irreconcilable conceptions of man and man’s role in the universe. Chu Hsi both revived and advanced the teachings of Confucius and Mencius from antiquity, whose ideas had been diluted and formalized, or outright discarded, over the centuries by the influences of Taoism, Buddhism, and the Legalist form of political despotism. Chu led a Confucian Renaissance, in part by developing a metaphysics which answered many questions left open by Confucius and Mencius, while countering the gnostic and empiricist metaphysics of the Taoists, and the mysticism of the Ch’an (Zen) Buddhists. Wang Yang-ming, three centuries later, unable to comprehend the fundamental ideas and method of Chu Hsi, and after more than twenty years as a Taoist, developed an amalgam of Taoist metaphysics and Confucian Rites, perverting the Confucian tradition and fostering an acceptance of an immoral syncretic mix of Confucianism, Taoism and Ch’an Buddhism. This, we will see, was the ideology embraced by the Enlightenment figures in Europe.

Chu Hsi
The philosopher Chu Hsi. His Sung Dynasty Neo-Confucian Renaissance laid the basis for rapid sicentific and economic development.
Chu Hsi took the fundamental concept of Confucianism, jen (humaneness, or humanity), and developed it in a way which is usefully compared to the concept of agape in the New Testament. He complained that the term had been used to represent love, which was not wrong in itself, but which missed the essence of the concept intended by Confucius and Mencius. In an essay called “Treatise on Jen,” Chu argued that jen is the “principle of love, the source of love, and that love can never exhaust jen.” Reflecting the Christian notion of agape as the Holy Spirit, which connects all things in the unity of God, Chu Hsi wrote:
Jen cannot be interpreted purely from the point of view of function, but one must understand the principle that jen has the ability to function. One should not regard the original substance of jen as one thing and its function as another. The meaning of jen must be found in one idea and one principle. Only then can we talk on a high level about a principle that penetrates everything. Otherwise it will be the so-called vague thusness and stupid Buddha nature.6

What distinguishes this higher notion of love, is that it is an active principle of change in the universe, rather than a Buddhist or Taoist feeling state which submerges the individual in a universal “all is one” soup of undifferentiated substance. Specifically, Chu says that “The mind of Heaven to produce things is jen. In man’s endowment, he receives this mind from Heaven, and thus he can produce.”7

It is this jen, subsuming the other fundamental Confucian virtues which are man’s inborn gift from Heaven (righteousness, propriety, and wisdom), which defines man as fundamentally good, as Mencius, especially, insisted. Chu Hsi, aware that this was often misinterpreted, wrote: “Love is not jen; the principle of love is jen. The mind is not jen, the character of the mind is jen.8 This was particularly aimed at a contemporary of Chu Hsi (Lu Hsiang-shan, the predecessor of Wang Yang-ming’s ideas), who argued that the mind itself was jen, meaning that the mind alone, contemplating itself, was adequate to achieve sagehood, without any notion of jen permeating all the things in the universe, or any need to investigate those things. Wang Yang-ming was to argue later that the mind was able to know good from evil naturally, without the need to study or investigate the laws of the universe, as if by intuition. This he called “innate knowledge” (liang chih), a concept which he considered to be his major contribution to human knowledge. Chu Hsi had identified the problem with this concept long before Wang Yang-ming articulated it, arguing that it was the capacity of the mind to love, to study, to investigate, and to create which was the gift of Heaven, not a set of formal criteria inherently in the mind for making judgments. Chu wrote in regard to his contemporary Lu and (implicitly) Wang: “Their defect lies in completely discarding study and devoting themselves solely to practice. ... They even want people to be alert and intuit their original mind. This is their great defect.”9

While Chu repudiated the essentially atheistic view of the Buddhists and Taoists, that all things are made of a single substance, he believed that all things are created by the same Creator and reflect the universal principle of that Creator. This principle he called, simply, Principle (Li). The Universal Principle he equated with God, the Lord-on-High, the Supreme Ultimate, while he defined the nature of every created thing as its individual Principle (li), which partakes of the pure goodness and complete wholeness of Universal Principle. Man, alone, is created with the perfection of form which allows for the conscious investigation of the Principle of things, for the participation with the mind of Heaven in the production and creation of the universe.

Li is the Principle which underlies the laws of the universe, a concept of Natural Law which locates man’s capacity to know and participate in the unfolding development of the myriad things and events in the universe. Showing the Platonic/Christian nature of Chu’s conception of the relationship between God (Universal Li) and the created things (individual li’s), he emphasized repeatedly that: “Li is One, but its manifestations are many.” Leibniz, upon studying Chu Hsi’s ideas, recognized in the concept of the Li a notion very close to his own concept of the “monad” as the primitive substance of all things in the universe, without parts, extension or divisibility. Leibniz wrote: “Can we not say that the Li of the Chinese is the sovereign substance which we revere under the name of God?”10 Chu Hsi distinguished the Universal Li from the li of the created things, including that of man, by the fact that the mind of Heaven, which is Li, is conscious and intelligent, but “it does not deliberate as in the case of man.”11 The question of man’s free will is located within the perfect will of God.

Chu Hsi combines a negative and a positive theology in explaining the nature of God, the Universal Li. In equating Li with the Supreme Ultimate and the Ultimate of Non-being, Chu argues that

it occupies no position, has no shape or appearance. ... It is prior to physical things, and yet has never ceased to be after these things came to be. It is outside yin and yang and yet operates within them, it permeates all form and is everywhere contained, and yet did not have in the beginning any sound, smell, shadow, or resonance that could have been ascribed to it.12

(Note that, whereas to the Taoists yin and yang represented the fundamental duality of the universe, Chu Hsi reduced them to being nothing more than the existence of opposites inherent in all created things, positive/negative, light/dark, etc., all subsumed in the unity of the real world defined by Li.)

Chu Hsi chose a passage from the Confucian classic The Doctrine of the Mean, with his own specific interpretation, in order to identify the foundation of the peace and well-being of society, as the act of the individual mind to “extend knowledge to the utmost, which lies in investigating the Principle in things to the utmost.” By making this invisible Principle, Li, which has no shape or other sensory aspects, the subject of investigation in the development of human knowledge, Chu Hsi laid the groundwork for a truly modern science, in a manner similar to that of Nicolaus of Cusa in the West in the Fifteenth century. Rather than empiricist methods of merely recording sensory data and deducing linear consequences of such appearances of things, Chu Hsi set the course for the investigation of the lawful causal relations in the developing universe, the investigation of Natural Law.

