Xu Jilin, After the "Great Disembedding": Family-State, Tianxia and Self
Introduction and translation by David Ownby
In this article, published in 2015, Xu Jilin uses Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries, a retelling of the history of Western modernity which ends in a discussion of multiple modernities, to offer a similar retelling of the narrative of modern China. Although the text was originally published in the scholarly journal of Fudan University in Shanghai, it is in fact not a particularly “academic” text, but rather seeks to shape public opinion in China by engaging other intellectuals and by educating the Chinese reading public on matters of history, politics, and society. By using Taylor’s 2003 volume as a foil and a model, Xu suggests that China’s history is part of world history, or at least that there are similarities in the patterns of development followed by important world civilizations. In part, this is a none-too-subtle criticism of the many Chinese thinkers who argue for the utter uniqueness of China’s historical experience. At the same time, Xu takes pains to highlight the particularities of China’s past, contrasting traditional China’s “social imaginary” with that of the West. The long discussion of the relationship in China between the “family-state,” tianxia 天下, and the self is meant to educate Xu’s readers in the intricacies of self and social definition under Confucianism, and he takes pains to illustrate both the strengths and the weaknesses of the traditional order. Xu further highlights the speed and incompleteness of China’s “disembedding” from its traditional social order compared to that of the West, arguing that China’s social revolution is still ongoing. Among other things, the state has taken on too much power, at the expense of community and self—a theme that recurs repeatedly in this volume. Finally, Xu address the need for a “reembedding” of self and society. In contrast to liberals who insist on China’s pressing need for free markets and the rule of law, Xu counsels attention to rebuilding communities, and suggests that China’s historical traditions might contain useful elements in that process. Throughout this essay Xu demonstrates his novel appropriation of liberal thought. His basic concerns draw from the liberal tradition; hence the protracted use of Taylor. Yet the conversation he builds is both international and deeply Chinese. He cites the noted pre-war Confucian philosopher Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 (1893-1988) and the contemporary Taiwanese professor of philosophy (and specialist on liberal thought), Shi Yuankang 石元康 (b. 1943), as both wrestle with the challenge of modern liberal ideas in a Chinese context. Most fundamentally, however, this essay shows Xu Jilin thinking through liberal ideas by using core Chinese concepts: jiaguo 家国 (family-state) and tianxia. His liberal solution, the call to reembed self and society in contemporary China, is expressed through these particularly Chinese conceptions of “state and society” and “nature” that may well constitute a novel contribution to international liberal thought.
In his 2003 book Modern Social Imaginaries, the Canadian political philosopher Charles Taylor (b. 1931) argues that in the process of the transformation from traditional to modern society, there occurred an axial revolution in the form of a "great disembedding." Both the real and imagined worlds of traditional society were embedded in a series of frameworks including the cosmos, nature, and society. In the European Middle Ages, this was a sacred world ruled by God; in traditional China it was a continuum of the family-state and tianxia. Individual behavior and the meaning of life could only be understood and properly valued from within these frameworks. But after the 17th century scientific and religious revolutions in Europe there occurred the "disenchantment" discussed by Max Weber (1864-1920). The individual, law and the nation-state gradually slipped away from the sacred cosmic world and achieved an independent autonomy. This was the "great disembedding." In China the "great disembedding" occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in the transition from China’s final dynasty and the establishment of her first republic, when the self escaped from the communal framework defined by the family-state and tianxia, becoming an independent individual.
China's "great disembedding" was a revolution fighting to throw off the family-state and tianxia. The late 19th-century reformer Tan Sitong 谭嗣同 (1865-1898) called it "breaking the bonds." But did the Chinese people obtain freedom after the great disembedding? Or did they become slaves to the Leviathan of the modern state? Or perhaps nihilistic individuals living in a vacuum? Will a "reembedding" be required for individual life to once again have meaning, the individual being reinserted into a family-state/tianxia framework invested with a new significance? As we construct a new family-state/tianxia order today, how should we reconstruct a modern self? And what is the connection between the realization of the self and the construction of the family-state/tianxia order? These are the questions to be discussed in this essay.
The Family-State/Tianxia Continuum and the Self at its Core
The subject and starting point for China's family-state/tianxia, the continuum providing the framework of meaning in traditional China, was humankind. The Confucian philosopher Mencius 孟子 (372-289 BC) said: "The root of tianxia lies in the state; the root of the state lies in the family; the root of the family lies in the person.” Thus what I call the family-state/tianxia is a social continuum with the self at its core. But the self of traditional society possessed neither authenticity nor autonomy as understood in modern times; the significance of the self was not self-evident, and was instead embedded in the hierarchical organic relationships of the family-state/tianxia. The self extended into the outside world, but achieved personal identity within the continuum of self, family, state, and tianxia.
