(August 28, 2009; April 18, 2011; February 18, 2012)

(These remarks are here collected together from previous postings at this site.  See also, On Confucian Thought, George Anastaplo, BUT NOT PHILOSOPHY: SEVEN INTRODUCTIONS TO NON-WESTERN THOUGHT [ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD, 2002], PP. 99-145)



(Originally posted 07/01/2010)

George Anastaplo


My first exposure to the Chinese (aside from enjoying their restaurants in this Country) was (shortly after the Second World War) during an Air Corps mission flying out of Guam (where our air crew was temporarily stationed), searching for one of our planes that had gone down into the Pacific Ocean far to the west. Our flight (on which I was the navigator) was uneventful, except for a troubling hour when it appeared that our own plane (a B-29) was literally coming apart at high altitude, a prospect which led me to calculate our position for the radio operator to use. The area we were assigned to search did take us to the edge of Formosa, which was the name by which that beautiful island was then known to us.

An experience that evening at our air base on Okinawa, where we spent the night, proved enlightening for the twenty-year-old that I was. I could not help noticing one of the participants in a lively card game, in our officers’ quarters, an exasperated officer who was the foulest-mouthed man I ever encountered during more than three years of military service. I was astonished to learn, upon inquiry, that this was an Air Corps chaplain, which proved a quite useful lesson for a youngster that things may not always be what they seem, even among those in apparent authority.

My first substantial exposure to the Chinese was, a quarter century ago, during my study of the great Confucian texts in translation, texts which can sometimes seem to be still as fundamental to China as the Declaration of Independence is to the United States. A critical difference here is that this American founding document could invoke “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”   Nature, as it came to be known first in the West, did not figure explicitly in the thought of Asians before they were systematically exposed to the influence of Ancient Greek thought.


Of course, the ability of a people to maintain a recognizable continuity on so large a scale for some three thousand years, as the Chinese have done, suggests (unless the Divine is posited as having been at work there, as It is said to have been with the Israelites) that the Chinese have long had a somewhat reliablesense of the workings of Nature. This can include the empowerment of an instinct for recognizing and developing “one’s own.” This may be seen most pervasively, perhaps, in the fundamental role instinctively assigned by the Chinese to the family in the truly civilized community (with the family name coming first, as among many Asians, in any personal identification).

In the United States, however, family ties can be far less intense, reflecting perhaps the fact that ours is still a highly mobile society, having been populated for the most part by millions who have been willing, if not even eager, to abandon their ancestral homes thousands of miles away. Within a couple of generations after their settlement here, the language and customs (including eventually the religious sentiments) of their forebears tend to become far less important than they had been, if they are not even forgotten. Much in the social and economic circumstances of Americans encourages, if it does not require, even more mobility among those settled here, mixing up thereby peoples that can have only an ever dimmer awareness of what “the Old Country” meant.

Americans can be reminded by the Chinese of how deep, and obviously rich, family ties can be. We, on the other hand, must wonder what the long-term effects of the current “single-child-per-family” policy of the Chinese government will be if it can indeed be sustained. Is there about such a policy something as unnatural, at least in appearance (if not also in what it eventually means for the care of the aged), as that extraordinary mobility upon which the United States seems to depend?


Americans can be reminded by contemporary China of what a “market economy” can be and may do. We see dramatized among the Chinese today both the encouragement of personal economic initiatives and the legitimation of an intense self-centeredness. But the Chinese do not seem to be as determinedly (or, at least, as obviously) suspicious of pervasive governmental regulation as Americans tend to be – and in this, perhaps, the lingering influence of Confucian thought may be seen.

Even so, the Chinese can help us see how our European ancestors acted for three centuries in taking over much of North America. That is, the ethnic Chinese, too, steadily displaced “aboriginal” people all over Asia – and (it seems) continue to do so, by mandating large-scale Han Chinese migration into their Western territories. The Chinese, however, do not seem ever to have had (on a large scale) the system of chattel slavery once insisted on in much of the United States.

On the other hand, as I have indicated, Americans do not seem ever to have had the toleration that the Chinese have long had for steady, heavy-handed, governmental regulation. This has been exhibited even in the severe measures announced from time to time these days against foreign businessmen who are encouraged to operate in China. Such a recent repressive measure drew, in a New York Times editorial of July 18, 2009, the rebuke of “thuggish behavior.”


The Chinese can be said to have learned from the Americans how a continent-wide regime should be preserved, no matter how it may have been acquired. The horrendous domestic casualties that someone such as Mao Zedong was willing to endure in order to consolidate his regime may seem, for some, to have had a respectable precedent in the steady casualties Abraham Lincoln  was willing to endure during the American Civil War. In both cases, noble sentiments could be invoked as multitudes “had” to be sacrificed.

