Humanism of Confucius and Jesus

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Confucius and Jesus: Humanism Took Different Pathways in Chinese and Western History
By You-Sheng Li


(for the book titled A Nevw Interpretation of Chinese Taoist Philosophy)


Chinese government first named Confucianism as its official ideology in the second century BC. Since then Confucianism remained as the mainstream culture to shape society and the way of life for more than two thousand years until the early twenty century when the first republic of China was founded. As the influence of Western culture entered China and it was followed by the subsequent revolutions, the fading out of Confucianism in the Chinese life occurred in a relatively short time between 1840 and 1919. The Roman Emperor Theodoisius made Christianity, based on Jesus’ teaching, the official religion in the late fourth century, and since then Christianity remained the dominant ideology to shape society and the way of life in Europe for more than a thousand years until recently. The fading out of Christianity as the main ideology in the Western society was a gradual process. The underlying reason was the social movement of secularization started by the Renaissance.

If we see a culture and its people as a man, the two giant men firmly stood, one in China and the other in Europe, for thousand years, unmoved by the strong winds of various cultures and ideologies. Their brains were nothing but the teachings of two real men, Confucius and Jesus. Their successes were due to the humanist soul in their teachings, which represent the peak humanism ever reached during ancient time. It is most interesting and revealing to compare the two men, their ideas, and their influence on subsequent history.


1. Definition of Humanism and its History in China and the West

Humanism is the tendency to emphasize man and his status, importance, achievements, and interests. The definition of humanism varies within a broad category of ethical philosophies that support the dignity and worth of all people. Furthermore, humansim can be a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems and is incorporated into several religious schools of thought. Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth, morality, social justice, and an ideal society through human means.

It is worth noting that humanism here is not in the narrow meaning in contrast to faith in supernatural being, and that humanism in relative terms includes any ideology that directs towards the improvement of human conditions, physically or spiritually. For example, human sacrifice was considered to be running against humanism, but its complete disappearance in China was only witnessed about a hundred years ago. Confucius was so opposed to human sacrifice that he even cursed those who started to use artificial figures to replace real men, as Confucius thought, the dignity of man was buried with those figures that looked so real. Such an idea of Confucius falls in the broad category of humanism as it contributed to the disappearance of human sacrifice in China. For similar considerations, Jesus’ teachings and Christianity fall in too, though it is not a popular topic to write about Jesus’ humanist contribution.


Early Greek people began their thought by studying nature, and those are called the natural philosophers. Since Socrates and other sophists, attention was shifted to social, political, and moral issues. This shift is regarded as the beginning of Western humanism. The next important time in humanist history was when Stoicism appeared as a school of thought. Seneca’s (2 BC- 65 AD) aphorism, “To man, a man is sacred”, remains as a powerful slogan for humanists today.

In spite of the remarkable development of human thought along the line of humanism, the Roman Empire was still built on slavery. Millions of slaves lived inhumane lives. It was the emergence of Christianity and the collapse of the Roman Empire brought an end to the slavery system, and many thought that Christianity contributed to the Roman collapse. Christian teachings reached the bottom of the social stratification, and warmed their hearts when they say that God loves every man on earth. Christian bishops fulminated against the entertainments of the theater and amphitheater, and the baths. The baths were thought to be responsible for sexual depravity. Christian aristocrats gradually redirected their funding money to churches, which were constructed in great numbers in the 400s and 500s. They also funded hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged, which was for the first time in Roman history.

For a thousand years or so, Christianity remained as the mainstream culture to unite Europe and keep the social order. The Renaissance was a much broader social campaign to stress the value of mankind and the value of a man in front of society and or in front of nature. The Renaissance however denoted a move away from God to man as the centre of interest. The Renaissance encouraged on the ability of man to find about the universe through his own efforts, and more and more to control it. The official separation of governments and religion gradually led the way that Christianity is no longer relevant in many aspects in our society and in our life.


Chinese Humanism developed along a quite different historic pathway. Lao Tzu, Confucius, and other early Chinese thinkers all took the ancient society as the ideal model. Chinese records painted a clear picture of those peaceful yet humanist society. Here I called it the natural humanism in contrast to the later developments of humanism that is one of many creations by man. The natural humanism was a product of the human heart and human nature. As a result, Chinese humanist thought appeared in a much earlier stage of civilization than in the West. Chinese scholars think there was shift of attention from gods, ghosts, and other spiritual beings to man in the early years of the Chou dynasty (1122-256 BC), a few hundred years before any philosophical thinkers were born. Such a shift was due to the careful thinking over why their new dynasty was able to replace the old one, and they concluded that human hearts were behind the change of dynasty. As discussed in Chapter 15.3, the social structure during that time allowed all people to live in primary or quasi-primary society, and human nature remained as the major force to keep the society stable. Such a shift was directed both by observation and by human nature. Rational thinking was present in primary society but was not able to set up a leading ideology other than human nature.

This shift from gods to man covered such changes in ancient China: The impersonal sky or heaven replaced the original personal God (shangdi) as the new super god; divination used eight trigrams to replace oracle bones; a whole set of rituals tuned with music was used to buttress the social ranking system, and make it less inhumane. Humanism as a social movement affecting all levels of the society appeared only during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-222 BC), and with Confucius as its leader. Both Confucius and Jesus were criticized in modern history, but such criticism cannot erase their tremendous contribution in the humanist history.


  1. The Fundamental Difference Between Confucius and Jesus: Jesus was More Like Mo Tzu


The following, though brief, is enough to show the fundamental difference between Confucianism and Christianity :


1). Confucianism relied on the government, but Christianity started as a movement against the governmental authority;

2). Confucius and his followers kept a distance from gods and spirits, but Jesus and his followers relied heavily on miracles and mysterious phenomena to preach;

3). Confucius held that gentlemen should not form parties and should not compete with each other, but Jesus painted his group as a unique one by criticizing others, and struggled to get a larger social space for his Christianity;

4). Christianity had strict organization, going out to preach, but Confucianism remained at the level of academic thought and self-cultivation.


Confucius was from a family of the low level of the ruling class, equal to the intellectuals or scholars who worked in the government in later times. Jesus’ father was a carpenter, and Jesus himself also used to work as a carpenter. Confucius said, “The inferior men were not afraid of heaven as they do not know the decree of heaven; they also take great men lightly, and laugh at the words of the sages.” (Analects 16.8) Jesus was exactly such an inferior man who did not obey the local authority and laughed at their words. Jesus preached his religion, but he was not an official religious staff who was entitled to preach. This eventually led to Jesus’ execution. Thus Jesus was a rebel under the name of God. Christianity was oppressed by the official religious organization, Judaism, and by the government so that they left their country to preach abroad. Since Jesus’ followers were all law-abiding, they were not noticed by the Roman Government for years. But they were still not tolerated by the government, and large numbers of Christians were executed.

Confucius preached his ideology of benevolence and righteousness that was based on loving people, but he did not go to the bottom level of the society to be friends with them. Those uneducated people lacked the rational thinking and believed in miracles and mysterious phenomena. Educated people or people of the ruling class did not care much about those people except for exploiting them. They were particularly vulnerable to Jesus’ preaching.

The Chinese ruling class had long got rid of irrational thinking of miracles and mysterious phenomena from the early years of the Chou dynasty and adapted a rational thinking to manage the national affairs. But this was only limited to the ruling class and educated people. The massive peasants in the rural areas were still in the grip of irrational thinking.

Irrational thinking was partially due to lack of knowledge, but it was based on the intuition. Our born way of thinking is not rational, which is supported by our daydreams and dreams at night. In the primitive primary society, rational thinking was possible only at times such as when they faced a task to be done. Systemic rational thinking on a large scale is part of our civilized culture.