Why say that the family-state/tianxia is a continuous community? In the ancient Roman tradition, state and family were two clearly distinguished domains, which is very clear when we look at the line dividing public law and private law. But in traditional Chinese society and politics, contract-based law was not at the heart of regulation, and instead an ethical system of ritual and music served as the basic social framework. The system of ritual and music linking state and family together came from the Western Zhou (1046-771 BC) feudal system. The son of heaven enfeoffed the princes to establish kingdoms, and the princes allotted land and people to the nobility to establish families, forming a pyramidal feudal hierarchical system. By family-state/tianxia, we mean this patriarchal-feudal system linking the nobles, the princes, and the son of heaven (the ruler). The son of heaven represented tianxia (the equivalent of the modern state), the princes represented the kingdoms (the equivalent of modern localities) and the nobles represented fiefs (the equivalent of modern villages). Within the family-state/tianxia, the enfeofments and the loyalties created a community combining blood, culture, and politics, so that those involved were both relatives and rulers or servants, like a big family. At the same time the enfeoffed princes and nobles had absolute sovereignty over their fiefs, and were not subject to the control of the son of heaven. For this reason, the kingdoms and villages of the princes were independent, not subordinate to one another, and each had its own particularities. The patriarchal network englobing scholars, senior officials, dukes, princes, and the Zhou son of heaven was sustained by a dense and complex system of Zhou rituals.
During the transition between the Spring and Autumn (771-476 BC) and the Warring States (475-221 BC) periods, the Western Zhou feudal-ritual system collapsed, but the notion of family-state was preserved and developed in the great unity of the imperial bureaucratic system established by the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-220 CE) dynasties. During the reign of emperor Han Wudi 汉武帝 (r. 141-86 BC), the Legalist administrative system was combined with the system of Confucian music and ritual, and the "three bonds" ideology that insisted on the fundamental hierarchical bonds between ruler and subject, father and child, and husband and wife, championed by the Confucian scholar Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179-104 BC), became the core ideology of the Chinese empire for 2000 years. The patriarchal lineage ethics empowering father over son and husband over wife was highly integrated into the family-state bond between ruler and subject so that the political relationships of the monarchy were an expanded version of lineage ethical relationships, and ethics and politics were highly integrated. In Chinese law and politics, there were no purely public relationships, and everything was personalized and relativized: relations between ruler and subject, official and people, and between the people, all were relative, situational relationships governed by personalized ethical norms; what was lacking were rigid norms governing politics and contracts. Consequently, many personalistic principles based on patriarchal lineage practices came to be deeply embedded in state law and politics. Law was approached via ritual and regulated by ritual, and politics was highly ethicized and privatized, creating China's particular ritual-legal system and personalized political tradition, which has continued to develop to this day.
Within the family-state/tianxia continuum, the state is relative and extremely ambiguous. In ancient China, the modern word for state, guo 国, meant the territories bequeathed by the son of heaven to the princes in the Western Zhou; in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods guo became multiple kingdoms competing for hegemony; after the Qin unification in 221 BC, guo became the monarchy based on dynastic power, and the historical dynastic regime took the form of a unified empire, as under the Han, Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911). Of course, China was not always ruled by unified dynasties. There were confrontations between north and south, conflicts between the central plains and the many kingdoms on the periphery, as in the Wei (220-265), Jin (265-420), Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589), Five Dynasties (907-960), Ten Kingdoms (907-979), Northern and Southern Song (960-1127 and 1127-1279) and the Liao-Xia-Jin Dynasties (907-1125, 1115-1234, and 1038-1233). But traditional Chinese people had a hard time imagining an abstract community that was greater than the dynasty but less than tianxia. If we have to locate such a concept in ancient times, "sheji 社稷," a deity of the soil and harvest in ancient Chinese religion, where ancient emperors supposedly sacrificed may be the best we can do, but its meaning is far from the richness of the modern notion of nation, as it suggests a primitive lineage community. For this reason, the 20th-century Chinese Confucian thinker Liang Shuming said that traditional Chinese people only had a notion of dynastic regime, but no concept of nation-state: "In the minds of the Chinese people, what is close to them is family, and what is far from them is tianxia. The rest they more or less ignore." As for the sense of guo within the notion of family-state/tianxia, in precise terms, it meant the concrete dynastic regime. This dynastic regime with the sovereign at its core is only one central link in the family-state/tianxia continuum; from below it is governed by the norms of patriarchal lineage ethics; from above it is constrained by universal tianxia values. Politics in a monarchical nation thus lacks autonomy. In a ritualized political system governed by ethics, public and private are often relative and ambiguous, and for lineages, the dynastic regime seemed to mean "public"—one meaning of public being the government and government officials. But "gong 公," the word for public, has yet another meaning: absolute, transcendent ethical values, which the government represents but which belong ultimately to tianxia. For this reason from the point of view of tianxia, the dynasty is private, and as the 17th century Confucian thinker Gu Yanwu 顾炎武 (1613-1682) noted: the loss of the country is but the loss of a dynastic family, while the loss of tianxia is the loss of shared meaning, whose end result is mutual destruction [lit., cannibalism].