Much of what the Chinese government evidently still considers itself both obliged and entitled to do in order to preserve “the Nation” can seem questionable today, at least to outsiders. Americans are challenged thereby not only to reassess their own past but even more to see truly what they themselves are doing in the present. Thus it can be wondered by patriotic citizens among us what genuine national interest it was that justified the heavy damage inflicted by us since 2003 both on the people of Iraq and on the worldwide reputation of the United States as a humane regime.

But is not such a “national interest” even more suspect when it cannot be freely discussed by people at large? Should not the way that the Chinese government conducts itself at times remind us of how critical “freedom of speech [and] of the press” may be for a modern empire, especially if both rulers and people are truly to understand and to deal sensibly with what is happening from time to time? Such troubling governmental conduct, when extended (for example) to the determined suppression in China (as was once attempted to be done in the United States with the Mormons) of the innocuous-seeming Falun Gong movement, can remind us as well that “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” also is both a fundamental right and an indispensable need for a truly self-governing people.


China, in its controversial one-child-per-family policy, could be said to draw upon teachings that may be found even in venerable Western authors such as Plato and Aristotle, teachings that consider the community as prior in principle even to the family. Still, it is said that China will soon have to minister to one-fifth of the world’s population. What does such a size do to the possibility of self-knowing as a condition for self-governing, especially if genuine freedom of speech cannot be relied upon?

The United States, itself approaching now a population of a third  of a billion people, has come a long way (both up and down?) from the three million that were proclaimed a sovereign body by the Declaration of Independence. It is not generally recognized, however, that the Constitution of 1787 tended to leave the selection of public servants to election or appointment by those most likely to be able to assess the candidates (an arrangement that I have called “coordinated electorates” [ The Constitutionalist [1971], p. 31]). Thus, for example, eligible citizens at large did not vote (in the earliest years of the Republic) for the President of the United States but rather for those fellow-citizens among themselves involved in public life who could be expected (as Electors) to be better equipped than the general public to assess the Presidential candidates of the day.

Here, too, Plato and Aristotle can be instructive, especially in their taking for granted the polis (the city, in its full extent) as the political habitat most suitable by nature for human beings. Thus, the Aristotle who argued that the mammoth metropolis of Babylon was not a polis also observed that putting a wall around all of the Peloponnesus (that part of Southern Greece roughly equivalent in area to our State of New Jersey) would not make it a polis. Does not the gigantic modern state tend, even with the best of intentions, toward a repressive totalitarianism (and hence toward the inefficiency, if not sometimes toward both the callousness and shameless deception on a large scale [and periodic eruptions of deep, mindless anger] associated with not-truly-knowing-oneself)?


The dreadful alternative to totalitarianism in the modern super-state all-too-often seems to be anarchy. The technology that permits the control of ever larger human aggregations may also promote a virtually instantaneous awareness of what seems to be happening “everywhere.” But it can be wondered how reliable (and hence human) is either such control or such awareness.

Confucianism offered cautions to those inclined to take on more than they could either understand or control. The rival Taoism approach seemed to suggest that even Confucius was not cautious enough in assessing human prospects. Critical to all such assessments should be an awareness of what human mortality truly means.

Particularly to be guarded against among us in our modern super-states is ruthlessness. There is not only the sporadic ruthlessness that desperate mobs resort to when civil order breaks down, but there is  also the sustained ruthlessness that apprehensive rulers may feel obliged to rely upon whenever the breakdown of civil order seems to be threatened. In neither case may the actors involved recognize how the objectives they have pursued (grounded in an ever-growing industrial productivity) have unleashed forces that are hard either to identify or to control.


Americans who study the remarkable Chinese experience may be fortunate, therefore, in what they can learn about themselves. Thus, it can be wondered (as one result of such study) whether modern China needs (as the United States may still need) both a “Canada” and a “Mexico.” Both of those countries here in North America have population similar in critical respects to significant elements in the United States.

Canada has always reminded Americans of noble elements in their common heritage. This was seen most dramatically, before the Civil War, in the recognition that a fugitive slave became permanently free if he managed to cross over from the United States into Canada. Mexico assumes (with Puerto Rico and Cuba) ever-greater significance as the proportion of people of Spanish-speaking origins in the United States grows.

It seems to be partly a matter of chance that Canada is as independent of the United States as it is and that Mexico is still as large as it is. There was, after all, a place left in the Articles of Confederation arrangement of the 1770s for an automatic acceptance of Canada in the newly-independent American Union. Also, there was a place in the Southern Secessionists’ plans of the 1860s for much of Northern Mexico and all of Cuba, territories regarded by the Secessionists as “naturally” suited for an extension of slavery.