Wang Yang-ming

The Mongol hordes swept across China in the decades immediately following Chu Hsi’s death in 1200, depopulating the country and destroying the Sung Renaissance. The revival of the Confucian tradition, and of Chu Hsi’s teachings in particular, under the Ming Dynasty that overthrew the collapsed Mongol rule in 1368, contributed to the promise of a renewed Renaissance in China. But by the 1430’s there was a reversal of the policies of development and global exploration of the early Ming leaders, and the dynasty entered a sustained period of decay and collapse.

In the late Fifteenth century, Wang Yang-ming emerged as the first of a series of philosophers who became known as the School of Mind, as opposed to Chu Hsi’s School of Principle. Julia Ching, a modern collaborator of Hans Küng whom we will meet again later, in her glowing biography of Wang Yang-ming, accurately compares him and his followers over the next century to Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and, especially, Heidegger.

Wang dates his own development from a failed experiment that he and a friend carried out in 1492. Wishing to discover what Chu Hsi meant by his concept of Li, the young men decided to investigate the principle of something to the utmost, as Chu had suggested. They chose some bamboo in the garden of Wang’s father. Like the people in Plato’s cave, they sat and stared at the bamboo for days on end, failing to understand that Chu Hsi had demonstrated that the physical appearance of the bamboo was merely a shadow of its true nature, its li. They gave up without having discovered anything except that they were both getting sick.

Wang turned to Taoism and Ch’an Buddhism, and after many years, reflecting back on the experiment in his father’s garden, he made the “discovery” that, “There is no object, no event, no moral principle [Li], no righteousness and no good that lies outside of the mind. To insist on seeking the supreme good in every event and object is to separate what is one into two.”13 It is from this sudden enlightenment that Wang developed his notion of liang chih mentioned above, which can be translated either as “innate knowledge” or “knowledge of the good.” In place of Chu Hsi’s emphasis on extending knowledge through the investigation of the principle in things, Wang Yang-ming wrote:

Extension of knowledge is not what later scholars understood as enriching and widening knowledge. It means simply extending my innate knowledge to the utmost. ... The sense of right and wrong requires no deliberation to know and does not depend on learning to function. That is why it is called innate knowledge.14

Thus, what Chu Hsi ascribed only to God, namely, the capacity to act intelligently without deliberation, Wang Yang-ming ascribes to all mankind. Like the innate moral intuition of Descartes, and the categories of a priori judgment in Kant, Wang Yang-ming replaces the intelligibility of the laws of the universe and of the creative process with pure instinct, or at best a form of conscience. Wang argues that if one’s intentions are sincere, then the “innate knowledge” will correctly guide one to the correct action. In fact, he specifically replaces Chu Hsi’s scientific investigation with sincere intentions: “The work of seeking sincerity of intention is the same as the investigation of things.”15

This rejection of any universal principle, in favor of a dependence on individual “conscience” or intuition, identifies a breakdown of the concept of man in the living image of God. Each individual is reduced to his own physical being, like a beast, confronting the world on the basis of a Hobbesian “all against all,” lacking any universal criteria or measure for determining whether one’s conscience or “innate knowledge,” or any idea whatsoever, conforms with Natural Law. (The method by which universal criteria—Natural Law—may be applied to individual actions and discoveries, is the subject of Lyndon LaRouche’s discovery in the science of physical economy, in which scientific truth is determined according to a metric which derives from the development of humanity as a whole.16)

It is lawful that, just as the ideas of Descartes and Kant led to the overt fascism of Nietzsche and Heidegger, so Wang Yang-ming’s school generated the anarchy of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries in China (such as that of Li Chih, a Nietzsche-like figure of the late Sixteenth century) which brought down the Ming Dynasty.

It was precisely this question of the inadequacy of “following one’s conscience” without any concept of a universal principle to inform the conscience, that Pope John Paul II addressed in his Encyclical Veritatis Splendor in 1993, and which LaRouche elaborated in “The Truth About Temporal Eternity.”17 In this regard, it is worth quoting at length from the Pope’s recent book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, for two reasons: first, because he analyzes the Enlightenment in a way which demonstrates the close parallel to the Chu/Wang conflict in China; and, second, because it demonstrates sharply the difference between the views of the Pope and those of Julia Ching, quoted above, whose collaboration with Hans Küng in operations against China today will be reviewed below. Both Küng and Ching are nominal Catholics, while fully embracing the same ideologues of the Enlightenment here criticized by John Paul II.

In chapter 8 of his book, the Pope examines Descartes, who, he writes,

marks the beginning of a new era in the history of European thought, who ... inaugurated the great anthropocentric shift in philosophy. “I think, therefore I am,” ... is the motto of modern rationalism. All the rationalism of the last centuries—as much in its Anglo-Saxon expression as in its Continental expression in Kantianism, Hegelianism, and the German philosophy of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries up to Husserl and Heidegger—can be considered a continuation and an expansion of Cartesian positions. ... [Descartes] distanced us from the philosophy of existence, and also from the traditional approaches of St. Thomas which led to God who is autonomous existence, ... . By making subjective consciousness absolute, Descartes moves instead toward pure consciousness of the Absolute, which is pure thought. Such an Absolute is not autonomous existence, but rather autonomous thought. Only that which corresponds to human thought makes sense. The objective truth of this thought is not as important as the fact that something exists in human consciousness.

This passage could be transposed virtually word for word, substituting Wang Yang-ming and his followers for Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger, and substituting Chu Hsi for St. Thomas Aquinas. Wang’s liang chih, like Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” replaces the Absolute, the Supreme Ultimate, the Universal Li, of Chu Hsi, with the totally subjective Absolute of the mind. Wang Yang-ming even writes: “The mind is Li. Is there any affair in the world which is outside the mind? Is there any virtue which is outside the mind?”18

Pope John Paul II continues, that Descartes created the climate in which, within 150 years,

all that was fundamentally Christian in the tradition of European thought had already been pushed aside. This was the time of the Enlightenment in France, when pure rationalism held sway. The French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror, knocked down the altars dedicated to Christ, tossed crucifixes into the streets, introduced the cult of the goddess of Reason.

