By ALAN MACFARLANE.
It is extremely difficult to pierce to the core of a civilisation. However, one indirect, but powerful, way to do this is to examine the dreams and the nightmares that haunt daily life. Civilisations characteristically project their beliefs, identities and anxieties onto a mirror of ‘The Other’.
The dreams, or ideal types of behaviour to which we should aspire, tell us about the hopes of a civilisation. The anxieties and worries, the way in which this ‘Other’ mirrors the fears of powers that are believed to be trying to undermine a civilisation’s deepest heart and identity, its strongest held beliefs and institutions are equally revealing. Such terrors and dreads, often inherited from previous centuries, still shape the action of people today.
I will do this for the four civilisations in which I have worked over the years, leaving Islam, about which I know much less from direct experience, on one side.
THE IMAGE OF the ideal man takes us to the core of a civilisation’s aspirations and particularly its system of power. For, in the four examples I have chosen, we are looking at the rulers, the elite who preside over a civilisation and are meant, to a certain extent, to be exemplars for the other 95 percent of the population.
FOR TWO THOUSAND YEARS, China was governed by an administrative meritocracy, trained in the Confucian educational code. The supreme product of this system was the Mandarin. It is therefore not surprising that the qualities which constituted such a person, fitting him into a highly literate and artistic civilisation, are those of the perfect civil servant, the kind of urbane and respected figure who might, in his English equivalent, end up his days, after a top civil service career as a British ‘Mandarin’, as the Master of an Oxbridge college.
One preliminary characterization of such a person is given in an account of the superior man in Confucian thought by Karl Jaspers.
The superior man: All goodness, truth, beauty are combined in the ideal of the superior man (Chun-tzu). Noble both in birth and endowment, he has the manners of a gentleman and the wisdom of a sage.
The superior man is no saint. The saint is born; he is what he is; the superior man becomes what he is through-self-discipline….
He is contrasted with the inferior man. The superior man is concerned with justice, the inferior man with profit. The superior man is quiet and serene, the inferior man is always full of anxiety. The superior man is congenial though never stooping to vulgarity; the inferior man is vulgar without being congenial. The superior man is dignified without arrogance; the inferior man is arrogant without dignity. The superior man is steadfast in distress; the inferior man in distress loses all control of himself. The superior man goes searching in himself; the inferior man goes searching in others. The superior man strives upward; the inferior man strives downward. The superior man is independent. He can endure long misfortune as well as long prosperity, and he lives free from fear. He suffers from his own inability, not from others’ failure to understand him. He is slow in words and quick in action. He is careful not to let his words outshine his deeds: first act, then speak accordingly.
The superior man does not waste himself on what is distant, on what is absent. He stands in the here and now, in the real situation. “The superior man’s path is like a long journey; you must begin from right here.” “The superior man’s path begins with the concerns of the common man and woman, but it reaches into the distance, penetrating heaven and earth.” (The Great Philosophers I. Translation: Mannheim, 1962; p. 58)
This captures a good deal of the ideal Mandarin, but can be fleshed out by adding a number of other criteria. Here are some which seem important to me: memory, command of the classics, obedience to authority, patience in adversity, loyalty, filial piety, administrative and linguistic ability, mathematical ability, trustworthiness, incorruptibility, seriousness, ritual ability, decorum, good sense, analytical logic, passivity, peacefulness, harmony, able to control networks of associates, aesthetic and artistic taste.
It is ancient and changes slowly. The ideal type Confucian Mandarin is recognisable from the Tang dynasty in the eighth century, or before. Marco Polo five centuries later would have recognised him from those earlier roots, and another five hundred years later, in 1890, the new British consul-general, Sir George Macartney, would have encountered him as he always was.
Below the Emperor, the Mandarins draw together much of the history and culture of China. I now understand better what I have found through China. The widespread gentleness, loyalty and sophistication of most of those I meet, from rural villages up to university professors, mirrors some of these ideals. I see it being taught in the elite schools in China to this day. It is a model which both reflects and permeates the civilisation even after the Cultural Revolution. It provides for all of us a not unworthy ideal in a troubled world.
WHEN WE MOVE to Japan we find something very different. The ideals fit perfectly with the feudal past of that island. It is a blend of a brave warrior, with elements of Confucianism, Shintoism and Buddhism to soften the edges. This is the ethics of the ruling group in Japan, just below the high lords or Daimyo. The samurai warrior retainers are what one might call, in Western terms, the upper middle-class.