I may seem to be questioning here tendencies exhibited by Chinese governments in recent decades, particularly as they contemplate their relations with Taiwan and with Tibet and Xinjiang (and other territories in the West). But I can be seen to be questioning as well, if not even more, observations and judgments I myself  made in my first book (some forty years ago). That is, I presumed to say there (in remarks which I did hint at, even then, as arguably “demented”) the following:

Some Americans continue to be confronted with the modern version of the Thucydidean question, “Shall we go to Sicily?” Union with Canada sometimes seems inevitable, it can be argued, and after that, union with Mexico is likely. The Canadian union (for which there is already considerable support – especially among those Canadians who see their lives determined more and more by decisions in Washington in which they have no effective voice – and to which the farsighted French-Canadian isolated in an English Protestant setting should be receptive) should bring the United States and Great Britain (with perhaps France) even closer together and should help establish on even firmer ground among us the principle of the rule of law. This sixty-state culmination could… provide not only a firmer basis for some kind of union with Mexico – partly because of the incorporation in the United States of Roman Catholic Quebec – but also the time and resources needed to raise the Mexican economy to the level needed to sustain free institutions today. The North American republic would then have both the experience and the moral stature for the gradual establishment both of closer ties with South America and of an Atlantic Union. (Is not Cuba’s natural tie with the United States, even more so than Puerto Rico’s?) It is along such lines that the founder of a federated world republic may direct his efforts. [Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist (1971), p. 774]

The expedition against Sicily referred to at the outset of those 1971 remarks, we recall, contributed significantly to the undoing of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. In some ways, it can be suspected, Sicily was then with respect to the great Athenian empire somewhat like what Tibet, say, is now with respect to the great Chinese empire. Had Athens succeeded in Sicily, it might thereafter have been able to do in and for Europe what the Romans eventually did.

But, it can be wondered (especially from a Taoist perspective) whether such an Athenian ascendancy would have been at the cost of the intellectual tradition promulgated especially by Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle. That great tradition developed and took permanent root in an Athens which could no longer (after its Sicilian debacle) expect to dominate the world politically. Surely, there are thoughtful Chinese observers today who wonder what is put at risk (especially in their precious heritage) if their country should indeed become as dominant, politically as well as economically, as some of her current leaders seem determined to make her.


Three rules of perhaps general applicability (anticipated by what has already been said on this occasion) should be taken to heart by any nation aspiring to become or to remain a “superpower” respected by decent human beings everywhere and for years to come, whether it be China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, or the United States. The first of such rules would have it noticed what the impact of a nation’s criminal justice system “has” to be. Thus, Americans should find disturbing the grim report noticed in the New York Times of June 29, 2009 (Editorial, p. A18) (however comforting it can be both that such an account, reminiscent of slavery, can be safely published by our press and that even grimmer reports [for example, about numerous executions] come out of other penal systems these days) – Americans, I suggest, should find disturbing the report, “The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has almost one-quarter of its prisoners.”

The second of our modern rules testing for true greatness in a nation would have it noticed how freely its “press” can indeed routinely speak about how the life of the community is governed and developed. Such freedom assures people at large that they can safely have their say, that “a decent Respect [ismaintained] to the Opinions of Mankind.”  But, perhaps even more critical here, the rulers of a very large country (however they  may seem to be selected) are more likely (if their press is truly free) thereby to learn what is really happening nationwide, and to do so in time to take, and to explain properly, the measures needed to make the best of sometimes unavoidably disturbing circumstances.

The third (and perhaps the simplest) of our rules contributing to and testing for true and sustainable greatness (at least in our time) would have it noticed whether a country has to make far greater efforts in order to keep people out than it has to make in order to keep people in. The infamous Berlin Wall that the Soviet masters of Germany “had” to build (in 1961) testified, day in and day out thereafter,  to the existence of a deeply repressive system that proved incapable of truly knowing and hence properly developing and maintaining itself. It testified, that is, to the limits of the determined (if not even suicidal) illusions by which both the rulers and the ruled of a supposed great power may be trapped.



I have drawn on Ancient Greece and the Ancient Greeks in an effort to examine what the United States can learn today from China. Those lessons have been reinforced by reminders of the earliest experiences of Americans in establishing their Republic.

The British learned from their experience with their American colonies how to deal more sensibly thereafter with other restless colonies, especially those with the same ethnicity and language, and hence with the same constitutional heritage and political expectations, as themselves. The British also did, with colonies of different races and languages, generally better than other Colonial powers in the Twentieth Century.

The control given up by Great Britain in the Twentieth Century included that over Cyprus. The independence was proclaimed in 1960 of that island, a place with a majority of Greeks but with a significant minority of Turks. There has long been in Greece an element agitating for the Union of Cyprus with Greece. This prospect has always troubled Turkey, which is much nearer geographically to Cyprus than is Greece. The acceptable alternative, for Turkey, was an independent Cyprus, even if dominated by its Greek majority. Such rule would be secure, of course, only so long as the Turkish minority there was seen to be treated fairly.