The Pope should have added, that these practitioners of the Enlightenment also beheaded Lavoisier, declaring that the Revolution had no need for science. The “Reason” worshipped by the Enlightenment was not the Divine Spark which guided Nicolaus of Cusa, Kepler, and Leibniz in the creation of modern science, but the empiricist, subjective logic of Aristotle, which can be used to justify anything at all, no matter how evil or destructive.

Wang Yang-ming also attacked the “scholars of these later days,” as he referred to Chu Hsi and his supporters, on the issue of Taoism and Ch’an Buddhism. While insisting in his later life that he was not only a Confucian but the true philosophic descendant of Confucius and Mencius, he nonetheless wrote:

The practices of the two teachings (Ch’an Buddhism and Taoism) can all be my practices. ... But certain scholars of these later ages have not understood the completeness of the teachings of the Sages [Confucius and Mencius]. For this reason, they have distinguished themselves from the two teachings as though there exist two views of truth.

This has, through the ages, served those who advocate Taoist gnosticism, but who, for political reasons, need to pay lip service to Confucianism. In this regard, it is not surprising that Wang Yang-ming believed in what is now called “appropriate technology” for the peasant masses, whose lives, he insisted, should remain the same, generation after generation, unfettered by knowledge of the laws of the physical universe or by economic development. Wang praised the golden age of Yao and Shun, the semi-mythical emperors of the Third millennium B.C.E. , when he claimed (contrary to the historical record as written by Confucius), “there was no pursuit after the knowledge of seeing and hearing to confuse them, no memorization and recitation to hinder them, no writing of flowery composition to indulge in, and no chasing after success and profit.”19 This is the model of “Oriental Despotism” so desired by the Venetian designers of the Enlightenment.

Although the characterization of China as the model of “Enlightened Despotism” was a construct based on the worst tendencies in Chinese history and society, it is nevertheless the case that Chu Hsi and his school, who created the Confucian Renaissance during the Sung Dynasty, never proposed or discussed any notion of the concept of the modern nation-state. In the West, Nicolaus of Cusa, building on the Christian Platonist concept of Natural Law developed by St. Augustine and St. Thomas, posed the necessity of establishing government on the basis of the consent of a free and informed citizenry, drawing on the Divine Spark of reason in man to derive laws, and for the people to participate in the process of empowering or removing governments according to their adherence to Natural Law.20 As Lyndon LaRouche has noted recently in regard to the Augustinian notion of Natural Law before the time of Cusa, it remained “contemplative,” never becoming adopted as the basis of political society. This could also be applied to Chu Hsi and the leaders of the Confucian Renaissance. Chu Hsi advocated the extension of education to all children, and even wrote children’s books toward that purpose, while he also sponsored books and educational programs on agricultural technology for farmers, but he never proposed the kind of nation-state which was necessary for his educational initiatives to succeed against the policies of those who believed it served their purposes to keep the masses in a state of ignorance.

The Mongol invasion crushed any potential for further development. Subsequently, as the Ming Dynasty declined, Wang Yang-ming and his followers destroyed the concept of Natural Law altogether in a manner similar to the Seventeenth-century European theorists Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf, who divorced Natural Law from moral theology.21 In the Chinese case, Natural Law was replaced, at best, by the Rites—codes of proper conduct and the veneration of ancestors, as well as philosophical explications of moral beliefs and standards, which were compiled over centuries. Important as such customs are for a society, they must be recognized as derived from Natural Law, not as Natural Law itself. Giving the Rites the force of Natural Law, creates the potential for those Rites to become a means of distortion and oppression, rather than a means of celebrating the underlying truths they reflect.

Set free from its moorings in the Absolute, in Universal Truth, custom is rendered subject to the vagaries of individual intentions. As with Nietzsche, and as with the Sixteenth-century anarchist Li Chih, such “freedom” from the Absolute opens the door to arbitrarily changing or discarding the Rites, the customs, altogether—and hence, creating the conditions for the spread of anarchy and fascism.

The Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci recognized the teachings of Christianity and those of Confucius, made chinese civilization recptive to Westeern science.
With the Ming Dynasty thus degenerating, Matteo Ricci and his fellow Jesuit missionaries arrived in China in 1581, and by the early Seventeenth century were active within the Ming court. When the Manchurians overthrew the Ming in 1644, the Jesuits quickly established themselves with the new Ching Dynasty ruler. Relations with the first Ching emperors were such that the education of the crown prince was entrusted in part to the Jesuits, together with classical Confucian training. It was this young man who became the famous K’ang Hsi Emperor, under whom the collaboration between East and West reached its highest level, with Leibniz personally leading the European side in collaboration with the Jesuits in China. The science of the Golden Renaissance and the revived Chu Hsi School of Confucian scholarship within China, served to fuel an era of extraordinary scientific and cultural advance, brought to an end primarily by the enemies of Leibniz and the Renaissance in Europe, during the so-called Rites Controversy.22

The European Enlightenment
and the Middle Kingdom

The three primary figures who led the Eighteenth-century China craze in Europe—Christian Wolff, Voltaire, and François Quesnay—were all involved in direct operations to destroy the influence of the Renaissance, and of Leibniz in particular. All three considered the same fundamental question which Leibniz had posed to himself: what must be concluded from the evidence that China had developed a thriving culture, with an extremely high population density and a relatively advanced state of economic development and education, at the time of the arrival of the Jesuit missionaries, despite its being generally isolated from European science, culture and religion? Leibniz concluded that something within the dominant worldview of the Chinese must cohere with the great truth discovered during the Christian Renaissance pertaining to the application to society of the concept of man created in the image of God. The Enlightenment enemies of Leibniz concluded quite differently, that the answer lay merely in the structure of China’s existing government and institutional forms. With this empiricist sleight of hand, the entire effort to unite East and West on the basis of an ecumenical agreement on the vision of man as imago viva Dei, was scrapped—together with the potential for Eurasian-wide economic development. What emerged instead, was Venetian glorification of “Oriental Despotism.”

