Leibniz IV: Leibniz and Eurasia
Gottfried Leibniz's international work is the focus of this episode of Jason Ross's 2016 series of discussion on Leibniz's life and work. As China and Russia opened up to increased commerce of goods and ideas with Europe, Leibniz sought to influence this "commerce of light" to further the causes of science, peace, and economy.
Article based on this presentation:
• Jason Ross: “The Leibnizian Roots of Eurasian Integration” (pdf)
• Matteo Ricci, the Grand Design, and the Disaster of the ‘Rites Controversy’
• The British Empire's Campaign to Subvert China's Confucian Revival
• The British Role in the Creation of Maoism
• Circa 1492: A Deeper Look at Asian Art
• How the Nation Was Won, America's Untold Story: 1630-1754
JASON ROSS: [Initial audio cut-off] [This is the New Paradigm show for April 13, 2016, and the fourth presentations on the life and work of Gottfried Leibniz. In the previous shows, we’ve had an overview of Leibniz’s life, we’ve discussed his work on economics and discovery of the infinitesimal calculus, and we’ve considered his discovery of the important physics concept of] vis viva. We’ve seen him apply the concept of science socially, with his work on economics, with his work on societies, for the promotion of science and manufacturing. Today we’re going to discuss his work in Eurasia, in the opportunity to bring China and Russia into a dialogue about the future of mankind, and into scientific development. The future classes—there will be two, or possibly three, more—will cover some overview aspects of his philosophy and scientific outlook, as well as the results of his life, leading into the creation of the United States. So today, the theme is on Eurasia.
Leibniz took every opportunity he possibility could, to expand science, expand learning, expand the fruits and the benefits of these things for humanity. And the opening up of China and Russia, during his lifetime, presented a very great opportunity, as he saw it.
I’d like to begin with a couple of quotes, one from Friedrich Schiller, from his ninth Aesthetical Letter, on where to place one’s identity. Schiller wrote that: “Indeed, the artist is the son of his time, but woe to him if he is also its pupil or even its favorite.” He also wrote: “Live with your century, but be not its creature.” Live in a timeless way. Leibniz did.
And here’s a quote from Leibniz. This is the preface to his Novissima Sinica (News from China). Leibniz 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 continent, in Europe and in China, which adorns the Orient as Europe does the opposite edge of the Earth. Perhaps Supreme Providence has ordained such an arrangement, so that, as the most cultivated and distance peoples stretch out their arms to each other, those in between may gradually be brought to a better way of life. I do not think it an accident that the Russians, whose vast realm connects Europe with China and who hold sway over the deep barbarian lands of the North by the shore of the frozen ocean, should be led to the emulation of our ways through the strenuous efforts of their present ruler [meaning Tsar Peter I, Peter the Great].
That’s Leibniz’s outlook.
So, to situate things, in terms of the relations of China in Leibniz’s time, we can look at European relations with China in the period. Around 1300 was the period of the Venetian Marco Polo’s trips. This was related to commerce. It wasn’t really a great cultural exchange, or a scientific exchange. It didn’t involve a great deal of learning, evangelizing, or exchange of that sort. It was about trade—not very enduring.
In the 1500s, Francis Xavier, who was one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, which we know as the Jesuits, went to Asia to begin a commerce of light, as Leibniz called it, with the cultures there, where he planned to evangelize, and also to learn from the Chinese and others.
In 1581, Matteo Ricci, who was really a very special person, arrived in China. Before departing on his voyage, Ricci had worked on science, language, geometry, astronomy, and music. He came prepared with the ability to really offer something to the Chinese. Clearly, he was a Jesuit, he was certainly there to evangelize, and preach Christianity, but that wasn’t all he was there to do. When he arrived, he found that the situation in China was nothing like the kind of work that missionaries had been involved in other parts of the world, say in parts of Africa, or in the New World. The Chinese culture had a conscious knowledge of its own history that dated back to before the Biblical Flood, without any record of it. This is an old culture. And the fact that the Flood wasn’t recorded, was a bit of a mystery to the missionaries, as a matter of fact.
