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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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