The period following the death of the K’ang Hsi Emperor in 1722 saw a rapid retreat into the “Three Religions” movement, and a slow death of the potential of the K’ang Hsi period. The Emperors Yung Cheng (reigned 17-23-35) and Ch’ien Lung (reigned 1736-95) were, perhaps understandably, disgusted with the Christians, for what they viewed as duplicity and idiocy over the preceding Rites Controversy.22 Voltaire was to quote with delight the edict of Yung Cheng, expelling the Christians: “What would you think if I sent bonzes and lamas to your country? If you fooled my father, could you not also try to fool me?” Several of the Jesuits who had become indispensable to the court were allowed to remain, but it is perhaps indicative of the general degeneracy of the entire situation that one of the primary tasks of the remaining Jesuits was to use their architectural skills to construct not a cathedral, but a duplicate of a grand French chateau, with rococo ornaments and fountains, for the emperor’s summer palace!

The earlier K’ang Hsi Emperor’s 1692 edict welcoming and encouraging the missionaries of all orders to vastly expand their numbers in China, and extending the right to settle and teach throughout the empire, had symbolized the government’s commitment to spread the new Western learning throughout the population. The fact that the missionaries openly opposed the Taoist and Buddhist sects did not deter K’ang Hsi from this approach, although as sovereign he did not himself attempt to suppress the sects’ activities. His successors, however, not only threw all but a few Christian missionaries out, but themselves reverted to Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. The economy and general welfare of the nation, including the rapid population growth, were more or less sustained through the Eighteenth century by the tremendous developments of the previous K’ang Hsi period, but at a decreasing rate. The impulse for progress and the process of assimilation of Renaissance scientific method were lost. The gradual weakening of the country, intensified by the massive British drug smuggling of Indian-grown opium in the early Nineteenth century, left China virtually defenseless before the British invasion forces of the 1840’s, 1850’s, and 1860’s.

Throughout the Eighteenth century, the Society of Jesus was fighting for its very existence, culminating in the complete suppression of the Order in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV. The history of the Jesuits’ role as one pole of the disastrous, Venetian-controlled “Reformation/Counter-Reformation” battles of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, is beyond the scope of this work [See “Venice’s War Against Western Civilization,” this issue,], but it can be generally asserted that in the Eighteenth century, the Venetian-allied forces of the Enlightenment across Europe attacked the Jesuits as the target of convenience in their effort to destroy the Catholic Church. The Jesuit missionaries in China, for nearly 150 years after Ricci’s arrival in 1581, had been largely untainted by the Reformation conflict or the Draconian policies of the Council of Trent, and saw themselves primarily as emissaries of Christ, the Pope, and the best of European science and culture in a non-Christian land. However, by the 1720’s, the Jesuit missionaries had lost the fight over the Rites in China, and the Rites Controversy itself—in a distorted form—became one of the issues of the attacks and counter-attacks between the Order and its opponents in Europe. Most of the missionaries were expelled from China, and those who remained mere appendages of the court under anti-Christian, and only superficially Confucian, emperors. Those Jesuits who had contributed so much through their inspired commitment to the evangelization of China were mostly gone. Those who remained were, to a great extent, more interested in appeasing the (Taoist-Buddhist) prejudices of the court, in order to retain their already reduced status, than they were in combatting those prejudices.

The Emperor K’ang Hsi had been rightfully praised for both his dedication to Western science and his openness to the Christian/Confucian ecumenical alliance. The Jesuits of the following period, however, turned to propitiating K’ang Hsi’s successors, who did not share his views of science or religion.

A new comprehensive text on China was published in 1735 by the Jesuit Father Jean Baptiste DuHalde, Description de l’Empire de la Chine. DuHalde had never traveled to China, and his text was generally considered to be uncritical at best, conceived more towards the purpose of defending the Jesuits as an institution than to advance the understanding of China. DuHalde’s work, rather than the more competent writings of Ricci and his followers, became the primary source used by the Enlightenment figures.

Much of DuHalde’s four-volume work was dedicated to detailed descriptions of the structure and working of the government (including 350 pages of verbatim imperial edicts and announcements). He ascribed the peace and prosperity of China to the emperor’s paternalistic role towards the people, and to the respect accorded farmers. Wrote DuHalde:

Agriculture is in great esteem; and the husbandmen, whose profession is looked upon as the most necessary one in a state, are of considerable rank, for they are preferred to merchants and mechanics, besides having large privileges.

However, this “esteem” took the form of glorifying the primitive state of agricultural labor, rather than as a commitment to uplift the livelihood of the peasantry. This is evident in a passage in François Quesnay’s Despotism in China, which drew heavily on DuHalde’s work. Quesnay reports glowingly of the Emperor Yung Cheng ordering each province to choose a farmer who had done well in all aspects of his work: “This estimable farmer is elevated to the degree of Mandarin of the eighth order, and he enjoys nobility and all the prerogatives attached to the rank of Mandarin.” Those familiar with the dark days of the Cultural Revolution will recall that this was precisely the approach of Mao Zedong, who elevated workers and peasants to the rank of Politboro members, to glorify the role of menial labor, regardless of education. One worker went on to become a member of Madame Mao’s Gang of Four, which instigated the mad “mass movements” that destroyed the country.

Christian Wolff

Christian Wolff has gone down in history as the person who carried on the work of Leibniz in the realm of philosophic inquiry. That this is an absurd notion is demonstrated by the fact that Wolff was also known as the “German Newton,” a far more accurate characterization. The young Wolff was a friend and correspondent of Leibniz, and later became the self-styled “systematizer” of Leibniz’s philosophy, a process of stripping Leibniz of any living ideas and placing the quartered corpse in pre-arranged coffins. The concept of monads did not fit into Wolff’s systematization, and was therefore simply left out!

In the words of historian Julia Ching, who admires Wolff:

Wolff inherited Leibniz’s vision of a universe of harmony, but he tended to reduce it from the very complex pluralistic model drawn from infinite calculus, to the more systematically rationalistic and sometimes dualistic model in part derived from a clear and distinct Cartesian and geometrical understanding. 23

Wolff’s writings are so pedantic and vacuous that one is tempted to dismiss him entirely. However, he is described by Kant as the “greatest of dogmatic philosophers,” and Hegel said that Wolff “defined the world of consciousness for Germany and for the world in general, in the same sense in which we may say that this was done by Aristotle.”24 Wolff became the primary influence on German education throughout the Eighteenth century before Kant.