The ideal of such feudal warriors has been codified in the last hundred years as the ‘Way of the Warrior’ or bushi-do, although the term is largely invented and recent in this use. Yet it does refer to something much older and important in a country where power was delegated down through a military, centralised, feudalism.
The classic synthesis that made the term ‘bushido’ prominent is in the book by Inizo Nitobe, Bushido; the Soul of Japan (1905). A summary of the eight virtues of bushido by Nitobe gives us the following: Righteousness, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Sincerity, Honour, Loyalty, Self-Control. Associated virtues are Filial Piety, Wisdom, Fraternal Respect.
Looking at this set of virtues they seem quite similar to what we shall find in the case of the English gentleman, which is perhaps not surprising since it is acknowledged that the invention of modern bushido was partly influenced by the late nineteenth century admiration for the British gentleman.
At first, if we compare this ideal of the samurai with the Chinese Mandarin, we find some strong similarities — loyalty, respect, righteousness as well as the Confucian virtues of filial piety, wisdom and fraternal respect. Yet we also find more emphasis on military prowess (courage, honour) and less on intellectual and aesthetic virtues, nothing on artistic or literary improvement and nothing directly on the administrative virtues of fairness, memory and discrimination.
So there is an overlap of some core values, but also a good deal of difference. One other telling difference is that the samurai has an unbreakable loyalty to his superiors, Daimyo and Emperor. If this cannot be maintained for some reason, he should commit suicide, being worthless. The Mandarin has a more qualified loyalty to the Emperor, which occasionally can be overridden. He may have a duty to ‘the Mandate of Heaven’ which commands him to stand up against the Emperor.
In the Japanese case, as in the Chinese, it is an old ideal, which goes back at least a thousand years, and was prominent in its most warlike feudal period in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
WHEN WE TURN to Europe, it is not easy to generalize since there are clearly great differences across time and space in this highly diverse continent. To simplify the ideal, let us take its most iconic representation in Europe, its most glorious moment, namely Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, published in Venice in 1528 just before his death and published in English in 1561. This is a book written at the heart of the Renaissance in both space and time.
When translated into English it influenced the English concept of the gentleman, and hence in turn influenced Japan. It is a suitable book to consider since it reflects much of what is most distinctive of European culture, namely the centralizing, semi-bureaucratic, court environment, urban and urbane.
The courtier in Castiglione’s time is not a servant, not subservient and effete, as he often becomes in the eighteenth century court. He is still a lively and highly sophisticated aesthete and adviser, flexible and inventive, worthy to be the associate of Republican governors and great artists. He is the Renaissance Man — cultured yet modest and amusing, the epitome of a high civilisation at its peak. Again we must summarize.
The ideal courtier should have a very good mind, for he is an intellectual who can hold his own with philosophers, great artists, historians and politicians. He should be trained in all of the liberal arts, the classics, the pictorial arts and music, as well as mathematics and geometry. He should be excellent at presenting himself, an adviser and sometimes a leader who can persuade and charm those around him, making a dazzling first impression by his manners of walking, sitting, smiling, dancing and dressing. His costumes, his voice and skill in rhetoric should sway people to follow him.
The courtiers we see in costume dramas of this age, even in more remote places like the Elizabethan court in England, let alone the great Spanish and French courts, are dazzling mirrors to the great and advisers at the top of a court-based civilisation.
Yet the courtier was to be more than a mere minion, a costumed appendage. He should have a warrior spirit, for he might be required to lead armies or defend cities. He should be athletic and trained in the martial arts. He should be humorous, inventive, a support to his patrons, for he was to be a loyal friend and delightful support for the leader.
Part of his charm came from the fact that he was not too arrogant. Although highly proficient and erudite, he should conceal his superiority under a modest cloak. This seems to have been particularly important in a world of potential jealousy and rivalry for power and influence in the court. It also added to the effect of his surprising and dazzling performance.
This is expressed in a quality called sprezzatura, defined by Castiglione as that “which conceals art, and represents what is done and said as if it was done without effort and virtually without thought’‘. (Castiglioni, p.32) In The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s Cortegiano, Peter Burke echoes Castiglione when he describes sprezzatura as ‘nonchalance’, ‘careful negligence’, ‘effortless and easy’. (Burke, p.31.) Burke writes that the ideal courtier is someone who ‘conceals art, and presents what is done and said as if it was done without effort and virtually without thought’. The same is true, as Einstein remarked, of science (‘The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources’).
This modesty, under-statement, apparently effortless achievement is a curious parallel with the studied understatement and apparent ‘amateur’ we know as the English gentleman. Yet it may in fact have been partly one of the consequences of Castiglione’s book, coupled with the pressures against ‘side’ (the word for boasting and showing off used in British public schools) characteristic of small, bounded, ruling classes.