Jesus’ time was after the Axial Age, and without any doubt, the Roman authority in Israel adapted to rational thinking for their administration. According to the New Testament, Jesus’ preaching was full of miracles and mysterious phenomena. Such stories spread rapidly in the people of low classes but raised the suspicion from the authority. Contrary to Jesus, Confucius distanced himself from the low classes and also from miracles and mysterious phenomena. He promoted such attitudes towards gods and spirits: Be respectful to Gods and spirits but keep a distance from them. Confucius had the principle of Four No-Comments in his teaching and counseling practice: He never talked about parapsychology, psychic power, mental distance, and ghosts. More than two thousand years later today, the attitudes towards religion, gods and ghosts are largely the same in the circle of Chinese intellectuals, who can be called the loyal followers of Confucius.

Confucius said, “Gentlemen have nothing to compete for. If they have to, they do it like in an archery match, where they ascend to their positions, bowing in deference toward other people who take part in the match. When done, they descend, and drink the ritual cup. This is the competition of gentlemen.” Thus Confucians do not form any parties and do not usually compete. In the modern Western politics, clerks and other staff in the government offices are often discouraged to join the competitive parties in the parliament system. Most of Confucius’ followers did take positions similar to today’s clerks and other minor officials during Confucius’ time.


From the very beginning, Jesus competed vigorously with the local authority for support of the people. It was well justified for the official religious staff to interpret the contemporary version of the Bible in certain way in order to keep the society stable. Jesus ridiculed their interpretation of the Bible, and preached his own belief. Acting as the representative of God on earth, he sent his love to every body he met. In doing so, I believe, Jesus challenged the authority of the local government, and on behalf of the poor people, he was in a rebellious position against the rich classes. But this rebellion was not one of violence but one of honesty, will, and commitment to social justice and love. Once Jesus suggested to a rich man that he sell his belongings and give to the poor, and doing so, he would have treasure kept in heaven. When the rich man was reluctant to do so, Jesus said to his disciples: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) The early Christians were such well organized groups that they formed more than egalitarian society but literally communist society. Such teachings and organizations had a great appeal to the people of low classes especially when the economy was poorly developed and people lived on meager supplies. It is no wonder why Christianity met such a rapid success in Europe.

Christianity followed Judaism as a monotheist religion. Judaism kept saying that their God was the only God, all other gods were only idols. Such statement kept Israel people from being attracted by gods from the neighbouring cultures. When Christians preached within the Roman Empire, it had the effects to discriminate against other religions and their gods. Romans were typically polytheist believers, and they worshiped any gods which happened to have worked to them, namely, materialized their wishes such as curing an illness. Therefore, there was no another god who was claimed as the only god except for the Christian God. Christian monotheist explanation of God was more philosophical, though the bible describes God only as one god among many others. No competition with Christian monotheist theory was another reason for its rapid success.

Among the various schools of thought in ancient China, only the Mohism was most close to Jesus and his teachings. Mo Tzu (476-390 BC) was also from a handcraft family, and may be a carpenter himself. Mohism represented the voice of the people of low classes. Both Confucianism and Mohism were most popular during the Warring States Period (475-222 BC). Lu’s Spring and Autumn Annals says, Mo Tzu had “massive followers, abundant disciples, filling up all areas under heaven.” Like the early Christianity, Mohism had strict organization. Their members were well disciplined, dedicated, frugal, and hard working, so brave that “they all could jump into fire and run on edges of swords and would not look back for a moment until death” (Huainan Tzu: Chapter 20). Once one of their leaders committed suicide for faith, and 183 disciples killed themselves to be buried with him. It is beyond doubt that if there had been a good leadership, they would have been a ever-victorious and unbreakable force in all social conflicts.

Mo Tzu said, “If all people in the world love each other, states do not attack on each other, families do not interfere with each other, no robbers and no thieves, kings and fathers are kind to their court officials and sons while court officials and sons are filial to their kings and fathers, if so, the whole world will be orderly.” Thus Mohists promoted universal love more than two thousand years ago in China. It carries the same message as Jesus’s call for loving your enemies. If Mohism had been put into serious practice, Chinese history would have been different. Mohists would have been able to form a religious organization similar to Christianity functioning as an internal restricting power to the centralized government, and this power like the early Christianity was unbreakable. Since the first centralized government appeared in the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC), only the emperor had the space for free thinking, what the people wished could only be a peace for them to live their lives without interruption, it was no longer possible to harbour the rapid pace of social changes of the Spring Autumn and Warring States Period (770-221 BC).


3. From Confucianism and Christianity to the Chinese and Western Pathways of Humanism


In contrast to Jesus’ Christianity, Confucius fitted his Confucianism into the established frame of “king is a king, minister is a minister, father is a father, and son is a son”(Analects, 12.11), and then set up the standards for the spiritual characters and morals of Confucian scholars. Thus Confucian humanism could only be put into practice inside the established frame of social order. Unfortunately, there was apparently not always an easily operable mechanism to push forward humanist policy within the established frame of order in Chinese history. In the Book of Rites, Confucius says,


Use rituals to decide it is right or wrong, use rituals to determine whether a man was sincere or not, use rituals to point out the mistakes, use rituals to set up good examples of benevolence and morals, use rituals to show the benefits of being modesty and conciliatory, use rituals to show the regulations the people have to follow. If someone does not follow the rituals and regulations, he has to give up his position as a ruler, since people regard him as the cause of disaster. This is called the moderate means.


Here Confucius makes it clear that a ruler has to behave like a ruler, and follow the rituals and regulations. The ideology behind those rituals and regulations is Confucianism or humanism, since there are such words: sincere, benevolence, modesty and conciliatory and so on. As how to have the ruler who runs against Confucian humanist policy removed from his position, there is no easily operable mechanism. From the last sentence “he has to give up his position as a ruler, since people regard him as the cause of disaster”, it is clear that Confucius gave this important yet difficult task to heaven and to the people who did not have their representatives inside the government. If Confucius did not want massive peasant uprisings to serve as a checking system to make sure that the ruler carry on the Confucian humanist policy, those are only beautiful yet hollow words. Contrary to Confucianism, Jesus’ Christianity combined Confucius’ heaven (God) and people to form an unbreakable social force as an internal restricting mechanism to make sure that the government was on the right track of humanism.

Meng Tzu (372-289 BC), a famous Confucian scholar only second to Confucius, developed Confucius’ idea further, and proposed some practical measures in a sequence. What could be done when a ruler refused repeatedly the right advice of humanism by a Confucian minister? Meng Tzu said: 1). The minister had the option to leave; 2). The ruler could be replaced by another one through the ruler’s clan. In cooperation of the royal clan, ministers did sometimes change the emperor in the subsequent history. This first measure in line certainly helped to keep the country and its administration on the right track of humanist policy. Such changes of rulers were often violent but usually on small scale in Chinese history.

Meng Tzu further confirmed the actions of vassal states that overthrew the national ruler when the latter departed from the right track of humanist policy in early Chinese history. Thus when a national ruler departed from humanist policy and his court and clan failed to replace him by another one, a local state could replace the unfitted ruler by means of revolution or usurpation. This is the second measure in line to keep the country and its administration on the right track of humanist policy. Reminded by this theory of Meng Tzu, Chinese emperors took preemptive action to demolish all vassal states during the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC -220 AD) and dismiss all local military governors in the Song dynasty (960-1279). Thus no more local military powers to compete with the central government even when the latter was weakened by its departure from humanist policy.

Meng Tzu did not mention the third measure in line to keep the country and its administration on the right track of humanist policy. Confucius and Meng Tzu could not be blamed for the negative effects of the third measure directly, but they were partially responsible. Confucianism did not design an operable mechanism to restrict the emperor’s power. As result, the emperor’s power was expanded so that the second measure in line to keep the country and its administration on the right track of humanist policy by usurpation of local military powers was eliminated completely by the emperor from the root. In Chinese history there were plenty of loyal ministers gave up their lives to admonish the emperor. Those ministers were like Christians who gave up their lives for their faith. I think the above quotation from Confucius has the connotation that massive peasant uprisings were the third measure in line to keep the country and its administration on the right track of humanist policy.