The relationship between family-state and tianxia is like that between the soul and the body. Tianxia represents the highest values of truth, beauty and goodness, but for these values to be realized in the human world, they must inhabit the institutional bodies of the patriarchal lineage and the dynastic state. These values are constructed by the Confucian teachings that combine ethics and politics into one, and by regulations and popular customs. The values of tianxia are not far from the people, and indeed are found in the people's legal-political order and in daily life. Separated from the body of the family-state, the heavenly way becomes a lost soul. From another perspective, the legitimacy of the patriarchal order and the state is not self-evident and can be proven only via transcendent tianxia consciousness, or the higher mandate of heaven, the heavenly way, or the heavenly principle. The reason that Chinese people regard the family-state as sacred, as having real, unshakable authority, is because it is the embodiment in human form of the transcendent values of tianxia. Respect for the family-state order is respect for the way of heaven. At the same time, if a family head or a ruler's behavior does not conform to the great way of heaven, if it betrays the words of the sage, then the individual has no more moral duty of loyalty and filiality toward him, and should there emerge a tyrant who goes against heaven, then in the extreme ideology of Mencius, the people can follow the heavenly mandate and rise up in revolt, replacing the monarch with another one who is worthy.
In the continuum of family-state and tianxia, beginning with the self, the family-state is but an intermediary, and the most important elements remain the two poles of the self and tianxia. In traditional China, tianxia had two closely related meanings: one was the universal value order of the cosmos, similar to the Western will of God, or the will of heaven, referring to the highest values of the cosmos or of nature, the greatest good for human society and for the self. Another meaning of tianxia was ritual rule leading from small prosperity to great harmony, wherein human society conforms to the universal order of the heavenly way and develops economically and socially as a result. The first tianxia, as the vehicle of values for the mandate of heaven, need not employ the mediation of the family-state; the self can communicate directly with this tianxia. Mencius talked about his theory of "heaven and the people," which later was promoted by Neo-Confucians of Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties and especially by the school of Wang Yangming 王阳明 (1472-1529), who argued that because the individual's inner mind possesses primordial innate knowledge, it can directly connect with heavenly principle. Innate knowledge is heavenly principle and heavenly principle is innate knowledge. The self has a direct connection with the Way and does not require the assistance of the family-state. The latter kind of tianxia is the cultural and ethical order of the real world, and if the individual wants to connect with this tianxia, he must "align his family and order the state" so as to "bring peace to tianxia," in the words of the well-known Confucian classic, The Great Learning 大学, and here the family-state serves as an essential link between the self and tianxia. Unlike in an otherworldly Buddhism or a Christianity turned toward heaven, the realization of the innate knowledge of the Confucian individual requires moral practice in the public affairs of the lineage and the dynastic regime. The realization of innate knowledge is not only a matter of grasping heavenly principle, but more importantly has to do with putting heavenly principle into practice.
Thus in the continuum containing family-state and tianxia, the traditional Chinese self had a dual nature. One self could not take leave of the family-state's concrete ethical order and directly communicate with tianxia; the individual was always attached to a certain ethical and political order, and if separated from the order of the family-state, the self no longer existed. The other self was an independent "heavenly person," who could circumvent the family-state's reigning order and contact transcendent heavenly principle directly through his innate knowledge, as already noted. Of course the Daoists, who viewed the family-state as a burden, believed all the more that the self could combine with the heavenly way through a free aesthetic search, thus entering into a good and beautiful natural order. The dual nature of the self in Chinese culture led to the creation of two antagonistic extremes within the Chinese personality: they are strict familialists, conservatives who are loyal to their lords and love their country, yet at the same time they are free and undisciplined naturalists. In the same body we find a complex personality combining authoritarianism and anarchism, and these extremes are often unstable. The obedient subject who usually respects ritual and law can, in times of chaos, become a "heavenly person" or even a rebel who rejects all authority and acts without restraint.