The courtier is graceful, manly, rounded, resilient, loyal, sympathetic, amusing, resourceful, a true companion and friend. It is an ideal type very suitable for a world centred on the arts, universities and salons of European civilisation.
Again we can see it as a long enduring ideal, parts of which we find in the troubadour poetry of courtly love in the thirteenth century, perhaps in turn influenced by Arabic models. The aspirations continue to this day in pockets of our modern world. Some of the top thinkers, artists and politicians of continental Europe still aspire to be Renaissance Men. They have been intensively educated in elite schools and colleges with their heavy emphasis on logic, rhetoric, wit and memory. They still try to be modern day courtiers, Olympian thinkers and creators, suitable to gild the modern courts of Europe, even if these are no longer in Versailles but in Cannes, the Left Bank, Strasbourg and Brussels.
THE CENTRAL IDEAL of the English gentleman is of great interest to many since the phenomenon feels so different from anything many people have experienced. It seems apart from the continental nations, even though it has clearly been influenced by other traditions and in turn influenced them.
Secondly it is such a direct reflection of some of the peculiarities of the Anglosphere.
Thirdly it is a personal interest since, as described below, much of my education was an attempt to turn me into a proper ‘English gentleman’. So I can write about this from within the system, as a participant as well as an observer
The peculiarity and importance of this curious category has long been apparent to England’s nearest neighbours. Let us look at two acute French observers in the nineteenth century. Tocqueville realized that the word ‘gentleman’ was a central key to a vast difference in England and France. He wrote:
…there is none more pregnant, nor containing within it so good an explanation of the difference between the history of England and that of the other feudal nations in Europe. He was puzzled by what caused the difference.
How is it that the word gentleman, which in our language denotes a mere superiority of blood, with you is now used to express a certain social position, an amount of education independent of birth; so that in the two countries the same word, though the sound remains the same, has entirely changed its meaning? (Tocqueville, Memoir II, 224.)
Likewise Hippolyte Taine wrote:
I have been trying to get a real understanding of that most essential word “a gentleman”; it is constantly occurring and it expresses a whole complex of particularly English ideas. The vital question concerning a man always takes this form: “Is he a gentleman?” And similarly, of a woman “Is she a lady?” … In France we have not got the word because we have not got the thing, and those three syllables, in their English sense, sum up the whole history of English society.
He describes some of the radical differences between English gentleman and French gentilhomme. He believed that the essential nature of the English gentleman lies in his character.
Yet for real judges the essential quality is one of the heart. Speaking of a great nobleman in the diplomatic service, B—-told me “He is not a gentleman.” … For them a real ‘gentleman” is a truly noble man, a man worthy to command, a disinterested man of integrity, capable of exposing, even sacrificing himself for those he leads; not only a man of honour, but a conscientious man, in whom generous instincts have been confirmed by right thinking and who, acting rightly by nature, acts even more rightly from good principles.
So how can one tell a gentleman? There are certain outward markers – clothes, houses, non-manual occupation, accent and schooling, hobbies and interests. These are the necessary attributes, but they are not sufficient, for ultimately being a gentleman is about having a certain character. You are a gentleman, in the same way as you are an artist, rather than dressing, eating or hunting like one.
Perhaps the most succinct way in which I can express this type of character is in the conclusion I wrote to the first stage of my boarding education, reflecting on what I had been through by the age of thirteen, before another eight years of further conditioning would produce the final polished ‘English gentleman’. Here is what it seemed to be about, as I look back on the experience sixty years later. (Taine, Notes on England, 144-5 .)
I was to learn a number of skills and virtues which were encouraged and practised in all of the settings I inhabited.
I should be self-confident, but not arrogant. I should be ambitious, but not too directly assertive. I should be full of hope about the future, whatever my experiences of the past. I should be filled with curiosity and delight, but also prepared for long periods of tedious and boring effort and patient waiting. So I should be dogged and persevering, yet realize when further effort was futile. I should be resilient, so that minor and even major setbacks did not destroy my will. I should strongly desire to win and conquer if I could, yet I should also be prepared to concede defeat graciously and without bitterness or self-doubt. I should be ingenious and original, yet be aware of the rules by which effort in any sphere must be guided.
I should be highly individual, self-aware and confident in my own judgement. I should keep my private counsel, not dependent on others to prop me up. Yet I should also be a good team-player, sociable, affectionate, knowing when to share and when to keep to myself. I should be serious about serious matters, but also have a developed sense of the ridiculous, a humour which could tease and reduce tension, and acquire an ability to attack power or stupidity through irony and satire.
