Shengren – Chapter 3.13 – The Philosopher-Kings

Socrates: ‘…when the true philosopher kings are born in a State […] They will begin by sending out into the country all the inhabitants of the city who are more than ten years old, and will take possession of their children, who will be unaffected by the habits of their parents; these they will train in their own habits and laws, I mean in the laws which we have given them: and in this way the State and constitution of which we were speaking will soonest and most easily attain happiness, and the nation which has such a constitution will gain most.’[1]

– Plato, The Republic

Plato’s Politeia was one of the West’s most important texts written on statecraft and constitutional rule. It was also a key text in German classical philology, because it dealt singularly elegantly with Germany’s all favorite themes such as Vernunft (reason), Rechtschaffenheit (righteousness), and Gerechtigkeit (justice). Plato described the function and role of the philosophers in the city-state who must be trained in algebraic and logical sciences, and who should ideally fill into the highest ranks and take up the highest posts in society. The most outstanding ones among the philosophers may be called Philosophenkönige (Philosopher-Kings). This idea of a kingdom administrated by idealized, intellectual men, philosophers, and thus theoretically ruled by the most outstanding thinkers, philosopher-kings, had come around in Germany’s history quite often. Philosophy had always been hailed gloriously and magnificently. The discipline celebrated its revival during the period known as European Enlightenment, when the Greek ideal of the philosopher’s rule was rediscovered and turned into a national obsession, especially among the academic and theological philosophers who saw their rightful place not over dusty books in some Spartan closet but closer to the power of the political class and decision makers: ‘De philosopho regnante et de rege philosophante.’[2]

The dream of a small group of thinkers from the ‘Academy’ (School of Philosophy) that could and should lead ‘the City’ (The city of Athens) seemed like a good idea – in theory; it never happened in the history of mankind, though. The reason for that is simple: Leaders lead; thinkers don’t—they think. That’s why so many disappointed academics wrote books on how much better off the world would be if not the charismatic, passionate, and emotional leaders—alpha males—had let humanity, but instead the sober, intellectual and rational—beta males—scholars. Not a single philosopher in Western history was a political leader, while some leaders tried to become quasi-philosophers, but simply had not enough time for such a lonely, all-consuming preoccupation. Thus, the leaders offered aphorism or published their memories in which they said clever things, but that could hardly amount to philosophy.

No, the fact of the matter was: the world’s greatest intellectuals had been locked up in lofty yet solitary ivory towers [as so many writers]—to dream or to invent the ideal or the vision that the capable emperors and kings could follow up on. Philosophers merely assisted their leaders: Aristotle assisted Alexander the Great; Jean-Jacques Rousseau assisted Napoleon Bonaparte; Georg Hegel assisted Emperor Willhelm II; and Karl Marx (if you wanted to call him a philosopher) assisted Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov—better known as Lenin. Philosophers frequently were the assistants of great conquerors. In secret, they aspired to more: world domination.

The greatest thinkers in every culture cultivated a similar national myth: Plato’s ‘Philosopher-Kings,’ the Confucius’ ‘Shengren,’ the ‘Sage-Rulers’ in the Chronicles of Japan, the Sages of the Jewish Chazal, the members of the Buddhist Councils and so on. Just like the philosophers in the West had dreamt about the rulership of the Philosopher-Kings; so had the sages in the East dreamt about the stewardship of the Sagely Kings. In the Chapter ‘Charge to Yue’ of the Instructions of Yi (The Book of Documents) we read the following advice:

And Yue said to the king, ‘Wood by the use of the line is made straight, and the sovereign who follows reproof is made sage. When the sovereign can (thus) make himself sage, his ministers, without being specially commanded, anticipate his orders – who would dare not to act in respectful compliance with this excellent charge of your Majesty?’[3]

The proposal is flattering to both actors on this power tandem: His Majesty may dream of becoming a sage-king, and the sage, well, although he is never to become a king… but at least he could expect endorsement and generous state promotion: a place in the history books. Today, the rulers are national governments and the philosophers are academic philosophers—the principle stayed the same. The communists endorsed communist philosophers; the national socialists endorsed national socialist philosophers. The content is unimportant and secondary, because the philosophers are non-experts in politics, economics, and sciences anyway; all they do is philosophizing a global empire. The national socialists promoted Martin Heidegger to superstardom because he envisioned a pan-Germanic world order. When the war was lost, the American occupiers immediately installed Karl Jaspers to superstardom because he envisioned a new world order under American leadership.