In sum, the traditional Chinese self was embedded in dual natural and social orders. In the one he was a heavenly person, belonging to a universal order with the heavenly way at its center, and the ultimate values of this self were to be achieved in the transcendent heavenly way of this cosmic order. The other self was a member of a family or a subject of the dynasty, so this self always existed within a certain patriarchal or monarchical order. The self carried out its moral duties within a formal ritual-legal system and a tradition of popular customs whence it obtained its concrete status identity. This sense of status was relative and situational, yet within fixed relationships was also clear and absolute. Between the family-state and tianxia there existed both a high-level continuum as well as an unbridgeable rupture, and the self was embedded in this crevice between the continuum and the rupture. Chinese culture placed great emphasis on heaven, earth, and man as the three basic components of the cosmos, and in the larger complex of family-state and tianxia, man is the self, the family-state is the earth, and tianxia is the heaven. In the real world, man (the self) bases himself on the earth (the family-state) to communicate with heaven (tianxia). The so-called individual is always a self within a particular historical-cultural context, and always exists within the family-state/tianxia community, from which he obtains his self. But in the spiritual world, because the self possesses innate knowledge, it can also transcend the family-state and link up directly with the heavenly way; in this case the self emerges with the status of a "heavenly being", and receives sacred meaning directly from the transcendent heavenly way, and is transformed into the will of the sage. And this will, within the real order of the family-state, might become the very order itself. It was precisely these subtly divergent orientations within traditional Chinese culture that in the modern context evolved to become a Chinese-style revolution, or "great disembedding."
The Rupture in the Modern Family-State/Tianxia Continuum
The "great disembedding" revolution that occurred in modern times refers to the removal of the individuals from various networks of cosmic, natural, and social relationships, and their becoming a true, independent individual. According to Charles Taylor, in Europe this process was a "long march" lasting for as many as five centuries, and included two aspects: one was "humanity's humanistic turn," in which humanity as a whole came to be "disembedded" from the cosmic order, becoming a "human subject" on the same level as the natural world; the second was "the individualistic turn," in which the individual's "inner self" was discovered and granted unique value, allowing individuals to be "disembedded" from organic communities and to achieve self-understanding in an individualistic sense. Individual self-understanding no longer relied on any outside framework of meaning, and had its own authenticity, becoming a "free floating independent individual," a concept that has been constructed in modern times, becoming an important modern social imaginary.
In China, the "great disembedding" revolution began in the transition between the late Qing and early Republican periods, has been underway for more than a century, and continues today. The most important precondition for the emergence of a true self in China was the self-rupture and disintegration of the family-state/tianxia continuum.
Within the family-state/tianxia continuum, the state was originally an ambiguous intermediary, and did not occupy a central position. But the state rose abruptly in the modern period, and this rise played a central role in the dissolution of the family-state/tianxia. The modern state is not the traditional dynastic regime, but is rather a nation-state community with political autonomy. Its political legitimacy no longer derives from a transcendent mandate of heaven, but instead is based on the will of the people and historical agency. From another perspective, state law has been separated from the ritual order and patriarchal relationships, and has an autonomous nature. For this reason, the rise of the nation-state is a hugely important historical event that recast the relationship between the individual and the family-state/tianxia, and overturned the family-state/tianxia order itself.
First came the break-up of family and state. Intellectuals linked to “China’s Enlightenment” in early twentieth-century China universally considered that traditional China knew only the family and not the nation-state, that it lacked the modern sense of nation-state consciousness. To build a European-style nation-state, the first necessity was to "de-familialize". By criticizing familialism, the state would be separated from patriarchal ethics and obtain its independence. In 1904 the Jiangsu 江苏 magazine published a piece entitled "Theory of the Family Revolution 家庭革命说," which was very clear: "What is the family revolution? It is removing the yoke of the family and engaging in political activities; it is eliminating family love so as to seek political happiness; it is doing away with the closed family education so as to open up political knowledge; it is breaking down the closed world of the family so allow for sacrifice to politics. It is getting rid of family slaves and establishing politically legal persons, it is sweeping away the evil consequences of the family and reaping the harvest of the great name of politics." During the iconoclastic New Culture movement of the late 1910s and 1920s, the family was universally seen as the hotbed of despotism, so that the construction of a democratic republic would require the destruction of the patriarchal family, and the Confucian ideology of the three bonds became the first target to be attacked. Under the assault of this movement, state and family were torn asunder, and the public space of politics was separated from the private space of society. However, this was only at a conceptual level, and in political practice, the remnants of family-state integration remained very strong, and ruling the country through claims to morality remained a primary belief of generations of rulers. Imagining the state via the family, Confucian personalistic principles continued to rule the political realm, and the moralization and privatization of politics became a basic characteristic distinguishing Chinese politics from Western rule of law.