In his studies, Ricci found that some of the thoughts about how China worked that were considered common knowledge in Europe, were actually incorrect. One of those specific issues was the idea of the three religions: that somehow, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism had merged into one, or were sort of a hodgepodge combination, which together expressed Chinese thought. By actually studying those belief systems, Ricci found that that was not true, that these were different types of thoughts. There wasn’t simply an “Eastern,” or a “Chinese” philosophy, just as there is clearly not a “Western” philosophy. It’s not only in the West, or in Greece, that you find thinkers who have different viewpoints on things. And although Plato and Aristotle might be near each other in the bookstore, that doesn’t mean that their thoughts are aligned. The same thing is true in China; there is a long history of different outlooks, of different types of thought.
So Ricci’s view was to bring science, bring the fruits of science, not purely for evangelization purposes, but because this is something that people should know. People should be able to benefit from the breakthroughs of the Renaissance. Let’s bring science out to the world. Let’s bring its potentials out to the world, he thought. And, as far as Confucius goes, Ricci wrote that Confucianism wasn’t a religion. It was a belief system. He wrote that Confucius was not worshiped as a god, but was praised “for his good teachings that he left in his books, without, however, anyone reciting prayers, nor asking for favor.” People were not praying to Confucius to intercede into worldly affairs, and change what was going to happen. This is respect for an honored thinker. Ricci found the same thing about rites (rituals) to ancestors, or the great thinkers of the past, the ancient masters.
Ricci wrote that:
As for the veneration of the ancient masters and one’s ancestors, these rites were to display the gratitude of the living as they cherish the rewards of Heaven, and to excite men to perform actions which render them worthy of the recognition of posterity.
That’s an efficient sense of immortality, that by recognizing, venerating the good deeds of the past, you express in the present, a sense that posterity’s judgment of you, is something that exists in your mind in the present. Culturally, there’s a value in that.
Ricci differentiated Confucianism from Buddhism and Daoism, which he did see as religious, and he said that if Chinese were not Buddhists or Daoists, then “they could certainly become Christians, since the essence of their doctrine contains nothing contrary to the essence of the Catholic faith, nor would the Catholic faith hinder them in any way, but would indeed aid in that attainment of the quiet and peace of the republic which their books claim as their goal."
So, he taught geometry. He taught music. He presented the court of the emperor with a harpsichord. He wrote music for them, multi-voice songs. This is the kind of work that he did. Remember that for Ricci, like Leibniz, science and religion did not in any way stand counter-posed to each other.
Leibniz, in his discussion, say in his Discourse on Metaphysics, raises the question of whether things that God did were good because He did them, or if He did them because they were good, saying that the reason God is praiseworthy, in what He has done, is that God does the best. He does good things. It’s just not that God did it, but God is wise: there’s a reason to do things a certain way. There’s no contradiction between reason, as in science and religion, in his view. This is something that today, I think, some assume about all religious thinkers, that is certainly not the case.
The work was very successful. Ricci’s differentiation among the different currents of religious and philosophical thought in China allowed him to understand the culture, and to intervene in it, and to a certain way, to bring new thoughts to it, in a certain way. And the missionary work continued.
Ricci had arrived in China in 1581. In 1644, there was a new dynasty, as the era of the Ming dynasty came to an end, and the Qing dynasty came to power in 1644. The missionaries stayed. The first of these new Qing emperors put his son under the tutelage of the Jesuits. And that son became Emperor Kang Hsi, who was a pretty amazing man. He made the first dictionary, Chinese dictionary, putting all the characters together. He promoted science. He issued an edict in 1692, granting to the Christians the right go throughout the Chinese Empire, to teach, preach, visit, as long as they would not undermine the Confucian principles, and the ceremonies, and rites, that were required of civil servants. So he didn’t see a contradiction between the two, between Christianity, as they understood it, in science, with the Confucian principles that were the foundation of the civil society, in that way.
