Keeping the Mean

I returned home yesterday from a stimulating conference in Zhengzhou, China, discussing Chinese contributions today to a “community of shared future for mankind.” The gathering of scholars was the 10th International Symposium on Chinese Culture in the 21st Century. Opening the sessions was Mr. Wang Zhengwei, Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a member of the 16th and 17th Central Committees of the Communist Party of China.

Zhengzhou is in the center of north China, along the Yellow River in Henan Province. Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization several millennia ago. The topic for discussion at the forum was how to apply to our world today perspectives from China’s ancient Yan Huang philosophies on human destiny, ideas which arose among peoples and kingdoms living in and around Henan.

My paper was an exploration of the over-looked essay in the Confucian tradition entitled The Doctrine of the Mean, which links Confucian social ethics to a never-ending cosmic dynamic of the Tao. Briefly, the Doctrine of the Mean advises that individuals must discipline their minds and hearts to find balance and equilibrium between the authority of absolutes and the realities of pluralism. Finding the Mean permits living in the Tao, which is sustainability and wholesomeness.

Delivered today to my home in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Wall Street Journal has two commentaries on the West – Europe and the U.S. – falling short of the Mean in their culture, economics and politics.

First, Willam McGurn writes on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May having inadequate support for her plan to have her nation leave the European Union but maintain some advantages of association with that larger international confederation. The future of the U.K. is now up for grabs. He then notes that in France, President Emmanuel Macon has just retreated in concession to protests against his elitism by offering the “masses” a higher minimum wage and cuts in taxes on some pensioners. Thirdly, McGurn reports that in California, 200 civil rights leaders have gone to court to oppose the state’s greenhouse gas emissions regulations as discriminating against poor African Americans and Hispanics to favor the preferences of the very rich, who live in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Secondly, Walter Russell Mead opines that voter distemper in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and the U.S. is happening when those economies are doing rather well. What is driving protest is therefore not simply economic discontent. The storm of populist angst has other causes. Our time is out of joint. Something is upset in how we are governed, in our levels of self-respect, in our expectations of the future and in the answer to the question of “Cui Bono?”

The ideas of the Caux Round Table of Moral Capitalism seek to provide such balance for the economy, public governance, civil society and the ownership of wealth.

Today’s Wall Street Journal also brought forth in a book review a most relevant piece of advice from Samuel Williams from his 1794 book History of Vermont: “Behold here the precarious foundation upon which ye hold your liberties. They rest not upon things written upon paper … they depend upon yourselves; upon your maintaining your property, your knowledge and your virtue.”

Confucius could not have said it better.