In 1967, however, a cabal of ambitious Greek Army Colonels took over the Government of Greece. But they proved so obviously incompetent that they became desperate for some success that might rehabilitate them in the public estimation – and this they believed a takeover of Cyprus would provide. Their move to do just that in 1974 justified, or at least provoked, the Turks immediately to take over part of the island for its Turkish minority. The issue of reunification of an independent Cyprus has agitated Greek politics ever since – and has poisoned relations between Turkey and Greece.

The Greek-American community in this Country has long been vigorous in its insistence that Turkey should give up the part of Cyprus that it has controlled since 1974. It is not usually remembered in this Country, however, that the most influential Greek-Americans forty years ago had been critical in insisting that the United States support the usurpation of the Colonels in Greece. So eager were these influential Greek-Americans for the enosis (the union) of Cyprus and Greece that they were willing to have the relatively free Greeks of Cyprus subjected to the rather repressive military dictatorship ruling Greece at that time.

In what ways, it can be wondered, are comfortable Chinese-Americans following, in their “reunification” demands, that program of successful Greek-Americans which has subjected all the Cypriots to decades of turmoil. That turmoil has continued to this day, that is, long after the regime of the Greek Colonels collapsed (as it did in 1974) when it became evident to everyone what a mess had been made even of their Cyprus gamble.

Sensible Greek military officers, not caught up in the Colonels’ usurpation, always recognized the strategic folly of any effort by Greece to take over Cyprus by force. It can be wondered whether there are, among sensible Chinese on the Mainland as well as abroad, observers who are likewise dubious about the deprivation for the Chinese people as a whole that would result from a suppression of salutary examples in political/social openness provided by Chinese communities in places such as Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Indeed, the more astute Chinese leaders on the Mainland, and especially those imbued somewhat by the spirit of Confucianism, should welcome the opportunities for social and economic experiments provided elsewhere for people with a similar heritage and similar inclinations.  Indeed, it could be argued, if there were not already in Asia somewhat independent regions populated by thriving Chinese – it could even be argued that it might be prudent to establish some. We can be reminded that Americans do learn how to conduct themselves by watching what Canadians, among others, experiment with.

The Greeks (both ancient and modern), I have suggested, learned that there is all-too-often something to be said for “leaving well enough alone,” even when “well enough” may be far from “the very best possible.” It is useful to be reminded in such circumstances of still another familiar saying among us, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


These remarks were prepared for The Chinese Reunification Forum, John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, August 28, 2009.  It has been published in The Greek Star, Chicago, Illinois, September 24, 2009, p. 7.

George Anastaplo is Professor of Law, Loyola University of Chicago; lecturer in the Liberal Arts, The University of Chicago; and Professor Emeritus of Political Science and of Philosophy, Dominican University. He examines Confucian thought in his book, But Not Philosophy: Seven Introductions to Non-Western Thought (2002) and Taoist thought in his book, The Christian Heritage: Problems and Prospects(2010). He examines Greek thought in his book, The Thinker as Artist: From Homer to Plato & Aristotle(1997).



(Originally posted 07/11/2011)

George Anastaplo

L’hypocrisie est un hommage que le vice rend á vertu.

─Duc de la Rochefoucald, Maximes, 219


            We should, in assessing conditions in and expectations for China, recall what can be known about the conditions for the establishment and maintenance of Anglo-American constitutionalism. Particularly significant may be the influence of William Shakespeare. Critical to that influence may be what can be learned from the experience of the Roman Republic and from the History of Britain.

There is, in the political tradition of the English-speaking peoples, a legal discipline not generally available worldwide. This can be usefully compared to the system of aspirations collected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated in 1948. Such declarations are not apt to be grounded in the experiences and resulting discipline of particular peoples.

This is not to suggest that countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom are not without serious problems. Thus, the United States has at this time three wars to try to manage, while China has none. Or rather, the Chinese regime seems to have several on-going wars at home, as it tries to keep together more than a billion people with significantly diverse experiences and expectations.


            I could be reminded of “the Chinese situation” upon attending at the University of Chicago Law School (on April 6, 2011) an academic symposium on China and International Law. A Chinese Consul General provided instructive Opening Remarks. One could sense, from how some things were said and how other things were avoided, where the sensitive areas are in the Chinese political geography.

The Consul General was a middle-aged man with a good command of the English language. He was obviously quite competent. One could see how he got to be where he is and what he has to do (and not do) to maintain himself.