Despite this reputation, Wolff was not even the originator of the concepts associated with his name. Antonio Conti, the Venetian who created the myths concerning the works of Sir Isaac Newton, began a correspondence with Wolff shortly before the time of Leibniz’s death, just as he later established a friendship with the keeper of the Leibniz papers. Conti had offered himself as the “mediator” between Newton and Leibniz on the dispute over Newton’s plagiarism of the calculus developed by Leibniz. Conti’s intent was to convince Leibniz to accept the decision of the Royal Society. Conti later went to France to build an attack on Leibniz’s Monadology, and brought Montesquieu and Voltaire into his orbit, creating the French Enlightenment as an Anglophile opposition to Leibniz under the direction of Venice. Wolff played an early role in this Venetian gameplan, as would Voltaire and Quesnay later in the century.

We need only look at Wolff’s work in regard to China, to recognize the role he played in destroying the Leibniz tradition in Europe. Wolff became famous as the leading Sinophile of his age. His speeches and writings on China never even mention Leibniz—the best known China expert in Europe—despite Wolff’s claim to being the foremost expert on Leibniz! The reason is clear: he was not in the least bit interested in the philosophic ideas of the Chinese people, but only in using an idealized picture of the Chinese system of government and ethics as a model to “prove” the viability of oligarchical policies in general.

The two primary concepts promoted by Wolff were to become popularized later in the century as “Deism” and “Enlightened Despotism.” Wolff was fixated on the ethical system of the Chinese and the political structures of their government. He never mentions Chu Hsi, nor attempts to address any of the metaphysical issues which were the primary subject of the voluminous publications of Leibniz and the Jesuits in China. His referenced sources were in fact very limited, primarily the translations of a few of the texts of Confucius and short excerpts from other Chinese philosophers, together with the 1735 DuHalde book and others that depended on DuHalde. He chose to side with the enemies of Leibniz on the fundamental question at the center of the “Rites Controversy”; namely, whether or not the ancient Chinese philosophers believed in God. Wolff writes—in direct contradiction to Leibniz, and without any attempt at proof: “The ancient Chinese knew no Author of the Universe and had no natural religion, even less a revealed one.”25 From this he proceeded to assert that the Chinese had learned morality entirely from nature (without any form of Divine guidance) and lived by that morality far better than the Christian nations of Europe. This became the battle cry of the Deists, who across Europe held up the Chinese as the proof that Christianity and religion in general were quite unnecessary. “Reason” alone, they said, was adequate to guide the individual and the nation to the truth.

But what was their notion of “reason?” Wolff writes:

Any series of thoughts carried on by the operations of the mind can be distinctly explained by formal syllogisms, just as the gait of a human being is explained by static laws of motion and rest.26

Since no fundamental discovery, nor any creative thought, can be expressed as a formal syllogism—which is capable only of deductions within a given axiomatic structure—Wolff was therefore denying the mind’s capacity to discover new, higher systems of axioms when confronted with contradictions in the existing body of human knowledge. But this is the very quality of mind which distinguishes man from the beasts, which defines man as in the image of God. Wolff’s mechanism is totally alien to the discoveries of the Christian Platonist Leibniz and his Renaissance forebears.

Not surprisingly, Wolff also comes down on the Taoist side of the controversy between Chu Hsi and Wang Yang-ming. Although Wolff was either unfamiliar with, or simply chose to ignore, the Sung Confucians of the Chu Hsi School, his interpretation, whether or not influenced directly by any follower of a particular school, was the same as that of the Taoist-tainted perversions of Wang Yang-ming. For example: Wolff, to his credit, does argue against those who define reason as derived only from sense perception, correctly claiming that such a view leaves man as not fundamentally different from the beasts. But he then asserts the following concerning those who elevate their minds to the “rational” level: “They determine their good actions by their free will and need no Superior to persevere in the good, because they know the intrinsic difference between good and evil, and they are able to explain this to others.” The knowledge of good and evil is simply programmed in, as in Wang Yang-ming’s liang chih. Wolff’s rejection of the need for a “Superior” is, in fact, the rejection of universal truth, of Chu Hsi’s Li, and is an invitation to the depravity of moral relativism which characterized both the European Enlightenment and the Chinese “Enlightenment” of the late Ming under the influence of Wang Yang-ming.

Wolff pointed to two aspects of Chinese society which he was to hold up to his students (including the young Frederick the Great, and Frederick’s friend Voltaire) as models to be emulated: one was the educational system; the other was the role of the Emperor as a “philosopher king.”

Wolff described the Chinese educational system according to his own acknowledged belief in Aristotle’s division of the soul into two parts, the sensitive and the rational. The Chinese, he said, were aware of this division, and correctly divided the schools accordingly into two parts, called the “schola parvulorum” (hsiao hsue) and the “schola adultorum” (ta hsue). The infant school was intended to address the inferior part of the soul, providing only practical education. Select youth, however, were sent to the adult school to develop their minds, rather than just their physical skills.27

It is true that Chinese education did tend to degenerate in this direction, but this was a total perversion of the intention of those who designed the educational system. The term “ta hsue” comes from the Confucian classic of that name (usually translated The Great Learning or Learning for Adults), which was chosen by Chu Hsi as a central text for the Confucian canon, and “hsiao hsue” was the title of a book written by Chu Hsi himself as a guide for children before they could comprehend the classics—certainly not as a “practical education” course for the inferior classes. In fact, the Sung Dynasty in the time of Chu Hsi (Twelfth century) was the era of the first mass printing of books in the world. Most of the books were either Confucian classics, or technical books on agronomy, hydraulics, and related technologies for agriculture. Educational policies of this renaissance era were oriented toward expanding the number of farmers capable of reading these books, while also encouraging the best students to continue their studies to prepare for the strenuous classical exams demanded for obtaining a government position.

Wolff’s Aristotelian form of education was in fact not that of the Confucians, but that of the Legalists, who selected an elite to be provided with a “classical” education, in accordance with their view of Natural Law as the law of power over the peasant masses, while the peasants were denied any training beyond the physical skills needed to perform their duties in the fields.

The second aspect emphasized by Wolff, was that of the role of the emperor as a “philosopher king.” In a lecture presented in 1750 entitled “The Real Happiness of a People Under a Philosopher King Demonstrated,” Wolff returns to the Chinese emperors of deep antiquity—the semi-mythical rulers of the Third millennium B.C.E. —who, he asserts, “settled that model of government wherein it now excels over all other models in the world.” He rejects the Renaissance notion of the nation-state, based on an educated citizenry, in favor of the model of a feudal state which treats the population as children who will never grow up.

