2023-4-5 How can Russia-China create High Culture?

Good Manners 22-1,3 > Peeling Away 23 < Liberation-Relief 40

In the comment section from a previous High Culture post, one of the issues involved ruminating – as is this substack’s official wont – about how such a thing could come about. Of course perhaps first there should be more explanation about what it might be, but in any case we both agreed that it was not something that could just be instantly imposed somehow. These things take time. Meanwhile, back in the real world, as I mentioned in a subsequent comment, a well-known geopolitical pundit Alistaire Crooke at Strategic Culture had recently opined about this topic, albeit only tangentially and not in any depth, namely:

“To be very plain, the western liberal cultural revolution’s shift from being merely adversarial to a project not aimed just at rejecting previous cultural forms, but in erasing them altogether is what is being globally rejected and collapsing. A new moral-cultural sensibility is rising, even as formal institutions of religion have ebbed. It is that which is articulated by Presidents Xi and Putin. Again simply put, Russia’s quiet, background revival of Orthodoxy and China’s of Taoist and Confucian values as the possible framework against which the regulation of modern technological society can be set – in no small part – has opened the path to metamorphosis and the inflection gripping much of the world.”

There are two main issues here, to my mind (among many more).

  1. Having excised many of the institutions which promulgated and protected ‘high culture’ what have we replaced them with and can they generate high culture once again?
  2. Do Putin and Xi have the ability to do what that quote says, namly to create a new ‘moral-cultural sensibility’ by pursuing a ‘quite background revival’ of their respective Orthodox and Confucian-Daoist values as ‘the possible framework against which the regulation of modern technological society can be set.’

My answer to the first question, deserving of a book let alone more articles but which I am not qualified to answer in any substantive fashion, is ‘No.’ We got rid of Monarchies with executive power who were also heads of the Church; we got rid of the Church as dominant powers or even influences in our societies; we got rid of the location-based hereditary aristocracies, the class from which the Monarchs, as fellow peers, emerged. Now maybe we got rid of them for good reason to do with systemic corruption that was deemed irreparable (as many now believe is the case with the West). But they existed for reasons that are almost too basic and profound to explain clearly – certainly not in contemporary politico-social terms. Modern Westerners have little concept of true Royalty, an influential Church binding all of us together in the same worldview, faith and moral code, of an aristocracy that similarly knits together local communities as part of some larger, sacred whole and which also wields life and death authority where needed to protect all from any evil doers in our midst. Aristocracy, at root, means ‘rule by the best among us.’ It is arguably the best system. (Who else but the best among us would you want being in charge?) But like all systems, it can be corrupted. All systems.

To my mind a ‘high culture’ creates meaningful lives for all in that society and in so doing evolves increasingly subtle, sophisticated, compassionate and enlightening mores in terms of speech, dress, the Arts, manners, design, honour codes, foreign policy and all the rest of it. There is a view of life and living which permeates all that is said and done in that society, moroever from top to bottom. And being of such a high moral nature, it has ways of fending off those who wish to take advantage of the goodness and wealth of its polity and thus preventing systemic corruption from taking root. Once a society loses its way, its moral, ethical and wisdom-compassion compass, as it were, it becomes subject to the malevolent ministrations of those mentalities which exist in all cultures and polities and will fall prey to their venal pursuits. We see this now in the West, in my opinion.

So: I decided to ask the Yi Jing what it might have to say and posed the question: ‘How can Russia-China create High Culture?’ And the Jijing replied, interestingly, with Hexagram 22 often translated as Grace, Adornment, Vanity, but it also could be Etiquette or Good Manners. Interestingly, some of the (too many) commentaries I consult mention that in an evolved society there is no need to enforce laws since people will follow them naturally if they have been sufficiently educated, one aspect of which in any complex ‘high society’ is ‘good manners’ which – at least in the postwar England I grew up in, are said to ‘make man.’ Perhaps they can also be said to ‘make a high culture civilization.’

It seems to me that in order to establish a New World Order that promotes Enlightened Society of sorts, that any attempt to do so by establishing some sort of new Central Power with the mandate to enforce compliance would fail since that power would be subject to corruption by those mentalities attracted to such irresistibly tantalizing bait. Inevitable. No, it will need some sort of almost formless Round Table principle which, interestingly, resembles the sorts of coalitions that the Russia-China Axis seems now to be building. Russia and China have been symbiotic allies for at least ten years now, for example, and seem to be operating on the principle that neither is above or below the other. They are operating, in other words, as Peers of the Realm, as true aristocrats. Furthermore, they are not publishing Rules that nations joining their various coalitions such as the SCO and BRICS. These are voluntary associations of sovereign (‘peer’) states who are being made welcome to take a seat as fellow equals at this geopolitical Round Table. As long as they don’t create a new enforceable Rule of Law, they might succeed in creating a better way.

Or put another way, if everyone involved behaves properly (good manners again) there can be no discord. It simply won’t happen. So though this is very vague, indeed bordering on non-existent as those used to commercial law and criminal statutes might argue, in fact it can also be definitive in terms of real world results. If all simply practice ‘good manners,’ all will be well. Confucius may be right to have dismissed this Hexagram as depicting a dynamic which doesn’t serve a Leader well for resolving Great Matters, but perhaps he missed a deeper, more subtle point of view: by observing the niceties, no Great Matters need arise, merely the obligation to decide how many cucumber sandwiches one wishes to consume with one’s Pimms Nr. 1 cup whilst watching the cricket match of a lovely summer’s afternoon!

Anyway, it is a charmingly auspicious coincidence how we were discussing these issues and that so many of them were instantly reflected back by the Yi, with various pointers from antiquity to boot. This often happens. It may not be ‘magical’ exactly, but it also cannot be explained with rational logic alone. That’s just the way the Yi Jing is. (And that’s the way we like it!)

Published by The Baron

Retired non-profit administrator.

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