But this approach was not entirely met with applause. Let’s think about two ways—let’s think about two problems with this. There is an oligarchy. There’s certainly an oligarchy in Europe. The idea of reaching out to China, of teaching the fruits of science, and of learning of the Chinese, that there is this certain natural sort of theology, that without revelation, without divine revelation, human beings are able to come to meaningful conclusions about immortality, about the nature of the Universe, on their own. Both of those things [the spread of science, and the universality of human reason without authority] are not what an oligarchy wants. The prototypical oligarch Zeus said that human beings could not use fire.
The oligarchical outlook is completely opposed to science, and sees its promotion in China as a very bad idea. Similarly, the idea that individuals can arrive at truth through reason, undermines the notion of authority, as the arbiter of what’s right and wrong. Neither of these are desired by an oligarchy. And correspondingly, there was an attempt, which was unfortunately, ultimately successful, to end this commerce of light, this exchange between Europe and China.
This is where Leibniz comes in. We’re now at the time period of Leibniz’s adulthood, and his interventions on this. Let’s start with Leibniz’s view of the Kangxi Emperor. Leibniz wrote of him, that he is a monarch “who almost exceeds human heights of greatness, being a god-like mortal, ruling by a nod of his head, who, however, is educated to virtue and wisdom, thereby earning the right to rule.” His having “earned the right to rule”—this is Leibniz’s view of real leadership.
What happened, to prevent the kind of discussion taking place, was a controversy around the Confucian rites, where other missionaries, other factions in the Catholic Church, said that it was not possible to be both Confucian and a Christian, and people would just have to decide one way or the other. “If you are venerating your ancestors, forget it, you’re not a Christian. If you venerate the teachings of Confucius, respect him as a wise man, in that way, forget it, you’re not a Christian.” And they started saying that people would have to choose one way, or the other. One of these missionaries said: “We have come here to announce the Holy Gospel. We are not here to be apostles of Confucius.” That’s the heavy-handed approach that they had.
And again, they could ask of themselves, what does it mean to find in China, an empire so vast, so enlightened, established so solidly, and so flourishing, where the divinity has never been acknowledged. What does it mean, that a society can flourish in that way, in a different set of principles, than those that these missionaries had come to expect from their history in Europe? Leibniz says that this shows that there is a sense of reason that is impressed in all people of the world, that can lead them to the right kinds of conclusions—that there’s a universality in humanity.
So, what did Leibniz do? He wrote a series of papers and reports, available in a book, published under the title of Leibniz: Writings on China, where he weighs in on these matters. I’d like to read some quotes from him, to bring this to life here. This is from his Preface to his Novissima Sinica, his News from China. Leibniz wrote that:
If this process continues, the exchange of thought, I fear that we may soon become inferior to the Chinese in all branches of knowledge. I do not say this because I grudge them new light, rather I rejoice. But it is desirable that they, in turn, teach us those things which are especially in our interest. The greatest use of practical philosophy, and a more perfect manner of living, to say nothing of their other arts. Certainly the condition of our affairs in Europe, slipping as we are, into ever greater corruption, seems to be such that we need missionaries from China, who might teach us the use and practice of natural religion, just as we have sent them teachers of revealed theology. And so I believe, that if someone expert, not in the beauty of goddesses, but in the excellence of peoples, if such an expert were selected as judge, the golden apple would be awarded to the Chinese, unless we should win by virtue of one great, but superhuman thing, namely, the divine gift of the Christian religion.
Leibniz says, in terms of natural theology, of thoughts that didn’t derive from the revealed theology of Christianity, the Chinese are ahead. That’s Leibniz’s outlook on this.
Here’s something that we writes about the emperor, and the concept of what it means to be the ruler. You can contrast with Thomas Hobbes, or Thrasymachus. Leibniz wrote:
Nor is it easy to find anything worthier of note than the fact that this greatest of kings, who possesses such complete authority in his own day, anxiously fears posterity and is in greater dread of the judgment of history, than other kings are of representatives of estates and parliaments. Therefore he carefully seeks to avoid actions which might cast a reflection upon his reputation when recorded by the chroniclers of his reign and placed in files and secret archives.
And here you see the value of respecting the past, as a way of thinking of your own life, as the future’s past. The emperor, although powerful, in this way, fears the judgment of posterity, more than he says that a king in Europe might fear the power of the Parliament. This is natural law guiding things.
So, a couple of statements of Leibniz, weighing in on the, as he called it, “The Civil Cult of Confucius”, weighing in on the rites used to revere Confucius’s life, Leibniz wrote:
When I wrote the preface to my Novissima Sinica, I was inclined to believe that when the Chinese literati render honors to Confucius, they consider it a civil ceremony rather than a religious cult. Since then, an opposing statement has come into my hands, published by people, who though deemed well-intentioned, have not at all persuaded me of their view.
This is the anti-Chinese faction in the church. Leibniz continues:
A religious cult, is one where we attribute to he whom we honor, a superhuman power, capable of granting us rewards or inflicting punishments on us.
Clearly not something people think about Confucius. Leibniz says:
For example, when they call the place where the image of the deceased is displayed and to whom gifts are offered a “throne” or a “seat” of the soul or spirit, this can be easily understood in an anthropomorphic or poetic fashion, as describing the glory attributed to immortality, and not as if they think the soul actually returns to this place and rejoices in the offerings.
The value of these ceremonies lies in inculcating sense of the present as what will be the future, not in the benefits to souls being worshiped in that way.
In fact, Leibniz points out something very similar in the bible. He says, honoring ancestors is hardly unique to China, and he quotes the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land, which the Lord your God has given you.” Leibniz says that it’s not by directly honoring your parents that you live longer, but that the kind of thought that goes along with that, is something that God praises for other reasons. So, he’s making his point.
That the fact that Leibniz has to go through such detail on this, is in order to explode the attempt to prevent that relationship with China from developing and continuing. Because this was the approach that was taken to stop the real communication that was occurring, was through this rites controversy, which is why Leibniz felt compelled, felt the need to write so much on it.
So, regrettably, Leibniz’s work didn’t succeed, at least not in his time. Let me read one more quote. In describing the Confucian view of one of the words you might say is “heaven”, Leibniz wrote:
They sacrifice to this visible heaven, or rather to its king, and revere in profound silence that [inaud 21.27] which they do not name, because of the ignorance, or the vulgarity of the people, who would not understand the nature of the [inaud 21.33]. What we call the light of reason in man, they call commandment and law of heaven. What we call the inner satisfaction of obeying justice, and our fear of acting contrary to it, all this is called by the Chinese, and by us as well, inspiration sent by the Shanti, that is by the true God. To offend heaven, is to act against reason. To ask pardon of heaven, is to reform oneself, and to make a sincere return in word and deed into submission one owes to this very law of reason. For me, I find all this quite excellent, and quite in accord with natural theology. Far from finding any distorted understanding here, I believe that it is only by strained interpretations, and by interpolations, that one could find anything to criticize on this point. It is pure Christianity, insofar as it renews the natural law inscribed in our hearts, except for what revelation and grace add to it to improve our nature.
That’s a powerful, powerful statement from Leibniz there, on the value of the natural theology of the Chinese.
In 1704, however, Pope Clement XI issued a decree, and then a papal bull in 1715, an official announcement, saying that anyone who wants to be Christian has to renounce the Chinese rites: no ceremonies for Confucius, no reverence of ancestors. Emperor Kang Hsi, who had been so brought up by Jesuits, who in 1692 declared the kingdom free reign for Christian missionaries, could not abandon these Confucius rites. Of course he couldn’t go along with this papal bull. He couldn’t accept it. Civil servants were all required to take examinations. There was a meritocracy system. A major aspect of this was a grounding in the ancient philosophy of Confucius and others. To abandon this would be to overthrow the Constitution, not in a paper or written sense, but in the intellectual sense, to overthrow the Constitution of China, to overthrow the principles that it operated upon. So, of course, he could not accept that. And he explained this to representatives from the Vatican, who came. He said, to clear things up, that his philosophy agreed that there is one omnipotent deity who created and rules the world, and that the rites regarding ancestors and Confucius, were signs of veneration, but were not religious. He was clear that the Chinese were not asking for ancestors or Confucius to intercede into the world.
It didn’t work. When the papal representatives returned, with the announcement that the Vatican was taking a position, which would basically end the cultural exchange, the emperor said:
You have corrupted your teachings, and you have disrupted the efforts of the previous Westerners. This is definitely not the will of your God, for He leads men to good deeds. I have often heard from you Westerners that the devil leads men astray. This must be it.
He also remarked on how those missionaries, who came and made judgments about China’s theology, he said most of them didn’t ever learn how to read Chinese, compared to the ones like Ricci, who had translated these works. Leibniz was really pushing for a large-scale translation project, to really understand the different philosophies in China, as a real exchange.
So Leibniz was still trying to intervene. In 1716, he was writing his “Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese.” It’s available to us today, but Leibniz did not finish it. He died in 1716, unable to complete it. He had been working on the enormous history of the Guelf family for King George. That’s what Leibniz was doing at the time. After Leibniz’s death, another papal bull came out in 1742, and that was really the end of it. The missionaries had to swear an oath, that they wouldn’t even raise for debate, the idea behind the bulls. If they wanted to go to China, they couldn’t even discuss the idea that, perhaps, Confucianism was coherent with Christianity. If they were even going to bring that up, they wouldn’t be allowed to go. So it really destroyed the exchange. Christianity was basically banned. The Westerners were expelled, and China was cut off from the science and technology and culture that the exchange could have brought, something that was certainly in Britain’s favor later in the opium wars.
This didn’t come from religious zealotry, or sticking to principles, on the part of some missionaries, about the true meaning of Christianity. This whole theological debate was used to prevent the political and economic results that would arise from a closer cooperation with China, and through an exchange of thoughts, economic science and ideas. The actual papal bull was not overturned until 1939. That’s when it was finally acknowledged that you can be a Confucian, you can be an adherent to Confucianism and a Christian, like, for example, Sun Yat-Sen.
I will read again this quote from Leibniz. Let’s consider his view of the great potential, versus the small-mindedness of those who got pulled into this religious debate, and of course, the evil intent of those, who promoted it from the top. Leibniz said:
I judge that this mission [of exchange with China] is the greatest affair of our time, as much for the glory of God and the propagation of the Christian religion as for the general good of men, and the growth of the arts and sciences, among us, as well as among the Chinese. For this is a commerce of light, and which could give to us at once their work of thousands of years and render ours to them, and double so to speak our true wealth for one and the other. This is something greater than one imagines.
Alright, it’s hard to even imagine. Yes, it is greater than one could imagine. What might the world be like today, had that exchange never been stopped, had those attempts to prevent exchange for China, if that had not been stopped? So, to discuss the other aspect of this, through the quote I read in the opening, where Leibniz talks about how it almost seems that God acted on purpose, to have Europe and China on opposite ends of that Continent, to reach towards each other with their outlook, their science, and their civilization.
And he said that in between Europe and China, we have Russia, under the guidance of whose leader, that nation is making great strides forward. Well that leader, Peter the Great, was somebody that Leibniz met with personally, on more than one occasion. And that’s what I want discuss now, is discuss the Russian side of this, and the connection. It will be a little bit briefer than the China aspect. One part of this was for communication with China, being able to go through Russia, instead of having to use the seas. That’s one aspect of it.
The other is that Peter the Great really had a different kind of vision for Russia. He wanted to develop the nation. He wanted to move forward. He wanted to bring in science. He wanted to modernize. He personally was very excited about getting a hands-on sense of industries, and the technical arts. In 1696, he came to Europe. We wanted to study shipbuilding himself, industry. He wanted to go to Holland to see the shipyards, and see how this kind of work took place. He was assisted in setting up this trip by Sophie Charlotte, the student of Leibniz, who had married the Elector of Brandenburg, who lived in Berlin. Sophie Charlotte helped bring Peter the Great into Europe. And on his way to Holland, Peter the Great stopped in Hanover, where he was hosted by Sophie Charlotte’s mother, the Electress Sophie, who was to become the heir to the throne of England, thanks in part to Leibniz’s work on the Act of Settlement—more on that in another presentation.
So Peter the Great, on his arrival in Europe, he’s being brought in by an ally of Leibniz’s, he’s hosted at the home of another ally of Leibniz’s. He goes, he finds out about industry. In 1697, Leibniz is trying to meet with the Tzar. He’s able to meet with some members of his court, or of his cabinet, to set up some discussion with them, including—because Leibniz studied everything—on the history of the Russian language. So Leibniz had some insights into this, and that was part of what he discussed with Peter the Great’s advisers.
The big break really happened in the 17 teens. Another one of Leibniz’s patrons, one of his employers, Duke Anton Ulrich, a relative of the Hanoverians who were Leibniz’s main employers—one of Anton Ulrich’s grand-daughters became the wife of the Tsar[’s oldest son] . When the Tsar came to Germany to get [his son] married, the Duke asked Leibniz if he would like to come to the wedding, which, of course, Leibniz was very happy to do.
And so in October, 1711, Leibniz was able to personally meet with the Tsar of Russia. And in this meeting he brought in reports on mapping of Russia, on studying mineral resources, on the linguistic history of Russia, on how to approach the history of that nation, and on proposals for setting up societies for the advancement of science and technology and modernizing the economy. Leibniz came prepared!
I’ll read a portion of a follow-up letter that Leibniz wrote to the Tsar in 1712, after they had the chance to meet. Leibniz wrote:
Although I have very frequently been employed in public affairs and also in the judiciary system and I am consulted on such matters by great princes on an ongoing basis, I nevertheless regard the arts and the sciences as a higher calling, since through them the glory of God and the best interests of the whole human race are continuously promoted. For in the sciences, and the knowledge of nature and art, the wonders of God, his power, his wisdom and goodness are especially manifest; and the arts and sciences are also the true treasury of the human race, through which art masters nature and civilized peoples are distinguished from barbarian ones. For these reasons I have loved and pursued science since my youth.... The one thing I have been lacking is a leading prince who adequately embraced this cause.... I am not a man devoted solely to his native country, or to one particular nation: on the contrary, I pursue the interests of the whole human race because I regard heaven as my fatherland and all well-meaning people as its fellow citizens.... To this aim, for a long time I have been conducting a voluminous correspondence in Europe, and even as far as China.
In the letter, he goes on to describe his other scientific work.
So Leibniz is making himself available, as an adviser to the Tsar, and making the point that the pursuit and promotion of science and technology, to understand the wonders of nature, and to better the life of human beings, requires government support. Will the Tsar step up and provide that kind of support? This is what Leibniz is asking him.
In 1712, Leibniz had another series of follow-up meetings with the Tsar. The Tsar was traveling in Germany, and Leibniz visited several cities, as part of his entourage. They were able to have some more follow-up discussion on this. What came out of it, was that Leibniz was appointed a member of the Russian government. He became a Russian privy councilor of justice. He became the adviser to the Tsar on math and science. He was given the task of reforming the judicial system of Russia, which Leibniz said made him feel like Solon of Athens, with such a big task. This was 1712. As mentioned, Leibniz dies in 1716. So he’s not able to fully implement his vision for Russia during his lifetime, but to mention some of the effects that came after him, some of the proposals that Peter ended up adopting:
In 1725, the Academy of Sciences of St Petersburg was set up in that new city. St. Petersburg was a new city, named after Peter. A new advisory body was set up for the government, a Senate. Leibniz’s proposal to reorganize the government, which—apparently Russian bureaucracy is nothing new: there were 35 government departments, and Leibniz got that down to nine. The number of iron foundries during the reign of Peter quadrupled. By 1725, Russia matched England’s iron output. This was a dozen years after Leibniz was made a member of the Russian government, and has this series of meetings with the Tsar. By 1785, Russia is producing more iron than all the rest of Europe combined. This is a very successful industrialization of this nation, and a very rapid one. Russia had been quite backwards, relative to the cultural centers of Europe, before Peter the Great’s reforms. This was very successful. And then, during the American War of Independence, during our Revolutionary War, it was a member of that Leibniz-created Academy of Science, who drafted the League of Armed Neutrality, the treaty that allowed for French shipment of arms and supplies to us here in the U.S., during the Revolution, a very direct connection to Leibniz’s involvement in Russia.
In both of these nations, these were not distinct worlds for Leibniz. He wanted to develop ties to China. He wanted to learn from China. He wanted to explore extending the fruits of what had been learned in Europe to other cultures, to see how those thoughts could be implemented to improve people’s lives, and be developed, and worked on by other thinkers, in other parts of the world. He saw Russia as a link with China, but also, in its own right, as a developing and potentially very powerful nation. He actually thought it could be a benefit that Russia was somewhat late to the game on the science front, that many of the bad ideas that existed in the world of science, in the Europe of Leibniz, perhaps could be avoided entirely in Russia, where there could be set up new scientific academies, really being unburdened by the outlook of say, Aristotle. Leibniz saw a great potential there.
So I think that they both represent the really optimistic drive that Leibniz had to improve the world, his sense that that was something that was universal to all nations. And the fact that he became a member of the Russian government, I think, shows a certain level of success there. Let me just read again this quote. Again, Leibniz:
I judge that this mission [with China] is the greatest affair of our time, as much for the glory of God and the propagation of the Christian religion as for the general good of men and the growth of the arts and sciences, among us, as well as among the Chinese. For this is a commerce of light, which could give to us at once their work of thousands of years, and render ours to them, and double, so to speak, our true wealth for one and the other. This is something greater than one imagines.
I think if we look at the potential today, with the New Silk Road, the One Belt One Road, the World Land-Bridge, the proposals that are already taking shape, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, aspects of the BRICS process, the Chinese space program, that we’ve got a potential, a commerce of light, that we need to insure that the entire world is able to join in. And that requires removing the impediments to that, the trans-Atlantic financial outlook that stands opposed to such development, that Wall Street, London, banking, oligarchical, anti-development, anti-technology, anti-cooperation outlook, which has to be eliminated.
We stand in the position in the United States, a position of great responsibility, to insure, unfortunately, in a negative way, that our nation, through its actions, under its current President, who should be removed, does not prevent this kind of development from occurring; indeed, we should be participating in it. We can advance these kinds of proposals. We’ve got a lot of work to do ourselves. And I think that looking at Leibniz’s approach to relations among nations, the purpose of an individual nation, and the purpose of relations between them, between different cultures, provides a very valuable framework, or anchoring point historically, to look at how we ought to relate to each other today.
That’s what I wanted to say.
Any questions or thoughts?
QUESTION: The Novissima Sinica? Was that a journal or newspaper, or when was it published? Who would have read it?