Jaspers talked about the abolishment of German nationalism and nationhood, integration into [largely US-supervised] Europe, freedom and Worldbürgertum: total Americanization. The Americans loved it and lined up US-controlled media like DIE ZEIT or DER SPIEGEL to promote this man, Karl ‘Guardian of Democracy’ Jaspers. This philosopher asked what no philosopher had asked before him: What is philosophy? What is truth? Where can I publish my autobiography? He also clarified once and for all: ‘If religion wasn’t the life of humanity, we would have no philosophy.’ But what really made Karl Jaspers famous was his idea that both religion and philosophy could be traced back to ‘the Axial Age’—a time period roughly between the 8th and 2nd centuries BC—when the major world religions emerged all at once. That was not quite correct, of course. What happened during that time was that the West favored its philosophers and philosophy, while the East cultivated sages and sagehood. What the German Karl Jaspers called ‘the global emergence of profound thinkers who had great influences on religion and philosophy’ was rather ambitious revisionism and propaganda because ‘religion’ and ‘philosophy’ are both Western words and concepts.

The East had never developed religions or philosophies, but instead cultivated sages and sagehood that gave way to Confucianism and Buddhism. There are no such things as ‘Eastern religions’ except as a Western category. Philosophy and sagehood will always lead to two different traditions. A philosopher sent to earth two will always adhere to the philosophical tradition and think up a system with a first cause that he calls religion. A sage sent to earth three will always adhere to sagehood and produce a tradition similar to Confucianism or Buddhism. Once they separated into distinct cultures, there is no way of turning back except elimination—cultural genocide/suicide.

Back to the philosopher-kings in the Western world and the sage-kings in the Eastern world: Besides the Hindu traditions, the influence of Confucianism and Chinese thought on Asia cannot be overestimated. Asia is the cradle of sage cultures. Take the island of Japan. A closer look on the Nihon Shoki, also known as The Chronicles of Japan, will reveal the sheng(ren) (jp: sējin) scattered all over the place:

Going back to the origin of things […] it is this Heaven and Earth which produces the ten thousand things. Amongst these ten thousand things Man is the most miraculously gifted. Among the most miraculously gifted beings, the sage takes the position of ruler. Therefore the Sage Rulers, viz., the Emperors, take Heaven as their exemplar in riding the World, and never for a moment dismiss from their breasts the thought of how men shall gain their fit place.[4]

Again we find the 聖主天皇 ‘sage-ruler’ or ‘sage-kings.’ The Nihon Shoki does not mention the word ‘philosophy,’ which in Japanese is 哲学 ‘tetsugaku’ –a Western concept imported in the late 18th or early 19th century. There were no philosophers in Asia before the arrival of the Europeans, only 圣人shengren.

The Sophist was Plato’s notorious dialogue in which he meticulously destroyed the sophist’s good name and reputation, and hailed the philosopher. Everything the sages did was wrong and everything they believed in was false flag. Against the wicked wise, Plato set the true wisdom-lover, the true statesman, the scientist, and philosopher like (himself, of course, and) Socrates: ‘He (Socrates) is not a god at all; but divine he certainly is, for this is a title I should give to all philosophers.’[5] In the East, the exact opposite took place; the holistic sages roamed and warned against the tyrants. This is what Zi Gong had to say in The Analects about the sage Confucius: ‘固天縱之將聖,又多能也. [Certainly Heaven has endowed him unlimitedly. He is about a sage. And, moreover, his ability is various.][6] Karl Jaspers never draw a clear distinction between philosophers and sages – to him they were all ‘philosophers’ – a trick that suited the West best. Conquering Asia’s tradition felt like a coming home.

Similarities in civilization building do exist: Both East and West naturally called their most productive thinkers sages or philosophers, with each title being the highest honor for an individual of whatever leading school of thought of that society. Yet, that observation does not make a Western philosopher an Eastern sage: ‘In acknowledging the wisdom of the sages, we must not make the mistake of elevating their teachings above Western science and philosophy – or vice versa. To do either is merely to perpetuate the chief problem the sages address: judgmentalism, partiality, alienation and division, argumentation, and ‘Doing Something’ all the time.’[7] There could be no doubt that sages were sages and philosophers were philosophers. Plato made the distinction very clear: there were philosophers and there were sophists. Western thinkers with knowledge of Plato’s work had better not call him a sage, a) because Plato himself insisted he was a philosopher and b) because he had contempt for the sophists. In a related field, religion, Western thinkers with any knowledge of Moses had better not call him a sage, because he was a messenger of God, a saint, perhaps, the king of saints. Likewise, Western thinkers with any knowledge of Confucius had better not call him a philosopher or saint, because he was, always is black on white, throughout Chinese literature, a sage — better yet: a shengren. Alas, according to Greek and Christian mores, sages are unfit to reign: philosophers and saints must reign and prevail, and for this tyranny to be transplanted into the East, facts had to be forged and translations to be fabricated.