I should be charming when charm was needed, but also be prepared to be stern and to say no if that was required. I should be certain of my own values and priorities, but also tolerant and understanding of others who did not share them. I should manage my time carefully so as not to waste it, yet also be able to relax, to conserve energy and re-charge myself, to forget the internal clock and to enter timelessness. Thus I should learn how to save time, and how to spend it, how to prioritize what was important, how to do several things quickly, one after the other, or even at the same time.
I should learn to appreciate beauty in all its forms — in art, poetry, music, nature, and people. Yet I should not be dismissive of the poor, the ugly, the deformed or the miserable. I should value people for themselves and not for the externals, whether of wealth, success, force of character, family background. I should acquire the art of friendship and the judging of character, and how to face the loss of friendship. I should treat people as ends and not as means, learn to separate head and heart, how to tell the truth, but also to refrain from telling the truth or to tell lies with good intent.
I should learn how to handle relationships with people who were very different from me — girls, adults, foreigners, and people from other social classes or different occupations. In these I should show generosity, courtesy without condescension, interest without prurience. I should not think of myself as either superior or inferior, but equal, though through pure chance I might have more material and social advantages.
I should be able to assess the likely outcomes of my actions, the general degree of risk in any activity and whether it was worth taking. I should be courageous and ready to do dangerous things, but not foolhardy to the extent that I put others or myself in unnecessary danger.
It is interesting to look at the model from a Chinese viewpoint, so I will insert my young Chinese friend Li Shuo’s list. She wrote this when she had just come to study at Cambridge and encountered living examples of a curious phenomenon she had previously only studied through British literature.
Thus for the criteria I would say:
1. Individualism (competitive) coupled with team spirit;
2. Loyalty to the King/Country;
3. Dignified and confident;
4. Rational and sensible;
5. Commercial skills;
6. Enterprising and adventurous; yet mentally attached to the homeland;
7. Humorous and interesting which is supported by abundant knowledge;
8. Courtesy; nice to ladies; patient;
9. Puritan and frugal;
10. Rule the world in a more orderly way, especially the British order.
Yet people in the colonies are never British;
11. Crave for a natural and peaceful life.
Her list overlaps with mine, but with more emphasis on the pragmatic, moneymaking, side. This is a good corrective. For this contrasts strongly with the Mandarin, the samurai and the continental courtier, all of whom either scorned or were disinterested in practical money-making. The blending of respectable, upper-middle-class position, with practical skills, not just the skills to run a huge empire, but also to be effective in a developed capitalist economy, is a special feature.
It is one that became particularly important when the ideal was taken to North America and the white Empire. There it was important to make money, and to know that wealth could easily and acceptably be converted by education into gentility. An English gentleman could be a hands-on farmer or merchant or even shop-keeper in a nation of shop-keepers, and remain a gentleman.
Two other features are worth ending with. The first is that, above all, the English gentleman’s central feature concerns character, probity, trust, a certain puritan sincerity and authenticity. In the highly mobile, contractual and individualistic world of the Anglosphere, the ability to trust strangers, to assume honesty, is absolutely central. A ‘gentleman’s word is his bond’. Without this, you could not have the particular kind of vast global British network of the British Empire, which has been also the foundation of the modern money markets
A second feature is again the long development of the core model. Chaucer sets out the model in the Knight’s Tale in the fifteenth century, describing the model as ‘a verray, parfit, gentil knyght.’ We find him in Shakespeare. We find him in the upright gentlefolk in Jane Austen, Trollope or Dickens. These were all models I absorbed, ideals of the ‘good gentleman’ which I was still faced with when I went to school in the middle of the 20th century. There are traces of them still today in the British political parties and their leaders, many of them having gone through a similar public school education to mine.
These subtle but powerful ideals have attracted attention from all over the world. They are flooding the world with English-style gentleman’s educational establishments, which emphasise character as much as brains.
Part of the model’s attraction, like any many-sided symbol, is its very elusive vagueness, flexibility and inbuilt contradictions. It is an education to construct a resilient individual who would be effective and survive wherever you put him down. He might be an amateur, he might be difficult, diffident or buttoned up, he might be something of a grown-up child. He could not compete with his sparkling, artistic, European courtier cousins or with the grave and learned Chinese Mandarins in many respects.
Yet he was regarded as a ‘good chap’, someone one could depend on, ‘a safe pair of hands’, at home, on the cricket pitch, in amateur theatricals, at the head of a regiment, a bank, or a national political party. He could be depended on to ‘play up, play up and play the game’, whatever the odds and difficulties.