It was not an easy job for an ordinary peasant to run a county or a province. How could he all of sudden come to run a huge country? This means that it was harder than climbing up the blue sky. This may stop some peasants from trying to rebel. Confucians were often lacking the wish to go to the bottom of the society like Mohists and Christians did. In Chinese history, peasants were often stranded in situations where they were going to die whether they rebelled or not. In most of such cases, the peasants accepted their fate, uttering no sound. But quite a few chose to up-rise against their fate. Chinese peasant uprisings were so often, so massive on scale, like the waves in the Yangtze river one after another. This is the negative effects of less-well-designed Confucian humanism. Another presentation of the same negative effects is the impression on Western historians who study Chinese history: Magnificent imperial culture was well in contrast to the primitive poverty of millions of peasants. One of the protagonists in the classic novel The Scholars raises a proposal to restrict the number of wives one could take in order to improve the situation that too many single men were in the countryside. People say, there were three thousand beautiful women in the palaces surrounding one man the emperor. If the Confucian ministers had had the spirit of rebellion of Christians and Mohists, and had led those women to the countryside to marry those single men, it must have been the unique tale of humanism in Chinese history on everyone’s lips.

Massive uprisings of peasants did climb up the blue sky by bare hands. There were two dynasties that were founded by the commoners in Chinese history, and their dynasties were stamped with the brand of Chinese peasants. These are the Han (206 BC-220 AD) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. In many aspects, they are worse than the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties that were founded by bureaucrats. After all military power was in the hands of the emperor after the Song dynasty, the only power source to overthrow the emperor and its court when they were weakened by departure from humanist policy was either from peasant uprising or foreign invaders, which was exactly what happened in the subsequent history. It is impossible to determine whether Confucius and Meng Tzu considered the foreign powers next door as part of their third measurement to keep the country and its administration on the right track of humanist policy, though foreign invaders did indeed enter in Chinese politics along peasant uprising as part of the third measurement. That is the Yuan(1272-1368) and Qing(1644-1911) dynasties, which had the cruel blood shedding of foreign invasion in addition to the much lower cultural level.

One of the reasons for the orderly prosperity during Emperors Literate and Scenery was the present of large vassal states inside their empire, which apparently served as a restricting factor to keep the country and its administration on the track of humanist policy. Both Emperors Literate and Scenery were remarkably modesty and self-refrained to stay away from excess ambitions. During the rebellion of seven vassal states, Emperor Scenery executed his prime minister in the request of those vassal states. The general who led the army to put down the rebellion refused repeatedly the orders from the Emperor who asked the general to rescue his brother , whose capital was attacks by those rebel vassal states. Those two incidents indicate that the Chinese government was far from totalitarianism because of the present of vassal states at that time.

During the reign of King Rigid of Chou (Zhouliwang ?-841 BC), the people of the capital rose to a rebellion. They swamped into the palace with sticks and farm tools in hands. King Rigid ran away and never dared to come back. The lord of a vassal state came to the capital as the temporary king for fourteen years, and then returned the throne to the royal family of Chou. In contrast, it usually took millions of lives to overthrow an unfitted government or to put down a massive peasant rebellion when the totalitarian government was well established later on in China. One of examples was the Taiping rebellion (1850-1864) that also lasted fourteen years, occupied almost half of China, and resulted more than twenty million deaths. From the records, the policies of the Taiping rebellion were much more humanist than the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). They even advocated equal rights of men and women and public ownership of land.


  1. The Two Levels of Society and the Different Pathways of Chinese and Western Humanism


The genetically coded primary Society was the basic social organization of man immediately above families in ancient time. The ideal number of people in this primary society is believed to be around 150. Bands and tribes are regarded as primary societies. Human nature or intuition was the major force to keep primary society stable and functioning. Any social organizations or societies above or far larger than the primary society are secondary society. The introduction of social stratification and other institutions against human nature is often necessary to keep a secondary society stable.

Secondary society is a creation of human culture and has nothing to do with human genetics and human nature. Secondary society has limitless possible types, and each one may have its own evolutionary pathway. Modern secondary societies become similar, but ancient societies were much more diversified. According to Aristotle, ancient Greece had 158 political systems worth description.

Our present secondary society is a strictly rational system that does not tolerate irrational thinking. We need rational thinking if we are aiming at social achievements such as a well paid high position or if we are materializing a goal in the physical world such as building a house. Rational thinking enables us to reach our goals. But if we are relaxing in sofa with our family and are aiming to enjoy ourselves, rational think does not do us any good. Under such circumstances, it is quite okay if we talk nonsense or allow ourselves enter weird daydreams. Only primary society tolerates both irrational and rational thinking. An’ it harm none, do what thou wilt.

Once Jesus’ Christianity entered the centre of secular social power, they too stressed the value of rational thinking. In history, some witches were in a state of irrational thinking and kept saying weird things and bizarre ideas, and many of them were tried and burned to death in so-called witch-hunt of many Christian countries. Nowadays, pastors and priests are graduates of theological schools, and a son of an ordinary carpenter was not allowed to preach unless he has the qualification. In many ways, ancient primary society was more humanist than modern secondary society.


In the West, the first secondary society was city states seen both in the Middle East and in ancient Greece. Primary society was disintegrated to form secondary society of free individuals. Secondary society, as a creation by man, has numerous pathways to take, and each one needs a set of ideology and corresponding social structure, often stratification, to support the ideology. As different individuals had different ideas as what direction the society should go, political instability and violent conflicts were inevitable. In the Middle East, it was documented that the appearance of states was associated with shortened life spans. It was a chaotic nightmare to the people who was used to much more humanist primary society. The only hope they had in mind was God and other superpowers. On the other hand, no ruler could restore order overnight in a population that knew nothing about the discipline and obedience. It was thus inevitable to worship supernatural powers and to put supernatural powers before people. Various magnificent constructions dedicated to gods appeared in the Middle East, Ancient Greece, and in Latin and South America. The master of such secondary society was God, and people were only the servicemen to God. In the service of God, man was easily put up with inhumane living conditions.

After such an unusual start, human civilization is a process in which secondary society is improved to better harbour human nature, emphasis is shifting from God to man, and man further his self realization and self emancipation. In spite of the dramatic changes our secondary society has taken, human nature remains the same. Thus it is also a process in which man lost his way and then looked for his origin, and found back himself.

As mentioned in Chapter 15.2, the last five thousand years of human civilization of war was an upward spiral with an continuing increase in battles and imperial sizes and in social inequality. The increase in battles, social inequality, imperial sizes are all negative factors for humanism, and hindered the social movement of humanism. But the human conditions was improved during the last few thousand years, and shift from God to man did take place over a long time.


The process of Chinese humanism was quite different from the West. Both Lao Tzu and Confucius admired ancient society and regarded it as their ideal society. Lao Tzu says, “Heaven and earth coalesce and it rains sweet dew. The people, no one ordering them, self balance to equality.” “The Tao of nature is to pare back abundance and add to the insufficient.”(Tao Te Ching, Chapters 32, 77). According to Taoist philosophy, the ancient primary society was close to the ideal of humanism, and the following social structure in Chinese early civilization enabled people to remain in primary or quasi-primary society:


The King and his clan + Intellectuals Quasi-primary society

The vassals and their clans + Intellectuals Quasi-primary society

Villages and tribes Primary society


Under such a social structure in their early years of civilization, Chinese people were able to build their social network based on face to face interaction, which was not distorted by external force other than human nature (see Chapter 15.3 for reference). The above social structure covers nearly two thousand years and three dynasties. Ancient records though regard the three dynasties, Hsia, Shang, and Chou, as a continuous cultural tradition but outline the differences among the three dynasties. The following is my translated summary fromThe Book of Rites comparing the three dynasties:


Hsia (2200-1766 BC): The culture of Hia respects fate, pays respect to gods and ghosts but keeps a distance from them, is close to human nature and loyal, delivers rewards and emoluments before punishment and power, is intimate but no respect. The people are primitive, foolish, proud and wild, simple and ill-posed. The culture of Hsia does not take words lightly, does not require perfection, does not ask a lot from people, its people are not bored with their family and relatives, and its people have little to complain.