Next came the breakup of state and tianxia. Once the nation-state became an autonomous body, it escaped the constraints of the transcendent world and its sacred values, and established its own standards of value. Beginning from the late Qing, under the pressure of national and racial decline and interstate competition, the nation-state's own goals came to be wealth and power. With the help of Social Darwinism's momentum, statism crushed the traditional tianxia value system, and national wealth and power replaced virtue and the people's livelihood as the central measures of national revival. Traditional belief in tianxia was a civilizational view based on virtue and moral rule, but in late Qing-early Republican times, the subject of civilization experienced a change, and China's moral civilization based on tianxia was transformed into a modern civilization of freedom and democracy with the West as its subject. Thereupon the traditional relationship between the state and tianxia was transformed into a conflict of values between wealth and power on the one hand and civilization on the other. The nation-state's rational goal was the creation of national wealth and power, and the modern universal values replacing tianxia were justice, equality and freedom, which led to an irreparable rupture in the relationship between wealth and power and civilization. The process of national revival in the century and a half since the late Qing is one in which wealth and power have basically eclipsed civilization, and the rationality of the nation-state has ridden roughshod over universal values. The decline of tianxia and the rise of the nation-state meant the loss of equilibrium in the family-state/tianxia continuum, and the destroyed family-state no longer possessed the transcendent values of tianxia. All that remained were secular utilitarian goals.
The destruction of the family-state/tianxia continuum was a liberation for the individual. Familialism was seen not only as a hotbed of political despotism, but also as the greatest obstacle to individual liberation and autonomy. The youth of the period hastened to abandon the villages, and thronged into the free and open cities, and if there was no reason to be nostalgic for the village, it was because of the suffocating patriarchal family and the rituals that constrained individuality and were linked to the family. The cities were highly mobile societies of strangers. Freed from the traditional social and cultural communities, everyone became a free and independent atomized individual. Yet this modern individual, despite being "disembedded" from the "bonds" of the family-state, entered into yet another status network: that of citizenship, intimately linked to the nation-state. The citizen and the nation-state were born at the same time. When the traditional self escaped from his status as a member of a family or local community, the definition of his status exited the private territories defined by the Confucian relations of ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, teacher-student, and friend-friend, and under the ever strengthening legal power of nation-state, each individual gained an equal, identical status, that of citizen. With the modern loss of social intermediaries, individuals found themselves face to face with the state, and the new relationship between individual and nation-state, constructed on legal and political grounds, no longer possessed its original, warm-hearted, personalized, ethical flavor, but was instead a non-individualized, impersonal relationship of legal power. Because of the influence of German and Japanese nationalist thought in the late Qing, there was a pervasive "integration of citizen and state" in the understanding of the relationship between the individual and the nation-state. But the honeymoon between citizen and nation-state was soon over, as during the May Fourth period citizens and the state divided and fell into conflict. From this point forward, liberalism, which emphasized individual rights, and statism, which leaned toward state authority, parted ways. Liang Shuming, who proposed a communitarian commitment to rural reconstruction, hoped to find a way out of the binary conflict between individual and state, and once again embed them in ties of kinship and locality, rebuilding private ethics between people outside of public, legal relationships.
The May Fourth movement was a very particular period, when the traditional self was transformed into the modern true and free individual, and the original tianxia of the sacred heavenly way was transformed into the modern world based on humanism. The new individual and the new world had no need to call on the mediation of the family-state; they could communicate directly not only in the spiritual-psychological realm, but also in the secular world. The well-known May Fourth thought leader Fu Sinian 傅斯年(1896-1950) famously said: "I only admit the existence of humanity at a high level. At a lower level, 'I' am real. All of the intervening groups between 'me' and humanity, like the family, local communities, the state, etc., are idols. For the sake of humanity we should cultivate a 'true self'." Intermediaries are real, but idols are illusory. In the eyes of contemporary intellectuals, the family, local communities and the state were all man-made idols that needed to be destroyed. In the vast universe, only humanity and the individual were real. The world of humanity had universal reason and values, and individual value and significance could only be understood in the framework of universal values and the long river of human history. These were the "little me" and the "big me" that the prominent May Fourth figure Hu Shi 胡适 (1891-1962) spoke of: "My 'little me' has no independent existence, but has direct or indirect relations with a vast number of little selves; it has mutually influential relations with society and the world; it has a karmic relationship with past social worlds and the future…My present 'little self,' in relation to the limitless past of my indestructible 'big self,' must assume great responsibility. And to the limitless future of my indestructible 'big self,' as well." In the late Qing and early Republican periods, anarchism and internationalist thought were both popular for a time, their influence extending to some of those in revolutionary parties, and an entire generation spanning the Enlightenment group and the cultural conservatives. This too is closely linked to the disintegration of the family-state order, as the direct communication between self and tianxia expanded from the spiritual dimension to the dimension of social practice, forming an important historical tradition in modern China.