Whether such a curious creature will survive in the age of social media and huge international migration we cannot say. Yet alongside his Mandarin, samurai and courtier counterparts, he stood for a civilisation.
CHINA WAS UNIFIED through massive wars and conquests by the Qin Emperor in 221 BC. Since then, given its colossal size, it is not surprising that it has often fallen apart again, with huge and bloody consequences. It’s great problem reminds me of my own difficulty with modern technology – I now have so many gadgets that at any time one of them is always breaking down. China’s great fear is of social disorder. For centuries the rulers have feared the small spark which, if it catches, can destroy thousands if not millions of lives.
China is so vast and held together by such tenuous force that, as with the famines which historically were present in almost every year in some part of the Empire, there is almost always disaffection and potential rebellion. If this is not suppressed immediately, a small movement can lead to mass eruptions somewhere in this vast realm.
This has been a pattern throughout Chinese history, but let me just confine myself to the period of the Qing Empire from 1644 to 1911. The map at the start of the chapter on China shows some of the major uprisings, partly caused by the expansion of Manchu imperial power, either in the territories of the west, or in creating extra authority over the minorities and the Han population.
In the huge western half of China there were frequent tribal uprisings. Among those noted on the map are the Olot (1750-57), Li (1765), Tarim (1759-60), Hui in Qinghai (1781-84) and Muslim (1825-37). These uprisings and the huge expeditions mounted by the Qing to suppress them and other risings (including the Mongols) need to be understood as the background to current policy. The anxiety in the Mongolian, Muslim and Tibetan provinces, which comprise almost half of Chinese territory, are still there. At any point, it is believed, people could form into a mass secessionist movement which would split off much of the Chinese Empire. Encouragement of such movements by foreign powers adds to the fear.
In the south, centre and east of China, which the Manchus had conquered from the Ming, there are two other major forms of challenge. One is the constant threat, highest in the eighteenth century, of unrest in the vast tribal groups who periodically felt crushed or ignored by Qing rule. Amongst these are the tribal risings in Guangxi in 1790 and risings among the Miao (for instance in 1795-1806 and 1854) and other groups in the southern provinces, including Yunnan, in the 18th century.
These rebellions were often put down by a tactic familiar to the British in their Empire, namely the use of one ethnic group to defeat another. For example the Tuja were used as troops against the Miao and others, just as Uighurs had been used by the Ming to suppress risings in Yunnan much earlier. Nowadays this kind of tribal threat has greatly diminished and the ethnic minorities have autonomous provinces. Yet the war of the Han majority against the large indigenous non-Han is a strong theme in much of Chinese history.
The second type of threat is particularly fascinating and portentous for our times. It is a form of upheaval which is rather unfamiliar to modern Westerners, but bears strong resemblance to the Messianic movements of the mediaeval West. We are also becoming familiar with it in the radical Islamic movements such as the recent attempt to create a new form of society in the Caliphate promised by ISIL.
Such Messianic or Chiliastic movements are characterized by the sudden emergence of a group driven by fanatical religious zeal. Their message gives confidence to thousands and sometimes millions of people who feel that the end of the world as it is presently constructed is at hand. Often a charismatic figure, sometimes in the person of a Christian Messiah, arises. He (and so far it is always a he) tells his followers that they are indestructible and can turn the world upside down.
They proclaim that the high will be made low and the poor made high. All the present inequalities and sufferings will be wiped away in the new reign of equality and love. Some believe that the French Revolution had elements of this, just as in the same way the Communist Revolution in Russia, and, more recently, Chairman Mao and Pol Pot with their later Communist revolutions.
Three of the most famous of many movements in our period are the following: There is the White Lotus (Buddhist) rebellion of 1795 to 1804, based on a secret White Lotus religious society dating back many hundreds of years. The largest was the vast Taiping rebellion of 1850 to 1864 and later the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901. The normal pattern was that, beginning with small incidents, gossip and rumours flew rapidly across the country and a core of religious radicals spread their message. Many anti-government interests and a charismatic leader came together. The scale of these eruptions is awesome looked at from the West. The last White Lotus rebellion lasted nearly ten years and thousands died.
In the Taiping or ‘Heavenly Kingdom of Peace’ insurrection, it is reckoned that between twenty and thirty million soldiers and civilians died — roughly equivalent to the deaths in the fighting of the two World Wars combined. Many hundreds of thousands died in the Boxer Rebellion and the intervention of foreign troops, while ending the rebellion more quickly, led to huge destruction and directly to the fall of the Qing Empire.