Shang (1765-1123 BC): The culture of Shang respects gods, leads its people in service to gods, puts ghosts before rituals, delivers punishments before rewards, and its people are respectful but not close. Its people are boundless and shameless. The culture of Shang does not take rituals lightly, expects a lot from the people.

Chou (1122-256 BC): The culture of Chou respects rituals and charity, pays respect to gods and ghosts but keeps a distance from them, is close to human nature and loyal, rewards and punishes with ranking system. Its people are close but no respects, clever, posed, cheating without shame. The culture of Chou forces people to meet its need, does not take gods lightly, exhausts the system of rewards and punishments.


From the above records, we can see the difference among the three dynasties: Both Hsia and Chou paid due respect to gods and ghosts but kept a distance from them. Shang stressed the service to gods and ghosts while relied heavily on force and punishment. More than a hundred thousand of oracle bones were recovered, and they showed that Shang often waged military attacks on its neighbours, and human sacrifices numbered to more than ten thousands. A notable Chinese historian (Wang 2004) held such view that class polarization first appeared during the Shang dynasty, and Hsia dynasty was therefore a classless primitive society.

With the above social structure, the society was mainly stabilized on human nature. There was no need to rely on forceful gods or ghosts such as those that cost Socrates’ life except for if they had unnatural goals and lacked the social mechanism to motivate the people to reach their goals. During the Shang dynasty, there might be such goals such as attacking peaceful neighbours and the appearance of class stratification for the first time. The Chou dynasty abandoned the Shang’s culture of gods and ghosts but used a more humanist way to stabilize a society of class polarization, the ritual system(see Chapter 6.3 for reference). Here I call the humanist policy in the Hsia dynasty the natural humanism. The shift from gods to man in the early years of the Chou dynasty is comparable to the shift from nature to human society in the ancient Greek thinkers, the beginning of humanist social movement by man.


In the Middle East , paralleled to the huge constructions dedicated to gods, the first centre of social power was concentrated among religious staff, priests and witches. Even when secular kings were separated and had their own social networks to control the population, religious centres remained powerful entities that owned vast areas of land and employed massive numbers of people. In many ways, religious centres shared power with the government. Even the priests and priestesses of the Apollo Temple at Delphi of ancient Greece served as influential consultants to the local kings.

When Israeli people developed their monotheist religion, they had a bible that lists out the major laws and moral norms for the society as dictated by God. The priests (prophets) had the power to interpret and preach those laws and norms, and the government was only responsible to carry out those laws and norms. Thus those religious centres functioned very much like today’s parliaments in the Western democratic governments. This contrasts well to the religious centres in ancient China.


For nearly two thousand years, the dominating religions in Chinese history were Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The function of those religions were at most like the Minister of Culture of the imperial government, and had no power to interfere any laws. The Minister of Culture could of course be dismissed at the emperor’s will. Closing down of temples and ban of religion occurred frequently in Chinese history.

Unlike Taoism and Buddhism, Confucianism was involved in politics. Such involvement was through the employment of Confucian scholars as government officials. Confucianism was never part of the imperial government. Nevertheless, the imperial government had the power to modify Confucianism at will. According to John King Fairbank (1994), it was the emperor (Hanwudi, 140-87 BC) who created the first official version of Confucianism by hybridizing Confucianism with Legalism to suit his needs for a centralized government. Fairbank called it the Imperial Confucianism, which was fundamentally different from the Confucianism founded by Confucius and Meng Tzu. The imperialist system with absolute power was a major setback for humanism in Chines history, though it also kept local lords in check.

With the government pressured by the continuous uprising of the peasants and influenced by Taoism and Confucianism, Humanism did achieve some major progresses in Chinese history against the increased social inequality and the further concentrated power on the emperor and his court. The following is what came to my mind while I was writing:


1). Taoist religion and Buddhism, first appeared during the late Han dynasty(25-220), provided a place of retreat from the inhumane secondary society. Although no place was immune to the imperial power, religious temples were safer shelters to many, who offended the government.

2). Taoist philosophy provided from theory to practical techniques a whole set of tools to treat the mental injuries inflicted by secondary society.

3). Confucianism developed into so called the Idealist Philosophy during the Song and Ming dynasties (960-1644), which further separated the spiritual cultivation of individual people from politics and the reality of secondary society. This provided an easily accessible and largely available spiritual retreat for those in need.

4). Human sacrifices were down significantly since the beginning of the social moment of Humanism, though foot-binding and other customs against women appeared, cruel punishments such as “ten thousand cuts” and “striping the skin off” remained.

5). Shaped and influenced by the ideal egalitarian society of Taoist philosophy, the class polarization in the countryside was much less in comparison with the West.

6). Absolute poverty of lacking food, clothes, shelters and other basic requirements for living was never eliminated in Chinese history, and even worse than the early years of the Chou dynasty. The number of deaths in war increased significantly.


5. Epilogue: The Spiritual Characters of Confucian Scholars


Both Christianity and Confucianism emphasize the spiritual characters of their followers, though Confucianism does not rely on God to consecrate its followers’ spirit. Confucius spoke in such great detail and explained the ideal image of a Confucian gentleman, but was reluctant to name anyone who met the criteria of benevolence. He apparently idealized and consecrated the spiritual characters of a Confucian gentleman. Thus Confucian scholars’ spiritual cultivation became artistic pursuit, and the spiritual characters were like a piece of art that was detached from any social power or godly power. Like the early Christians found joy in poverty while willing to die for their faith, Confucian scholars displayed unmatched courage and spiritual characters in spite of their poverty.

One of those scholars was Square (Fang Xiaoru or Square Filial-Confucianism, 1357-1402), who refused to cooperate with the new emperor in spite of a total of 873 people including himself, his family, his relatives, and his friends were executed. As he kept criticizing and even cursing the emperor to his majesty’s face, his mouth was ripped to the ear on both sides that failed to stop him. He was made to watch his brother’s execution, and tears welling out his eyes. The brother chanted a lofty and heroic poem to condole Square:


My dear brother, you need not wash your face with tears,

Die of benevolence and righteousness, and here’s.

From the royal ornamental column and a thousand years,

We then travel home together, chanting to our ears.



After Square was cut into two at the waist as the execution required, he managed to write ten and a half Chinese characters with his own blood to show his faith.

On the other hand, the new emperor was the uncle who dethroned his nephew. What a difference was there as to which one of their family became the emperor? Was there any need to be so serious? It was at most a ritual issue but far from the issue of Confucian humanist policy. In the above quotation(15.3), Confucius did set up rituals as the criteria to judge a ruler’s behaviour, but he clearly used rituals to promote his humanist policy. In fact, the nephew emperor violated the rituals first trying to undermine his uncle’s vassal state, and Confucian court officials including Square did not stop him. Paradoxically, the nephew’s wish to substantially reduce the power of vassal states was only accomplished by his uncle. To ascend the throne, wasn’t the same whoever drafted the imperial edict? Why did the emperor have to force Square to draft while the latter determined not to? This was the extremity of the development of rational thinking in secondary society that never occurred in primary society. If Square was the lord of a vassal state, how did the emperor dare to ask a rebuff to come to Square for the draft?

Therefore, those 873 deaths are not for such rubbish issue who was the right man for the throne from the same family, and they are to defend the sacred nature of the spiritual characters of Confucian scholars that Confucius and Meng Tzu outlined some two thousand years ago. It is like Pygmalion in the Greek mythology who loves the ivory figurine he has sculptured so that he gives up the happiness of sexual love and family. He thinks his figurine is the most beautiful in the whole world, and he is willing to sacrifice for the beauty he has created. Such sacrifice is radiating with beauty of the spiritual realm, far above the secular pursuit such as the size and power of an empire that increased in the last five thousand years against human nature. Whenever I feel heartache after reading about the dedication of lives of Confucian scholars to their faith, I rely on my above interpretation to make me feel better.

