Chapter 11: The Fall of the Mediterranean in the 17th Century
11.1 The new world around Italy – rise of the Atlantic and Pacific trade and the new isolation of the Peninsula
At the turn of the 17th century, Spanish-Portuguese-German power had been sapped by endless wars on many fronts. The main one, as we saw, was against the Turks who were only partially stopped at Lepanto, but major setbacks were registered on many other fronts. The rich and active Low Countries were seeking independence and started their own trade routes in a growing alliance with the English, who had trounced an attempted invasion by a formidable Spanish fleet. English-Dutch trade and piracy was increasingly disrupting Spanish commerce, while the English and French were claiming the colder and less rich northern parts of America for themselves. The collapse of the Catholic Habsburg rule was basically prevented by the effective organization of the sprawling empire and the seemingly endless exploitation of goods coming from America. To intensify agricultural production, the Spanish and Portuguese first enslaved the local American population, who proved too weak for the strenuous labor conditions. In the 16th century the colonizers started to introduce African slaves to America, who proved to be better than the American natives. In this way Africa too was brought into the process of globalization led by the European powers. Many African kingdoms actively collaborated with the Europeans in the new slave trade, and the black slaves proved to be an invaluable source of revenues for the increasingly insatiable appetites of the Europeans. Needless to say, the Turks and the Italians were left out of these new developments , something that in time also contributed to weakening their power. At the time slavery per se was also extremely common in Europe. In the Mediterranean, enslaved oarsmen (Christians for the Muslims, and Muslims for the Christians) were the primary source of power for every fleet in the sea. The enslaved Africans were different. Unlike galley oarsmen who were expected to die after a few years of pain, or being freed, in case the ship was taken over, African slaves were not expected to die too soon, and also had no real hope to regain their freedom. At first the trade of enslaved Africans was primarily directed to South American colonies of the Portuguese and Spanish empires. It started on a significant scale in about 1502 and lasted until 1580, when Portugal was temporarily united with Spain under Philip II. While the Portuguese were directly involved in trading enslaved peoples, the Spanish Empire relied on awarding merchants, mostly from other countries, the license to bring enslaved peoples to their colonies. During this time the Portuguese had a near-monopoly, although some Dutch, English, and French traders also participated in the slave trade. After the union, Portugal came under Spanish legislation that prohibited it from directly engaging in the slave trade as a carrier, out of pressure from the Catholic Church, which tried to fight or at least limit slavery. The new slave routes became a target for the traditional enemies of Spain, which lost a large share of the trade to the Dutch, English, and French. This brought the emergence of what is known as the Second Atlantic System. Mostly English, Portuguese, French, and Dutch conducted this trade of enslaved Africans. The main destinations were the Caribbean colonies and Brazil. Slightly more than 3% of the enslaved people exported from Africa were traded between 1450 and 1600, and 16% in the 17th century. In 1565 Spanish navigators discovered a return route across the Pacific, from the Philippines to New Spain, which led to the opening of the first regular transpacific trade route in history: the Manila-Acapulco-Galleon route, which lasted two and half centuries, until 1815. This Pacific line was connected overland through Mexico with an Atlantic line, the Spanish West Indies Fleet, which in turn linked the Americas with Spain, making the combined route the longest trade route in history until the 19th century and the first example of globalization. Following also the disaster of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which left continental Europe devastated and Spanish and German forces depleted, the Netherlands (formerly part of the Habsburg Empire) and England searched for alternative routes. In an early attempt, the Netherlands tried to find a northern maritime route to Asia in 1594 but was unsuccessful. Navigator Willem Barents left Amsterdam to search for the Northeast Passage, north of Siberia and on to eastern Asia. He failed and a century after, at the end of the 17th century, the Russians reestablished a land trade route between Europe and China under the name the Great Siberian Road. China was the ultimate target of this quest, for it was the mythical and rich Cathay, described by Marco Polo. While the Portuguese (and, subsequently, other Europeans) were entering China from its southern coast by the sea route, the question arose as to whether it was the same country as Cathay, which Polo had reached by the overland route. By around 1600, the Jesuits stationed in China, led by Matteo Ricci, were pretty sure that it was, but others were not convinced. To investigate the situation on the ground, in 1603–1605 Bento de Góis, a Portuguese former soldier and explorer who had joined the Jesuits as a lay brother in Goa, India, traveled from India via Afghanistan on one of the routes of the traditional Silk Road to the border of Ming China in Suzhou, Gansu. The arrival of the Jesuits in China in the 17th century opened a new phase of trade with the east. Sophisticated culture for first time started to flow to Europe along with goods. Civilizations from America and Africa were being treated with contempt, but India and China were sources of admiration. Also following the weakening of the Spanish and Portuguese, the Dutch and the English started to set foot in India. The Dutch East India Company established trading posts on different parts along the Indian coast. For some while, they controlled the southwestern Malabar coast and took Ceylon from the Portuguese. At the end of the 16th century, England and the United Netherlands were challenging Portugal’s monopoly on trade with Asia, forming private joint-stock companies to finance the voyages: the English (later British) East India Company and the Dutch East India Company, were chartered in 1600 and 1602, respectively. These companies were intended to carry on the lucrative spice trade, and they focused their efforts on the areas of production—the Indonesian archipelago and especially the “Spice Islands”—and on India as an important market for the trade. The close proximity of London and Amsterdam across the North Sea, and the intense rivalry between England and the Netherlands, inevitably led to conflict between the two companies, with the Dutch gaining the upper hand in the Moluccas (previously a Portuguese stronghold) after the withdrawal of the English in 1622. The Netherlands’ more advanced financial system and the three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th century left the Dutch as the dominant naval and trading power in Asia. Hostilities ceased after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Dutch prince William of Orange ascended the English throne, bringing peace between the Netherlands and England and ending the first capitalist revolution in Europe with the end of Cromwell’s Puritan rule over England. A deal between the two nations left the more valuable spice trade of the Indonesian archipelago to the Netherlands and the textiles industry of India to England. Textiles soon overtook spices in terms of profitability, so that by 1720, in terms of sales, the English company had outdone the Dutch. Italy had no role in this new trade, and as we saw, the once-mighty Spanish was being replaced by the Dutch-English. Yet at the beginning of the 17th century, Italy was still home to cultural and political superpowers. William Shakespeare, who died in 1616, set many of his plays in Venice (for instance: Romeo and Juliet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice) a tribute to the importance of the maritime republic. Moreover in 1610 an Italian, Matteo Ricci, died in Beijing. He started what was to result in a very important cultural mission in China. Although he failed to convert the emperor, the translation of Chinese work of the Jesuits had an immense and enlivening impact on European culture of the time and it contributed to buttressing a new role for the Catholic Church as a harbinger of new ideas. This innovative force also helped the cultural position of the church, challenged by the growing force of Protestant states, like England and Holland, spreading the Protestant faith.
11.2 The church reaction, the Counter-Reformation, and the Jesuits in the world
In the middle of the 16th century, the Catholic Church was on the defensive, under political and theological attack by the many burgeoning Christian denominations, and Rome was losing its centrality in Europe. Lutheran, Calvinists, and all kinds of radical Puritans were far more in line with the new social spirit of the time, when new trading and craftsmen classes were springing up all over Europe and pushing out the old aristocracy. The papacy of this time, unlike at the time of Saint Francis, had lost track of the social innovations. Politically, Popes had lost their ability to influence the Italian city-states, and the fragmented European princes had an unstable balance of power that would make the role of the pontiff ever more reliant on the Habsburg patronage. This was very different from the patronage of the old Roman, Byzantine, or German emperors, especially after Charles had split his empire in two, Spain and Germany. Yet the vitality and resilience of the Catholic Church was not to be underestimated, and with the Council of Trent (1545–1563), it retook the religious initiative against the Protestants and this also turned the table on the Habsburgs, who ended up needing the pope more than the pope needed them. In Trent a commission of cardinals was tasked with institutional reform, addressing contentious issues such as corrupt bishops and priests, indulgences, and other financial abuses. On the fundamental religious tenets, the council upheld the basic structure of the Medieval church (cardinals and bishops, who were being rejected by the Protestants), its sacramental system (the Protestants were against confession), its religious orders (the groups of friars and nuns; the Protestants had only pastors), and church doctrine. It rejected all compromise with the Protestants, restating the basic precepts of the Catholic faith. The council upheld salvation appropriated by grace through faith and works of that faith (not just by faith, as the Protestants insisted) because “faith without works is dead.” Other practices that drew the ire of Protestant reformers— such as pilgrimages, the veneration of saints and relics, the use of venerable images and statuary, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary—were strongly reaffirmed as spiritually commendable practices. Yet the council took one important thing from the Protestant experience: a catechism, a basic codification of church principles that were to help the interpretation and the spread of the faith. That catechism still serves as the authoritative church teaching. Priests had to be better educated, and so were Catholic laymen. Notebooks and handbooks became more common, describing how to be good priests and confessors. The organization of religious institutions was tightened, discipline was improved, and the role of parishes was emphasized. The appointment of bishops for political reasons was