Sunday, October 30, 2011

241. Why Americans Don't Seek Aristocratic Titles and Honors

In his essay, titled “Optimistic or Pessimistic About AmericaProfessor Joseph Nye pointed out correctly that “some observers worry that America will become sclerotic like Britain, at the peak of its power a century ago. But American culture is far more entrepreneurial and decentralized than was that of Britain, where the sons of industrial entrepreneurs sought aristocratic titles and honors in London.” It is true that American youths today don’t regard the aristocratic titles as worthwhile to pursue.

What I want to add to the point is that this great tradition was started by the founders of this country, such as Benjamin Franklin. Some Americans wanted to continue the British tradition. However, it was the founders’ wisdom of drawing nourishments from Chinese civilization that guided the United States to the road away from the British tradition.

After the American victory, some veterans wanted permanent recognition for their triumph through formation of an order of hereditary knights. Franklin raised objection to this idea by using Confucius’s principle of social promotion:

Thus among the Chinese, the most antient, and, from long Experience, the wisest of Nations, Honour does not descend but ascends. If a Man from his Learning, his Wisdom or his Valour, is promoted by the Emperor to the Rank of Mandarin, his Parents are immediately intitled to all the same Ceremonies of Respect from the People, that are establish’d as due to the Mandarin himself; on this Supposition, that it must have been owing to the Education, Instruction, and good Example afforded him by his Parents that he was rendered capable of Serving the Publick. This ascending Honour is therefore useful to the State as it encourages Parents to give their Children a good and virtuous Education. But the descending Honour, to Posterity who could have had no Share in obtaining it, is not only groundless and absurd, but often hurtful to that Posterity, since it is apt to make them proud, disdaining to be employed in useful Arts, and thence falling into Poverty and all the Meannesses, Servility and Wretchedness attending it; which is the present case with much of what is called the Noblesse in Europe. " The above quotation is available online from the Papers of Benjamin Franklin.


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