One could wonder, upon watching him navigate among the issues of interest to an American audience, how spokesmen abroad for either Hitler’s regime or Stalin’s (in time of peace) had to maneuver among the issues of the day. Which is worse, one could also wonder–to pretend to like a questionable regime or really to like it? One can be reminded here of the reservations one might have about “the Macbeth of philosophy,” the Martin Heidegger of the 1930s.


            China can be acclaimed as “rising,” and this after “a Century of Humiliation.” It is a major economic force worldwide, at least for the time being. And it is a nuclear power—but so is so questionable a regime as that in North Korea.

It can be wondered by Western observers how the rulers of China are selected. And how do they justify themselves? Particularly intriguing is the vigorous participation in capitalist enterprises worldwide by a regime that is somehow at least the nominal successor to a grand (and often amazingly brutal) Marxist enterprise.

It can also be wondered whether these are Chinese questions. We in the West take seriously political anniversaries measured by centuries. The Chinese, on the other hand, can routinely assume disciplinary expectations associated with millennia-long dynastic developments.


            The Consul General, without dwelling on the subject, could suggest that his government “respects human rights.” It was not a surprise that nothing was said by him about the current imprisonment of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate or about the Tinnamen Square massacre a generation ago. Nor was anything said about the arrest that very week of a well-known artist who had been prominent in developing spectacles for the Olympic Games recently held in China.

The number of executions in China remains appalling as is the vigourous suppression of restive peoples in the Chinese West. Nor, it seems, have the grotesque excesses of Mao and his henchmen ever been publiclly repudiated, while he himself seems still to have an exalted status. The ruthlessness of the current regime may be seen in the determined policy of “one child per family,” a policy which has begun to trouble even Chinese leaders because of some of its serious unanticipated consequences.

The governors of China do not seem to be embarrassed by the programs of suppression (for example, of the Internet) that they “have” to engage in. Instead, they can insist, “China is a country under the rule of law, and relevant authorities . . . work according to law.” (N.Y. Times, April 8, 2011, p. A4) But so notorious are Chinese practices that “the departing American ambassador [to China] criticized China’s human rights record [on April 6, 2011] in some of the sharpest public comments [made] by a United States official since the Chinese government began a crackdown on dissent this year.” (N.Y. Times, April 7, 2001, p. A9)


            It can be wondered what forms of a decent regime are plausible for China, especially considering its tremendous population and its considerable diventy in languages. India, too, has these challenges–but it also has the legacy (for its political enterprises) of centuries of salutary British influence with respect to the Rule of Law (however nominal at times). Should the Chinese, with their deeply-engrained (however weakened) Confucian influence, aspire to a sensible aristocracy?

Thoughtful Chinese today continue to respect the strong emperors who checked the descents into anarchy that have threatened to cripple Chinese civilization from time to time. One can be reminded of how George Mackay Brown could speak of ruthless actions in the Orkneys which somehow had saluatary consequences for the people at large (For the Islands I Sing [London: John Murray, 1997], pp 8-9):

“The most intriguing part of Orkneyinga Saga concerns the struggle of two cousins, Hakor and Magnus, for the earldom of Orkney. Often the earldom had two claimants, a state of affairs that seems to have been encouraged by the overlord in Norway, because Orkney under a single strong earl was semi-independent; but two claimants allowed the king [in Norway] to play one off against the other. Hakon and Magnus agreed to hold a peace conference on the island of Egilsay on Easter Monday, 1117, Magnus sailed there with a few advisers and the stipulated number of ships: two. Hakon sailed in with eight ships full of warmen, clamouring for the death of Earl Magnus. Magnus spent that night in the church of Egilsay (‘the church island’), and in the morning he went out to meet Hakon ‘as cheerfully as though he was bidden to a feast’. Preparations were made for the execution of Magnus. Hakon told his standard bearer to do the killing. This man, Ofeig; ‘refused indignantly’. None of Hakon’s followers, it seemed, was willing to do such a thing on Easter Monday. At last the axe was put into the hands of Earl Hakon’s cook, a man called Lifolf. And Lifolf, when he knew what he had to do, began to weep. At this point Magnus encouraged his executioner, pointing out that his own rich clothes would be Lifolf’s, and absolving him from all blame. Then, weeping, Lifolf drove the great axe into Magnus’ head. Hakon thereafter was sole Earl of Orkney.

“Such a villainous piece of work should have suffered nemesis, according to our way of thinking since the Greeks gave us tragedy. But in fact Earl Hakon went on to become one of the best earls Orkney ever had, much loved and popular with the islanders.”

Will the remarkably brutal Mao regime, we can wonder, ever be spoken of as that of the treacherous Earl Hakon?

Not every people, it has been argued (by friends of liberty, such as John Stuart Mill), are prepared for free institutions. But it can be particularly distressing to see tyranny “prosper” among peoples who can be remembered as having known much better. The richness of Chinese culture can make us expect commendable institutions among them eventually, if not immediately.