far less tolerated. The council also gave bishops greater power to supervise all aspects of religious life . New religious organizations were a fundamental part of the reforms. Orders such as the Capuchins, Ursulines, Theatines, Discalced Carmelites, Barnabites, and especially Jesuits worked in rural parishes and set examples of Catholic renewal. The Jesuits were the most effective of the new Catholic orders. They organized along military lines, and the worldliness of the Renaissance church had no part in their new establishment. The Jesuits became preachers, confessors to monarchs and princes, and humanist educators. Their efforts are largely credited with stemming Protestantism in Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, southern Germany, France, and the Spanish Netherlands. An important development from Trent was to buttress the role of the pope. Before Trent, there was a trend to believe that the general councils of the church collectively were God’s representative on Earth rather than the pope. This idea had been established in the old councils, where the Byzantine emperor and hierarchy played a role of guidance of the church. Taking the pope as an absolute ruler, the Jesuits contributed to the Counter-Reformation of the church along a line harmonized with the Vatican. Most importantly, as the Jesuits stemmed the reformist wave they thus helped to uphold the Habsburg rule in many regions. The Habsburgs had bound their fortunes to those of the church, and without Catholic laymen they could be lost. Then indirectly the Jesuits helped the rule of the Catholic kings as much, and possibly more, as kings helped the “resistance” of the church. This gave the church enormous influence and power vis-à-vis the kings. It was so much so that the church was able to push some anti-slavery regulations, as we saw, in Spain, and the Jesuits played a significant role in helping the fate of the native populations in Latin America. The Virgin Mary played an increasingly central role in Catholic devotions, adding an aspect of maternal piety, which became even more important when the Protestants were concentrating just on the cult of Christ. The victory at Lepanto in 1571 was credited to the Virgin Mary and signified the beginning of a strong resurgence of Marian devotions. During and after the Catholic Reformation, Marian piety experienced unforeseen growth, with over 500 pages of Mariological writings during the 17th century alone. The sacrament of penance, whose abuses had aroused the gripes of the Protestants, was transformed from a social to a personal experience. They went from a public community act to a private confession that now took place in private in a confessional. It was a shift from reconciliation with the church to reconciliation directly with God and from emphasis on social sins of hostility to private sins. In this way it was addressing some of the issues raised by the protestants calling on a greater emphasis on personal experience. A far-reaching consequence of the council was also the reform of the calendar. More celebrations of Christian holidays—such as Easter, the celebration central for Christians—based on lunar and solar calculations, raised a need to have these events followed closely throughout the different dioceses. But there was a problem with the accuracy of the calendar: by the 16th century, the old Julian calendar was almost ten days out of step with the seasons and the heavenly bodies. This brought a very concrete problem that Easter was celebrated on different Sundays in different dioceses. The need to centralize and reorganize the church had to take this element into great consideration. Among the astronomers to work on the problem was Nicolaus Copernicus. In 1543, Copernicus described the reform of the calendar proposed by the Fifth Council of the Lateran (1512–1517). A proper measurement of the length of the year was a necessary foundation to calendar reform. By implication, his work replacing the Ptolemaic system (where the Earth is the center of the universe) with a heliocentric model (where the sun is central) was prompted in part by the need for calendar reform. An actual new calendar had to wait until the Gregorian calendar in 1582. At the time of its publication, Copernicus’s suggestions passed with relatively little comment . At first they were considered little more than a mathematical convenience that simplified astronomical references for a more accurate calendar. Physical evidence suggesting Copernicus’s theory regarding the Earth’s motion was true prompted the apparent heresy against the religious thought of the time. As a result, Galileo Galilei was placed under house arrest for publishing writings said to be “vehemently suspected of being heretical” and his opponents condemned heliocentric theory and temporarily banned its teaching in 1633.
11.3 The pope discovers the world beyond the Mediterranean: Jesuits in Asia and Latin America
The council brought also a new wave of proselytization. As the Protestants were spreading their new gospel so would the Catholics. This was also in the interest of the new traders from Portugal and Spain, who could do better business and better advance their economic interests if they won the hearts and minds of their business partners. For this latter task, missionaries were useful. Of course it was not a seamless relationship between traders, colonizers, and missionaries, but there were definitely points of co-interest, although things could play out for missionaries in ways the civil authorities strongly opposed. This was true in South America with a movement of Jesuits to support the self-determination of native populations against Spanish and Portuguese rule. The Jesuits were often the only force standing between the Native Americans and slavery. Together throughout South America but especially in present-day Brazil and Paraguay, they formed Christian Native American city-states, called reducciones. These were societies set up according to an idealized theocratic-communistic model that was also more respectful of the original culture of the natives. In the 16th century, priests of different religious orders set out to evangelize the Americas, bringing Christianity to indigenous communities. The colonial governments and missionaries agreed on the strategy of gathering the often nomadic indigenous populations in larger communities, reducciones, in order to more effectively govern, tax, and Christianize them. Reducciones generally were also construed as an instrument to make the Indians adopt European lifestyles and values, which was not the case in the Jesuit reducciones, where the Jesuits allowed the indigenous people to retain many of their pre-colonial cultural practices . Legally, under colonial rule, Indians were classified as minors, in effect children, to be protected and guided to salvation (conversion to Christianity) by European missionaries. The practice started in early 17th century when Jesuits agreed to set up hamlets at strategic points along the Paraná river that were populated with Indians and kept separate from Spanish towns. The Jesuits were to “enjoy a tax holiday for ten years,” which was extended longer. This mission strategy continued for 150 years, until the Jesuits were expelled in 1767. In many ways the spirit that brought Jesuits to China, which was to become possibly their most important mission at the time, was the same as that of the reducciones. As the Jesuits of Latin America had grown to protect and safeguard the culture and identity of the Indians, so the Jesuits of China were to learn to respect and treasure the civilization of China. They did so to the point that, more than teaching Christian tenets and Western culture in China, they spread Chinese philosophy and culture to Europe, playing a seminal role in changing European culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Jesuits made efforts to translate Western mathematical and astronomical works into Chinese and aroused the interest of Chinese scholars in these sciences. They made very extensive astronomical observations and carried out the first modern cartographic work in China. They also learned to appreciate the scientific achievements of this ancient culture and made them known in Europe. Through their correspondence, European scientists first learned about the Chinese science and culture. Most importantly they contributed to build a different perception of Chinese people. At the beginning of the 17th century, the world map commissioned from Matteo Ricci of Macerata by emperor Wan Li was the first Chinese map designed according to then-modern European standards. At the time, China called itself “tianxia,” all under heaven, but on a world map China could not be tianxia, and the comparative size of China was much smaller than many people’s perception. Ricci got out of this difficult position by brushing off the old word “zhongguo” that during the seventh century BC meant “the central states,” in contrast with the growing peripheral states of the Qin, Chu, et cetera. Ricci then placed his “zhongguo,” China, at center of the map, with the Americas on the right, whereas in contemporary European maps the center was Rome. The map contributed to changing the world-view in China. China was central, yes, but was smaller than previously perceived and in the middle of a very complex world. Chinese leaders didn’t draw the necessary consequences from this map—that is they failed to try to integrate actively into the 17th-century world. This may have also been because the Ming Dynasty soon collapsed, and the ensuing Qing was too concerned for a century with establishing themselves in the newly conquered China. A century later the Europeans were actively knocking at their door. In the meantime, the Jesuits had been very active in transmitting Chinese knowledge and philosophy to Europe. The first college of Chinese studies was established in Naples. Confucius’s works were translated into European languages, and basically all European important intellectuals were influenced by Chinese classics. The modern concept of bureaucracy was inspired in Europe by Chinese statecraft, as explained by the Jesuits, although Protestant England first adopted it. The Protestant philosopher Leibniz was intrigued by the hexagrams of the Yi Jing, which inspired his binary system, used in modern computing. The whole movement of the Enlightenment was influenced by the integration of the Confucian system of morality into Catholicism. Kant’s principle of absolute morality, where people have to act ethically, independently from the reward or punishment of God, was inspired by Confucian morality without a personal god. As we shall see Jesuit educated, Vico brought to Europe the sense of the philosophy of history, later used and developed by Hegel and Marx. In other words the Jesuits were in some ways missionaries from China to the West, and in this respect they contributed to the “sinification” of the West in the 17th and 18th centuries, so that when Western powers massively reached China in the 19th century they had already absorbed and digested some important Chinese principles. Their states had a civil service system modeled on the Chinese one and held together by a code of morality of Confucian origin. Their new sense of history and purpose came form China and the new European mathematics had taken leap with Leibniz’ reading of the Yi Jing. In fact, the work of the Jesuits had become so powerful and influential that it overshadowed the role of the pope himself and of many Catholic kings. For that reason also, the order was disbanded in the 18th century, concentrating many of the Jesuits’ prerogatives in the hands of the pope, whose authority they had so valiantly upheld and buttressed in a time of extreme need.