Wolff simply ignores the crucial issue in Confucianism, as to when one should not serve a prince who fails in his duties. Nor does he address the importance of the concept of the “Mandate of Heaven.” The idea of the “Mandate,” central to Confucius’ own writings, holds that the qualities of leadership are ultimately tested within the development of the physical economy. “If there shall be distress and want among the people within the empire, the title and honor which God has given to you will be taken away from you forever,” said the ancient Emperor Yao to his successor Shun. Wolff seems oblivious to the recurring periods of chaos and collapse in this supposedly “perfect model of government” established four thousand years ago.

Although Wolff did not declare himself to be a Deist, his views were so clearly anti-Christian (and atheistic, in fact) that he became the center of a European-wide controversy that dramatically affected the subsequent developments of the Eighteenth century. In 1721 he presented a lecture at Halle called “The Practical Philosophy of the Chinese.” His glorification of Confucianism, which he misportrayed as atheistic, provoked an outcry from numerous quarters. One of the Pietists at Halle said of Wolff: “It is a poor philosophy for a Christian thinker to hold which has nothing more to recommend it than that it displays a certain similarity to the teachings of a heathen philosopher.” When King Frederick William I of Brandenburg-Prussia eventually ordered Wolff out of town within forty-eight hours, all of educated Europe lined up for or against Wolff. The Jesuits, in a move that clearly demonstrated that they had deserted the position of their own China missionaries, defended Wolff and his distorted view of China, and even had his speech printed in several languages. In the process, the Crown Prince Frederick (later Frederick the Great) became one of Wolff’s defenders. The King ultimately relented and cleared Wolff of the charges in 1736. Wolff then became highly influential in the court, and the Crown Prince (and later King) had all of Wolff’s writings translated into French and forwarded to his friend Voltaire. Frederick the Great was later to write his Anti-Machiavelli, describing his notion of the “Enlightened Despot,” based on the writings of Wolff and Voltaire.


Wolff, when severely attacked as a Deist, attempted to defend himself by making pseudo-criticisms of the Chinese that were intended to appease his Christian attackers. Voltaire, however, did not feel such a compunction to cover his rear.

Voltaire was far better read in the Chinese literature than Wolff. He accepted the Jesuits’ analysis that the Chinese believed in God. But he drastically modified their notion of God in order to serve his own purposes—those of the libertine, in the service of his Venetian sponsors. Like his mentor Pierre Bayle, who had revived Manichaeanism and other Oriental cults in order to attack Christianity, Voltaire glorified and distorted Confucianism as a foil to argue for the uselessness of Christianity. He lauded the Chinese for believing in a Supreme Being, without the “superstitious” concepts of Heaven and, especially, Hell (obviously anxious that he not be held accountable!). He praised Confucianism for having no dogma—which he viewed as the scourge of Christianity—without ever mentioning the crucial role and importance of the Rites, which certainly constituted a kind of “dogma,” in the Confucian worldview. The learned Voltaire could not have been ignorant of these Rites; he chose to ignore them because they were inconvenient. In fact, Voltaire portrayed Confucius as the perfect Deist, who believed in a Supreme Being but rejected all “superstition.” He had a portrait of Confucius facing him on the wall opposite his desk, with the following poem attached:

Only from wholesome reason does he interpret,
Without dazzling the world, enlightening the spirit.
He speaks only as a sage, not as a prophet.
Nonetheless, he was believed, and even in his own country.

Voltaire’s intention was also to target the emerging development of the nation-state, as it had been championed by Leibniz, Colbert, and others. Like Wolff, he praised the Chinese form of government as “completely founded on paternal powers.” While he denounced Buddhism and Taoism as mere superstitions—equating them with Christianity in the West!—his actual purpose is revealed by his argument that Buddhism and Taoism were necessary for the commoners, whose “ignorant minds demand a coarse food.”28 He pointed out that the paternalistic Emperor was careful to keep the priests of Buddhism and Taoism under tight control—a policy Voltaire recommended towards Christianity by the “Enlightened Despots” of Europe.

However, despite Voltaire’s pretension to despise Buddhism, it is instructive to quote a lengthy passage from one of the primary gurus of Chinese Buddhism, Tsung-mi (780-841). Tsung-mi was regarded as the last patriarch of both the Hua Yen school and the Ch’an (Zen) school, both distinctly Chinese versions of Buddhism which developed out of the interaction of Indian Buddhism with Taoism. Tsung-mi’s On the Original Nature of Man was written as a negative response to an essay of the same name written by Han Yu, the only significant Confucian scholar of the T’ang Dynasty. Tsung-mi writes in defense of Karma and Reincarnation as the origin of man, rather than Heaven:

Why does Heaven decree that there should be so many poor and so few rich, so many base and so few high born, so many unfortunate beings and so few fortunate ones, and so on? If the allotment lies in Heaven, why is it so inequitable?

Moreover, how can we explain that there are some of high status who have done no good deeds; that some are rich yet without virtue, while others are virtuous and yet are poor? That some benevolent men die early in life, while tyrants live to a ripe old age? If these are based on the will of Heaven, then Heaven gives prosperity to those who offend and destroys those who conform to the Way.

If calamities, disorders, and rebellion are dependent on the will of Heaven, then for the sages to have established teachings which blame man, and not Heaven, or find fault not with Heaven, but with its creatures, was wrong indeed.29

This classic Buddhist sentiment, rejecting the world as evil and full of suffering, was a response to the Confucian belief that the world was created by a loving God, who granted man the power, through reason, to master the laws of nature and of human development. Voltaire shared with the Buddhists this disgust for the Christian/Confucian concept of the basic goodness of man and the world, and expressed it most viciously in his diatribe against Leibniz’s notion that God had created the “best of all possible worlds.” He may well have found inspiration for his Candide from such Buddhist sources.