The Culture of Hate

The Culture of Hate

On the silent revolution and reaction of our time. The reasons for ultramodern chaos. On the colonization of language and how traditional authority reacts to historical progress using the anachronistic tools of repetition.

Universal Pedagogy of Obedience

The old pedagogical model was synthesized in the phrase “the letters enter with blood.” This was the ideological support that allowed the teacher to strike with a ruler the buttocks or hands of the bad students. When the bad student was able to memorize and repeat what the teacher wanted, the punishment would end and the reward would begin. Then the bad student, having now been turned into “a good man,” could take over teaching by repeating the same methods. It is not by accident that the celebrated Argentine statist and pedagogue, F. Sarmiento, would declare that “a child is nothing more than an animal that must be tamed and educated.” In fact, this is the very method one uses to domesticate any old animal. “Teaching” a dog means nothing more than “making it obedient” to the will of its master, humanizing it. Which is a form of canine degeneration, just like the frequent dehumanization of a man into a dog – I refer to Osvaldo Dragún’s theatrical work.

The social logic of it is not much different. Whoever has power is the one who defines what a particular word means. Social obedience is implicit. In this sense, there are key words that have been colonized in our culture, words like democracy, freedom, justice, patriot, development, civilization, barbarism, etc. If we observe the definition of each one of these words derived from the same power – the same master – we will see that it is only by dint of a violent, colonizing and monopolistic “learning” that the term is applied to a particular case and not to another one, to one appearance and not to another, to one flag and not another – and almost always with the compelling force of the obvious. It is this logic alone that dominates the discourse and headlines of daily newspapers the world over. Even the loser, who receives the semiotic stigma, must use this language, these ideological tools to defend (timidly) any position that differs from the official, established one.

Revolution and Reaction

What we are experiencing at present is a profound crisis which naturally derives from a radical change in system – structural and mental: from a system of representative obedience to a system of progressive democracy.

It is not by accident that this current reaction against the disobedience of nations would take the form of a rennaissance of religious authoritarianism, in the East as much as in the West. Here we might say, like Pi i Margall in 1853, that “revolution is peace and reaction is war.”  The difference in our time is rooted in the fact that both revolution and reaction are invisible; they are camouflaged by the chaos of events, by the messianic and apocalyptic discourses, disguised in the old reading codes inherited from the Modern Era.

The Grand Reactionary Strategy

Now, how does one sustain this reaction against radical democratization, which is the invisible and perhaps inevitable revolution? We might continue observing that one form of attack against this democratization is for the reaction itself to kidnap the very idea of “democracy.” But now let’s mention just a few of the least abstract symptoms.

At the center of the “developed world,” the most important television and radio networks repeat tiresomely the idea that “we are at war” and that “we must confront an enemy that wants to destroy us.” The evil desire of minority groups – minority but growing – is unquestionable. The objective, our destruction, is infinitely improbable; except, that is, for the assistance offered by self-betrayal, which consists in copying all of the defects of the enemy one pretends to combat. Not coincidentally, the same discourse is repeated among muslim peoples – without even beginning to consider anyone outside this simple dichotomy, product of another typical creation of the powers in conflict: the creation of false dilemmas.

In the most recent war, irrigated as always with copious innocent blood, we witnessed the repetition of the old model that is repeated every day and ceaselessly in so many corners of the world. A colonel, speaking from we know not which front, declared to a television channel of the Civilized World, dramatically: “It is on this road where the future of humanity will be decided; it is here where the ‘clash of civilizations’ is unfolding.” Throughout that day, as with all the previous days and all the days after, the words and ideas repeated over and over again were: enemy, war, danger, imminent, civilization and barbarism, etc. To raise doubts about this would be like denying the Holy Trinity before the Holy Inquisition or, even worse, questioning the virtues of money before Calvin, God’s chosen one. Because it is enough for one fanatic to call another fanatic “barbaric” or “infidel” to get others to agree that he needs to be killed. The final result is that it is rare for one of these barbaric people not to die by their own choice; most of those eliminated by the virtue of holy wars are innocents who would never choose to die. As in the time of Herod, the threat of the individual is eliminated by assassinating his entire generation – without ever achieving the objective, of course.

There is no choice: “it is necessary to win this war.” But it turns out that this war will produce no victors, only losers: peoples who do not trade in human flesh. The strangest thing is that “on this side” the ones who favor every possible war are the most radical Christians, when it was none other than Christ who opposed, in word and deed, all forms of violence, even when he could have crushed with the mere wave of his hand the entire Roman Empire – the center of civilization at the time – and his torturers as well. If the “religious leaders” of today had a miniscule portion of the infinite power of Jesus, they would invest it in winning their unfinished wars. Obviously if huge Christian sects, in an historic act of benediction and justification for the insatiable accumulation of wealth, have been able to pass an army of camels through the eye of that particular needle, how could the difficult precept of turning the other cheek present a problem? Not only is the other cheek not offered – which is only human, even though it’s not very Christian – but instead the most advanced forms of violence are brought to bear on distant nations in the name of Right, Justice, Peace and Freedom – and of Christian values. And even though among them there is no recourse to the private relief of Catholic confession, they often practice it anyway after a bombardment of scores of innocents: “we are so sorry…”

On another television program, a report showed Muslim fanatics sermonizing the masses, calling upon them to combat the Western enemy. The journalists asked professors and analysts “how is a Muslim fanatic created?” To which each specialist attempted to give a response by referring to the wickedness of these terrible people and other metaphysical arguments that, despite being useless for explaining something rationally, are quite useful for feeding the fear and desire for combat of their faithful viewers. It never occurs to them to consider the obvious: a Muslim fanatic is created in exactly the same way that a Christian fanatic is created, or a Jewish fanatic: believing themselves to be in possession of the absolute truth, the best morality and law and, above all, to be executors of the will of God – violence willing. To prove this one has only to take a look at the various holocausts that humanity has promoted in its brief history: none of them has lacked for Noble Purposes; almost all were committed with pride by the privileged sons of God.

If one is a true believer one should start by not doubting the sacred text which serves as the foundation of the doctrine or religion. This, which seems logical, becomes tragic when a minority demands from the rest of the nation the same attitude of blind obedience, usurping God’s role in representing God. What operates here is a transference of faith in the sacred texts to faith in the political texts. The King’s minister becomes the Prime Minister and the King ceases to govern. In most of the mass media we are not asked to think; we are asked to believe. It is the advertizing dynamic that shapes consumers with discourses based on simplification and obviousness. Everything is organized in order to convince us of something or to ratify our faith in a group, in a system, in a party. All in the guise of tolerance and diversity, of discussion and debate, where typically a grey representative of the contrarian position is invited to the table in order to humiliate or mock him. The committed journalist, like the politician, is a pastor who directs himself to an audience accustomed to hearing unquestionable sermons and theological opinions as if they were the word of God himself.

These observations are merely a beginning, because we would have to be very naïve indeed if we were to ignore the calculus of material interests on the part of the powerful, who – at least so far – have always decided, thumb up or thumb down, the fate of the innocent masses. Which is demonstrated by simply observing that the hundreds and thousands of innocent victims, aside from the occasional apology for mistakes made, are never the focus of the analysis about the wars and the permanent state of psychological, ideological and spiritual tension. (As an aside, I think it would be necessary to develop a scientific investigation regarding the heart rate of the viewers before and after witnessing an hour of these “informational” programs – or whatever you want to call them, since, in reality, the most informative part of these programs is the advertisements; the informational programming itself is propaganda, from the very moment in which they reproduce the colonized language.)