11.4 Galileo and the discovery of modern science
At the time when the Chinese were puzzled by the new vision of the earth proposed by Ricci, the Europeans were upset by the new vision of the universe proposed by Galileo Galilei with his new scientific theories. Whereas Ricci’s views “simply” ran against some cultural perceptions and political conveniences, Galileo’s views were disrupting the most basic religious tenets of Europe, both Protestant and Catholic. Galileo was producing a new view of the universe with massive consequences for the development of science, and thus the economy and social order in Europe. The scientific revolution that was to accompany the Industrial Revolution, had started. Here the church played an important role suppressing the ideas, but only to a certain degree. In fact Galileo was not burned to the stake, as many of his opponents clamored for. Galileo Galilei (February 15, 1564–January 8, 1642) seriously considered the priesthood as a young man, but at his father’s urging he instead enrolled at the University of Pisa for a medical degree. In 1581, when he was studying medicine, he noticed a dangling chandelier, which air currents caused to swing in larger and smaller arcs. It seemed, by comparison with his heartbeat, that the chandelier took the same amount of time to swing back and forth, no matter how far the sways. When he returned home, he set up two pendulums of equal length, swung one with a large sweep and the other with a small sweep, and found that they kept time together. It was not until Christiaan Huygens almost one hundred years later that the tautochrone nature (always the same time) of a swinging pendulum was used to create an accurate timepiece. The experience drew him to mathematics and science, but he also studied disegno, a term encompassing fine art. In 1588 obtained the position of instructor in the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence, teaching perspective and chiaroscuro. It was at the turn of the 17th century, the time of Shakespeare and Matteo Ricci, as we saw, that Galileo worked on his theory of the tides to provide the required physical proof of the motion of the earth. In 1615 Cardinal Bellarmine had written that the Copernican system could not be defended without “a true physical demonstration that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun .” The Copernican system was used for practical calendar purposes, but did not remove the Earth as center of the universe, something that was considered to run against the revelations of the scriptures. Eventually, by accepting Galileo’s findings, the church started a widespread reinterpretation of the Bible. The Bible was not to be interpreted in a literal way, but in a literary way—and this created a new perception of religion and science as separate and not mutually exclusive. But to reach this point Galileo, much like Francis before him, had to fight the church’s ideas while remaining loyal to the church. In this way, he proved to the organization that he was fighting for the truth of certain ideas and not for his own glory. This gave more traction to his ideas. All of his ideas came through painful research. Galileo believed the tides were caused by the sloshing back and forth of water in the seas as points on the Earth’s surface sped up or slowed down due to the Earth’s rotation on its axis and revolution around the sun. He circulated his first account of the tides in 1616, addressed to Cardinal Orsini. His theory gave the first insight into the importance of the shapes of ocean basins in the size and timing of tides; he correctly accounted, for instance, for the negligible tides halfway along the Adriatic Sea compared to those at the ends. As a general account of the cause of tides, however, his theory was a failure. If this theory were correct, there would be only one high tide per day. Galileo and his contemporaries were aware of this inadequacy because there are two daily high tides, about 12 hours apart, in Venice, instead of one. Galileo dismissed this anomaly as the result of several secondary causes including the shape of the sea, its depth, and other factors. Galileo dismissed the idea, held by his contemporary Johannes Kepler, that the moon caused the tides. He also refused to accept Kepler’s elliptical orbits of the planets, considering the circle the “perfect” shape for planetary orbits. But all of this had also to do with the view of the universe at the time. Then the majority of educated people subscribed to the Aristotelian view that Earth was the center of the universe and that all heavenly bodies revolved around Earth, despite the use of Copernican theories to reform the calendar in 1582. Biblical references in Psalms 93:1, 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30 include text stating that “the world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” In the same manner, Psalm 104:5 says, “the Lord set the Earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Further, Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that “the sun rises and sets and returns to its place.” Galileo took the Augustinian position that poetry, songs, instructions, and historical statements in Biblical texts need not always be interpreted literally. He argued that the authors wrote from the perspective of the terrestrial world in which the sun does rise and set, and discussed a different kind of “movement” of the Earth, not rotations. But by 1615 Galileo’s efforts to interpret the Bible were seen as a violation of the Council of Trent, as Protestants were insisting on a personal interpretation of the Bible, without the help of the church. Galileo went to Rome to defend himself and Copernican ideas, but in 1616, an inquisitorial commission unanimously declared heliocentrism to be “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” The inquisition found that the idea of the Earth’s movement “receives the same judgment in philosophy and… in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith.” From then on, the controversy became extremely complicated and embroiled all of Europe in it, both Catholic and Protestant. Galileo was asked to recant by the pope and so he did. But despite the official recantation, his ideas were soon to be adopted in the scientific community and led to many future developments. Galileo’s theoretical and experimental work on the motion of bodies, along with the largely independent work of Kepler and René Descartes, was a precursor to the classical mechanics developed by Isaac Newton.
11.5 The Baroque and the beginning of modern music
The Council of Trent had other far-reaching consequences, including in the realm of music, a key part of the ritual of mass, intended to inspire people and bring them closer to the perception of divinity. From that, in Italy, modern music also began. In fact, Italy had already contributed to a major development in musical history: the invention of the modern staff lines, which is attributed to Guido d’Arezzo (990–1050). His four-line staff with the red and yellow coloring is still used in Gregorian chant publications today. Five-line staves appeared in Italy in the 13th century; and staves with four, five, and six lines were used as late as 1600. With this strong musical tradition, the Roman church had a great clout over music. The church had spoken out against a perceived abuse of music used in mass before the Council of Trent had even convened to discuss music in 1562. The manipulation of the credo (the main canonical prayer for the believers) and use of non-liturgical songs were addressed in 1503, and secular singing and the intelligibility of the text in delivering psalmody in 1492. The delegates at the council were just a link in the long chain of church clergy who had pushed for a reform of the musical liturgy reaching back as far as 1322. Fueling the cry for reform was the compositional technique popular in the 15th and 16th centuries of using musical material and even the accompanying texts from compositions that were not strictly religious. Several voices singing different words in different languages made the text difficult to distinguish in the mixture of words and notes. So overall the liturgy was hard to follow. The musical liturgy of the church was being more and more influenced by secular tunes and styles, and the mass was becoming more of musical show, rather than a religious ritual . One result of the reaction of this new spirit was the removal of polyphony from churches, although there is no hard proof that the council explicitly proscribed it. The mass had to clearer, although the role of music remained important. As a consequence, in Rome the musician Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (ca. 1525/26–1594), according to a story of the time, composed a score in which the words could be clearly distinguished, the Missa Papae Marcelli (Mass for Pope Marcellus). Therefore Palestrina came to be named the “savior of church polyphony.” The particular story may not be true but certainly Palestrina helped music in the church and started a new trend in musical composition. In fact the reaction against polyphony was not limited to the church. In the 15th century a group of intellectuals and musicians called La Camerata Fiorentina met to discuss trends in arts. They rejected the use of polyphony and favored the ancient Greek music device of monody, a solo voice singing accompanied by a kithara. The early realizations of these ideas, including Jacopo Peri’s Dafne and L’Euridice, marked the beginning of opera, which in turn was a catalyst for Baroque music . From that came the development of what became modern harmony as the linear underpinnings of polyphony as composers began concerning themselves with harmonic progressions. And the use of harmony directed towards tonality, rather than modality, marks the shift from the Renaissance to the Baroque period. This led to the idea that chords, rather than notes, could provide a sense of closure—one of the fundamental ideas that became known as tonality. By incorporating these new aspects of composition, Claudio Monteverdi furthered the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition: the heritage of Renaissance polyphony (prima pratica) and the new basso continuo technique of the Baroque (seconda pratica). With the writing of the operas L’Orfeo and L’incoronazione di Poppea among others, Monteverdi brought considerable attention to the new genre of opera. Then a new clientele for music emerged in the 17th century. The realities of rising church and state patronage created the demand for organized public music, as the increasing availability of instruments created the demand for chamber music. It was the emergence of the cantata, oratorio, and opera during the 1630s, and a new concept of melody and harmony that elevated the status of the music to one of equality with the words, which formerly had been regarded as preeminent. The florid, coloratura monody of the early Baroque gave way to a simpler, more polished melodic style. These melodies were built from short, cadence-delimited ideas often based on stylized dance patterns. There was a trend to harmonic simplification, which led to the new formal device of the differentiation of recitative and aria singing. Larger musical orchestras came into play with strings, flutes, and oboes. Musician Arcangelo Corelli is remembered as influential for his achievements on the other side of musical technique—as a violinist who organized violin technique and pedagogy—and in purely instrumental music. Among his students is Antonio Vivaldi, who later composed hundreds of works based on the principles in Corelli’s concerti. These were both the inspiration for musicians from northern Europe like Bach or Handel and also started what was the successful tradition of opera.
11.6 The new European balance of power and the discovery of Pompeii and its classics
In 1648 Europe ended one of its most devastating conflicts in centuries, the Thirty Years’ War. The war started with a French-Habsburg rivalry and developed into a wider Catholic-Protestant confrontation with the Ottomans were also involved on the side of the Protestants. Protestants eventually could not be vanquished and the principle that people should follow the religion of their princes was established. But the fact that the victorious Protestant in France had to convert to Catholicism to reign over the country proved that despite setbacks Roman church was still dominant, although it didn’t enjoy its former religious monopoly. An interesting twist following the decadence of Italy was the rise of Catholic cardinals to head the French government. The first was Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duke of Richelieu and of Fronsac (September 9, 1585–December 4, 1642) and King Louis XIII’s chief minister from 1624 until his demise. After that, his pupil the Italian Cardinal Giulio Mazzarino (July 14, 1602–March 9, 1661) was his successor from 1642 until his death. Richelieu is credited with the invention of the “raison d’etat” . The state, argued the cardinals, had its own logic and drives that were independent from the motivations of its kings or people. The first, the kings and emperors, had been for centuries considered the main engine of policies for the state, which was roughly his personal property. The reason of state is the fundamental conceptual concept of modern states, whose strengths and weaknesses are considered independent of their governments. The idea of a state with its own reasons and its own logic independent from the will of their rulers was present since ancient times in China. Here for instance philosopher Sunzi argued that war was a matter of survival of the state, not the king, and the well being and prosperity of the state was the main argument for thinkers from Mencius to Mozi to Han Feizi. Richelieu became chief minister of France in 1624, 14 years after the death of Ricci in Beijing and a good generation after the Jesuits started sending Europe their growing flow of translations and reports on China. Richelieu certainly read those reports and might well have been inspired by them in thinking of states in a different way, a way in which the contrasting ambitions of warring Catholic and Protestants princes of Europe could be reconciled according to the cold and neutral principle of the state reason. The fact that this principle came from a Catholic high prelate continued to affirm the special role of the Catholic Church in Europe, despite the Protestant division. However, this was a poor shadow of Italian former political glories. The war had been European, and Italy was only a pawn, possibly marginal in this fight. The balance of power that emerged after it was modeled after the 1454 Peace of Lodi, which kept the balance of power in the peninsula for 40 years. Only in Italy, as we saw, foreign forces could be called in to change the balance of power. The same could not be done in the rest of Europe, where there was no greater power that could be called in to swing the balance emerging from the 1648 peace. The war had left Europe devastated and the Habsburgs almost on their knees. They were the ones who paid the highest toll because they had to fight enemies on two fronts, the Protestants and the Turks, while revenues from America were dwindling and the management of the sprawling empire was becoming more difficult by the day. In 1683 the Habsburgs almost managed to repel the Turks, who had reached Vienna, the Habsburg capital in Germany. After that the power of the Turks started to significantly decline, but so did the power of Spain and Italy. All were sucked into a shrinking Mediterranean trade that was marginal compared to the booming Atlantic routes while these massive wars brought in lesser and lesser dividends and sapped all the best energies. The role of Italy seemed to remain a cultural center and center of Catholicism, which although confined to southern Europe was spreading its wings in the Americas and gaining culturally significant footholds around globe. But in spite of its tradition of art and music, painting and music from northern Europe was soon to overshadow the Italian tradition. All seemed to conspire against Italy when an unexpected discovery brought the cultural attention of Europe back to Italy: the discovery of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried under the ashes of the Vesuvius for 16 centuries. Actually the first time any part of them was unearthed was in 1599, when workers digging an underground channel to divert the River Sarno ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions. The architect Domenico Fontana was called in; he unearthed a few more frescoes, then covered them over again, and nothing more came of the discovery. Herculaneum and Pompeii were properly rediscovered in 1738 by workmen digging for the foundations of a summer palace for the King of Naples and Swiss architect Karl Weber directed the first real excavations . The finding of Pompeii revealed to Europe its proximity with ancient Rome: it was the rediscovery of ancient times out of the myths and the stories written in books. It was also the beginning of archeology, the study of ancient times, and the rediscovery of one’s roots. Pompeii—a unique site where antiquity had been frozen by a quirk accident of nature—brought back a European interest in antiquity and stressed the importance of Italy as cultural hub of Europe at a time when Europeans were running all over the world expanding empires, and Chinese culture, via the Jesuits, was pouring in, providing a different perspective. It reaffirmed the cultural centrality of Italy for Europe. Yet this did little to stave off the decline of the Peninsula out of the main routes and unable to find a new strategy for itself. Yet just close by, in Naples another man, Vico, was to inspire a new strand of thought in Europe. And the rediscovery of the material history of Pompeii supported the appeal of his call to reflect on the deep lessons of the philosophy of history.