Those who believe that the Communist Revolution was yet another such Messianic movement, which succeeded because it occurred at a time of massive disarray in China after the warlord period and the Sino-Japanese war, would point to its costs in human lives. If we add together the deaths in conflict with the after-effects of the attempt to create the perfect kingdom on earth, namely the famines of the Great Leap Forward and the deaths and destruction in the Cultural Revolution, this movement was in some ways the most costly of all.
It is this background which we need to understand in China. It is a landscape where everything looks peaceful, orderly and cohesive, but suddenly a small flame is dropped and within days millions of acres of woodland and the creatures that live in it are destroyed. In the West, where the nearest we have to this is the rise of communist and fascist movements, we need to understand this background if we are to comprehend the apparently heavy-handed, if not (to westerners) paranoid, surveillance and crushing of apparently trivial dissent in China today.
The Chinese know their history and they are particularly wary of apparently innocent, small, spiritual and intellectual movements of dissent. This is why they regard the ritualistic cult of the Falun Gong with such concern and why they appear to their friends in the West to be overly concerned by the threats posed by the Dalai Lama or by Muslims.
The Chinese have been burnt before and when even well-meaning activists, lawyers or academics call for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in more than a subdued way, the menacing specter of China’s bloody uprisings enters the minds of the rulers. Without understanding this, the reaction to the protesters who were calling for the downfall of the Communist Party in Tiananmen Square, as well as less dramatic challenges to the State, are difficult to understand. China is so vast that, as the Emperors through the ages discovered, it is either strongly bound together, or can fall to pieces with terrible consequences.
WHAT DO WE see in the mirror of Japanese fears? Like China, Japan was founded on conquest, but in the Japanese case it was largely through the driving out of the aboriginal peoples of Japan, the Ainu, who now hardly exist. They were killed and expelled.
In the last thousand years there has been little threat, external or internal, to Japanese identity or basic political and social structure. There are two exceptions to this before the Second World War. One is the attempted invasions by the Chinese in the early thirteenth century, which were driven off, largely by the ‘Spirit Wind’ (kamikaze). The second threat was from the arrival of the Portuguese and Dutch in the sixteenth century with their new technologies and particularly their evangelical Christian missionaries.
There was a period in the sixteenth century when powerful leaders, especially in southern Kyushu, espoused Christianity and the Shogunate tolerated it. It seemed that the country might switch its allegiance from a mix of faiths and sects of a Chinese style to a new monotheistic religion – Christianity. Yet within a generation, the Shogunate became suspicious and started to outlaw the religion and in a relatively rapid period of a few years the Christians were defeated.
What happened then is a strong indication of the nature of Japanese culture. Rather than permitting the minority sect to remain, tolerated if contained, the threat was extirpated. The Christians were executed, often crucified. Their property and families were destroyed. All vestiges of Christianity were outlawed. Even activities like bringing in bread and wine, thought to be powerful and secret symbols of the Eucharist, were banned in Japan. So by half a century later, although there were in fact a few secret survivors, the religion was destroyed and the unity of Japan restored. For the next two and a half centuries all contagious and infectious ideas and people were strictly quarantined so that they could not enter Japan.
Nowadays, of course, the situation is different and Christianity has been widely permitted and perhaps one percent of the Japanese population is Christian. Yet the Japanese have something of the nervousness of the Chinese about charismatic Messianic movements, often of a right-wing nature. Most famous is the Doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, which undertook the sarin gas attack on a Japanese subway in 1995.
On the whole, however, the Japanese reaction to ‘The Other’ in their midst is different. As long as the infiltrating elements lie dormant and make no fuss, they can be ignored. Thus there are a large number of migrant workers from around the world in Japan. They have no legal position, but are tolerated and widely known about. Likewise, for a long period, the Koreans were in this position, having their own university and parallel organisations but not legally recognised. Or there are the concealed burakamin about whom I have written. As long as the surface unity of extreme uniformity can be maintained, and the Japanese identity kept formally pure, alien presence can be accommodated, even if it is strictly cordoned off and given little power.
IN HIS BOOK, Europe’s Inner Demons (1975), Norman Cohn outlined much of the detailed content of what has happened in the last thousand years in Europe. This follows on from his earlier The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957), which charted many of the European Messianic movements of the medieval period. The nightmares he describes tell us much about the central, usually invisible, core of this civilisation.
At the base of the widespread and different phenomena are three intersecting features.
