It would be a cliche of vast proportions to state that the ethical systems of Islam and Confucianism are immensely board in scope and application. Their moral imperatives span the social spheres family life, property ownership, governance, social etiquette, to list a few. For the sake of the argument listed in the title of this post, we shall restrict our analysis to the interaction between society and state. Islam and Confucianism share a structurally similar code of ethics known as the reciprocal system. The primary function of this ethical model is to ensure an equitable interaction between upper and lower classes by retaining a focus on commensality. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use the Middle East and China as representative samples for the ideologies of Islam and Confucianism. This is not because these societies follow a ”purer” version of these ideologies, but rather, they embody aspects of these belief systems that I wish to focus on.
The Confucians believed that the upper classes had an obligation to treat those beneath them with benevolence (ren) whereas the latter were then morally compelled to submit to the authority of those above them. This was a relationship that was sustained by benevolence and reciprocated by obedience. The general idea is that benevolence legitimizes power whereas tyranny is unjust and immoral. For example, in both Islam and Confucianism it is imperative that husbands treat wives benevolently and wives in turn obey their husbands. This proposition is not unlike the benevolent patriarchy articulated in Ephesians. But what of society’s relationship with the state? Both systems insist that the state must fulfil its obligation of investing in public welfare, which is reciprocated with obedience and loyalty from the populace.
In medieval times, the Abbasids constructed several hospitals in Baghdad. The projects were undertaken when Christian subjects convinced their Muslim overlords that medicine was a public good. The Abbasids then began investing in hospitals and as Franz Rosenthal points out: “Islam was particularly receptive to all ideas concerning the well being of society.”In modern times, the Gulf Arab societies operate some of the most generous welfare programs on the planet. In the United Arab Emirates for example, newly wed couples may be eligible to receive up so $20k from the marriage fund. They may also apply for interest free mortgages and Housing grants. Their tuition costs for studying abroad are completely covered by the state. They are entitled to free healthcare and subsidized food/gas. The Gulf Arab elites generously disburse oil revenues via a myriad of social programs. You can read about those here.
What does the state demand in return? Complete obedience. The UAE (and other Arab states) deal swiftly and mercilessly with dissidents as their ‘subversive’ activities are seen as a breach of this ancient social contract. Dissidents are abducted by agents of the state and vanish without a trace. Their bewildered relatives have no legal recourse at hand. Their fates often remain unknown and they are surely subjected to torture.
Let us now turn our attention to China. According to Professor Tang, the numerous protests that rock various provinces of the nation do not in anyway indicate a course towards democracy, but rather away from it. Despite the astonishing frequency and intensity of the protests, the CP’s popularity remains high. According to the article:
“In the cases of the chef who fell to his death from a hotel building in Shishou and the 17-year-old girl who drowned in Wengan, both families and local residents refused to accept the medical examiners’ reports because they did not find evidence of murder.
As a result, families and local citizens organised large protests. The higher-level governments responded by appeasing the very public they feared, and so intervened by compensating the families, regardless of the medical examiners’ findings.
Such interference cooled public anger temporarily, but in the process demonstrated a complete disregard for the rule of law.”
The article is rife with examples of protests followed by government appeasement of the public. The Chinese state bending over backwards to appease the public? That certainly doesn’t jive with the image of the harsh dictatorship that the CP is made out to be in the western media. Tang concludes:
“In the Wukan and Shishou incidents as well as others, many protesters held banners calling for direct intervention by Beijing, while condemning local officials. The response from the top satisfies those at the bottom and in return, produces political loyalty and support for the CCP.”
So what do we make of all this data? How do the Confucian systems and Islam contrast with democratic western societies? I believe they do so in two fundamental ways.
The reciprocal systems preclude public participation. I get the impression that neither the Arabs nor the Chinese care about how their governments run, so long as they heed the grievances of the people and provide for them. Transparency, corruption, accountability, and civil society seem to be outside the public’s purview. In democratic societies by contrast, public participation is the most important facet of polity. Public opinion shapes legislature and judicial protocol.
Democratic societies seek to empower the lower classes via the voting mechanism. Voting allows individuals to align themselves with ideologies that are better suited to their interests. I am not entirely sure about Confucianism in this case, but in Islam, the focus is not empowering the lower classes but preventing abuse. A few examples are in order. Lets take the Shariah position on concubinage, even though the practice is extinct (in the legal sense). Islam permits concubinage but shariah stipulates that the begotten offspring of this union may also lay claim to the master’s inheritance. This would naturally be resented by the offspring begotten of his legally wed spouse(s) and would potentially deter the sexual abuse of his concubines. The concubines are not empowered by this ruling, but the potential for abuse is minimized (in theory). Similarly, consider Islam’s ruling on dowry (Mehr) as another instructive illustration. Every bride is entitled to a lump sum from her husband called the Mehr. Mehr serves two functions. It prevents men from taking on multiple wives as the expense can really add up. It also prevents men from divorcing their wives on frivolous grounds as the Mehr cannot be refunded to him. In the event of an accidental death, the Mehr can sustain the widow till she remarries. The focus in this illustration seems to be protection rather than empowerment.
In conclusion it would appear that the two systems are naturally inclined towards producing benevolent dictatorships (at best) instead of fully functioning democracies. As Paleoconservatives we believe non western cultures have the right to practice their indigenous systems as they feel inclined, free from western interference.
We believe that Western countries (especially the US and Canada) should strive to create a better standard of living for their own citizens instead of entangling themselves in foreign fiascos. Bay Area Guy correctly pointed out that investing in infrastructure would be a positive step. I would also recommend investing in secondary education, providing increased resources to small businesses, reducing third world immigration, cutting funding to useless programs like feminist initiatives and multicultural programs, and normalizing white culture and Christianity within our two great societies.