11.7 The religious crisis after the Renaissance
In many ways, the Renaissance in Italy sprang out of the political and religious failures of the Crusades. Crusades had been inconclusive in that they didn’t manage to vanquish all of the Islamic forces; and so were Islamic holy wars, which failed to annihilate the Christian kingdoms. Moreover, religion proved not to be the main reason for political conflicts and wars. Different Christian and Muslim states did not fight together or against one another following strict religious lines. That is not to say that religion disappeared from people’s lives, but that its relative weight had decreased. This feeling was reinforced with the rediscovery of Greek texts, which in the earlier centuries had been available in Europe only in Latin or Arabic translations. The Greek world that resurfaced from those books was one without the biblical God, but with many gods, and all of these gods didn’t seem to encumber human lives as much as the Christian or the Muslim God. The waste and horror spread throughout Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, for power and religion, further cooled a lot of earlier religious fanaticism for Catholic or Protestant Christianity. It had been the first massive war fought between Christians for religious reasons, and like earlier crusades against Muslims or holy wars against Christians, it had been inconclusive. The hard-nosed, a-religious assessments of politics and human affairs penned by Machiavelli were making inroads in statecraft, previously dominated by ethical considerations based on religious principles. However, a similar experience took place in the Islamic world. Here, possibly even more than in Christianity, fights over the purity of faith were ingrained in the religion, which very soon split in two, Sunni and Shia, divided over the interpretation of their holy book, the Quran. Greek philosophy’s cooling effect on religious fervor took place earlier in Islam than in Christianity, and Muslims then were more tolerant than Christians of different faiths. Despite official claims, religion was less pervasive in state affairs than in Europe, with Jews and Christians employed in Muslim states, something much rarer in Christian Europe. Yet what Muslims didn’t have, which was perhaps decisive in reshaping the religious sensibility of Christianity, was the Chinese cultural influence through the work of the Jesuits, which was extremely important in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the already-receptive post-Renaissance atmosphere, the introduction of the very different Chinese sensibility on religion also contributed to the general reassessment of the relationship between religion and civic life at the time and in some ways pushed Europe toward the Enlightenment. In 1687, the Jesuit fathers Philippe Couplet (who was French) and Prospero Intorcetta (who was Italian) published Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (“Confucius, the Philosopher of the Chinese”). It was the first complete translation of the Confucian Analects in a Western language and much anticipated because Ricci and Ruggeri had earlier started to introduce his ideas and present partial translations of his thought. It was in Latin and annotated with alphabetical rendering of the pronunciation . These translations had considerable impact on European thinkers of the period, particularly those who were interested in integrating Confucius’s system of morality into Christianity. The almost revolutionary idea was that there could be a system of ethics without the threat of the divine punishment. People would behave themselves even without the fear of retribution in a godly afterlife. This sense of ethics came from Confucius, who argued for differentiated, hierarchical ethical sentiments springing from the family (love for parents, children, younger brother, older brother) and from a Catholic reading of Mozi, in which his idea of jian ai (兼爱) was understood as universal love, possibly an attempt to bring together the very different sensibilities of the two cultures. These concepts spread through the Jesuits to Protestant and Catholic Europe, uniting culturally what was religiously divided. In this case, the Jesuits used Chinese culture to build bridges across bitterly divided Europe. Interestingly they also used Western science to reach out to utilitarian-minded Chinese rulers and intellectuals, and ethical writings—Ricci translated into Chinese Cicero’s De Amicitia, (Jiaoyoulun)—since the Chinese valued ethics. But Jesuits also in turn used China’s nonreligious moral philosophy to reach out to Protestants in a divided Europe. This might have had the unintended consequence of spreading the idea of a separation between ethics and religion. This played a seminal role in the following years with the Enlightenment, which de facto tried to expel religion from politics. Before that the new Chinese idea, brought by Ricci and his fellow Jesuits, of concentration of power in the hands of the ruler who would manage the country through a group of selected bureaucrats not by sharing his decision making process with privileged aristocrats was immensely inspiring in Europe. Just a few decades after the spread of Ricci’s accounts on China and its political system two major European powers, England and France seemed to follow the Chinese precepts according to Ricci. With Oliver Cromwell in England and Louis XIV in France both countries concentrated power in the hands of one ruler, stripped most controls from the aristocracy, and established what was to become the basis of western civil service. These reforms were seminal in projecting England and France on their trajectory to global power and ushered the future reforms that eventually led to the enlightenment and the industrial revolution. These reforms helped also England and France to embark in expansionary policies in distant place like America or India, or near home, like in Ireland or the Low Countries. This immense cultural influence of the Catholic Church had little or no impact in Italy. Here the peninsula remained under the existential threat of the Turks, who at the end of the 17th century mounted a massive military campaign against Austria. Besides the peninsula remained bitterly divided in small competing states, none of which could muster the resources and energies that were possible in larger states like France or England, also without existential threats and with growing access to revenues from global trade and conquest. So the Jesuits’ efforts did not reach the Islamic world, which after the failed attack on Vienna in 1683 (four years before the complete translation of Confucius came out) was slowly declining politically and also culturally.
11.8 Vico and the invention of modern history
Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Vico (June 23, 1668–January 23, 1744) was born and lived all his life in Naples. As a boy he studied with the Jesuits, who upon returning from their missions in China established in the city the first school in Europe to teach Chinese culture. At the time the teachings coming from China brought about a revolution of philosophy. China was the unthought of by those who thought they had thought of everything. Vico was later credited with the invention of the philosophy of history, explaining almost everything through the historical process. Hegel and Marx openly credit him with inspiring many of their ideas. History has been of paramount importance in the development of Chinese civilization, and it does not seem accidental that a Jesuit-trained Italian brought this new conception of history to Europe for the first time. Vico is an adherent of systemic and complexity thinking, as opposed to Cartesian analysis and other kinds of reductionism that held that a few simple principles were the base of a hierarchical pyramid of knowledge. He is also well known for noting that verum esse ipsum factum (“true itself is fact” or “the true itself is made”). Vico speaks of a “history of philosophy narrated philosophically” . His work was an inspiration for Gibbon’s monumental history of the Roman Empire, that greatly contributed to building the imperial conscience of England in the late 18th century. Before Vico, history had never been so important in the west. Certainly in antiquity history played a fundamental role, but it was not a true reflection of and on history. It was mostly the history told by the people who made it, like Caesar and the Greek Xenophontes recounting their campaigns, or Thucydides telling the history he witnessed. Some emperors reflected on their lives and on their experiences, such as Marcus Aurelius, others collected and compiled previous documents. Documents were extremely important to the point that most literature and records from Etruscans and Carthaginians, the two earliest rivals of Rome, were destroyed in order to hide their versions of historical development. But history never became the paramount instrument of power legitimization and explanation of political action that it was in China, where every new dynasty took upon itself the task of writing an official account of the history of the preceding time. That historical record provided the main rhetorical narrative to support the ideological hold on power of the present dynasty. History in China since very early on was a philosophy, an ideology, something that could be used to justify or discredit everything. As we saw, Rome for centuries struggled with the wane of the old ideological system, centered on the lore of the virtues and customs of the old and the awe of the capricious deities of the Olympus. Eventually it settled in the third century on the use of Christianity as its main tool of ideological cohesion. The Christian Roman Empire established a link between power and divinity, which was then embodied in the Bible and its interpretation. During the Renaissance, history was studied through documents, the development of philology that climaxed in Luther’s claim of the free interpretation of the text of the Bible, which could speak directly to the reader without the intermediary role of the clergy. But history was in the Bible. In the 17th century, out of the Bible rose a pure reason, a science, with Galileo, Descartes, and Locke, where truth could be found outside of the Bible and independently from it. Vico was against this reason outside of history, independent of time, and put it into the artifice of a-historicity, in what was to become the paradigm of knowledge in the modern world. His contribution and the complexity of his thought went as far as recognizing for the first time the existence of class struggle in society. Vico thought that class struggle could not be resolved, and religion had a role to play by smoothing it and trying to improve the situation. Marx took this concept of class struggle and thought it could be used as a way to free men by taking out religion, the opiate of the masses. History now can tell who had the most realistic analysis, despite all best intentions. However, despite all his intuitions, Vico remained isolated and his thinking did not generate much in Naples. New thinking came to the north Italy, closer to then growing cultural powerhouse of France.