Dialogue has been cut off and the positions have polarized, poisoned by the hatred distilled by the big media, instruments of traditional power. “They are the incarnation of Evil”; “Our values are superior and therefore we have the right to exterminate them.” “The fate of humanity depends upon our success.” Etcetera.. In order for success to be possible we must first guarantee the obedience of our fellow citizens. But it remains to be asked whether “success in the war” is really the main objective or instead a mere means, ever deferrable, for maintaining the obedience of one’s own people, a people that was threatening to become independent and develop new forms of mutal understanding with other peoples. For all of this, propaganda, which is the propagation of hate, is indispensable. The beneficiaries are a minority; the majority simply obeys with passion and fanaticism: it is the culture of hate that sickens us day after day. But the culture of hate is not the metaphysical origin of Evil, but little more than an instrument of other interests. Because if hatred is a sentiment that can be democratized, in contrast private interests to date have been the property of an elite. Until Humanity understands that the well-being of the other does me no harm but quite the opposite: if the other does not hate, if the other is not oppressed by me, then I will also benefit from the other’s society. But one will have a heck of a time explaining this to the oppressor or to the oppressed; they will quickly come to an agreement to feed off of that perverse circle that keeps us from evolving together as Humanity.

Humanity will resist, as it has always resisted the most important changes in history. Resistance will not come from millions of innocents, for whom the benefits of historical progress will never arrive. For them is reserved the same old story: pain, torture and anonymous death that could have been avoided, at least in part, if the culture of hate had been replaced by the mutual comprehension that one day will be inevitable: the other is not necessarily an enemy that I must exterminate by poisoning my own brothers; what is to the benefit of the other will be to my benefit also.

This principle was Jesus’s conscience, a conscience that was later corrupted by centuries of religious fanaticism, the most anti-Christian Gospel imaginable. And the same could be said of other religions.

In 1866 Juan Montalvo testified to his own bitterness: “The most civilized peoples, those whose intelligence has taken flight to the heavens and whose practices are guided by morality, do not renounce war: their breasts are ever burning, their zealous heart leaps with the impulse for extermination.” And later: “The peace of Europe is not the peace of Jesus Christ, no: the peace of Europe is the peace of France and England, lack of confidence, mutual fear, threat; the one has armies sufficient to dominate the world, and only for that believes in peace; the other extends itself over the seas, controls every strait, rules the most important fortresses on earth, and only for that believes in peace.”

Exits from the Labyrinth

If knowledge – or ignorance – is demonstrated by speaking, wisdom is the superior state in which a man or a woman learns to listen. As Eduardo Galeano rightly recommended to the powerful of the world, the ruler’s job should be to listen more and speak less. Although only a rhetorical recommendation – in the sense that it is useless to give advice to those who will not listen – this remains an irrefutable principle for any democrat. But the discourses of the mass media and of the states, designed for creating soldiers, are only concerned with disciplining according to their own rules. Their struggle is the consolidation of ideological meaning in a colonized language divorced from the everyday reality of the speaker: their language is terribly creative of a terrible reality, almost always through abuse of the paradox and the oxymoron – as one might view the very notion of “communication media.” It is the autistic symptom of our societies that day after day they sink further into the culture of hate. It is information and it is deformation.

In many previous essays, I have departed from and arrived at two presuppositions that seem contradictory. The first: it is not true that history never repeats itself; it always repeats itself; it is only appearances that are not repeated. The second precept, at least four hundred years old: history progresses. That is to say, humanity learns from past experience and in the process overcomes itself. Both human realities have always battled each other. If the human race rememberd better and were less hypocritical, if it had greater awareness of its importance and were more rebellious against its false impotence, if instead of accepting the artificial fatalism of Clash of Civilizations it were to recognize the urgency of a Dialogue of Cultures, this battle would not sow the fields with corpses and nations with hate. The process of history, from its economic roots, is determined by and cannot be contradictory to the interests of humanity. What remains to be known is only how and when. If we accompany it with the new awareness demanded by posterity, we will not only advance a perhaps inevitable process; above all we will avoid more pain and the spilling of blood and death that has tinged the world hate-red in this greatest crisis of history.

© Jorge Majfud

The University of Georgia, November 2006.

Translated by Bruce Campbell


The Jesus the Emperors Kidnapped

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Image via Wikipedia

El Jesús que secuestraron los emperadores (Spanish)


The Jesus the Emperors Kidnapped


Who will lend me a ladder

to climb up the timbering,

to remove the nails from

Jesus the Nazarene?

(Antonio Machado)


Jorge Majfud



A few days ago the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, referred to Jesus as the greatest socialist in history. I am not interested here in making a defense or an attack on his person. I would only like to make a few observations about a typical reaction caused by his words throughout different parts of the world.

Perhaps saying that Jesus was a socialist is like saying that Tutankhamen was Egyptian or Seneca was Spanish. It remains a semantic imprecision. Nevertheless, those who recently have approached me with a look of horror on their faces as a result of the words of the “bad boy,” did they do so on the basis of some reasoning or simply on the basis of the codes imposed by a dominant discourse?

Personally, I have always been uncomfortable with power accumulated in just one man. But although Mr. Chávez is a powerful man in his country, he is not the one responsible for the current state of the world. For an elite few, the best state possible. For most, the source of physical and, above all, moral violence.

If it is a scandal to imagine Jesus to be socialist, why is it not, then, to associate him and compromise him with capitalist culture and ethics? If it is a scandal to associate Jesus with the eternal rebel, why is it not, in contrast, to associate him with the interests of successive empires – with the exception of the ancient Roman empire? Those who do not argue the sacrality of capitalism are, in large number, fervent followers of Jesus. Better said, of a particular and convenient image of Jesus. In certain cases not only followers of his word, but administrators of his message.

All of us, or almost all of us, are in favor of certain economic development. Nonetheless, why is social justice always confused with economic development? Why is that Christian theology that considers economic success, wealth, to be the divine sign of having been chosen to enter Paradise, even if through the eye of a needle, so widely disseminated?

Conservatives are right: it is a simplification to reduce Jesus to his political dimension. But their reasoning becomes manipulation when it denies categorically any political value in his action, at the same time that his image is used and his values are invoked to justify a determined politics. It is political to deny politics in any church. It is political to presume political neutrality. An observer who passively witnesses the torture or rape of another person is not neutral. Even less neutral is he who does not even want to watch and turns his head to pray. Because if he who remains silent concedes, he who is indifferent legitimates.

The confirmation of a status quo that benefits one social class and keeps others submerged is political. The sermon that favors the power of men and keeps women under their will and convenience is political. The mere mention of Jesus or Mohammed before, during and after justifying a war, a killing, a dictatorship, the extermination of a people or of a lone individual is terribly political.

Lamentably, although politics is not everything, everything is political. Therefore, one of the most hypocritical forms of politics is to assert that some social action exists in this world that might be apolitical. We might attribute to animals this marvelous innocence, if we did not know that even communities of monkies and of other mammals are governed not only by a clear negotiation of powers but, even, by a history that establishes ranks and privileges. Which ought to be sufficient to diminish somewhat the pride of those oppressors who consider themselves different from orangutangs because of the sophisticated technology of their power.

Many months ago we wrote about the political factor in the death of Jesus. That his death was contaminated by politics does not take away from his religious value but quite the contrary. If the son of God descended to the imperfect world of men and immersed himself in a concrete society, an oppressed society, acquiring all of the human limitations, why would he have to do so ignoring one of the principle factors of that society which was, precisely, a political factor of resistance?

Why was Jesus born in a poor home and one of scarce religious orientation? Why was he not born in the home of a rich and educated pharisee? Why did he live almost his entire life in a small, peripheral town, as was Nazareth, and not in the capital of the Roman Empire or in the religious capital, Jerusalem? Why did he go to Jerusalem, the center of political power at the time, to bother, to challenge power in the name of the most universal human salvation and dignity? As a xenophobe from today would say: if he didn’t like the order of things in the center of the world, he shouldn’t have gone there to cause trouble.

