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J. Babb

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J. Babb

This chapter constitutes a systematic attempt at putting forward a methodology for the comparative study of the world history of political thought. It identifies existing problems and proposes innovative solutions. The notion of pursuing the “differences in similarities” deals with the tendency to fail to distinguish superficial similarities from important points of comparison. The concept of “unresolved dialectic” enables two distinct ideas to be compared without resorting to one side or the other in the false dichotomy between universalism and relativism. The “principle of charity” is transformed from a rhetorical device to a methodological tool. Linguistic issues are confronted in a much more concrete way than in previous studies. It also makes important contributions regarding case selection and other issues of validity in interpretation.

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J. Babb

This chapter focuses on the three thinkers who can be considered foundational for the political thought of the three major early civilizations of India, East Asian and the Ancient Greece and Rome, respectively, the Buddha, Confucius and Socrates. Each of these individuals set forth political philosophies that transcended caste, status and class so made political ethics potentially accessible to all. Yet, the attitudes of the three toward women and those outside the elite are ambiguous.

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J. Babb

Main successors to and opponents of the three foundational thinkers are the subject of this chapter. It covers the major schools of ancient thought including Buddhist, Literati (“Confucianist), Taoist, Legalist, Cynic, and Stoic, and the major figures of early political thought, such as Mencius, Zhuangzi, Aristotle and Plato. These schools and individuals are only be addressed in broad outline because the focus is on putting them in comparative context. It also serves as an introduction to the major ideas and approaches that are developed in subsequent chapters.

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J. Babb

There are three major empires that appear at a very similar time in world history: Mauryan dynasty, Han dynasty and Roman Empire. A focus on both strict law and amoral approaches to rule are characteristic of thinkers of the period, such as Kautilya and Han Fei Tzu. However, the mainstream political philosophies develop from a synthesis of existing forms of more ethically oriented political thought that is stretched to the limit in far-flung empires as shown by the ideas and influence of Ashoka, Dong Zhongshu and Cicero The weaknesses of these philosophies demonstrate the need for more sophisticated metaphysics and deeper belief systems.

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J. Babb

What would later be called Hinduism, Buddhism, neo-Taoism, neo-Platonism, and Christianity emerge at this time. These are now seen as “religions” but such a label is anachronistic because they were first and foremost life and political philosophies that developed in response to the failure of the major empires. Key sections of the Mahabharata set out what was to become Hindu political theory and Buddhist thinkers such as Vasubandhu created the basis for later Buddhist political thought. Similarly, Neo-Taoism in East Asia and Neo-Platonism in the Roman empire developed sophisticated metaphysical approaches that eventually re-emerged in neo-Confucianism and later Christian and Islamic thought. In East Asia, Buddhism was initially in conflict with the state, as seen in the work of Hui-Yüan but by the time of the writing of the Humane King S_tra, accommodation between traditional Literati political thought and Buddhist philosophy was being reached. The rise of metaphysics was the response to the failure of the early forms of political thought in the major empires.

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J. Babb

The impact of what later became called “religion” demonstrate the extent of their political impact during this period. Jainism in India is a minority belief system but reflects the mainstream political ideas of Indian civilization of the time as is clear in the work of Somadeva and Hemachandra. Buddhism becomes the hegemonic system of political thought throughout East Asian through politically influential texts such as the Golden Light and Flower Garland S_tras. Early Islam extends the political thought of the classical world of Rome through the genius of Alfarabi at the time of the death of political thought in “dark age” Europe. What we call “religion” become the main focus of political thought.

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J. Babb

The systems of political thought developed in this period have had the longest influence on the world and still linger today. Zhu Xi’s neo-Confucianism became such a powerful force that it completely transformed political thought in East Asia. Similarly, medieval Islamic not only set the and Christian political thought. For example, this is the period in which Al-Ghazali becomes a dominant intellectual force in Islamic thought, while his rival Islamic thinker, Ibn Rushd, has more impact on the West than in the Muslim world. Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas, the most important Western thinker since Aristotle, formed his ideas in reaction to Ibn Rushd, in ways that influenced the West for many centuries.

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J. Babb

Renaissance or “rebirth” is an apt description of the political thought around the world at this time and not just in Western Europe. The new form of Literati thought, termed “neo-Confucianism” became the basis for political reform throughout in East Asia, most notably Jeong Dojeon in Joseon Korea but also Kitabatake Chikafusa in Japan, though the latter with much less success. It is also when one of the most important Islamic thinkers, Ibn Khaldun, wrote his work on the dynamics of the rise and fall of civilization. Established Muslim states were challenged by newcomers but Islam itself was expanding in north Africa and throughout south Asia and considered a progressive force for good. Of course, the term “renaissance” is normally used for the movement in the West that began with humanism and ended with the amoral realpolitik of Machiavelli, though one should also point out that humanist influence was important from the time of Christine de Pizan, the first woman political thinker for whom we have an authored text, to the work of Erasmus, who extended humanism beyond Italy to the rest of Europe.

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J. Babb

The centerpiece of this chapter is the Reformation in Western Europe, particularly the thought of Luther and Calvin, and intriguing similarities with Buddhist uprisings in Japan in a similar period. In Europe, the centralizing monarchies adopted contrasting compromises with the Catholic Church and the protestant sects, but, in Japan, the centralization of power led to the complete subordination of the Buddhist sects and the imposition of neo-Confucianism as an alternative system of thought more conducive to political order, as had been demonstrated throughout East Asia. It is in this context, that we can compare the work of Hobbes with that of Fujiwara Seika. Yet, in East Asia of the time, there was a new form of neo-Confucianism based on the thought of Wang Yang Ming. Wang Yang Ming thought has been referred to as the “Mad Chan” Confucianism because of the strong Chan (Zen) Buddhist influence on many of Wang’s followers in much of East Asia. In all these cases, the chiliastic influence in political thought is unmistakable as is the role of political authorities in either co-opting or suppressing these movements.