11.9 Beccaria, the father of modern law
Between the end of the 17th century and first half of the 18th, Italian states had grown less independent. They were battlegrounds of France and Spain, especially the kingdom of Naples, which was the coveted prize of these large European powers. In the meantime the combined effect of Turkish pressure on the east, the switch of trade routes to the west, and the heavy toll imposed by the 1630 plague had the peninsula on its knees. The plague that ravaged northern Italy, notably Milan and Venice, claimed possibly one million lives, or about 25% of the population . Before the plague, the typical Venetians boats, gondolas, had been painted bright colors. After the plague, as a sign of mourning for the loss of lives, they were all painted black, as they are today. Following that, plague hit Italy again with even greater violence and the Black Death of 1656 killed up to 43% of the population of the Kingdom of Naples. The dramatic reduction in Italian cities population (and, thus, in economic activity) contributed to Italy’s downfall as a major commercial and political center. By one estimate, while in 1500 the GDP of Italy was 106% of the French GDP, by 1700 it was only 75% of it. Yet the argument could be easily reversed. Poor economic conditions, and thus poor hygiene, bad food, worsening lodgings, and poorer living standards all contributed to the massive spread of the plague and its impact on the Italian economy and politics. Bad economic prospects, because of the situation in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, tanked Italian development. In 1300 the end of a similar plague triggered the beginning of the Renaissance. But then Atlantic trade didn’t exist and the Mediterranean was without a dominant power, while all around were striving to find ways to improve their lives. Despite this, the church actually had increased its reach, especially through the efforts of the Jesuits. Two Italian-born cardinals, Mazzarino and Richelieu, had become the leading figures in French politics; separately Spain and Austria, where the Habsburg were still the main German power, relied on the church. Art and music still came from Italy. Venice was still independent and gave birth at the beginning of the 18th century to one of the greatest playwrights of his time, Carlo Goldoni (February 25, 1707–February 6, 1793), and the myth of the archetypical playboy, don Giovanni Casanova, was born at this time. Italian politics was just part of the bigger picture of European affairs. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) was triggered by the death without issue of the last Habsburg king of Spain, who fixed the entire Spanish inheritance on Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second grandson of King Louis XIV, the mighty king of France. In face of the threat of French hegemony over much of Europe, a grand alliance was signed between Austria, England, Holland, and a group of minor powers (including the growing Duchy of Savoy). The alliance defeated the Franco-Spanish rule, and control of much of Italy (Milan, Naples, and Sardinia) passed from Spain to Austria. Spain tried again to retake the territories in Italy and claim the French throne in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718–1720) but was again defeated. As a result Spain agreed to abandon its Italian claims and Austria became the hegemon of Italy. In this environment Cesare Bonesana-Beccaria, Marquis of Gualdrasco and Villareggio (March 15, 1738–November 28, 1794), was born and became one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers and the father of modern penal law. He is best known for his treatise On Crimes and Punishments (1764), which condemned torture and the death penalty. On Crimes and Punishments had a profound influence on the founding fathers of the United States, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Wilson, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and others . The book was the first full-scale work to tackle criminal reform and suggest that criminal justice should conform to rational principles. He openly condemned the death penalty on two grounds: first, the state does not possess the right to take lives; and second, capital punishment is neither a useful nor a necessary form of punishment. Most importantly, Beccaria developed in the treatise a number of very innovative and influential legal principles that radically departed from the tradition of the Roman laws. Punishment had to have a preventive (deterrent), not a retributive, function—that is, it has to impact the future, to improve order in society, not to redress a wrong that took place in the past. Punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed. Disproportion in punishment (too lenient or too harsh) is liable to engender more future crime. Also, the probability of being punished, not its severity, should achieve the preventive effect. Crime should not go unpunished, and criminals should face justice, but it is counterproductive to allow a few criminals to be at large while others captured are tortured to death. Procedures of criminal convictions should be public to warn people and show that the state is fair and not vindictive. Finally, in order to be effective, punishment should be prompt. He was among the first to advocate the beneficial influence of education in lessening crime, not the opposite, as many people of his time believed. Thomas Jefferson, in his Commonplace Book copied a passage from Beccaria related to the issue of gun control: “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms . . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” Beccaria’s influence from America to Russia, going through all that was in between. Yet mostly his thinking had a role in the American and the French revolutions. It was especially the latter that came back to the peninsula, bringing an idea that had never existed really before in the history of the place: the idea of an Italian state modeled after the French state. Then the history of Italy as a geographical entity became the history of Italy as a state. Lastly, Beccaria opens a radically new chapter in the thinking about law in the West. In the different sections dedicated to law we saw that law had an origin of customs or a social contract between the people, the idea of mores maiorum (customs of the elders) or res publica (the common thing) of the Romans, or there was a link of law with divinity, the idea of ius naturalis (right of nature) of Thomas (nature comes from God, at the end of the day) or directly the rules of God, coming from the Bible for the Christians or the Sharia from the Quran for the Muslims. The state de facto accepts these law and rules according to them. The state is almost a passive agent of these laws which originate out of its political will and thus de facto cannot be changed. Beccaria’s approach to law is totally different: laws have specific purpose in holding the state and society together. For instance death penalty is not useful, he claims, because it would like as if the state declared war on its citizens, this does not make sense because citizens are the flesh and blood of the state and the state has to serve the good of its people. It does not matter that death penalty has been practiced for centuries, or that even the Bible calls for “a tooth for a tooth”. For Beccaria the state must a have a political purpose, which may differ from the old or religious prescriptions. We are then in a legal atmosphere resembling the legal tradition of the Chinese. For China laws were always instruments to serve the political ends of the state and in particular the hold on power of the head of state, the emperor, not social habits or divine commandments. If so, laws can be changed and adapted with different political ends, although they have to take into consideration the social atmosphere in which they will be received and applied. This concept, with Beccaria opens to the possibility of social engineering: the state and its leaders can use laws to change society and state, because laws have the power to shape the behavior of the people thus Beccaria’s influence on American and French revolutionaries a few decades later.
11.10 The political situation of Italy in the 18th century
In the early 18th century Italy once again became the battlefield of European ambitions with the end of the massive war of Spanish succession. This brought to the very end the unity between Spain and Austria, which had been key to the power of the Habsburgs and instrumental in stopping the Turkish advance in the Mediterranean. With the end of the war and the Treaty of Utrecht signed in 1713 Spain stopped being the major power in the peninsula and Austria moved in. Austria was fresh off a victory over the Turks, which had directly saved once again Italy from the Islamic threat, and it was carving a new domain in central and Eastern Europe out of the spoils of the weakening Turkish Empire. While Turkey was no longer a major threat to any European nation, the Italian states and the Pope were living in a limbo of massive cultural influence, thanks to the heritage of their culture and the new massive weight of the Jesuits, and little or no political sway. The Jesuit order itself, which had projected the Catholic Church out of the siege of the fight with the Protestants, was dissolved in 1773, shortly before the 1789 French Revolution, on pressures mainly from the French King, wary of their political clout. This followed decades of controversies inside the Church that had pushed the Jesuits out of China, one of their most successful missions out of Europe. The Jesuits were developing a modern concept of adaptation to the local cultures, which ran against the ideas of other catholic orders supporting the idea of the necessity of making a tabula rasa of pre-existing beliefs and traditions. This pushed the Jesuit missions out of China between the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the following century although they had become extremely important and successful in the Court. In reality the dissolution of the Jesuit order was a new blow to the influence of the Pope, who had to navigate between the contrasting influence of France, Spain and Austria without the support of the Italian powers and his estates. The Pope than became more a hostage of contrasting catholic rulers. This was also seen in the political geography of Italy at the beginning of the 18th century. Austria became the overlord of the peninsula, covering also Venice, which had played and important part in the 1683 fight against the Turks and thus retained formal independence, but it was a pale memory of its old self. Perhaps fitting with its situation the Republican hero of the time was Giovanni Casanova, a man who was to become the epitome of the playboy, a young boy forever bedding droves of women but unable to start a lasting family. On the West rose a new belligerent kingdom, Savoy, under the protection of France, which although expelled from the Peninsula in this way kept a foothold in it. The South, once the powerhouse of Italy, also thanks to its special ties with Spain, lord of the America, in the 18th century was impoverished, stagnant, and cut off from the mainstream of events in Europe. Naples was one of the continent’s most overcrowded and unsanitary cities, with a crime-ridden and volatile populace. The Neapolitan aristocracy long resented Spanish rule and welcomed the arrival of the Austrians in 1707. But this did not change the predicament of the reign which had little or no autonomy under the Austrians. They vexed the population with an extremely heavy tax burden without the necessary reforms. Reforms both in Naples and in Sicily, to bring under the Austrian crown properties of the Church and the nobility, failed because they were ill conceived and run on the opposition of the aristocrats and middle class. This caused a virtual economic meltdown with years of famine and turmoil. Still, while politics and economy were lagging behind, culture was still on the vanguard. The Neapolitan king built an immense residence in Caserta that was to put to shame the French royal residence of Versailles. All over the Italian capitals started building new opera houses, which were to become the new temple of music and operas, the Hollywood on steroid of the time, while new middle class started discussing intellectual affairs in cafés, around a cup of coffee and some pastries, thus inaugurating a new way of making culture, social life and politics. But for all its cultural vibrancy, the new political and intellectual center of the European affairs was moving north, to Paris mainly, and partly already to London. At the end of the 18th century, before the Napoleon changed the political geography of the world, Italy was no longer the cultural center of Europe and the Popes, once the gravitating force of the Mediterranean, had to be careful not to offend kings and emperors of the world, they were no longer major players. In this situation of marginality the idea of a political, not only geographic, Italy eventually started to emerge.
11.11 The Renaissance and Galiani’s contribution to the development of modern economic thought
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, as the Italian Renaissance was ending and Great Britain was becoming the dominant superpower not only in economics but also in philosophy, the new power was coming to grips with the legacy of Italy and laying the foundation of the industrial revolution that was to usher in the most massive wave of development in the history of mankind . The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 book the Leviathan bitterly criticized the free market experience of the Renaissance, which by then had mostly faded, and advocated the rise of strong, strictly organized state ruled by enlightened men and not by laws. Hobbes also opposed the return of the model of the Greek cities, which had been the ideological premise for the foundation of the small independent states of the Italian peninsula. It was in sum the negation of the Renaissance experience, where ideally the state and its rulers stood aloof and only watched that laws and regulations were correctly applied to keep the market in order. Leviathan was also the ideological foundation of a unified state in Great Britain, opposing independence moves not only from distant Scotland or Wales, but from many English areas that felt the right to claim greater autonomy or total independence from London. Inspiration from the Chinese imperial system, as reached Europe through the work of the Jesuits, also played a positive role in setting up the new bureaucracy of the kingdom with its civil service. But once the new unitary English state came to fruition starting with Scotland, free marketers rose again with the man who was to become the paramount philosopher of the free market and coming Industrial Revolution, Adam Smith, who in 1776 wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Interestingly the year of the book’s publication is also the year of the declaration of independence by the thirteen American colonies from England. As Smith and his followers stressed, it was the market and urbanization that created the conditions for the Industrial Revolution. The transfer to the cities of newly unemployed peasants and farmers created the labor market necessary for the new cotton factories, and foreign expansion in search of cheaper resources was on a grand scale what the Italian republics had been doing during the Renaissance in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact to a large extent, the English did on a global scale, in the different oceans, what Venice or Genoa had been doing in the large Mediterranean basin. After all, the role of bankers and traders is still celebrated in London with “Lombard Street,” the area where Italian traders—mostly from Lombardy, thus the name Lombard Street—concentrated, buying British raw wool and selling foreign wares. Adam Smith and his fellows, who appeared with a full-fledged set of ideas did not emerge out of nothing. They based their work on centuries of reflection on the market, economics, and money originating in Italy. Those who were advocating the paramount role of the market had been a strong intellectual force. The immediate predecessor to Smith was the Neapolitan Ferdinando Galiani, who published the then influential treatise Sulla Moneta (On Money) in 1750, in which he introduced a relationship between the value of goods and the quantity and quality employed to produce them, production time, and the utility or rarity of the product—all elements that were to play a key role in the following decades for the English economic philosophers. One of Galiani’s influences was late 16th century Antonio Serra, also hailing from the kingdom of Naples, from Cosenza actually. His Breve trattato delle cause che possono far abbondare li regni d’oro e d’argento dove non sono miniere was the first to analyze and clearly describe the concept of balance of trade for both visible goods and invisible services and capital movements. Exploring the causes of the shortage of coins in the Kingdom of Naples in his time, he detailed that it was due to a deficit in the balance of payments. The solution he indicated was to encourage exports. Galiani actually returned to the subject, dealing with the nature of money and production of goods.
As Infantino clearly explains in his works, in the course of these two centuries that led to the Industrial Revolution in Britain, the idea developed of breaking out of the zero-sum game of economics. Economy, which comes from the Greek word meaning the management of the household, for centuries indicated saving, being thrifty and efficient, storing, or keeping away. It was born as a discipline really to help the individual or the household to best match the many wishes and desires of a man with his very limited resources at hand. With the Industrial Revolution, for the first time ever, someone could increase his wealth and the wealth of his community without necessarily recourse to war or looting. Therefore, resources could be expanded almost without boundaries and so too was the satisfaction of one’s wishes. More money brought in better living conditions for all and better health care, which in turn extended life expectancy. More money and more choices and a longer life was no longer an extreme privilege, almost an accident for the extremely rich. With the expansion of the market and the expansion of the returns of capital investment, at the turn of the 19th century people felt that all limits, which in the past were accepted as given by God, could be conquered. Money could be invested in science and technologies that would then fetch even greater returns. Wishes could all be fulfilled horizontally, and as life expectancy grew, so life itself looked as if could be boundless. And yet all of this was monstrous, against what humans had felt for millennia. In this atmosphere tales like those of Frankenstein’s monster or Dracula, both dealing with science breaking its previous limits, came to fruition. Both are still haunting Western modernity as men remember that their present prolonged life is an exception, almost an absurdity. Life should be 20-30 years, the normal life span of common people before the Industrial Revolution, counting infant death, wars, pestilence, et cetera. We can now safely expect to live several times this “original lifespan”—yet is this natural? Is it godly? But these are the myths and nightmare of modernity that developed out of Italy. The peninsula, in the meantime, for over a century went searching for itself and political unity.
11.12 Almost a footnote Hume, Desideri: Chinese Marxist revolution and the Buddhist sense of knowledge
The role of Marxism in modern China is very important and delicate for the ruling Communist party, whose ideology is still grounded in the ideas of the philosopher of Trier. Still, in the past four decades Marxism in China has dramatically changed. We offer a look into the possible future of Marxism in China from a foreign perspective. In order to understand what kind of role Marxism will play in contemporary society, we must first understand the theory of Karl Marx himself in the 19th century. Marx’s theory is divided into two parts: the analysis of society and the economy, and the use of this analysis to start the revolution to overthrow the contemporary political and social order. Of course, his two-part theory is not entirely new. The former appeared in Smith and Ricardo theories; the latter appeared in every revolution since the French revolution 1789: they wanted to start a very thorough surge to change society’s rules, overthrew the 18th-century aristocracy and the rich. Marx linked these two parts together because he found a scientific way to measure the exploitation of the working people. Marx found that the capitalists turned the laborers’ plus-labor into their plus-value, and he could return the plus value to the laborers through the revolution, so that the expectations of the revolution were linked to the analysis of the economy. This methodology, which combines the expectations of economic society and revolution, became the soul of communism in the 20th century. But the question is, now that the revolutionary party has become a ruling party, how can a theory to create revolution be used while holding on power? Presently the once revolutionary party certainly does not want to start the revolution; it only wants to maintain a stable rule. In this, some socialist countries believed that letting the state control all the production capacity would solve every problem, but now realize that doing so will make a country poor and backward. In order to overcome this problem, Deng Xiaoping opened the economy and launched the reforms, and the result was to give full freedom to all productive forces, so that China can continue to move forward. Furthermore, a ruling party must maintain internal stability, and at the same time maintain stability in foreign countries, because the export of revolution might also bring instability also domestically. So perhaps we have to reconsider the spirit of Marx, and in order to help the ruling party, we should find ways to separate the revolution from the economic and social analysis—that is, to maintain its economic and social analytical methods, and to abandon its theory of the expectations of the revolution because the revolution poses a great danger to political and social stability.
From the historical point of view, if we do not consider the revolutionary inspiration and only consider the economic and social analysis, then we will find that many thinkers also have a direct or indirect marxist inspiration, such as Weber, Schumpeter, or Hayek. These people use a very complex ideological structure to analyze the economy and society, and their purpose is of course to help the ruling party in power. But in China the original revolutionary party has become the ruling party, so the purpose is the same. China is now facing the same problem, that Weber, Shumpeter or Hayek faced: to uphold and improve the present order. Now in China the ruling party needs to avoid and prevent revolution. It should be necessary then to analyze domestic and foreign social contradictions, and think of ways ways to overcome these contradictions and not let these contradictions lead to revolution. There is also a need for adequate socioeconomic space to promote domestic and foreign economic and civil development. So objectively speaking, China’s ruling party conflicts with the contemporary theory of the so-called Neo Marxism in the West. Some Western Marxists also hope that a violent approach will overthrow the present world’s political order in each state. China’s ruling party, on the contrary, needs to overcome or even cover up social contradictions. For instance, China’s theory of harmonious society and the theory of China’s Dream encompass this idea. The meaning of a harmonious society is that there is actually a class conflict, but this conflict should not be resolved through struggle, but through harmony—that is, whether you are rich or poor, we need to exist together peacefully. The Chinese dream is almost the same concept. Now the Chinese have become richer, and many are middle class, which means that all people should also be satisfied. Presently, the problem is not the need for revolution, but what will help China’s ruling party to stabilize the country. China must, on the one hand, analyze and explore contemporary social and economic problems, and on the other hand, try to overcome these problems. These two aspects require knowledge of the issue: where the problem is, but also how to solve the problem. Where is this knowledge? The 17th-century thinker Hume is the first in the West to propose the concept that “knowledge is decentralized,” and everyone in his personal scope is the most knowledgeable, as Alison Gopnik wrote. Alison Gopkin, in her research on Hume, underscores the role of 18th-century Jesuit Ippolito Desideri in providing the first comprehensive account of the theory of dispersion of knowledge in Buddhist theories. The dispersion of knowledge of Hume is the precedent for Adam Smith’s first clear definition of the modern market in The Wealth of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II: “What is the species of domestick industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him. The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capital, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.” This concept was central in the evolution and acceptance of modern markets, the basis for a capitalist economy. Markets had always existed but were subject to the vagaries of long drawn out transactions. Here, exchange blurred into deceit, piracy, and theft. Modern exchanges conversely assume fairness and transparency in return for speed in transactions . Adam Smith also raised the issue of personal knowledge in the 18th century as a way to exchange and find a balance in the market and competition. Perhaps these concepts will help us to find new theories to help the ruling party. Of course, we know that the market and competition are not absolutely perfect—knowledge and people are not absolutely perfect—but other ways have even greater shortcomings.
11.13 The cotton empire strands Italy
At the end of the 18th century, a complex industrial and geopolitical revolution was taking place centered mainly in England and partly in France in the production of cotton . The new production of cotton was based on a complex global reorganization of production, power, and means of production. There was the mechanization of mills in England, thanks to some clever engineering feats. But before that, starting in the 17th century, there was the forceful control of cotton production in India, bypassing the Turkish trade monopoly with the Indies thanks to the new route to Asia through America. Later, when demand for cotton crop grew with the increased industrial capacity in England and agricultural reforms to accommodate more production were impossible in India and Anatolia because of the preexisting social and state order, cotton was grown in America. It was introduced first in the Caribbean islands and then in North America thanks to three elements unavailable in India: a large supply of cheap labor because of the African slave trade; a large supply of land conquered from the Indians; and a concentration of power granting both. However, the elements that led to this revolution were all born in Italy. Beckert notices in particular the special relationship between state authority, entrepreneurs, technological improvements, and the geographic expansion of military and social power that made possible the “’great divergence’—the beginning of the vast divide that still structures today’s world, the divide between these countries that industrialized and those that did not… Europeans united the power of capital and the power of the state to forge, often violently, a global production complex, and then used the capital, skills, networks, and institutions of cotton to embark on the upswing in technology and wealth that defines the modern world .” England was liberal at home and tyrannical abroad, and invented a complex system of finance and trade through taxation and state debt that powered this expansion. However, as this history has shown so far, the mutually beneficial and dialectic relationships between capital and state authority, conquest and labor exploitation (slavery), and taxation and private finance for state-private enterprises had been the hallmark of the Italian republics in the Renaissance. Even that, as we saw, was not a special invention but was grafted onto the experience of Roman generals who behaved, as we saw, as conquerors/entrepreneurs. There was a common spirit linking the state and entrepreneurs grounded on an idea of mutual ties of entrepreneurship and profit-making, with roots in ancient Greece, in the search for fortune and social mobility of the Roman legionnaires and the Italian republics. The massive expansion and multiplication of this potential occurred once the bottleneck of the Mediterranean was broken and the global horizons of the world loomed with the return of Columbus’s ships from the discovery of America. It was the fruition of centuries of development arriving with the global reach of the ocean trade, power, and machines. It grew and was bred in Italy but it came to adulthood out of Italy, as Italy was imprisoned in the Mediterranean. The institutions, the culture, the way of thinking that made this possible are also children of Italy. “At first, industrial capitalism remained tightly linked to slavery and expropriated land [as we saw two specific features of the Roman Empire], but as its institutions [also developed during the Renaissance]—everything from wage labor to property rights—gained strength they enabled a new different form of integration of the labor, raw materials, markets and capital in huge swaths of the world .” In fact, as Beckert also points out, early semi-industrial cotton production was developed in the Italian city-states, thanks to the specialization of workers in guilds for production and the trade-network monopoly of Genoa and Venice for the supply of raw cotton in the 12th century. A century later, some production moved to Germany, where labor was cheaper. We also saw that Florence’s prominence arrived in the 15th century thanks to its monopoly on trade in wool, deposits of aluminum, and proximity to Rome, the destination for pilgrims from all over Europe. The importance of trade in cloth (silk and cotton were for centuries used as currencies for trade between different populations from faraway places) predated the emergence of the empire of cotton. Similarly preexisting was the complex and mutually beneficial dialectic between capitalists and states. Capitalists emerged out of aristocratic oppression because of the emergence of authoritarian nation-states like England and France, and global trade gave the new capitalists growing bargaining power. But this structure was found in the Italian republics where capitalists shaped and warped states for their own “consumption” and interests. This was also the lesson of the Greek city-states and of the enterprising Roman legions. The cruel exploitation of slaves in the fields and factory workers in new urban industrial centers for cotton production, which started the Industrial Revolution, and the military conquest of new land and the direct or indirect imposed servitude on millions worldwide could not have happened just by force. Cultural and legal institutions were spread and accepted because they were based on values of universal reach—the drive to save all people brought in by Christianity. Slaves and factory workers were not just exploited but also converted (for Africans) or reconverted (for the workers) when found guilty of being heathen or cast as living life of idle, sinful sloth. Orderly work in factory lines, or exposure to Christian values of their masters, was supposed to give them salvation. This Christianity, mostly born out of the separation from the pope in Rome, justified the order for the exploiters. They were absolved of a guilty conscience, something that could have thwarted the spread of capitalism. But this also spread new universal values of equality, which directly or indirectly gave motivation to all oppressed people to fight for a better future. This double, contradicting dynamic of Christianity came out of the late Roman Empire. At the turn of the 19th century, Italy, the cradle of all these dynamics and bottled in in the Mediterranean (with still powerful though declining Spain on one side and Turkey on the other), had become marginal in the Industrial Revolution and colonial expansion. This doesn’t want to overstate the Italian contributions and belittle those of other places, like England, France, America or Germany. But it underscores how Italy became marginal. Yet, culturally Vico first perceived the complex dynamics of the time. Vico first spoke, as we saw, of the class struggle and the role of religion to ameliorate it; he first saw the role of history as a mirror to understand reality. These ideas were taken up by Hegel and Marx, and it was as if although Italy had long lost its ability to be a player in these new complex games, it still had the vision to see what was happening.
11.14 Sinification of Europe and perspectives on modernization of China
Can the normalization of ties between China and the Vatican help everybody address one of the most urgent issue in the world – the reform of the Chinese state and its adaptation to the modern/western world? This is a crucial question at the time of a landmark agreement whereby for the first time ever the Chinese government in principle recognizes a separation of state and religion. The Church, with the Jesuits 300 years ago helped to “Sinicize” the European state. Now a parallel effort might be demanded.
The administration of the territory and the existence of the bureaucracy is an element of Chinese civilization at least from 1,000 B.C., as among others historian Li Feng has shown .
Birth of states from forests and starvation
The Zhou empire stressed administration and organization. The ancient Zhou Li, Rituals of Zhou, a compendium of what we could now call administrative practices and laws, defines the system by which the empire is and should be organized. Nothing of this kind existed in Greek or Roman history, where laws, we shall see, developed slowly as preferred customs between equals. In China the administrative laws are dictated from above. There was no society of equals—the ruler was clearly above the others in imposing his order. The modern traditional interpretation of this, since the historian Wittfogel and his “Oriental Despotism”, was that this was dictated by the management of rivers. Rule, zhi, is a character composed by embankment and water, i.e. ruling was controlling and channeling the floods of muddy water. This interpretation however buys into the view of imperial history as a continuity of a united empire since the earliest times. Yet, the historical documents give us a very different picture. We don’t know clearly what kind of rule the Zhou emperor imposed on the land under his rule, and there are disputes among scholars about whether there was continuity or discontinuity between the Shang and Zhou culture and political tradition. But we see clearly that the Zhou empire was dotted and was divided into many “states”. These were called at least two names, bang or guo. Guo, the name that became more common, has a clear origin, although it had many variants: it comes from a logogram of a walled entity, namely soldiers armed with halberds and mouths or fields. That suggests that walls were enclosing more than a city, and fields were to be protected with halberds. Therefore the enemy was not the chaos of water but foreign attacks. The other term, bang, is even more suggestive. It represents a hill with plentiful agricultural resources. In neither case do we have the idea of a state that needs protection from floods. This does not counter the argument for the importance of water management, but we can say that by the eighth century BC, floods were not a huge problem. Hilltops were safely above the rush of waves. This also suggests a political geography quite different from the lowlands that were periodically flooded by the river Nile in Ancient Egypt or the Tigris and Euphrates.
