September 28, 2014

Review Corner

My great-grandfather was born in 1900 in a village called Qiu, which is located in Shandong Province on the east coast of China. Shandong Province is renowned for two seemingly contradictory things: philosophy and banditry.
Not to us, Ms. Raleigh, not to us. I always felt for Ayn Rand (because that's the kind of selfless guy I am). Collectivism destroyed her productive family in Russia. She immigrates to America, then has to watch Rex Tugwell and the New Dealers bring the same economics here.

In Confucius Never Said, Helen Raleigh stays in China until college, witnessing liberalization but experiencing the unconscionable and barely imaginable limitations of Communism. Her family was prosperous until Mao brought that special brand of fairness.

My grandfather was eager to help because he was tired of decades of war, violence, and uncertainty. He craved a peaceful life. Like most people in China, he didn't know what communism stood for, but he figured that he would give his support if the communists delivered the peace and prosperity they promised. He didn't realize that would be the last time he saw his boat.

Raleigh's father and grandfather have a front row seat for the redistribution she is witnessing today. Their close-knit community is ripped apart when her family, though popular, is cast as villainous oppressors.
Initially, some poor farmers were hesitant to identify their neighbors as rich. However, the work team brainwashed the poor farmers into believing that disproportionate property ownership was the main cause of social injustice and that landowners were evil class enemies and exploiters of the poor. With a certain amount of coercion, some poor farmers turned their old grievances or frustrations into hatred for their well -to-do neighbors . Since my great-grandfather owned land, he was classified as a landlord even though he wasn't the richest man in the village.

Once identified as "rich," life becomes unbearably hard for the family, and Raleigh chronicles the difficulties. We know the horrors of the famine (though many Chinese do not), but one is struck by the small things. There are a few train trips to seek education, better opportunities, and finally the author's chance to study in America. We complain about travel, but there is a "papers, please" mentality that makes every stop suspenseful. Communism will starve you if you stay put and administer the death of a thousand cuts if you seek life elsewhere.

The book is outstanding as a close up look at Communism and intriguing biography of the woman who escapes it. The best of Raleigh's book, however, is Raleigh's interest in philosophy and the power of ideas. The title refers to "All men are created equal." Confucius never said that. Confucianism accepts the caste system and a hierarchical society that was overturned in The Enlightenment.

A good friend of mine, Bryan, likes to say "Ideas matter ." Knowing what makes America great also helps explain why civilizations like China, despite their thousands of years' of history, fell so behind in the last two hundred years.

The ideas a society is built upon matter a great deal . For 2000 years, Chinese people followed the moral principles and social orders established by Confucian teaching. Confucius believed that people live their lives within parameters preset by fate. Men should be compassionate towards one another, but there is very little a man can do to change his fate. Peace and harmony in society can only be achieved when every man performs his own social responsibility within the preset social orders. Confucius believed people should obey and respect their rulers just as they obey and respect their fathers, while a ruler should love and care for his subjects as if they were his children. Confucius said many good things, but he never said "All men are created equal," because he believed some men were born to be rulers and some men were born to be subjects.

And yes, that happens to be Brother Bryan quoted. Also quoted are Hayek, Milton Friedman, and William Easterly. In a couple decades here, she has absorbed the philosophical foundations of liberty and prosperity. In "Confucius Never Said" she shares those with us.

Five stars.

UPDATE: Helen Raleigh's talk at LOTR-F"

Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at September 28, 2014 10:13 AM

In the same spirit in which Rand was critical of the character "Robin Hood" I cringe at Raleigh's choice of "all men are created equal" as a defining idea to differentiate east from west. That is music to an egalitarian socialist's ears, is it not? I would have preferred, "All men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" as her example of what Confucius Never Said.

4.9 stars?

Posted by: johngalt at September 29, 2014 3:59 PM

Umm, yeah, we went through this a little.

I am aware of your discomfort with that phrase. While I will not admit to using it just to make you angry, I do not share you aversion.

I am plodding, turbo-Porsche in the mud speed through Rev Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex." It scored a spot in Brother Keith's Top Ten and he called The Rev, a precursor ad foundation to John Locke.

Tough sledding for me (and it's biblical foundation might do you physical harm), but Locke, Rutherford and Jefferson all address "is one man born to be the slave of another." I don't hear Harrison Bergeron in the phrase, I hear birthright liberty. "Qua Liberty" if you will allow.

Posted by: jk at September 29, 2014 7:34 PM

Raleigh is a friend of some friends, and a fan of Ms. Rand. We could quite possibly get further clarification from the author.

Posted by: jk at September 29, 2014 7:43 PM

Nah, Confucius is fine with the idea that everybody is created equal. Both Confucius and the eventual Confucian tradition that developed around his purported teachings were completely comfortable with the idea that a no one could become a someone---indeed, they hated hereditary nobility. They were meritocrats from the start, believing that gentlemen were defined by their virtue, righteousness,filial piety and ritual propriety, not their birth or station. The Confucian examination system--which hypothetically allowed a peasant to reach the heights of power if he was virtuous and smart enough--is a good example of this.

On the other hand, China had no conception of 'inalienable rights' until Western ideas and works entered the country in the 1800s.

Posted by: T. Greer at September 30, 2014 1:38 AM

Would TG agree that "all men are created equal" was the ideological weapon to fight the aristocratic caste system and, once that dragon was slain, individual unalienable rights heralded the true renaissance? I see them as distinct, but complementary, stages of liberty.

This is not criticism of Raleigh's message as much as sharpening it to a finer point.

Posted by: johngalt at September 30, 2014 11:26 AM

I don't know that the author's thesis is under scrutiny (though it does not align with tg's assertion). The thing at risk is my expansion. And, to be fair, if you scroll toward the end of the video (47:35), I ask a direct question and she demurs.

Posted by: jk at September 30, 2014 1:14 PM

Demurred on the Confucius connection perhaps, but not on the idea that "all men are created equal" is the foundational principle of the United States. She later explains that it guides the relationship between the people and their government, which got me thinking about another local activist, Laura Carno, and her "I Am Created Equal" advocacy. She joins Raleigh in saying, "that free people doing what they want with their own property is the foundation of our country and our culture."

So I will cop to philosophic pedantry, as the "created equal" message is more visceral to more folks than "individual unalienable rights." (Wait, wait... in, duh, video, what was that again?)

Posted by: johngalt at October 1, 2014 2:54 PM | What do you think? [7]