Rebuilding a New Family-State/Tianxia Order
The rupture of the family-state/tianxia continuum had an enormous impact on Chinese political life, ethical life, and daily life. We can note two negative impacts: first, with the loss of the constraints imposed by society and tianxia, state authority took on immense proportions; and second, following its "disembedding" from the community of the family-state, the modern self became an atomized, rootless individual, and lost its existential meaning.
While the traditional family-state tianxia as a whole will not be reproduced in modern society, and indeed broad trends have favored the dismantling of such unities, the mutual disassociation of family-state and tianxia nonetheless rolled out the red carpet for state rationality to attain its greatest power. The family-state and tianxia need to reconnect on the basis of a new understanding and in a new structure, making clear the boundaries between them and the same time providing mutual checks and balances.
Let's start with family and state. According to the theory of Habermas (b. 1929), modern society is divided into a systems world and a lifeworld. The systems world is organized around the axes of market and power, while the lifeworld is a non-instrumental world of free exchanges of human feelings. Obviously the state (politics) belongs to the systems world, while the family (society) belongs to the lifeworld. The values of these two worlds differ: the systems world uses rights and contracts to govern the market, and the rule of law and democracy to constrain power. The lifeworld is composed of private exchanges, employing human ethics and morality to regulate human relationships. Habermas particularly emphasizes that both of these worlds are legitimate, as long as they remain within their own spheres. The problem is that in today's society, the systems world is colonizing the lifeworld. Principles of market and power have expanded into the lifeworld so that natural interactions between people have taken on an impersonal, unfeeling, amoral texture, and if it's not hierarchical power that dominates, it is the money of market exchange. State power in particular has increased, becoming omnipresent; in the lifeworld, power principles have replaced ethical values in much of daily life. In China, the reverse situation also exists, in the sense that the lifeworld has also colonized the systems world. Ethical principles of the Confucian lifeworld have invaded political space, employing personal connections in a sphere that should be governed by contracts among equals, and injecting human relations into what should be a serious context of rule of law.
The family and the state are different worlds, and the family and state should be divided, but this does not mean that family and state are completely different categories and that political life should be completely de-ethicized. Is the modern nation-state merely a political-legal community, or, like the family, is it also a cultural-ethical community? This relates to the dual nature of the nation-state: the state is the political-legal system, a de-ethicized, de-culturized political-legal community; the nation contains a country's particular historical, religious, linguistic and customary traditions and is consequently a richly ethical and cultural national community. The first (state) community is completely different from the family, but the second (national) community is inseparable from the family, existing in a complex, tangled, internal relationship. The community of a nation-state is not simply a legal community, an "orderly republic," as imagined by rights liberals; instead it is an "ethical republic" possessing its own general will and civil morality. Both the general will and civil morality are built on the basis of a richly organic national cultural tradition and common political culture. Today we should dispense with two extreme views of the state. One of these views sees the state and family as completely separate, and the state as a tool completely devoid of internal values; the other lumps state and family together, thus naturalizing and familializing the state, arguing that the state, like the family, possesses absolute natural authority. "L'État, c'est moi," insists on this view, arguing that state is nothing other than the "family tianxia." We should immediately note that while the state may look like the family, it is not. The nation-state is not a tool, nor is it a new sacred soul; it belongs to all of the citizens, as a community with inner values and shared destiny. Whether you love or hate the state, it exists, and moreover has been internalized to become part of the fate of every individual. For this reason, all citizens have a responsibility to work hard to realize their own ideal national state community, and participate in national construction and institution building, allowing their country to truly become worthy of the love of each citizen, who will see it as a psychological and physical home to be proud of.
