Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

1. My MODERN AND AMERICAN DIGNITY is now available for immediate delivery on AMAZON. The great news is that if you—like ME—have AMAZON PRIME, there’s still plenty of time to get copies for Christmas giving.

2. I’m sure everyone has read the article in THE NEW REPUBLIC by Mark Lilla on Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt in China. No Chinese intellectual, it seems, can be taken seriously without knowledge of and opinions about these two critics of liberalism.

3. The Chinese, of course, are deconstructing many a liberal/libertarian theory through their largely successful pursuit of authoritarian (or POLITICALLY regulated) capitalism. If Lilla is right, they’re unmoved by the TEA PARTY quest to get government off of people’s backs. For the Chinese, people are fundamentally social/communal, if not exactly political, beings. So they think that the individualistic illusions of liberalism breed disorientation, disorder, and apolitical weakness over time. Strauss, of course, didn’t disagree, which is why he and his students constantly worked/work to make modern liberalism’s self-understanding more properly political.

4. So Schmitt, they think, is right that we’ll never have a world with war, conflict, and “friends and enemies.” The best solution of our time couldn’t possibly be some globalism or empty, abstract universalism. The indispensable foundation of order should be a number of regional empires. That’s why, Lilla reports, the Chinese are learning Latin to uncover the secrets of the Romans in building and sustaining empire.

5. But, Lilla adds, the Chinese, like the Straussians, see the limits of Schmitt: He is too Hobbesian in not seeing beyond the requirements of maintaining political order. The Chinese want not only effective government, but good government. So they see that Strauss is right to talk in terms of the rule of gentlemen influenced by sages. Plato and Aristole and Confucius converge. And by himself Confucius isn’t enough for the Chinese at this point; they can’t be merely traditional in these radically untraditional times. So they need the sage to more explicitly become a philosopher, and a more natural/reasonable or classical/Straussian foundation for the character of the gentleman.

6. Now going beyond Lilla: The free individual or autonomous person or transpolitical being made in the image of the personal God is not a Chinese category. So, in a way, the Chinese might be open to the full recovery of classical political philosophy than the Americans. They might be more comprehensively confortable with the three categories of dutiful citizen, gentleman, and philosopher.

7. But the number of Christians in China is also exploding, and surely among those Christians we find hope that the foundation of the modern understanding of personal freedom might take root in China. For more, read my book.

Due to popular criticism, I’m adding the link to the Lilla article.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles