Quotable (#89)

Charles Murray on the primordial diversity of colonial America:

Historian David Hackett Fischer’s magisterial Albion’s Seed describes how the British came to America in four streams. From East Anglia came the Puritans seeking freedom to practice their religion. They settled first in Massachusetts. By the time of the Revolution, they had spread throughout New England and into the eastern part of New York and had become known as Yankees. […] From the south of England came the Cavaliers, who had lost out during the English Civil War, accompanied by large numbers of impoverished English who signed contracts to work as their indentured servants. The first wave settled in Virginia’s tidewater, and the second around the Chesapeake Bay. They spread southward through the tidewater regions of the Carolinas and Georgia. […] From the North Midlands came the Quakers, who, like the Puritans, were seeking a place to practice their religion unmolested. They settled first in the Delaware Valley and then spread throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania, with some of them drifting southward to Maryland and northern Virginia. […] The fourth group came from Scotland and the northern border counties of England. Some of them arrived directly from their ancestral homelands, but the great majority arrived in the New World after an extended stopover in the north of Ireland — hence the label by which we know them, the Scots-Irish. They landed in Philadelphia but quickly made their way west on the Great Wagon Road to settle the Appalachian frontier running from west-central Pennsylvania to northeast Georgia.

The four groups did indeed share a common culture insofar as they had all come from a single nation with a single set of political, legal, and economic institutions. But our topic is cultural diversity as it affects the different ways in which Americans think about what it means to “live life as one sees fit.” That consists of what I will call quotidian culture: the culture of everyday life. In terms of quotidian culture, the four streams shared the English language, barely. They differed on just about everything else, often radically.

Murray, of course, sees “living life as one sees fit” in contemporary America as something close to a lost cause.

Twitter cuts (#8)

The intelligence of this speaks for itself:

The Great Convergence

Every great philosopher has a single thought, Martin Heidegger asserted. However questionable this claim might be, it applies without qualification to Mou Zongsan, China’s greatest modern philosopher (and perhaps also the world’s).

While the breadth of Mou’s scholarship is intimidating, it was made possible only by conformity to a methodical life-long study schedule, organized by a single idea. His one thought, which he translated into the language of Western Philosophy as ‘intellectual intuition’ (νοῦς, intellektuelle Anschauung), integrates not only his own thinking, but also — he consistently maintains — the entire Chinese philosophical tradition, of which it is the cap-stone, or guiding thread. Each of China’s three teachings (三教), Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist, tends to a principle of intellectual intuition in which it finds consummation as a “perfect teaching” and through which it adheres by inner necessity (rather than extrinsic cultural and historical accident) to the integral Chinese canon.

Continue reading

Gardens of Time (Part 1)

It might be presumptuous to assume there is any such thing as the Idea of cultivation. The absence of any such idea (a deficiency that is immediately stimulative) could readily be imagined as the condition that makes cultivation necessary.

When the search for a conclusive concept is abandoned, the cultural task of the garden — in its loftiest (Jiangnan) expression — begins to be understood. No less that the acknowledged fine arts of East or West, the Suzhou garden merits appreciation as a philosophical ‘statement’ in which aesthetic achievement is inextricable from a profound apprehension of reality. Perhaps, then, no short-cut or summary seeking to economize on the creation and preservation of the garden itself could possibly arrive at the same ‘place’, or — even with the most restricted sense of cognitive purchase — discover the same things.

Continue reading

Exploration of the Outside

Mou Zongsan opens a gate into the Chinese cultural interior by unswervingly directing his work at its most radically indigenous characteristics, uncompromised by ulterior elements, and therefore undistracted by any seductions of otherness or exoticism that fall short of its inherent destination — connection with the absolute Outside. That alone is authentically Chinese, Mou insists, which originates and culminates in the Way (道), cultivating an unsegregated mutual involvement of thought and being which corresponds closely to the Occidental philosophical concept of intellectual intuition. Whether approached through the Daoist, Buddhist, or Confucian strains of the Chinese cultural complex, the consistent ethnic characteristic is an interior path to exterior reality, continuous with the way of ‘heaven’ (天), or cosmic necessity. The inner voyage is the way out, but more importantly — for the Confucian current at least — it is the way to let the Outside in, making culture a conduit for the cultivation of the world.

From Mou Zongsan’s summit of philosophical intensity, therefore, no true boundary can be drawn between a project marked by extreme cultural ‘nationalism’ and an ontologically-grounded cosmopolitanism, or between a diligent restoration of tradition and a venture beyond the horizon of time. The inward path reaches out (as it fuses with the tendrils of Outsideness, which reach in).

Continue reading

Cultural Restoration and Mou Zongsan

After a difficult half millennium, China’s place in the world is adjusting back towards its longer term norm, at a speed that continues to disconcert even the most diligent observers. With this positive correction comes an inevitable ‘spirit’ of revival, extending from the level of unreflective mood, through partially articulate attitudes, to the loftiest peaks of systematic cultural restoration. As this wave of revitalization intensifies, and refines itself, it becomes increasingly involved in a re-thinking of Confucianism and its historical meaning.

The philosopher most indispensable to this process is Mou Zongsan (1909-1995), the most brilliant of China’s New Confucians, setting the standards of intellectual rigor and audacity for the country’s third-wave of Confucian inspiration, following those of the Pre-Qin and Song-Ming periods. Describing the Confucian tradition as the “main artery” of Chinese culture, responsible not only for its own perpetuation and renewal, but also for the safe-keeping of the country’s Daoist and Buddhist traditions, Mou considered its renaissance a “necessity”. It not only should, but would return, assuming only that Chinese culture has a future. It is due to this indestructible confidence that Mou’s own name is inextricably bound to the wider prospects of Chinese national recovery.

Continue reading

The Shape of Time (Part 2a)

When describing the thinking of John Michael Greer as ‘druidic’ – as this series has cheerfully done – the adjective has been primarily philosophical in direction. It has been used only to indicate that an identifiable, and remarkably coherent, presupposition about the governing nature of time anchors Greer’s particular analyses, which draw out the implications of an unsurpassable cosmic cyclicity, and apply them deftly to a wide variety of concrete problems. ‘Druid’ and ‘radical cycle theorist’ have been treated as roughly equivalent terms.

It is worth noting at this point, however, that Greer is not only conceptually druidic. He is a public proponent of Druidism in a far richer, culturally-elaborate sense, which includes service “as presiding officer — Grand Archdruid is the official title — of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), a Druid order founded in 1912.” This vocation slants his perspective in important (and productive) ways. Our concerns here, tightly focused on the question of time, are able to extract considerable intellectual nourishment from a digression into this thick druidism.

Like other forms of occult Occidental religion, Druidry has an attachment to the deep past that is not tacit and traditional, but overt, modern, and creative. Greer admits readily – even gleefully – that his ‘Ancient Order’ is not in fact ancient at all, but instead belongs to a project of restoration – and actually reconstruction – that dates back no further than the mid-17th century. From its inception, it was bound to a lost past and to inextinguishable doubts about its own authenticity. Greer only very rarely uses his Archdruid Report platform to discuss druidism explicitly. On the first occasion when he does so, his reflections are triggered by the question of a young boy: Are you a real Druid?

Continue reading

Inhabited Heritage

At The China Story, Ken Taylor discusses ‘Cultural Heritage and Urbanisation in China’ — with Hangzhou and the Shanghai periphery illustrating successful models of deep conservation. Taylor takes the opportunity to promote the UNESCO-approved Historic Urban Landscape principles (HUL), which emphasize the sociological dimension of heritage protection, rather than limiting consideration to the “purely physical architectural fabric.” Shanghai’s restored Zhujiajiao is presented as an example of HUL conservation working well.

Familiar gentrification processes, whilst strongly aligned with heritage protection and restoration, are also associated with local population displacement, which compromises their value from the HUL perspective. Community continuity is therefore introduced as a supplementary criterion, extending the sense of heritage in a concrete ethnographic direction. Dynamic metropolitan development, which — in Shanghai at least —  is increasingly comfortable with architectural heritage protection (and even stimulated by it), is likely to find the full-spectrum HUL agenda awkwardly ‘precious’ and growth-retardant. With the global quangocracy firmly supportive of HUL, any such objection will have to remain discreetly muted, although a critique of these ideas, from the side of high-speed urbanomic flows, can be expected at some point (perhaps here). For urban areas of lower intensity, however, where real estate markets play a less radically catalytic role, HUL ideas will no doubt find a more unambivalently welcoming home.

Shanghai is not only a test-bed for HUL-sensitive development, but also a center for intellectual refinement of the model, following “the move of Dr Ron Van Oers from UNESCO Paris to the World Heritage Institute for Training & Research (WHITRAP), Tongji University, Shanghai in the role of Vice Director with the particular brief to work on the HUL Paradigm in China and Asia.”