“What do you have against the perfect society of Brave New World?” (It was an honest question)
“It denies free-will. It is a travesty against inalienable human rights!” Andrew replies.
“inalienable. Rights. Do you think men have rights, as you call them, the moment they are born? From whence do they derive such?”
“It is as Confucius said: Every man feels a pang of compassion, when seeing a child about to fall into a well. That is where human rights come from.” Andrew misquotes Confucius.
It is actually Mencius who expounded this hypothesis that can not possibly be tested. He also said that compassion is like water to hate that is fire, but we only have a cup of water to quench a forest fire, or something to that sort. It begs to question, whether Mencius was being serious with his aphorisms or being flippant.
“You know, I agree with Confucius,” Andrew continues, “If I could, I would correct names to reflect true meaning, rather than apparent meaning, so we can communicate truthfully.”
Who would have thought that I would be lectured on Confucius by an Italian, thousands of miles from Beijing, in a Japanese restaurant. Then again, Marco Polo, a Venetian, recorded for a Mongol overlord, in Xanadu, about the going-ons of China; life is indeed stranger than fiction.
In 221 BCE, Confucius posthumously was granted his wish to “rectify names.” The Qin state accepted the surrender of the Qi state, unifying the former Zhou dukedoms into one single kingdom. As part of the unification, or rather pacification, process, the Qin regime standardized Chinese logographs to uniform shape, and even size. All weights and measures were standardized to Qin system. The “hundred schools of thought” were ruthlessly reduced to one: fa jia, legalism.
Chinese legalism has two aspects: fa usually translated as “laws” but can be understood as “measure” or “standard” and shu usually translated as “technique” or “method” but can be understood as “enforcement” or “application.” The term, “legalism,” is likely Western misunderstanding of fa jia, as the sole foundation of fa jia is objectivity, not legal theory. Fa jia is most similar to modern concept of “scientism” as both systems reject the relevance of deductive reasoning as non-testable, only relying upon observable, testable, measurable quantities of our environment as being relevant to human societal matrix. In this perspective, the origins of fa jia as stemming from Mohism is apparent.
Mozi, the founder of Mohism, is credited as being a brilliant engineer. His -ism, thus, focuses on technical, measurable, testable aspect of human existence with his moral philosophy that of utilitarianism. After the Qin ascendancy, Mohism, according to Confucian literati, was efficiently suppressed into oblivion; if true, then it may be yet another hint at the origins of fa jia as being a separatist, or even heretical, branch of Mohism.
Initially, fa jia had stressed only fa as the only principle of government. The sentiment of technocrat is illustrative in this naive political theory. The theorists perceived human society as merely another scientific or engineering sphere, where the mere standardization of tools and concepts can achieve desired improvements. Having failed to achieve the needed outcome by merely defining social standards, the fa jia shifted to use of shu only in attaining desired goals. It would take Han Fei to recognize the need for both fa and shu in organizing Qin society into an effective Imperial war machine. To borrow and adapt from Iain Pears, shu without fa is tyranny, fa without shu is pointless.
Fa jia was the reason for the spectacular success of Qin ascendancy and also for the equally dazzling failure in the subsequent implosion of the Qin state. The Qin state, having unified the former Zhuo territories within ten-years, ceased to exist after the fifteenth year of her ascendancy. Confucians write of “burning of books and burying of scholars” during the Qin period, the sheer inhumanity of Qin state apparatus, and utter incompetence of Imperial successors resulting in terrible misery of the people of China as the cause for the rapid dissolution of the Qin Empire. The seed of Qin implosion is her sole reliance on the measurable to determine sociopolitical policies.
The Qin state was a mechanical entity. Its subjects were reduced to interchangeable parts; for like the Prussian concept of “general staff,” the Qin government stressed the efficient function of the office, not the brilliance of officers, to achieve her aims. The gauge of policy success was measured in quantity of resources produced, acquired, and manufactured. The language, reformed under Qin, reflect the singular practicality of the Qin state, as even modern Chinese experience inordinate difficulty expressing negative hypothetical statements. Fa jia jettisoned sociology for science, morality for accounting, and spirituality for pragmatism. The Qin empire, like modern multinational corporations, has reduced man into a cog in its impersonal corporate machine. Unlike modern corporate employees, the Qin bureaucrat was armed with organization and the Qin lieutenant was armed with crossbow. With the death of the emperor and the ensuing instability from the power squabble between two ranking ministers, the cogs of the empire revolted to reclaim their identities as men.
Modern disciples of scientism attempt to recreate the Qin state in the West with their emphasis on the measurable. They promise an era of enlightenment and clarity, while never bothering to contemplate the effect their reductionism has on social organization or the human psyche. They forget that science is a tool not a philosophy of life. Like Mozi and Han Fei, fanatics of scientism wish to reduce social problems into mathematical formulae and engineering blueprints. Like Han Fei, the adherents of scientism dismiss morality as immaterial, and even as a hinderance, in their quest for efficiency. They prefer the mechanical over human, efficiency over justice, and results over conscience.
Apostles of scientism need only look to the East to find the ashes of their utopia. The Chinese experienced the ascendancy of technocracy three-thousand years ago and soundly rejected its claims of a better society. Four-years after the death of the immortal emperor, Han state emerged victorious with the Confucian literati firmly in the bureaucratic ranks to govern the state in wistful nostalgia of a feudal era. For the next three-thousand years, Confucianism would dominate Oriental sensibility, with fa jia an anathema, serving only as a warning to would-be reformers, the magnificent failure of reductionism.
Andrew is astute in countering the reductionist argument of a “Brave New World” with Confucianism. In the end, it was Confucius, and not Han Fei, who emerged victorious; the immaterial turned out to be material; and the Italian Sinophile once again killed fa jia over a cold dish of sushi.