            The discipline of the Chinese can be remarkable. I heard last year a European photographer who had taken pictures of bureaucrats in countries around the world. His Chinese subjects were particularly rigid (if not even fearful) when photographed in their offices, no matter how cordial they had been socially the night before.

How, then, are the “enemies” of the current regime regarded by the non-official community? A possible response may be suggested in the continuation of the Orkney story about the beheading of Earl Hakon related by George Mackay Brown (p. 9):

“At a deeper level than politics, the murder of Earl Magnus began its operations. Almost at once the common people looked on the dead man as a saint. It was not murder but martyrdom. People sick in mind and body began to flock to Magnus’ tomb in Birsay, and extraordinary cures were reported. At first William, Bishop of Orkney, disapproved of such vulgar credulity, but later his eyes were opened—literally and metaphorically—to the presence of something rare and strange and new in the life of the islands: a sweetness and light unknown before. The bones of Magnus were taken to the new cathedral that was being built in Kirkwall, and immured in a pillar there. They are there, cloven skull and bone, today.”

Are there comparable martyrs being developed in China today?

Have there been “saintly” legacies, enriching the community, left as well by the opponents/victims of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia? And did the American Civil War somehow deepen the collective soul of the United States? Thus, the uses of adversities should not be lost sight of.


            This does not mean that one should not be cautious about the adversities to which one is exposed. Thus, someone of spirit should recognize the risks of visiting China today. The older one is, the less time and energy is one likely to have to deal adequately with the punitive governmental reactions that one may chance to be provoked to arouse.

Cautionary tales are provided by foreign businessmen who come to be accused by the Chinese government as threats to national security. Is the insecurity of the regime thereby exposed? Or is an intense self-righteousness on exhibit?

Are there among the more influential Chinese any embued with the spirit of Confucianism? Such a spirit encourages thoughtfulness and restraint:     the remarkable subtlety in the promotion of healthy social organization thereby encouraged can empower an enduring rule, behind the scenes, by thoughtful men and women, at least in “the long run.” Consider the salutary Passover Celebration some of us will be observing this evening, including eminently pious Jews who do not seem to be troubled by those archaeologists and other scholars who insist that there never was the Exodus depicted by the Bible.


            I was invited to speak, a couple of years ago, to a Chinese Unification conference. My remarks were given, by me, the title, “What the United States Can Learn from China and Greece”—and, as such, seemed to be well-received, at least for the moment. I suggested that it was to China’s advantage to have Chinese communities, such as in Hong Kong and in Taiwan, experimenting with modern measures independently of Beijing, just as the United States has benefited from the substantial independence of Mexico and Canada.

All this is aside from what is being done these days in Tibet and in the Western parts of China. What, indeed, is the size of A Manageable China? A like inquiry can be suggested about the continuing relevance of the Constitution of 1787, prepared for some three to four million people (and growing), as the population of the United States approaches one-third of a billion—a development that can help account for the steadily growing influence of Presidential Power in this country.

Two days after the China Conference, I heard (on April 8, 2011) at Orchestra Hall, Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No.5 in D Miner, Op.47” (introduced in “Leningrad” in November 1937). I could wonder, upon reading the program notes on that occasion, how much that can now be said about the Soviet treatment of this composer may anticipate what is to happen in China some day. Those program notes (appended to these remarks) included these observations:

“Like Beethhoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler before him, Shostakovich has written a fifth symphony that sets out to triumph over adversity, with the major key supplanting the minor in the final movement. The power of this music is undeniable, although not everyone was satisfied that its deeper content was really politically correct—after hearing Shostakovich’s new symphony for the first time, the great novelist Bons Pasternak wrote, ‘He went and said everything, and no one did anything to him for it.’”


            I could also wonder, during the China Conference itself, what the effects of the Consul General’s remarks were on the dozen or so people in the audience, trained in the law, who were said to have come from China for this event. Were these young professionals (in a sense, perhaps, the principal addressees for this diplomat)—were they persuaded by what they heard about the merits of the Chinese regime? Or were they reminded only that this is the way one has to talk in order to succeed at home?

That is, what is indeed believed by the younger Chinese about the basis and legitimacy of power at home? What will their increasing exposure to foreign ways, in the furtherance of a remarkable economic development, do to the opinions of the thoughtful about the authority of those who insist they are in charge? How sound and hence enduring can any regime be that is grounded in opinions that are dubious, if not even unnatural?