The first is that Europe has been for a thousand years a battleground between the three forms of monotheism — Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This war has sometimes been joined by a fourth religious variant, a powerful religion from the East, Manichaeism.
The second force is something I have alluded to. This is that in Europe as a whole, culture and society are united — in order to be French, for example, it is not enough to obey the laws and pay your taxes. You have to believe and live as a Frenchman. A major part of this belief and life is expressed in a religious ideology. Spanish, French or Italian identity is expressed and permeated by Catholicism. Yet this Catholic ideology is always under threat, and hence the Demons.
Somehow linked to this is the difficulty of accepting some groups, sub-communities with different cultures, social structures and ideologies, within the majority culture. Whether they are Jews, gypsies, Protestants, Moorish Muslims or whoever, they grate against the wider cultural mores. Periodically the irritation rises to a peak and there are catastrophic purges and pogroms. Then the various societies settle back again into an uneasy calm. Even when actual enemies within do not seem to be a real threat, they tend to be invented.
Let me very briefly chart the major eruptions of the European nightmare over the last thousand years.
The first major threat was the fear that a rival to Christianity had seeded itself in the south of Europe, particularly in southern France. This was a powerful moral and intellectual movement inspired by Oriental beliefs which challenged the biblical orthodoxy. Known as Manichaeism, it is a dualistic religious system with Christian, Gnostic, and pagan elements, started in Persia in the 3rd century by Mani (also Manes; circa 216– circa 276) and based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. It was widespread in the Roman Empire and in Asia, and survived in eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) until the 13th century.
The beliefs challenged the central dogma of Christianity, namely the belief that God was all-powerful and ruled heaven and earth. Instead, it was argued that the cosmos was split into Good (above) and Evil (ruling this world). The Devil was as powerful on earth as was God in the Heavens. There were many other subsidiary beliefs, but this is the one that challenged the whole Christian message. It gripped the mind of many powerful nobles, mainly in southern Europe and by the twelfth century there was a real chance that Europe would abandon Christianity and become a Manichaean civilisation.
The battle against Manichaeism in Europe reached its climax in the Albigensian or Cathar Crusade (1209–1229), a military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III against the Albigensians in Languedoc in the south of France. The Cathars were destroyed in a series of hugely violent repressions ordered by the King of France. The first major demon had been exorcised.
Yet there were others that lurked in the European imagination. One which returned again and again to haunt Europe were the Jews. Much of European history, from the mediæval pogroms, through the ghettoization later on, to the frequent expulsions and persecution of the Jews continued as a sub-theme of European history.
This was why Hitler’s plan to eliminate the Jews was called ‘The Final Solution’. It would for once and all eradicate this alternative to central Christian, ‘European’, ‘Aryan’ identity.
Hitler’s ‘solution’, being carried out when I was a young child, destroyed approximately six million Jews in Europe. The events are the most dramatic and recent of the examples of an anti-Semitic theme which deeply infects European culture.
A third was the internal crusade against Islam, lasting almost seven hundred years and only ending in 1492, mainly fought in Spain and Portugal, and towards the end enlisting the support of the Catholic Inquisition. The church and state united to expel the Moorish Muslims, to cleanse Europe of a competing monotheism. Alongside this were a series of bloody crusades from the eleventh century onwards, trying to re-conquer Jerusalem and what were perceived as the original Christian lands.
As well as struggling with real human ‘heretics’ with explicit alternative beliefs, there was from the fifteenth century another war against a set of demons — the great witchcraft conspiracy. Again, encouraged by the Catholic Church in league with the State, it appeared to be the case that, with the use of judicially sanctioned torture and special legal methods, it was possible to locate a vast conspiracy against European civilisation. Satan, with his thousands of perverted followers forming into a number of underground ‘cells’ or ‘covens’, was seeking to overturn Christian decency.
The witches were believed to be killing people and destroying their property, engaging in sexual orgies, eating human flesh and blasphemously subverting sacred Christian rituals such as the Holy Communion. For three centuries these evil people were tried and killed – many tens of thousands of them. Only in the eighteenth century was it finally established that they had never existed at all. They were the ‘terrorists’ of their age, yet they had been manufactured by the machinery created to counter their supposed conspiracy. They were an imaginary evil, believed in by many of the greatest minds of their age.
Thus the background to European life, a nightmare seen very recently again in the middle of the twentieth century in Germany, is one where threats to the supposed core identity of Catholic Europe are seen as deeply menacing. Having rejected the Manicheans, the Islamic Moors and the witchcraft threat, Europe is now bracing itself, it seems, for yet another round in its war. This time the threat is from a ‘flood’ of non-Christians from Africa and the Middle East. Let us hope Europe learns from some of its past tragic over-reactions and inventions.