Now let's discuss state and tianxia. In the modern age, transcendent tianxia values have been desacralized, and state rationality has become the highest principle. But within a disenchanted modern society there exist two different kinds of rationality: in addition to state rationality there is also secularized, universal Enlightenment rationality which has replaced the transcendent will (of God or the mandate of Heaven). This Enlightenment rationality represents the new tianxia values of our modern, globalized age, which in the form of individual freedom and equality, constitute a new universal civilization and a strong constraint on state rationality. But state rationality always nourishes an inner desire to trammel all religious and humanistic constraints. With power as its sole goal, the state becomes a supra-moral Leviathan. State legitimacy is no longer based on a transcendent religion or a moral metaphysics, but on a supposed unity between state and citizen. Once the state achieves a high level of sovereignty, and is freed from external moral norms, then its internal power reproduces itself like an evil demon, and expands outward. At the outset, state rationality and Enlightenment rationality were both internal requirements of modernity, each possessing its own internal values, and were not in a relation of means and ends. Yet the histories of the rise of Germany and Japan illustrate that if state rationality lacks the restraints of religious, humanistic or Enlightenment values, and allows its internal power to expand, then state rationality moves from Hobbesian instrumentalism toward conservative romanticism, becoming a values-nihilism lacking in morality, and finally giving birth to a freak nationalism that is anti-humanism and anti-human nature. The greater state capacity becomes, the more state rationality believes its own discourse, and the greater is the probability that it will fall into a terrible crisis.
Reembedding: Self in the New Family-State/Tianxia Order
The individual in modern society is a product of the "great disembedding," who left the family-state/tianxia community to become an atomized individual with a true self. A "disembedded" individual is an unencumbered self, about which the Chinese political philosopher Shi Yuankang (b. 1943) offers this incisive commentary: "Modern man sees the self as an entity existing independently in the world. The being described in Descartes's famous saying 'I think therefore I am' is precisely this sort of self. What constitutes the self are not the values that are chosen, but rather the fact that the individual has the capacity to choose. The self is constructed out of the capacity to choose, and its relationship to goals is merely a relationship of possession and the goals do not constitute part of the self. Even if the self accepts certain values, there remains a gulf between the values and the self."
In the view of Canadian political scientist C. B. Macpherson (1911-1987), the modern individual is a "possessive individualist." In a possessive market society, the nature of the individual is understood as owning himself. He is neither a moral subject, nor a member of an organized social group. He is just himself, and proves himself through self-possession and through possession of his property. Society is organized by just such owners. In the past, a person's self-understanding and identity were connected to the community of the family-state/tianxia, but in modern secular times, the self has become a concept drawn from economics or political science, an agent of wealth and power, and a person's basic nature is connected to ownership and control. Secular society is a market society based on power and money, and organized by possessive "economic rationalists." The atomized individual of the secular age has no group and no history, and is an economic actor full of material desires and pursuits. Individuals stand alone and face the whole world, a market world based on interests, lacking in warmth and meaning. The relationship between the individual and this market world is merely one of material desires and utilitarianism, an impersonal relationship composed of exchange, possession, and control.
This does not mean that in modern society there is no family-state, group, or nation outside of the atomized individual. It is rather that for the individual everything is instrumental, whether it's the traditional family, local or religious groups, or a modern social organization—all of these are outside of the self, not part of the self. These exterior groups are only means the individual can employ to realize the self, but the relationship between the individual and the groups is one of owner and owned. The individual has his true self, and can at any time discard these exterior possessions, or perhaps choose another group with greater instrumental value. The relationship of the individual to the nation-state is also like this. For the citizen, the nation-state is a tool to be used to achieve individual rights or a public good, to avoid a Hobbesian "all against all" rule of the jungle. The nation-state is merely a "necessary evil" to preserve peace and order. But the state has no internal value or meaning for the individual; the legal and political systems are tools to bring about individual rights, and for the individual, the national cultural community has only an occasional existence subject to future possible choices. As a result, the individual "disembedded" from the family-state/tianxia becomes a naked, lonely, unattached, unsupported self. Yet all these mutually divided selves, who mutually objectify and instrumentalize one another, have no choice but to rely on the "necessary evil" of a government to build a common world, even if this government has only an instrumental existence.
Is this the modern self, the modern society that we are hoping for? In this kind of society built out of atomized individuals and instrumental family-states, can the individual find a true self?
Although Charles Taylor argues that the modern individual is a true self, he nonetheless stresses that this true self can attain self-knowledge and identity only within certain social and cultural frameworks, and that exchange and dialogue with other selves is also indispensable to self-creation. Taylor says: "My discovery of my identity does not mean that I was independently created; instead the discovery involved other people, and was realized in half-private, half-secret internal dialogues. In a culture of authenticity, relationships are seen as key to self-discovery and self-affirmation."
For contemporary Chinese who want to escape the emptiness of the atomized individual, they can only find self in a renewed family-state/tianxia order. The atomized individual is based in rights liberalism, but this kind of liberalism is incomplete, and requires the complement of a communitarian self, which will lead to a renewed understanding of the relationship between individual and state that includes republicanism and cultural nationalism, and a strengthened internationalism that will allow the individual to achieve an authentic self within universal civilization.
