Sunday, November 23, 2014

374. American Exceptionalism, the Founders and Confucian Moral Philosophy

Usually, American exceptionalism can be traced to Alexis De Tocqueville, the first writer to describe the country as "exceptional" in 1831 and 1840. American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations.

Actually, the notion that the United States is a different country is older than that. The founders of the United States worked hard to make the United States a new nation on the earth. Thomas Paine in this widely read Common Sense expressed for the first time the belief that American was not just an extension of Europe but a new land. From In his paper Confucius in the American Founding (Virginia Review of Asian Studies, vol. 16, 2014), Dr. Dave Wang states that the American Revolution was also simultaneously a moral revolution. While the founders were concerned with preserving their civil liberties and economic freedom through their stance, “no taxation without representation,” they were also concerned with public morality. They fully understood that the war was as much a battle against “the corruption of 18th century British high society” as it was against financial oppression. As a result, the founding fathers were determined to construct new virtues responding to the needs of the new nation. Having seen the results of the moral corruption in the old world, the founders worked diligently to use all valuable moral resources available for them to create virtues for the new nation.

As the main designers of the new nation, the founders knew that it took more than a perfect plan of government to preserve liberty. They needed some moral principles accepted by the people to encourage them to obey laws voluntarily. They recognized that a free government should be supported by people who could act morally without compulsion, and would not willfully violate the rights of others. Benjamin Franklin firmly believed that "Laws without morals are in vain." Cultivating new virtues for the fledgling United States therefore became one of the most significant themes during this time of social and political transformation. Thomas Jefferson believed the United States was founded on the confidence of a free and virtuous people. Jefferson sought a radical break from the traditional European morality. He opposed the system of the ruling family over the needs of the people. With this notion in mind, the founders turned to Confucian moral philosophy. These efforts to build new virtue for the new nation laid the intellectual foundations for the Revolutionary concept of American exceptionalism.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

373. The Enlightenment, the United States and China

The founders of the United States were intellectually men of the age of the Enlightenment. One of the most important features of the Enlightenment was that Chinese civilization, particularly Confucius moral philosophy, was highly regarded by main frontrunners of the Enlightenment. Confucius’ principle of that the people possess the power of overthrowing a governor who exploits people was accepted as one of the universal principles in human affairs. The direct influence of this principle is manifestly evident in the Declaration of Independence.

It shouldn’t be regarded as coincidence that he principal writer of it, Thomas Jefferson, was made out of the Enlightenment. Traditional nations have their own ethnic traditions. However, the founders of United States were reluctant to carry across the Atlantic the virtue of their old country. The founders believed the moral corruption in Europe should be excluded from the New Nation. Therefore, they were determined to create new virtue for the new nation. In their eyes, creation of new virtue was so important that its success or not would regulate the future of the direction of the nation they created.

If you want to know more about how Confucian moral philosophy made its mark on the founding of the United States,  I recommend you to read Dr. Dave Wang’s article, CONFUCIUS IN THE AMERICAN FOUNDING: THE FOUNDERS’ EFFORTS TO USE CONFUCIAN MORAL PHILOSOPHY IN THEIR ENDEAVOR TO CREATE NEW VIRTUE FOR THE NEW NATION, in Virginia Review of Asian Studies, Volume 16 (2014). In order to understand fully the United States history, the founders’ efforts to draw positive elements from Chinese civilization should be examined carefully. Their efforts shouldn’t be buried in the piles of historical documents that describe that the United States was formed mainly based on the English heritage and the Christian and Greco-Roman traditions. Today all the nations of the world are in one process of modernization. The founders’ way of dealing with other civilizations has provided a great model for all the nations in the world. The founders’ ideas that learn from other civilizations should be adopted by all mankind.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

372. American Civilization, European Civilization and Chinese Civilization

It is well-known that "for much of their history, Americans defined their society in opposition to Europe." "America, it was argued, was a distinct civilization." George Washington had believed that “the new nation would develop a unique American character.” Thomas Jefferson alleged American civilization “was the part of a form of civilization higher than the polished societies of Europe.” US cultures have evolved and absorbed elements from other cultures in the historic process of the formation of American civilization. American civilization drew positive elements from other major civilizations of the world, including Chinese civilization.

In contemporary society, American political leaders have also clearly realized the influence of Chinese civilization on the development of American civilization. President Barack Obama made it clear that “Americans know the richness of China's history because it helped to shape the world and it helped to shape America. We know the talent of the Chinese people because they have helped to create this great country." (-Barack Obama in his remarks at U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on July 27, 2009) Former President William Jefferson Bill Clinton pointed out that China as “a stronghold of creativity, knowledge and wealth” had an impact on American life long before the United States was even born. He told Americans that “From the printing China invented to the poetry it produced, from medicine and mathematics to the magnetic compass and humanistic philosophies, many of China’s earliest gifts still enrich our lives today.”

The founding fathers of the United States were among the main weavers of the fiber of American civilization. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had positive attitudes towards Chinese civilization and worked hard to borrow from it in their efforts to make a new and flourishing society in North America. For example, Benjamin Franklin studied and promoted Confucian Moral philosophy in his effort to cultivate his own virtue as well as to encourage Americans to do the same. George Washington personally supported the opening of trade with China. He also conducted an experiment to grow Chinese flowers in his garden. Thomas Jefferson incorporated Chinese architectural elements into his own buildings in Monticello.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

371. Poor Richard Meets Confucius, and the True Story of the Franklin Stove

This title is borrowed from Dr. John Ruff’s speech in China. I was deeply impressed by Dr. Ruff candid and clear statement, “I first became aware of the Chinese influence on American founders through the writings of Dave Wang, an independent scholar living in New York who writes extensively on the subject.” Dr. Ruff’s testimony serves as another important indicator of showing the academic impact of Dr. Dave Wang’s research on American scholars and professors. Dr. John Ruff, a professor of Valparaiso University, delivered his speech at Chinese Zhejiang University of Technology in Hangzhou on June 7, 2013. According to the University’s webpage, Dr. Ruff talked the following in his speech: Introduced Poor Richard, a character from Benjamin Franklin’s Almanac, and showed some passages from Franklin’s The Way to Wealth. He also told the true story of the Franklin Stove and its link to China.

In his speech, Professor Ruff connected Franklin to Confucius, and Confucius’ influence on Franklin’s life and happiness. He also introduced Franklin’s 13 virtues and Franklin’s efforts for achieving them. Dr. Ruff served as Director of the Valparaiso University First Year Core Program. He was former assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Valparaiso and presently vice-chair of the Faculty Senate. Ruff has a keen interest in ancient and contemporary Chinese culture. He has made several presentations at academic conferences on the Eastern and Western thoughts. In 2012, Dr. Ruff, earned the Valparaiso University Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award. In the spring of 2013 he delivered a lecture on Chinese cultural influence on Benjamin Franklin at Ansal University in Delhi, India.