Floating progressive balance and harmony needed for all civilizations

By Andreas Herberg-Rothe Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/26 17:03:40

In the 1990s, debate and public discourse emerged on "Asian values," in contrast with "Western values." The distinction between Western and Asian values centered on the concept of freedom and whether individual human rights were universal, or historically and culturally determined. 

The debate was centered on individual freedom versus community order. The Western understanding favors the individual over the community. Asian proponents of the debate emphasize the community, which balances the understanding of the individual. In line with interpretations on Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, the latter understanding gives priority to hierarchically structured social, political and cultural order. 

If the imaginary two worlds, the East and the West, were merged largely by 19th century Western imperialism, for the first time in history, it is unprecedented that an underdog would rise up and challenge the global hegemony of Western norms, rules and institutions. 

Chinese scholar Zhang Weiwei has raised in his book The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State the idea that the world is undergoing a watershed moment where the hierarchical international system is being transformed into a symmetrical one. 

Zhang is correct that 21st century hierarchical structured international relations are a remnant of European colonization and subsequent US hegemony. This does not only apply to the US, but also for new powers as they shouldn't repeat the mistakes made by the West. 

Additionally, the idea of symmetrical relations applies to international relations and also to relations within a nation, culture, and society. 

The question is whether the concept of symmetrical relations within a society and hierarchical international relations is how the West understands modernity. It shouldn't be replaced by an Asian understanding of symmetrical international relations and hierarchical societal relations. 

Both Western and Asian nations should learn from one another. Concerning this mutual learning process, the Asian and Confucian concept of harmony and that of a floating and progressing balance in between contrasts offered by Clausewitz and Hegel might be important. 

Western modernity is characterized by the following five elements: rationality, individualism, nature domestication, secularization and functional differentiation.

Some feel this kind of modernity is partitioned and divided because the complementary (and conflicting) tendencies of these five elements have been neglected in the course of Western modernity: rationality instead of emotion and intuition; individualism instead of community; domestication of nature instead of the feeling of being part of nature; secularization instead of religious feelings; functional differentiation instead of being aware of the whole, that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. 

What is needed in the learning curve "between" the West and Asia might be a floating and progressing balance of civilization contrasts: between rationality and emotion, intuition; between individualism and the community; between domestication and nature; between secularization and the religious sphere; between the part and the whole. 

In summary, newly rising civilizations should not exchange the Western binary code concerning these contrast by a reversed binary code, but a floating and progressing balance and harmony.

German philosopher Georg Hegel noted the importance of the struggle for recognition between master and slave. His proposition centered on the idea that the master is not working while the slave is working, and although oppressed, the slave is developing and transgressing beyond his status and therefore freeing himself. But if he would become a master, the cycle would repeat itself. The former slave, as the new master, ceases to develop. 

Would it be better to abandon hierarchies altogether? No, because total equality would create a new kind of totalitarian movement, as Hannah Arendt noted, the masses need the "Fuhrer." 

Instead of symmetrical or hierarchical international and societal relations, the Asian cultural tradition might contribute to a different kind of modernity, which could be a new model for the world, a "harmony" between the individual and community. 

The author is a senior lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences, Fulda. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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