WHILE MANY OF the nightmares of China, Japan and Europe are tinged with much ideological, moral and cultural threat, the Anglosphere demons tend to be more one-dimensional. This can be explained by the ‘point of origin’ of England and America.
In both, the starting point was an expansive war against political neighbours. The Saxons expanded and largely destroyed or subdued the ancient Britons, Celts and other groups on their neighbouring fringes and incorporated their lands into their kingdoms. Their enemies were open and obvious, political rivals with weapons who could be killed or disarmed. So the Scots were finally subdued, as well as the Irish and the Welsh.
Though there were minor outbreaks of anti-Semitism and witchcraft persecutions, they were on a scale and of a nature which is different from the European phenomenon. The main fear was of political subversion, whether of the deposed Stuart king’s followers or, later, of communism and fascism. On the whole, the Protestant settlement and growth of civil society tolerated considerable differences of opinion. In the growing Empire, cultural differences were not seen as a challenge to the core identity of the British on their home island.
America took this rather secularized Protestant view, but soon entered onto a re-run of the conquest period of the Saxons. Their foes were not Scottish or Irish clans, but the tribes and confederations of the indigenous Indians — among them the Sioux, Cheyenne and Crow. Thus began the two hundred years in which there was an almost complete destruction of the original inhabitants of North America, using the gunpowder weapons which gave the settlers their advantage.
So America was born with the spirit of a moving, warring, frontier, with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other. Behind the advancing guns were the wagons with the whiskey and cheap manufactured goods, the ploughs and the livestock.
For a number of centuries this huge continent was not really menaced by any outside or internal threat except the divisions between the northern settlers and the slave-owning southern states. Only with the advent of planes and rockets and the growing flood of immigrants did America begin to fear the ‘Other’.
As in the British case, the threats were largely one-dimensional, threats to political power. Although there were a few witchcraft cases in Salem in the later seventeenth century they were on a tiny scale. The real threat of invisible enemies became ‘the reds under the beds’, that is to say political conspiracies believed to be threatening ‘the American way of life’.
The House Un-American Activities Committee, and its Senate counterpart, the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy, used many of the same methods as the anti-witchcraft movements on the continent — gossip, spying, forcing people to accuse their friends. For a while, McCarthy’s subcommittee unearthed a large conspiracy. Yet, as with the witchcraft fears, when challenged and exposed, the whole paranoid movement collapsed.
Yet its seeds, the fear of political subversion, have not gone away. Perhaps the innocence and lack of experience of such things has made America particularly susceptible to overreaction and panic. For even looking back on recent events, most people agree that the undermining of civil liberties, the use of surveillance and torture, the aptly named ‘Patriot Act’, rushed through Congress after the attack on the Twin Towers in America, was out of proportion. Yet it is unlikely to be the last such extreme reaction, as can be seen as I write this, listening to a high-riding presidential candidate (now President Trump) call for the reintroduction of judicial torture and the temporary banning of all Muslims from entering America.
It is particularly difficult to counter the self-fulfilling prophecies and extreme reactions since some of the fears, though greatly exaggerated, are well-founded. ‘Terrorism’, a label for anything we strongly fear or of which we disapprove, is the new nightmare of the Western world. The ‘Axis of Evil’ is believed to be ‘out to get us’. There is again a titanic war, replacing the brief respite after the long struggle of the ‘Cold War’.
One day people will be amazed and saddened by the overblown features of our current ‘Wars on Terror’. They will realize that they largely mirror our own anxieties in the West, much of it stemming back a thousand years in the battles of religious ideologies. Certainly, looked at from China, much of it seems puzzling, a war between western interpretations of God’s will, a God who the Chinese do not believe exists at all. Yet given the history of Europe and the current atmosphere in our world of instantaneous global communications and rapid movement of large numbers of migrants, we begin to understand some of its inner dynamics.
Prof Macfarlane is the author of more than twenty books and numerous articles covering English social history, demography in Nepal and the industrial history of England, China and Japan. His survey text, The Invention of the Modern World, is published by Odd Volumes for subscribers to the Fortnightly. He established Cam Rivers Publishing in 2015 as a branch of the Vanishing Worlds Foundation, with an intent to use ‘new desktop publishing potentials and the Internet to make available books related to education, anthropology and in particular the links between China and the West.’ Cam Rivers will publish China, Japan, Europe and the Anglosphere: A Comparative Analysis in late 2018 or early 2019.