ROSS: The question was, what is the Novissima Sinica? Newspaper, Journal, when was it published, who would have read it? From 1697, or 1699, and that is an excellent question that I’m ashamed to say, I don’t know the answer to. I thought it was a periodical, but if there’s only one preface, it makes me wonder, so, I will answer that in the comments.
QUESTION: You had said towards the beginning, that there’s this something that we’ve talked about in more detail, at our other location, but you had said that, it’s kind of presented that there’s just one Eastern thought as a homogeneous whole, that that’s really a fallacious view, that there’s not just an Eastern thought, and a Western thought, that there’s more important distinctions [inaud 41.59] maybe you could elaborate on some of what you said about that before.
ROSS: Yes. Well, as a general point, I can give a general point that is probably [inaud 42.07] more often. It’s easy to be guilty of over-generalizing something like “Eastern” thought, or “ancient” thought, as in people who say, “I want to think like the ancients.” Well, what does that mean? “Traditional” thought. What does traditional mean? It means before now. How far before now? How long must something exist to be a tradition? If there’s something even older, is that traditional too? They sort of become meaningless and sentimental words. And I am no expert on Confucianism versus other outlooks, but I’ve got some quotes that I think will be helpful. This is, I read that Leibniz quote.
Maybe a couple quotes from Confucius here. But one I had read before, I believe, was the quote from the Daoist, who had said that, it was the discussion of the Confucian, who sees the farmer, basically using a cup to pull water out of a stream to throw it into an irrigation ditch, and the Confucian tells him that he can make a pump, that would really allow the farmer to irrigate much more of his land, if he would use that instead. And he offers to teach the farmer how to use it. And the farmer says, oh, no, no, it’s not that I don’t know about such technology. It’s that I would disdain to use it, because somebody who would scheme in that way, must have a scheming soul, and I don’t want to be corrupt in that way.
I think that’s pretty indicative. That’s one good example. It’s possible I grabbed the wrong set of quotes here. There was a… ah, here we go. Here’s a contrast. Here’s this guy, a legalist, on a current of thought, in the 4th Century B.C., Shang Yang, who says, “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.” There were debtors’ prisons. People were arrested.
DENISTON: Was that Ayn Rand?
ROSS: [laughs] Shang Yang. So the poor were arrested for poverty. They were sent to build the Great Wall, and other things like this. Compare this to Mencius, the Confucian, who wrote a letter to a prince, where he said:
there are people dying from famine, on the roads, and you do not issue the stores of your granaries for them. You don’t give them the grain that you have stored up. When people die, you say, it’s not owing to me, it’s owing to the times. In what way does that differ from stabbing a man, and killing him, and then saying, it wasn’t me, it was the weapon. Is there any difference between killing a man with the sword and with the style of government?
Those are clearly two very different outlooks from people in China, who were roughly contemporaries. Obviously, they didn’t think the same thing. So, let me not bore people by looking for more quotes that I’m unable to find. I will say that the references, the video, if you’re watching this on YouTube, there’s a link to our LaRouchePAC webpage for this video, which includes a series of articles, as references. They cover many, many aspects of both the specifics on the rites controversy, that I had mentioned, and this other work on the different currents of thought in China, many of them articles by Mike Billington, very good material.
OK, well, if you’ve got more questions, please leave them in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer them, to get back to you. Thank you for joining, and I’ll be seeing you for the next two installments of the series on Leibniz.
The next episode will be on Leibniz’s philosophy, overall, his outlook on science, some of most general and powerful principles that he left us, as his legacy. And then the final presentation will be on the, what might be called the epilogue. What was the impact of Leibniz’s life, and who were the thinkers that carried on his tradition, including, as a particular study, the formation of the American Republic, and the ideas that created the United States. So, I’ll see you later for those. Thanks for joining. Subscribe to the LaRouchePAC YouTube channel, and put your questions below. Thanks.
Article based on this presentation: “The Leibnizian Roots of Eurasian Integration” (pdf)