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Conclusion: A critical intercultural Confucianism

Scheler noted in On the Eternal in Humans (Vom Ewigen im Menschen, 1921), in a chapter on the need for a reconstruction of European culture in response to its crisis, how “the specifically European and Asiatic” would find themselves in a situation of increasing parity and how Europe needs to reappraise itself culturally in contrast with the East and reassess what they hold in common.67 Humanity has entered an age of “world-adjustment” in which they need to learn to engage, communicate, and cooperate with others. The privilege of the West has gradually fallen into question through the changing social-political circumstances of the last century. Scheler did not call for a new unity between East and West as other Weimar-era cosmopolitans had done. He called for European self-reflection and world-adjustment in response to Asia and the world. The intercultural task of a European self-reassessment and reappraisal in light of the non-European world, which Scheler called for almost a century ago, has already been underway in the West and remains unfinished and yet to come.

The line of argumentation analyzed in this chapter from the Analects and the Mencius continues to have a significant critical import for contemporary ethical and political reflection. Analyzing the dialectic of recognition and ressentiment exposes the ideological uses of the “politics of resentment” that is characteristics of the politics of nationalism and ethnocentrism, and which Nietzsche’s conception of the simmering condition of ressentiment fails to sufficiently analyze.

Early Confucian philosophy contends that when either coercion and force or power and wealth are abused, the people will be naturally resentful. Confucian thinkers concluded that the resentment of non-elites against elites is ethically less blameworthy and politically less problematic than the arrogance, enmity, and resentment of elites against non-elites. Such resentment is evident in contemporary political discourses concerning the distribution of wealth and power that tend to blame the poor, the weak, and the voiceless for their conditions.

Daniel A. Bell intriguingly recognizes how “the traditional Confucian ways may assert themselves against—or at least mitigate—negative emotions such as resentment and aggressive nationalism.”68 The Confucian insight into negative emotions is taken a step further in this chapter. On the basis of the alternate “critical” and transformative tendencies articulated in the classical ru tradition itself, particularly in texts such as the Mencius, a contemporary Confucian interpretation of asymmetrical responsibility can well be argued to provide a number of compelling reasons for promoting social-political equality, challenging asymmetrical claims of static hierarchical privilege that serve as an illegitimate justification or excuse for opposing greater fairness and equity among the people.

Confucian philosophy is not only Chinese; it is already becoming a philosophy that can help promote reflection and reevaluation in the West. Early Confucian ethics is more than a reverence for the past and tradition, and not merely an incarnation of resentment against the present as Lu and Nietzsche asserted. It can accomplish the task of being a progressively oriented critical practical philosophy, as thinkers such as Zhang envisioned as discussed in Chapter 2, by contesting and deconstructing instead of furthering resentments and the condition of ressentiment.

A contemporary interculturally reconstructed model of Confucian ethics can accomplish such a critical and ethically transformative undertaking by contesting and deconstructing instead of furthering conditions of misrecognition and the negative reactive emotions such as resentment that such conditions foster. This chapter is written in the hope of contributing to and furthering the project of a critical and diagnostic intercultural Confucian ethics.

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