It can be considered providential that I went immediately from the China Conference to hear a lecture about the challenge that had been posed by James Joyce to the reputation of William Shakespeare. I put to the speaker a question which can be adapted to our inquiry as to the merits (and self-esteem) of the tyrants in Beijing:     “Did Joyce, at the end, believe himself superior to Shakespeare—and if he did believe this, what should we think of him?” Thus we can wonder how what is being officially promulgated today measures up to (and is believed by the informed to measure up to) what is available to be inherited by the Chinese from Confucius, Taoism, Buddhism and the like?


Constitutional Law Seminar,
Loyola University School of Law,
Chicago, Illinois

April 18, 2011



April 8, 2011

Dmitri Shostakovich

Born September 25, 1906, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Died August 9, 1975, Moscow, Russia.

Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47

Dimitri Shostakovich first came to the United States in March 1949. Before a crowd of 30,000 people in Madison Square Garden, he sat at a piano and played the scherzo from his Fifth Symphony. He arrived here as an official participant in the Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace, and he came, against his better judgment, because Stalin had telephoned him and asked him to come.

It is disturbing and symbolic image: this great man, shy and unassuming behind his thick glasses, being trotted out to perform his best-known symphonic music on a piano in a sports arena. This was but one of many battles Shostakovich fought in his war between the public platform and his private thoughts. A photograph taken at the time shows Shostakovich, his eyes avoiding the camera, standing uneasily between Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is perhaps the best-known work of art born from the marriage of politics and music. In 1949, when the Soviet composer came to America, the circumstances of its creation were as famous as the music itself. The facts are few, but telling. On January 28, 1936, which Shostakovich was working on his Fourth Symphony, Pravda denounced his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in an article called “Muddle instead of Music.” Although the opera had been triumphantly received in both Moscow and Leningrad during the previous two years—and in more than 175 performances—it was suddenly and decisively attacked as fidgety, screaming, neurotic, coarse, primitive, and vulgar. Although Shostakovich himself was not the recipient of such well-chosen adjectives, there was no question of where he now stood in the eyes of Soviet authorities.

Shostakovich went ahead and finished his Fourth Symphony—a vast, exploratory, tragic work—but when it came time to unveil it in public, he had second thought and withdrew the score. (It waited twenty-five years to be performed.) Then, after a long silence, came his official response, written in just three months. Shostakovich now issued “the creative reply of a Soviet artist to justified criticism,” the astonishing phrase that is forever linked with the work’s official title, Symphony no. 5.

Sorting fact from fiction is no mere pastime in discussing Soviet music. On such distinctions hangs our understanding of important musical impulses. Many a listener, as well as political historian, has pondered the justification for the Soviet criticism and the motivation for the reply. For the record, we can consider the composer’s own words, written at the time, although they are less than fully enlightening: “The theme of my Fifth Symphony is the making of a man. I saw man with all his experiences in the center of the composition, which is lyrical in form from beginning to end. In the finale, the tragically tense impulses of the earlier movements are resolved in optimism and joy of living.” There is, of course, some incontrovertible evidence, like the wild success of the Fifth Symphony when it was introduced on November 21, 1937, in Leningrad under the baton of Eugene Mravinsky, and the subsequent official embrace of Shostakovich, speedily returned to favor.

In the end, the music must speak for itself. In place of the “screaming,” “primitive” music that got him in trouble, Shostakovich now gives us clarity and brilliance. And, despite intermittent tensions, we have a happy ending. Like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler before him, Shostakovich has written a fifth symphony that sets out to triumph over adversity, with the major key supplanting the minor in the final movement. The power of this music is undeniable, although not everyone was satisfied that its deeper content was really politically correct—after hearing Shostakovich’s new symphony for the first time, the great novelist Boris Pasternak wrote, “He went and said everything, and no one did anything to him for it.”

Clarity of form and texture is the hallmark of the large—and not uncomplicated—first movement. From the jagged Grosse Fuge-like opening theme to the climatic, grotesque march over a relentless snare-drum rhythm, Shostakovich takes pains not to lose us in intricate lines of counterpoint or disorienting harmonies. For every page of the score that calls on the full resources of the orchestra, there are countless others on which few notes are written. The second theme, for example, is a serene, soaring violin melody of wide leaps—we are never quite certain where it will land next—over simple chords that slowly change colors as they repeat their “tum ta-ta” pattern.

The Allegretto that follows (a traditional scherzo and trip form) is as merry and good-natured as any music that came from Shostakovich’s pen. If this were the only music of his that we knew, we might not be so quick to read a note of irony into the solo violin’s teasing melody in the trio. But this is music in a singularly untroubled vein, and that is precisely what the Madison Square Garden crowd was meant to hear.

Shostakovich claimed he wrote the Largo at white heat in three days—information that is hard to digest once one hears this calm and controlled music, moving slowly over vast, wide-open spaces. The lucid, thin textures occasionally turn spartan—a solo oboe melody against a single sustained violin note, a flute duet accompanied by a quiet harp—but every phrase carries meaning, and every note is indispensable.

If darkness blankets the eloquent Largo, the finale erupts with power and brilliance. A triumphant conclusion was mandatory—particularly after the troubled thoughts of the preceding slow movement. When the D minor struggles finally shift into an affirmative D major blast, it is only our hindsight—our knowledge of the undeniable sorrow and despair of Shostakovich’s last works—that suggest this happy ending is somehow forced.

[By Phillip Huscher, the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra]

Compare Edward Rothstein, “In a Subversive Key: A critic speculates about what Shostakovich was really expressing in his string quartets, “The New York Times Book Review, May 8, 2011, pp. 16-17.



(Originally posted 02/20/2012)

George Anastaplo


The Communique issued in Shanghai, in February 1972 at the conclusion of President Richard M. Nixon’s astonishing visit to China, is instructive, reinforced as it is by the transcripts of the extended conversations engaged in on that occasion at the highest levels of the Chinese and American governments of that day. Particularly instructive for us was Mr. Nixon’s performance on that occasion, an occasion being celebrated here in Chicago today on its fortieth anniversary.


            We can be challenged to wonder about the tolerance shown then by the Chinese leaders for a projected involvement by the United States in the affairs of Taiwan, even to the extent of continuing to provide American military as well as economic aid to the Taiwanese authorities. The Chinese seemed only to require for the time being what they did get with respect to this matter, an explicit American recognition that Taiwan is to be regarded by everyone as forever a part of China.


            The Chinese participants in that 1972 Conference seem to have been move to accept (at least for the time being) this remarkable arrangement with respect to American-Taiwanese military relations by two critical factors—the desire to advance their country’s interests in the world economy and a growing concern to protect China from what they considered ominous military movements along its northern border by the Russian (movements which the American military had been able to track better than the Chinese could, it seems). What the United States was doing (or not doing) in Indochina (and especially in Vietnam) seemed of secondary interest in February 1972, at least for the Chinese.


            There can be for an American reader, previously unfamiliar with these 1972 documents, a feature which is both instructive and sobering—and that is how astute, and even statesmanlike, President Nixon could appear during the many hours of conversation recorded on that occasion. It can be chastening for all of us to be reminded of perhaps inherent human limitations that could lead a gifted politician to allow himself to be mired down (and thus to be politically destroyed) by something as trivial (and yet as obviously suicidal) as the now-notorious Watergate Cover-up.


            Also sobering is the apparent willingness of American officials, eager to advance their important foreign policy goals (especially with respect to Vietnam), to ignore, if not even to sacrifice, the legitimate concerns of the Tibetans and others about the Western-territories measures of the Chinese regime (concerns of which we have been reminded recently by a series of dreadful fiery suicides as protests). Even more sobering, of course, is the pervasive tyranny to which hundreds of millions of Mainland Chinese have been subjected for decades, something that it would be unnatural to expect the Taiwanese Chinese to look forward to sharing. Should it not be expected that Chinese living elsewhere, in far more relaxed regimes such as the United States, would not want a substantial extension of such tyranny (dramatized by the 1989 Tiananman Square massacres) to peoples (such as on Taiwan) accustomed to a much freer way of life?


            The heartless follies of Mao Tse-tung [Mao Zedong] and his successors have been matched somewhat by the misadventures of American governments in recent decades. Particularly destructive was the unbelievably suicidal drive up to the Yalu River by American forces understandably responding (at least originally) to North Korean aggression in South Korea in 1950, a drive which in turn provoked an irrational Chinese response that severely distorted American-Chinese relations for a generation.


            Then, a half-century later (after what should have been an instructive debacle in Vietnam) there was the bizarre American drive (in 2003) into Iraq, as a result of which (it has been estimated) perhaps as many as 100,000 innocent Iraqis have died. It remains to be seen, of course, how that long-troubled and curiously immature people will conduct themselves (on their own) during the next decade.


            Our Iraqi follies have been perhaps our most dubious response to the criminal September Eleventh assaults which took four thousand American lives a decade ago. Also dubious have been many of the Security measures resorted to by us in a misconceived “War on Terror,” measures which include highly questionable executions worldwide (by drones and otherwise) of persons unilaterally designated by us as appropriate targets.


            It can be hoped that American follies may be curbed with the aid of reminders of the salutary guidance provided us for centuries by Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. It can also be hoped (a hope reinforced, for me personally, by your willingness to hear me out on this and other occasions)—it can also be hoped that Chinese follies may in turn be curbed with the aid of reminders of the salutary guidance provided Asians for millennia by the humane legacies of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.


[Remarks made at a One China Committee gathering, Chicago, Illinois, February 18, 2012.]

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