We must remember that it was not the Jews who killed Jesus but the Romans. Those Romans who have nothing to do with the present day inhabitants of Italy, other than the name. Someone might argue that the Jews condemned him for religious reasons. I am not saying that religious reasons did not exist, but that these do not exlude other, political, reasons: the Jewish upper class, like almost all the upper classes of peoples dominated by foreign empires, found itself in a relationship of privilege that led it to a complacent diplomacy with the Roman Empire. This is what happened also in America, in the times of the Conquest. The Romans, in contrast, had no religious reason for taking care of the problem of that rebel from Nazareth. Their reasons were eminently political: Jesus represented a grave threat to the peaceful order established by the empire.

Now, if we are going to discuss Jesus’ political options, we might refer to the texts canonized after the first Council of Nicea, nearly three hundred years after his death. The theological and political result of this founding Council may be questionable. That is to say, if the life of Jesus developed in the conflict against the political power of his time, if the writers of the Gospels, somewhat later, suffered similar persecutions, we cannot say the same about those religious men who gathered in the year 325 by order of an emperor, Constantine, who sought to stabilize and unify his empire, without leaving aside for this purpose other means, like the assassination of his political adversaries.

Let us suppose that all of this is not important. Besides there are very debatable points. Let us take the facts of the religious documents that remain to us from that historical moment. What do we see there?

The son of God being born in an animal stable. The son of God working in the modest carpintery trade of his father. The son of God surrounded by poor people, by women of ill repute, by sick people, by marginalized beings of every type. The son of God expelling the merchants from the temple. The son of God asserting that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to ascend to the kingdom of heaven (probably the Greek word kamel did not mean camel but an enormous rope that was used in the ports to tie up the boats, but the translation error has not altered the idea of the metaphor). The son of God questioning, denying the alleged nationalism of God. The son of God surpassing the old and cruel laws, like the penalty of death by stoning of an adulterous woman. The son of God separating the things of Ceasar from the things of the Father. The son of God valuing the coin of a widow above the traditional donations of the rich and famous. The son of God condemning religious pride, the economic and moral ostentation of men. The son of God entering into Jerusalem on a humble donkey. The son of God confronting religious and political power, the pharisees of the Law and the imperial hells of the moment. The son of God defamed and humiliated, dying under military torture, surrounded by a few followers, mostly women. The son of God making an unquestionable option for the poor, for the weak and the marginalized by power, for the universalization of the human condition, on earth as much as in heaven.

A difficult profile for a capitalist who dedicates six days of the week to the accumulation of money and half a day to clean his conscience in church; who exercises a strange compassion (so different from solidarity) that consists in helping the world by imposing his reasons like it or not.

Even though Jesus may be today the principal instrument of conservatives who grasp at power, it is still difficult to sustain that he was not a revolutionary. To be precise he did not die for having been complacent with the political power of the moment. Power does not kill or torture its bootlickers; it rewards them. For the others remains the greater prize: dignity. And I believe that few if any figures in history show more dignity and commitment with all of humanity than Jesus of Nazareth, who one day will have to be brought down from the cross.


Translated by Bruce Campbell


The Fragments of the Latin American Union

This political cartoon (attributed to Benjamin...

Image via Wikipedia

Los fragmentos de la desunión latinoamericana (Spanish)

The Past Hurts But Does Not Condemn

The Fragments of the Latin American Union

Jorge Majfud

Lincoln University


In Latin America, in the absence of a social revolution at the moment of national independence there were plenty of rebellions and political revolts. Less frequently these were popular rebellions and almost never were they ideological revolutions that shook the traditional structures, as was the case with the North American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Cuban Revolution. Instead, internal struggles abounded, before and after the birth of the new Republics.

A half century later, in 1866, the Ecuadorian Juan Montalvo would make a dramatic diagnosis: “freedom and fatherland in Latin America are the sheep’s clothing with which the wolf disguises himself.” When the republics were not at war they enjoyed the peace of the oppressors. Even though slavery had been abolished in the new republics, it existed de facto and was almost as brutal as in the giant to the north. Class violence was also racial violence: the indigenous continued to be marginalized and exploited. “This has been the peace of the jail cell,” conclued Montalvo. The indian, deformed by this physical and moral violence, would receive the most brutal physical punishments but “when they give him the whip, trembling on the ground, he gets up thanking his tormenter: May God reward you, sir.” Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican Eligenio M. Hostos in 1870 would already lament that “there is still no South American Confederation.” On the contrary, he only saw disunion and new empires oppressing and threatening: “An empire [Germany] can still move deliberately against Mexico! Another empire [Great Britain/Brazil] can still wreck Paraguay with impunity!”

But the monolithic admiration for central Europe, like that of Sarmiento, also begins to fall apart at the end of the 19th century: “Europe is no happier, and has nothing to throw in our face with regard to calamities and misfortunes” (Montalvo). “The most civilized nations—Montalvo continues—, those whose intelligence has reached the sky itself and whose practices walk in step with morality, do not renounce war: their breasts are always burning, their jealous hearts leap with the drive for extermination.” The Paraguay massacre results from muscular reasoning within the continent, and another American empire of the period is no exception to this way of seeing: “Brazil trades in human flesh, buying and selling slaves, in order to bow to its adversary and provide its share of the rationale.” The old accusation of imperial Spain is now launched against the other colonialist forces of the period. France and England – and by extension Germany and Russia – are seen as hypocrites in their discourse: “the one has armies for subjugating the world, and only in this way believes in peace; the other extends itself over the seas, takes control of the straits, dominates the most important fortresses on earth, and only in this way believes in peace.” In 1883, he also points out the ethical contradictions of the United States, “where the customs counteract the laws; where the latter call the blacks to the Senate, and the former drive them out of the restaurants.” (Montalvo himself avoids passing through the United States on his trip to Europe out of “fear of being treated like a Brazilian, and that resentment might instill hatred in my breast,” since “in the most democratic country in the world it is necessary to be thoroughly blonde in order to be a legitimate person.”)

Nonetheless, even though practice always tends to contradict ethical principles—it is not by accident that the most basic moral laws are always prohibitions—the unstoppable wave of humanist utopia continued to be imposed step by step, like the principal of union in equality, or the “fusion of the races in one civilization.” The same Iberoamerican history is understood in this universal process “to unite all the races in labor, in liberty, in equality and in justice.” When the union is achieved, “then the continent will be called Colombia” (Hostos). For José Martí as well, history was directed inevitably toward union. In “La América” (1883) he foresaw a “new accommodation of the national forces of the world, always in movement, and now accelerated, the necessary and majestic grouping of all the members of the American national family.” From the utopia of the union of nations, project of European humanism, it comes to be a Latin American commonplace: the fusion of the races in a kind of perfect mestizaje. The empires of Europe and the United States rejected for such a project, the New World would be “the oven where all the races must be melted, where they are being melted” (Hostos). In 1891, an optimistic Martí writes in New York that in Cuba “there is no race hatred because there are no races” even though this more of an aspiration than a reality. During the period advertisements were still published in the daily newspapers selling slaves alongside horses and other domesticated animals.

In any case, this relationship between oppressors and oppressed can not be reduced to Europeans and Amerindians. The indigenous people of the Andes, for example, also had spent their days scratching at the earth in search of gold to pay tribute to those sent by the Inca and numerous Mesoamerican tribes had to suffer the oppression of an empire like the Aztec. During most of the life of the Iberoamerican republics, the abuse of class, race and sex was part of the organization of society. International logic is reproduced in the domestic dynamic. To put it in the words of the Bolivian Alcides Arguedas in 1909, “when a boss has two or more pongos [unsalaried worker], he keeps one and rents out the others, as if it were simply a matter of a horse or a dog, with the small difference that the dog and the horse are lodged in a wood hut or in a stable and both are fed; the pongo is left to sleep in the doorway and to feed on scraps.” Meanwhile the soldiers would take the indians by the hair and beating them with their sabres carry them off to clean the barracks or would steal their sheep in order to maintain an army troop as it passed through. In the face of these realities, utopian humanists seemed like frauds. Frantz Tamayo, in 1910 declares, “imagine for a moment the Roman empire or the British empire having national altruism as it foundation and as its ideal. […] Altuism! Truth! Justice! Who practices these with Bolivia? Speak of altruism in England, the country of wise conquest, and in the United States, the country of the voracious monopolies!” According to Angel Rama (1982), modernization was also exercised principally “through a rigid hierarchical system.” That is to say, it was a process similar to that of the Conquest and the Independence. In order to legitimate the system, “an aristocratic pattern was applied which has been the most vigorous shaper of Latin American cultures throughout their history.”

Was our history really any different from these calamities during the military dictatorships of the end of the 20th century? Now, does this mean that we are condemned by a past that repeats itself periodically as if it were the a novelty each time?


Let us respond with a different problem. The popular psychoanalytic tradition of the 20th century made us believe that the individual is always, in some way and in some degree, hostage to a past. Less rooted in popular consciousness, the French existentialists reacted by proposing that in reality we are condemned to be free. That is, in each moment we have to choose, there is no other way. In my opinion, both dimensions are possible in a human being: on the one hand we are conditioned by a past but not determined by it. But if we pay paranoid tribute to that past believing that all of our present and our future is owed to those traumas, we are reproducing a cultural illness: “I am unhappy because my parents are to blame.” Or, “I can’t be happy because my husband oppressed me.” But where is the sense of freedom and of responsibility? Why is it not better to say that “I have not been happy or I have these problems because, above all, I myself have not taken responsibility for my problems”? Thus arises the idea of the passive victim and instead of fighting in a principled way against evils like machismo one turns to the crutch in order to justify why this woman or that other one has been unhappy. “Am I sick? The fault is with the machismo of this society.” Etc.

Perhaps it goes without saying that being human is neither only biology nor only psychology: we are constructed by a history, the history of humanity that creates us as subjects. The individual—the nation—can recognize the influence of context and of their history and at the same time their own freedom as potential which, no matter how minimal and conditioned it might be, is capable of radically changing the course of a life. Which is to say, an individual, a nation that would reject outright any representation of itself as a victim, as a potted plant or as a flag that waves in the wind.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

By Their Methods You Shall Know Them


Honduras II: Por sus métodos los conocerás

Honduras Against History

By Their Methods You Shall Know Them

Jorge Majfud

The Bible relates the story of how the teachers of the law brought before Jesus an adulterous woman. They intended to stone her to death, as they were required to do by the law of God, which at the time was said to be the law of men as well. The teachers and Pharisees wanted to test Jesus, from which one can induce that Jesus was already well known for his lack of orthodoxy with respect to the most ancient laws. Jesus suggested that whoever was free of sin should cast the first stone. Thus nobody was able to execute the strict law.

In this way, and in many others, the Bible itself has continued transforming itself, despite being a collection of books inspired by God. Religions have always been considered to be great conservative forces which, faced with reformers, became great reactionary forces. The paradox is rooted in the fact that all religion, all sects, have been founded by some subersive, by some rebel or revolutionary. It is not for nothing that history teems with those martyred, persecuted, tortured and assassinated by the political powers of the moment.

The men who were persecuting the adulteress retreated, recognizing in the turn of events their own sins. But over the course of history the result has been different. The men who oppress, kill and assassinate the alleged sinners always do so with the justification of some law, some right and in the name of some morality. This, more universal, rule was the one applied in Jesus’s own execution. In his time he was not the only rebel who fought against the Roman Empire. Not coincidentally, he was crucified together with two other prisoners. By association, this was intended to signify that he was just another prisoner being executed. Not even a religious dissident. Not even a political dissident. Invoking other laws, they eliminated the suberversive who had questioned the Pax Romana and the collaborationism of the aristocracy and of the religious hierarchies of his own people. Everything was carried out according to the laws. But history recognizes them today by their methods.

George Bush’s government gave us plenty of examples, and on a large scale. All of the wars and violations of national and international law were committed in defense of the law and sovereign right. By its sectarian interests, history will judge it. By its methods, its interests shall be known.

In Latin America, the role of the Catholic Church has almost always been the role of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who condemned Jesus in defense of the dominant classes. There has never been a military dictatorship of oligarchical origin that didn’t receive the blessing of bishops and influential priests, thereby legitimizing the censorship, the opression of the mass murder of the supposed sinners.

Now, in the 21st century, the method and the discourses are repeated in Honduras like a crack of the whip from the past.

By their methods we know them. The patriotic discourse, the complacency of an upper class trained in the domination of the poor who have no formal education. A class that owns the methods of popular education, which is what the main communication media are. Censorship; the use of the army to carry out their plans; repression of the popular demonstrations; the expulsion of journalists; the expulsion by force of a government elected by democratic vote, its later demand before Interpol, its threat to jail dissidents if they return and its later denial by force of their return.

In order to better see this reactionary phenomenon let’s divide human history into four grand periods:

1)     The collective power of the tribe concentrated in one strong member of a family, generally a man.

2)     A period of agricultural expansion unified by a totem (something akin to a conquering surname) and later a pharoah or emperor. During this time wars emerge and primitive armies are consolidated, not so much for defense as for the conquest of new productive territories and for state administration of its own people’s surplus production and the oppression of its people’s slaves. This stage continues with variations up until the absolutist kings of Europe, passing through the feudal era. In all of these regimes, religion is a central element of cohesion as well as coercion.

3)     In the modern era we have a renaissance and a radicalization of the Greek experiment in representative democracy. But in the modern period humanist thought includes the idea of universality, of the implicit equality of every human being, the idea of history as a process of reaching toward perfection instead of inevitable corruption, and the concept of morality as a human product relative to a determined historical time. And perhaps the most important idea, from the Arab philosopher Averroes: political power not as the pure will of God but as the result of social interests, class interests, etc. Liberalism and Marxism are two radicalizations (opposed in their means) of this same current of thought, which also includes Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This period of representative democracy was the most practical form for bringing together the voices of millions of men and women in one house, the Congress or Parlament. If Humanism pre-exists the techniques for popularizing culture, it is also empowered by them. The printing press, the paperback book, the low-price newspapers of the 19th century, the necessary literacy training of future workers were decisive steps toward democratization. Nonetheless, at the same time the reactionary forces, the dominant forces of the previous period, rapidly conquered these media. Thus, if it was no longer possible to further delay the arrival of representative democracy, it was possible to dominate its instruments. The medieval sermons in the churches, functional in great measure for the princes and dukes, were reformulated in the media of information and in the media of the new popular culture, like rade, film and television.

4)     Despite this, the democratic wave continued on, frequently bathed in blood by successive reactionary coups. In the 21st century the renaissance humanist wave continues. And with it continue the instruments to make it possible. Like the Internet, for example. But so too the contrary forces, the reactions of the powers constituted by the previous stages. And in the process of struggle they learn to use and dominate the new instruments. While representative democracy has not yet matured, already one see emerging the ideas and instruments necessary for passing on to a stage of direct democracy, participatory and radical.

In some countries, as today in Honduras, the reaction is not against this latest stage but the previous one. A kind of late reaction. Even though in appearance it suggests a smaller scale, it has Latin American and universal significance. First because it represents a calling to attention of the recent democratic complacency of the continent; and second because it stimulates the modus operandi of those reactionaries who have always sailed against the currents of history.

Earlier we noted the proof of why the deposed president of Honduras had not violated the law or the constitution. Now we can see that his proposal of a non-binding popular referendum was a method of transition from a representative democracy toward a direct democracy. Those who interrupted this process reversed it toward the prior stage.

The fourth stage was intolerable for a Banana republic mentality that can be recognized by its methods.

Translated by Bruce Campbell