François Quesnay

Leibniz had studied the “natural theology” of the Chinese, focussing on the metaphysics of Confucius, Mencius, and Chu Hsi, to the purpose of demonstrating coherence with the Renaissance Christian concept of man, as defined by the capacity for creative thought to bring about change in the universe. Wolff, on the other hand, ignored metaphysics altogether in favor of a Cartesian rationalism, denying that the Chinese even had a theology, but only a set of ethical codes derived from nature. François Quesnay was to take this a step further, claiming for the Chinese the discovery of codified laws for both ethical conduct and economic policy which derived directly from Natural Law—some of his students credited him with “filling out” the details of the Natural Law for society discovered by the Chinese. Thus, the concept of Natural Law had been transformed from “laws of creation,” into nothing but static rules of conduct and social organization. (This followed from Pufendorf, who accepted as “natural,” the setting of laws and customs by those in authority. Leibniz specifically criticized Pufendorf for asserting Natural Law to lie not “in the nature of things and in the precepts of right reason which conform to it, which emanate from the Divine understanding, but ... in the commmand of a superior.”30) Thus, Quesnay’s view followed that of Wang Yang-ming, in rejecting the Universal Principle (Li) of Heaven in favor of the unrestrained “innate knowledge” of the rulers.

Quesnay was a physician in the palace of Louis XV when he formed the circle of economists known as the Physiocrats during the 1750’s. Like Wolff, he had been deeply influenced by the Venetian Antonio Conti. He opposed the mercantilists’ promotion of manufacturing and trade, arguing that the land was the only source of wealth. The lunacy of his method of argument is demonstrated by his division of all nations into different “types”—such as, “agricultural nation,” “commercial nation,” “pastoral nation,” “fishing nation,” and so forth. He concluded that, “Agricultural nations alone can establish fixed and lasting empires under a general and invariable government, subject directly to the immutable order of Natural Law.”31 He insisted that an economy functioning according to Natural Law will tend toward a state of economic equilibrium. [See Box]

Quesnay’s 1767 book Despotism in China, begins with a strained effort to provide a positive meaning to the term “despot.” A good despot, he argues, is one who is not an arbitrary usurper of power, but one trained as a philosopher who governs according to Natural Law. It was Quesnay who first coined the term “Enlightened Despotism,” which he derived from his vision of China:

The Constitution of the government of China is based upon Natural Law in such an irrefutable and so emphatic a manner that it deters the sovereign from doing evil and assures him in his legitimate administration, supreme power in doing good; so that this authority is a beatitude for the ruler and an idolized rule for the subjects.

That this requires passive subjects is considered a blessing, not a problem:

There are no people more submissive to their sovereign than the Chinese, for they are well instructed concerning the reciprocal duties of the ruler and his subjects.

Quesnay held that the natural order dictates perpetual rural backwardness for the majority of the population. It is not surprising that he has great disdain for the average Chinese, even while praising the glory of the state. The Mandarin elite, he said, protected themselves from superstitions by following strict codes of conduct, overseen by a Tribunal which ruled against any appearance of heterodoxy. Quesnay writes: “By this severity the Chinese scholars have protected themselves from the stupid superstition which reigns among the rest of the people”—Quesnay is referring to Buddhism and Taoism. But, he argues, there is nothing that can be done to uplift the mass of the people subject to these superstitions, since they are naturally lacking in intelligence:

There have always been, in all kingdoms of the world, reasoners whose minds do not extend beyond paralogism or incomplete argument; this is a defect in mental capacity common not only in metaphysics, but also in tangible things, and extends even into human laws.

But even those of a superior intelligence have little to contribute as human beings, since in the end man is nothing more than a consumer of the wealth provided by nature. “Man,” he writes, “is by himself bare of riches and has only needs.” The role of the “Enlightened Despot,” then, is to do nothing which is not in accord with Quesnay’s version of Natural Law. This requires strict controls over the ignorant masses in regard to conduct, but in matters of economic policy, God has ordained laissez faire:

Natural policy with respect to commerce, then, is free and extensive competition, which secures for every nation the greatest possible number of buyers and sellers, in order to assure to it the most advantageous price.

Quesnay had adopted this notion of God-ordained free trade directly from his Venetian associates. He was to pass it on to Adam Smith, who came to France to meet with the eminent Physiocrat, long before Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations.

Taoist ideology emphasizes the concept of “no action” (wu wei)—meaning that no action should be taken which is not in keeping with the cosmic force, the Tao. This Taoist concept of the Tao corresponds more to Quesnay’s conception of “Natural Law,” than does the Confucian concept of the Middle Path (which is also referred to by the term “Tao”). The concept of laissez faire is precisely the Taoist “no action.” Quesnay makes this clear: “The sovereign authority can and must institute laws against proven disorder, but must not encroach upon the natural order of society.”

Quesnay also exposes his Venetian training in regard to the question of population, in which he precedes Malthus by several generations (Malthus’ work on population would later be plagiarized from the Venetian Giammaria Ortes). China, of course, is his prime example:

In spite of their industry and sobriety and the fertility of the soil, there are few countries that have so much poverty among the humbler classes [as China]. However great the empire might be, it is too crowded for the multitude that inhabit it. In Europe, it is thought that a large population is the source of wealth, but this is to take the effect for the cause. It is wealth that multiplies both wealth and men, but the propagation of men always exceed the wealth.

Alms are of no use, since they divert the natural wealth derived from the land away from the necessary equilibrium. Overpopulation is, then, the root of crime. This is true, writes Quesnay, both in good and in bad states, because “propagation is limited by nothing but subsistence, and always tends to increase even further; there are poor everywhere.”

Having absolved himself of any responsibility for poverty or crime, Quesnay cleverly parlays the problem into a justification for colonialism (another Venetian lesson Adam Smith took home with him from Paris): “In order to prevent overcrowding in a well-governed nation,” he writes, “there is no recourse but that of colonies.” On this account, China has proven to be a failure, he asserts, having allowed the Europeans to take over a number of countries and islands that could have been easy targets for the Middle Kingdom. Quesnay adds in pontificating tones: “This is to fail in a duty that humanity and religion prescribe.” This Enlightenment view of humanity and religion was to be realized in the following century, when British gunboats carried merchants and missionaries together up and down the Chinese coast, selling Bibles and opium from the same sack.

The Physiocrats’ dream of a France ruled on the model of “Oriental Despotism” was to go up in smoke in the French Revolution—the Chinoiserie craze died out to the cries of anarchy and terror. The British friends of Quesnay, including, in particular, Adam Smith, continued the tradition, but the British argued that the source of wealth was not the land, as the Physiocrats had argued, but trade and usury [See Box, p. XX]. China became an object of ridicule, rather than a model of peace and prosperity. Within fifty years, the British would be softening up the Chinese people with dope, and preparing to take advantage of one hundred years of stagnation in Chinese technology to overpower them with the Royal Navy.

