21st Century Ideas and Institution -- 論廿一紀的思想與制度
前言: 二十一世紀已經開始了，可是，人類的前途如何呢? 我們有很多尖端的科技，但人類如何才能借助他們的發明去造福人類本身。且看看以下十年前寫的一篇短文章。
21st Century Ideas and Institution
Undoubtedly, we are benefiting from the achievements of Western reason in the form of science and natural human rights. In our days, we are having basic freedom to vote, to choose religion, to live in a particular way. Also, we are appreciating in using the computers, the planes, and the electronic appliances. Actually, these are the products of the Western civilization. From Renaissance up to present, ideas and institutions of the freedom to think, to reason emerges as the exemplary civilization to the whole world. However, it is undeniable to assert that on one hand, we are now enjoying the prosperity and abundance from the improvement in material conditions and advanced technology, and at least, in most of the places of the world, we are having certain human freedoms that purse us the happiness that are came from the contribution of the freedom of thinking, but on the other hand, the domestic problems, social problems and political problems are still making our life more and more difficult. Wars and nations’ slaughter, racial discrimination, political unstable, social inequality, pollutions, crimes and conflicts between religions and different races are breaking the harmony and peace of the world, as well as the society. Therefore, we are benefiting from the achievements of Western reason in the forms of freedom and scientific technology, but at the same time, we are suffering from them.
In order to find out the effective solution to the problems of the mankind, it is very important to examine how the institutions and ideas that provide for freedom and advancement in material conditions came about and understand the nature and the limit of this ‘freedom’.
We can retrace to the Renaissance period, also called the Age of reason, in the Western history in which the formation of the idea of freedom reasoning first evoked and continued to shape the modern concepts of freedom in nowadays.
In the period of Renaissance, human became a valuable object again. Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, claimed a new way of thinking. This was the first step to let the mankind using his freedom of reasoning to recognize the world. He insisted on the inductive method and knowledge was gained from observation of what could be seen. Men then could learn from what they experienced, not only what they were told, especially by the Church as in the Middle Age.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650), on the other hand, advanced the principle of deductive method in his Discourse on Method. The trade mark, ‘I think, therefore I exist’, became the beginning of the unlimited freedom of reasoning in a rational world of mankind.
The unlimited thinking privilege not only contributed to the academic disciplines and institutions, but also brought a great impact on the scientific and political field.
The freedom of thinking made the chance for Hobbes to claim that absolute monarchy was essential to the people because human nature was not good. But on the other hand, John Locke preached a constitutional government, a government that was based on the consent of the governed. His two treatises of Government provided the basis for American revolutionary thinking a century later. He also claimed that human understanding was the result of the environment on the mind. Men and women were not limited by circumstances of their births, as proclaimed by Plato and Descartes. The mind could know anything and be taught to go in any direction by the environment, education, and experience. The day for the people to claim for their political, social and individual freedom was near.
In the scientific field, freedom of reasoning assisted Newton to discovery the laws of the physical world and this had shown the infinite capacity of the human mind, given it the key to the mastery of nature, and opened the possibility of solving social problems and creating a much better world.
Not more than a century’s time, from these basic assumptions Rousseau had come to the conclusion that all existing institutions under absolute monarchy of the ancient regime were against the laws of nature, hence should be removed. Montesquieu’s idea of separation of powers in government, and Thomas Jefferson’s American Declaration of Independence which announced the natural rights of people to choose their own government to maintain their life, the liberty and the happiness that brought to the western world were two important revolutions, the French revolution and the American Independent revolution. The first constitutional government was then born. The power of freedom of thinking, again, showed its influential power.
The effect of the Enlightenment intellectuals was obvious. In the 19th century, and idea of Romanticism arouse. Romanticism sought to preserve the freedom and dignity of the individual that the Reformation and the Enlightenment had started, the former on religious and the latter o scientific grounds. During the 2nd half of the 19th century, faith in the power of natural science spread to many people. Science was at the bottom of the entire movement of industrialization. Science was touching each individual life. There was the railroad, followed by the steamship, the telegraph, and the telephone. In medicine there was anaesthesia, and X-ray. Chemistry was giving such benefits as fertilizer, enabling and ensuring harvests. All these underlying changes were based on those of Newton’s ideas. The law of gravitation was not changed. The ultimate nature of the universe was thought to be regular orderly, predictable and harmonious. It was timeless, in the sense that unlike human development, the universe did not changed.
However, in the late 19th century, the unlimited reasoning rights, which formerly were the benefits, but brought a new hazard to the humankind. Darwin’s theory of evolution, although has no direct attack on Church, it denied the creation of God probably. Social Darwinism came into being as social scientists began to translate his idea of the survival to the fittest into the area of human behavior. This promoted the new imperialism in the worldwide, and the hierarchic conflict in the politics. Another example of abuse of freedom in thinking could be found in the ideas of Herder and Nietzche. The former proclaimed the racial superiority of the German nations and broke down the sense of human similarity which had been the characteristic of the Age of Enlightenment, as revealed in French and American doctrines of the ‘rights of man’, and again in the codes of Napoleon while the latter announced that the God had died and thus, demolished the modern order of politics and moral, abolished the issue of Jefferson and his colleagues that the political rights were the gift of God. All political, religious, moral restraints were removed in order to achieve the so-called ‘freedom’. This was the crisis of the whole human civilization.
Nowadays, the effect of the unlimited freedom of the ideas and thinking are devastating. Confronting the mankind are the ceaselessly ethnic conflict and disunity. Movements, reformations and revolutions occur elsewhere. The consequences of the victory of the freedom of reason are enormously horrible. If all the religious and traditional moral values are removed, the freedom becomes unlimited and uncontrollable. Before the human’s self destruction occurs, it is the time for us to revalue the virtue of the traditional values. To the Chinese people, the Confucian ideas of love, and the five relationships lead us to a more harmonious and peaceful society. To the Western people, the charitable Christianity should be revalued. These are the real, valuable roots of the civilization of mankind. Only through these positive re-examinations, we can recognize the true nature of freedom, that is, it is relative, not absolute. It should be restrained. Then, human can fully benefit from the achievements of freedom in form of science and liberty, forever.
David Leung (theorydavid)