Contemporary communitarianism shares with Confucianism an emphasis on the role of the community in building the inner values and significance of the self. Where communitarianism differs from Confucianism is that state order is a basic organizational system for Confucians, whereas for Western communitarians the role of state order is replaced by the liberal rule of law, which compensates for the insufficiencies of rights liberalism. But once we acknowledge the basic legal rights of citizen and state, then bringing in the community as an intermediary between the individual and the state, and emphasizing the importance of communities like the traditional family, church, or any natural voluntary organization, constitute indispensable elements in the make-up of a healthy individual and are not simply instrumental factors. Communities are not merely spaces for the exchange of interests, but are nodes where many kinds of small communities exchange emotions. The self-understanding of an individual must always rely on the mediation of a particular cultural and historical tradition, and the social-cultural network supplied by a community is precisely the backdrop against which self can be realized.
The view of a contemporary republican state is different from that of liberalism. Republicanism believes that the state is not merely a tool designed to realize individual rights and interests and collective well-being, but instead has its own general will and common good. This general will and common good derive from the will of each citizen and their participation in the public arena, which also exists at a higher level than the individual will and interest. For the individual, the republican state is also constructed, and is not a tool; the inner self of the citizen can only be realized through participation in public political life, in the process of pursuing the ideal state, and striving to realize the unity between the individual and the state. From this perspective, the state also has inner value for the citizen, as a political community worthy of love and the choice one has made to belong to it. In addition to being a legal and political community, the modern state is also a national cultural community. For the citizens of this state, the state's historical, religious, linguistic and cultural traditions are primordial, and not subject to choice; these are also parts of the construction of self and self-attachment, allowing the citizens of different nations and states to distinguish themselves from one another, forming a distinctive "us," which yields a sense of national self-belonging. Self always exists in relation to a certain national historical tradition, the self is a self within a cultural stream.
The modern self has three natures: the first is universal human nature; the second is the self as part of a particular political and cultural stream; and the third is a particular self freely chosen on the basis of a compromise between universal human nature and particular culture. Communitarianism and republicanism separately emphasize society and politics as the institutional sources of exterior norms and constraints on self, creating the second kind of self; but the first kind of self is more often realized in the relationship between the individual and tianxia, where tianxia represents universal human nature and the universal civilization constructed on its basis. Whether the realization of the self is appropriate and legitimate in universal terms is not susceptible of validation on its own terms; nor is a particular cultural-political community a guarantor of legitimacy; only in the context of universal human nature and universal values do we arrive at a common measure of universal significance, and this is how the self and tianxia can circumvent the mediation of the state and achieve direct communication in a modern manner. Even if self is already determined in the new family-state order of contemporary society, this does not mean that there is no longer any space for free choice. Self-realization is not only about identity, it is also constructed, and in process of pursuing the self, we can also model a new family-state, rebuild communities, the state, and the world. The self and the family-state are variables that shape one another; they are active, dynamic elements mutually embedding one another.
After the "great disembedding," both the new family-state order and the modern self find themselves faced with a "reembedding." The self must arrive at a new understanding within the new family-state/tianxia order, and the family-state/tianxia must be rebuilt in the process of the remodeling of the self. This is reciprocal "reembedding," a dynamic process moving toward an ideal world. Who am I? Who are we? Where is the family-state? Where is tianxia? In the final analysis, these are all the same question.
 See Liu Qing 刘擎, “没有幻觉的个人自主性” (Individual autonomy without illusions), Shucheng 书城 2011.10.
 Jiating lixianzhe 家庭立宪者 (The family constitutionalist), “Jiating geming shuo” (Theory of the family revolution), Jiangsu 1904.7 (January).
 Fu Sinian, “’新潮’之回顾与前瞻” (Review and future perspectives for “New Wave”), 傅斯年全集 (The complete writings of Fu Sinian), vol. 1, p. 297.
 Hu Shi, “不朽：我的宗教” (Immortality: My religion), 胡适文集 (Hu Shi’s writings), (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1998), vol. 2, pp. 529-532.
 Shi Yuankang, “社群与个体：社群主义与自由主义的论辩” (Group and individual: debates between collectivism and liberalism), 从中国文化到现代性：典范转移 (From Chinese culture to modernity: The transformation of norms), (Taibei: Dongda tushu gongsi, 1998), pp. 96-98.
 Michael Lessnoff, Political Philosophers of the Twentieth Century. Xu cites the Chinese translation.
 Charles Taylor), The Malaise of Modernity. Xu cites the Chinese translation.
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