Go to Part II

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 1. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), whose scientific and philosophical works transformed the West, was also deeply involved as a world statesman in Europe, Asia, and in the New World. He edited a journal of letters and reports from the Jesuits in China, called “Novissima Sinica,” in which he wrote: “I consider it a singular plan of the fates that human cultivation and refinement should today be concentrated, as it were, in the two extremes of our contintent, in Europe and in China. ... Perhaps Supreme Providence has ordained such an arrangement, so that, as the most cultivated and distant peoples stretch out their arms to each other, those in between may gradually be brought to a better way of life.”

 2. Matteo Ricci led the first team of Jesuit missionaries into China in 1581, and headed the mission until his death in 1610. Ricci was the first to recognize the coherence between the Confucian tradition in China and the Christian worldview of the West, while also recognizing the atheistic and irrational nature of the Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist and Taoist ideologies. Over the next century and a half, the Jesuits followed Ricci’s policy of collaborating with the Confucian scholars, introducing both Christianity and Renaissance science to the Chinese, while also making the Confucian philosopical and scientific works of Chinese antiquity available to the West through translation.

 3. The Ching Dynasty Emperor K’ang Hsi (reigned 1667-1722) was educated by both the leading Confucian scholars, and the leaders of the Jesuit Mission in China, who by that time had risen to leading positions in the court. Although not a convert to Christianity, K’ang Hsi supported and sponsored the teaching, and proselytizing, of the Christians throughout the Empire.

 4. “The Coming Fall of the House of Windsor,” Executive Intelligence Review, Vol. 21, No. 43, Oct. 28, 1994, Special Report, pp. 12-71.

 5. Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., “What Is God, That Man Is in His Image?,” Fidelio, Vol. IV, No. 1, Spring 1995.

 6. Quoted in Sato Hitoshi, “Chu Hsi’s ‘Treatise on Jen,’ ” in Chu Hsi and Neo-Confucianism, ed. by Wing-tsit Chan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986).

 7. Chu Hsi and Lu Tsu-ch’ien, Reflections on Things At Hand, trans. by Wing-tsit Chan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967).

 8. Yu-lei (The Collected Works of Chu Hsi), 20,124. English selections in Learning To Be A Sage:Selections from the Conversations of Master Chu, trans. by Daniel K. Gardiner (Berkeley: Unmiversity of California Press, 1990).

[English selections in Learning To Be A Sage: Selections from the Conversations of Master Chu, trans. by Daniel K. Gardiner (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990)]

 9. Wen-chi (The Collected Letters of Chu Hsi), 31;15b-16a.

[Chu Hsi-tsu hsien sheng wen chi (T’ai-pei: Chiu ssu ch’u pan yu hsien kung ssu, 68, 1979)]

10. G.W. Leibniz, “Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese,” in G.W. Leibniz: Writings on China, ed. by Daniel J. Cook and Henry Rosemont (Chicago: Open Court Publishing Co., 1994).

11. Yu-lei, op. cit., 1,16 and 1,18.

12. Letter from Chu Hsi to Hsiang-shan, quoted in Julia Ching, To Acquire Wisdom: The Way of Wang Yang-ming (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976).

13. Wang Wen-ch’eng kung ch’uan-shu (The Complete Works of Wang Yang-ming), 4;179b.

14. Wang Wen-ch’eng kung ch’uan-shu, op. cit., 33;951a,b,.

15. Wang Wen-ch’eng kung ch’uan-shu, op. cit., 1;60a.

16. See, for example, Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., “On LaRouche’s Discovery,” Fidelio, Vol. III, No. 1, Spring 1994.

17. Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., “The Truth About Temporal Eternity,” Fidelio, Vol. III, No. 2, Summer 1994.

18. Wang Wen-ch’eng kung ch’uan-shu, op. cit., 1;56a.

19. Wang Yang-ming ch’uan-chi, chuan hsi lu, 2;118.

20. William F. Wertz, Jr., “ ‘Man Measures His Intellect Through the Power of His Works,’ ” Fidelio, Vol. III, No. 4, Winter 1994.

21. Ibid.

22. After over a century of acrimonious debate, opponents in Europe of Matteo Ricci’s method of collaborating with the Confucian scholars on issues of philosophy and science, led by the Dominican Friar Domingo Navarrete, finally succeeded in convincing the Vatican to denounce the Confucian Rites of ancestor veneration, the honoring of Confucius, and related practices, as pagan religious acts, which were to be forbidden to all Christian converts. This effectively destroyed the Christian mission in China, since the Rites were the basis of morality in civil society, and no Chinese leader could allow them to be undermined. Only in the 1940’s, did the Vatican reverse this unfortunate ruling against the Rites. See Michael O. Billington, “Toward the Ecumenical Unity of East and West: The Renaissances of Confucian China and Christian Europe,” Fidelio, Vol. II, No. 2, Summer 1993.

23. Julia Ching and Willard G. Oxtoby, Moral Enlightenment: Leibniz and Wolff on China (Nettetal: Institut Monumenta Serica, 1992).

24. Ibid.

25. Christian Wolff, “Discourse on the Practical Philosopy of the Chinese” (1721), in Julia Ching and Willard G. Oxtoby, Moral Enlightenment, op. cit.

26. Christian Wolff, “On the Philosopher King and the Ruling Philosopher” (1730), in Julia Ching and Willard G. Oxtoby, Moral Enlightenment, op. cit.,

27. Donald F. Lach, “The Sinophilism of Christian Wolff,” in Discovering China: European Interpretations in the Enlightenment, ed. by Julia Ching and Willard G. Oxtoby, Library of the History of Ideas Vol. VII (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 1992).

28. Arnold H. Rowbotham, ‘Voltaire Sinophile,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, Vol. 47, No. 4, December 1932.

29. The Buddhist Tradition in India, China, and Japan, ed. by Theodore DeBary (New York: Vintage Books, 1972).

30. G.W. Leibniz, “Opinion on the Principle of Pufendorf (1706),” in Leibniz: Political Writings, 2nd. ed., ed. and trans. by Patrick Riley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

31. François Quesnay, “Despotism in China,” trans. in Lewis A. Maverick, China, A Model for Europe (San Antonio: Paul Anderson Co., 1946).

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