Ever since the great fraud, ‘Confucius’ has been re-decorated and paraded as China’s most eminent ‘philosopher’ –a million times. If repeated often enough, the Chinese themselves would believe it. Yu Dan’s bestseller Confucius (2006)—’Confucius, a philosopher and educator…’[8]—sold millions of copies in a couple of years. Who knew a Chinese writer functioned, unintentionally and completely unaware, as an agent of Western philosophy?

Other false names like Philosoph, Heiliger, Göttlicher were promoted in Germany for hundreds of years now, in ever new editions of incorrect translations, textbooks, dissertations, best-sellers, history and children books. Bright kids who read Confucius, if only in translation, often wonder, why is all thought called philosophy, it clearly isn’t; and if he wasn’t a philosopher, why not calling him by his real name? In China, Confucius’s teachings are called ruxue. And Confucius is called a shengren.

Intellectually, imperialism is inconceivable, much like the expansion of the universe, or the mind of God in a cell that becomes a human being. It’s a theory. We see the effects, but we cannot observe the entire process. It can be sampled here, mapped there, written about, but it cannot be fathomed, not humanly comprehended, because it all happens faster than thought and on so many levels simultaneously, and the brutality of it… no mercy. It also works backwards, as the past will be rewritten to always fit the narrative. Just like evolution –’sociolution’ if you will–, it knows no justice, no fairness, and no truth. There is causality to it, but a causality through words, which is one of two things that you must not investigated in Europe. There could be 100 million Confucianists and Buddhists in China, yet the one collaborateur who converted to Christianity that particular day is selected to represent the ‘religions’ in China. The other side of that process is even more obscene. The New York Times (the US propaganda media), in 2013 employed 6 China correspondents, one for every 200,000,000 Chinese. They can squeeze the reality of China like playdoo, inventing the weirdest fictions. Philosophers always had an authoritarian streak: Plato’s defamatory and belittling talk about the sophists was, of course, demagogy. Plato’s dislike for those who were supposedly against his school was legendary, and so was his patronage over those who were loyal to his cause. The effects of his inflammatory rants against the sophists are well known: the sophists were subsequently suppressed, first in Athens, then in entire Greece, and later throughout the Roman Empire. The political philosopher Karl Popper once accused Plato (in one stroke with Georg Hegel and Adolf Hitler) of deliberately ‘social engineering’ the masses: the skill-full mobilization of social forces to set out in the name of rational necessity to destroy the ‘base-less intellectual outcast, the intellectual minorities,’ all those who did not comply with the demagogue’s way of thinking. Plato believed that history followed scientific laws, a belief that is called historicism, and that the sophists had to be removed from society as a matter of good for science and history.[9] If it wasn’t for Plato and his philosopher-clique, who wouldn’t be so sure about two things: a) that the West habitually destroyed sage culture, and b) that Christianity could grow uninhibited. When human beings were bereft of their right to hold on to highest wisdom, then, necessarily, that responsibility for highest wisdom had to be transferred to someone else, a supernatural being. If the sages go, religion comes. Saints come.

Philosopher-Kings and the annihilation of the sages in various forms and disguised under different names was a common theme in many Western writings: seek and destroy, divide and conquer, subvert and rule the passive people, the harmonious ones, those who claim to be one with nature—Naturvölker. The sages believed that there was no philosophical doctrine that explained all things in the world because we could not even understand or explain the mind of the person next to us. They only thing that mattered to the sages was that all people where here and now and that they were connected to humanity and to nature. One could say that the sages were a rather kind, friendly, and peaceful type of human being: ‘The sages’ focus on achieving harmony and virtue here and now is a response to the social conditions in which they lived.’[10] So, are the sages the greatest threat to the tyranny of the philosopher kings? In his Sophist, Plato certainly thinks so.

[1] The Republic, Book VII, transl. by Jowett, Benjamin

[2] Wolff, 1731

[3] Chinese Text Project, 2010: ‘惟木從繩則正, 後從諫則聖. 後克聖, 臣不命其承, 疇敢不祗若王之休命?”

[4] Nihon Shoki, Chapter 25, c. 720, transl. in Ashton, 1896, Part III: ‘《大化二年(六四六)八月癸酉(十四)》秋八月庚申朔癸酉. 詔曰. 原夫. 天地陰陽、不使四時相乱. 惟此天地、生乎万物. 万物之内. 人是最霊. 最霊之間. 聖為人主. 是以聖主天皇. 則天御寓. 思人獲所。暫不廃胸.”

[5] Plato, transl. by Jowett, Benjamin, 2000

[6] Legge, 1861, 9;6

[7] Soccio, 2007, p. 54

[8] Yu, 2006

[9] Popper, 1945

[10] Soccio, 2007, p. 24

Pattberg, Thorsten (2011), Shengren – Above Philosophy and Beyond Religion, LoD Press, New York