Bureaucracy against competitive wars
In the eighth century, we have a reality of hundreds of small states in fierce competition with one another. Their problem was clearing the land of brush and forests for agricultural development, having more people (the basis of wealth at the time), staving off enemies, and conquering new space. Dense forests and elephants might have been a bigger problem as Mark Elvin argued in his “The Retreat of the Elephants” (2006). States centered around the river, he, which we call the Yellow River, and were surrounded by populations of barbarians in different shapes and forms. These states recognized belonging to a community, a koinè, and in an earlier period possibly even recognized a common religious/spiritual figure (though it’s unclear how much real political leverage that figure would have) in the person of the son of heaven, tianzi. He was an intensely spiritual figure represented also by the logogram wang, a vertical line uniting three parallel horizontal lines signifying heaven, the world of men, and the world of nature. But certainly by the eighth century, many heads of states started to call themselves “wang.” The fact that they all called themselves wang means they all referenced one culture and set of ideas, but also that each state claimed a fierce independence, and each had its own church-state system. Recent archeological findings confirm the idea: the system of logograms was common but many individual characters differed from one place to another. We still have vestiges of the different languages and writings for instance in the two Chinese modern words for “river,” he in the north and jiang in the south. In this world, warrior-scholars, shi, wandered from one place to another seeking employment as warriors-administrators-teachers. They originated the earliest Chinese philosophy. Again the fact that they roamed the land proves the existence of a community; the fact that they sought employment to make one state more powerful against other states attests the fierce competition. In this situation, the main danger, we are told by the historical literature, was not the rare natural disaster, be it earthquake or flood, but war. War didn’t limit itself to raiding a place and looting riches, which was the prerogative of Greek and Roman wars. As wealth was seen not in the loot that could be plundered away, but in wealth production, i.e. good land and people working it, war was about occupying the land and yoking the people. Then states would be annihilated, mie. This was done by destroying local temples (meaning there were different deities to worship), cancelling local cultures and traditions, exterminating the officers (and later even the soldiers) and ruling class, and dividing the land and surviving population according to the wishes of the winners. The goal was to fully incorporate the conquered state into the old one. This led to two phenomena in the following centuries. The number of states dwindled, and their organization and administration grew more sophisticated and efficient. This made states understand that the ultimate power, and model for survival, was to make one’s state as efficient as possible. In all of this, some states emerged as extremely powerful, and for the first time ever, they imposed a hegemony. From the early seventh century until the late sixth century, five states imposed their hegemony over China. Of these, the first and most groundbreaking was Duke Huan of Qi (r. 685–643 BC), who with the help of his prime minister, Guang Zhong, centralized the power structure of his state. This proved to all that powerful ideas of an efficient man could change the state. Guang Zhong set up a system of semi-independent farmers who paid their dues to the state in grain and labor or military service. Land was not theirs but allotted by the ruler, equally divided, not based on extension but yield. That is, each farmer had to till an appropriate lot of land most efficiently: one should not be given too little, so they could not produce surplus and had little to do, and they should not have so much that the land would not be properly taken care of. As common people were given a place in the land and the prime minister was their ultimate master; in parallel the same people were given place in the army and the general was their ultimate master. Both the prime minister and the general had highly discretionary powers but served the wishes of the king, wang. As we shall see, it is all very different from the assembly of equals in Greek and Roman society. In ancient China, the annihilation wars between states of the same culture and the same level of technological progress apparently forced states to a greater form of organization, and thus more hierarchy, administration, et cetera. It is possible that earlier seeds of organizations came from necessities of water management, but certainly those annihilation wars pushed the organization much further. Moreover, the cycle of rise and fall of hegemons in that period and the parallel dwindling of smaller states brought China from what is called the Spring and Autumn period to the Warring States period. States became just a dozen, and annihilation wars were more difficult, risky, and expensive. Hegemony was harder to impose and an understanding of some kind of balance of power emerged. Alliance and counter-alliances were crafted not in order to conquer but to survive and maintain some kind of status quo. That is, despite the bellicose name, wars became less common and less fatal at the time. Yet states still were wiped until a handful remained.
The philosophy of bureaucracy in a one dimensional state
In the middle of the third century B.C., the philosopher Han Feizi systematized the structure of the bureaucracy that has been maintained until now. It must have been essentially a mechanism in the hands of the sovereign. He identified various elements of this “mechanism” (the word used was ji the trigger mechanism of the crossbow) that made the state work. For example, in the chapter “Ten Errors” Han Feizi says, “in harmonizing the feudal lords, we must use rituals, this is the mechanism that makes living or losing (the state) .” Or in “Losing Victory” : “the mechanism that causes the loss of sovereignty lies in bringing order into chaos and the mutual dependence between strong and weak in the state.” The state, in other words, for Han Feizi, a theory later adopted by the state of Qin when they unified China, must be a mechanism in the hands of the sovereign. The officials had to be the nervous transmission system of the sovereign’s will. But in reality the sovereign must unify the system of the servants of the state (chen, see Han Feizi “Ai Chen”, which I would translate “unify the officials”). Moreover in “The Two Handles,” the philosopher explains, “If the sovereign wants to stop disorder at court then he must reallocate appointments and punishments carefully. Words are distinct from facts. In appointing an official to look carefully at his words, he then gives him an assignment based on what the person says, but then rewards him according to what he does.” This clearly separates the will of the state, embodied by the sovereign, and its management according to that will, entrusted to the officials. This is the model that actually marked the Chinese state for two thousand years.
And these concepts were adopted with the bold plan for administrative reforms and offensive wars of the emperor of the Qin in the second half of the third century B.C. Inspired by the drastic legalistic theories and led by prime minister Li Si, the prince of western state of Qin annihilated all surviving states and established what was really the first unified empire. His power was direct, radical, and imperial in very modern way, very much unlike Augustus who, we shall see, had to carve up powers through the complex machinery of the Roman republic, and whose title, princeps (the first one, or emperor and commander), reveals that below broiled a society of equals. The first emperor was very different. His title was di, the name of the ancient supreme god, with the adjective illustrious, huang. It was like calling himself “Super Jupiter” or “Super Yahve”, “God on Earth.” The analysis of the name gives us a sense of the radical break he and his people felt they had to communicate to the people. The other elements that are a legacy of the first emperor are the unification of the language and of knowledge. This meant destroying all traces of languages other than that imposed by Qin, and burning all books but the official sanctioned books. Copies of all volumes were kept in the official library. The practice was maintained de facto until modern times.
In the meantime, the vocabulary of the bureaucracy has changed. At the time of Han Feizi, there were over a dozen terms that defined the officials of various levels. The prime minister, for example, was called xiang or zai, perhaps reflecting the linguistic differences of the various states, or even the different responsibilities of the various ministers in the states. In general, the officials were all chen, high servants of the sovereign. Closer to the modern era, however, came the general term of guan, which originally indicated the man who moved in the rooms of power, but has a graphic and phonetic similarity with guan in the sense of pipe/conduit. That is, the great servant of the sovereign was also the one who stood in the rooms of power to convey faithfully the will of the sovereign. But in all this, the state was ideally “one-dimensional.” The officials had to faithfully apply the will of the sovereign. If they did not do so, they put the government at risk. The state and therefore had to be eliminated, as Han Feizi specified in “Ai Chen” (unify the ministers).
Sinification of Europe in 17th and 18th century
The “profound state” in Europe perhaps arose between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries from the need evidently to improve the efficiency of the state itself, however, to accommodate the needs of new and old classes. On the one hand, there was the sovereign who wanted to introduce a new bureaucracy that would govern the state. The concept and institution of modern bureaucracy comes from China through the translations of the Jesuits. On the other hand, the sovereign wanted to cut off the powers and privileges of the aristocracy in order to then centralize power; and therefore he still wanted to give space to the new bourgeoisie as a social and political counterweight to the old aristocracy.
This structure then changes with time when the legislative and executive power of the sovereign is replaced by that of parliaments and elected governments. Then the unstable but fundamental dynamic is created between elective power, bureaucracy, and economic powers that are in permanent dialogue and negotiation, and condition each other. Thus a complex political, economic, and social process takes shape, which also underwent the cultural influence of China in some “spiritual” way. It was a question of adapting a feudal western state, where power was personal and divided between kings and nobles with hereditary loyalty, with a state of impersonal structure, with administrators chosen by the king on the basis of the needs of the state rather than personal needs. In this adaptation, new and old elements have been mixed into a new compound. China vice versa did not have this process or similar processes of strong adaptation of the state structure and substantially maintained a conception of power deriving from the centralized imperial structure of the state. Here the power of rulers is absolutely prevalent, and the power of merchants and entrepreneurs is secondary. Furthermore, there is no break between the power of those who govern as elected and the power of those who administer and send forth the machinery of the state or the economy. The ultimate administrators of the state are not elected and proceed through an upward path that goes from the lowest to the highest step. There is therefore no dialectic between elected executive power and bureaucracy. In fact, the Leninist states, post-revolutionary, has strengthened the characteristics of the Chinese bureaucratic system. Perhaps because of this consistency with the old imperial system, the new Leninist system was more easily accepted and digested in the new Chinese state.
Breaks between imperial and Leninist state
But there are also differences. The old imperial state had a bureaucracy that had a central hub function. Imperial power was fundamentally independent of the bureaucracy because the emperor was not to pass imperial exams and was not selected through the bureaucratic system. The emperor was the “owner of the state” and “was the state” (hence the origin of “the state I am” of Louis XIV), and the state was a person with a will of his own (as translated by Cardinal Richelieu). The Chinese bureaucrats were those who carried out the will of the sovereign-state. Beyond the limit of the bureaucrats were the large families that dominated and ruled the rural areas in a dialectic with the bureaucrat who was sent by Beijing. The bureaucrat had to impose the center’s will on a mediated basis, not to displease the center but also without angering the countryside, home to perhaps 95% of the population and of the GDP.
Today these two ancient limits have fallen. Below, the Communist Party entered the village administration, something that had never happened in Chinese history. At the top, the number one of the national party is selected through a complex process of tests and exams, and is not master of the state, so it is not the state. This new reality is also reflected by the numbers. During the defunct empire, the last dynasty, a substantially restricted army of about 100,000 bureaucrats ruled a country of 300–400 million people. Today, with 1.4 billion inhabitants, China has 2–3 million officials largely chosen by Beijing and almost 90 million members of the party. It is therefore a much stronger and more rigid structure, but also with a sense of continuity from top to bottom. In this, it is different from the imperial past. In substance, those who have been doing business in China since the beginning of the 1980s—that is, from the beginning of the period of reforms onward—have always done so by remaining in a very close relationship with the state. There is therefore no deep state nor an “elective state.” The state is integral part of the party and the state is a huge exoskeleton made up of 90 million members of the party—a member of the party for every 15 people—which holds together the entire structure of the country. This structure then is not constantly in tension, which would continuously put stress on the state. But this structure can be activated, as happens to a network left to catch fish. It is not always closed, but in most cases, it is open on the bottom and activated when needed. The Western state, on the other hand, is subjected to daily micromanagement because every day the relations between the various parts of the state must be active. The structure is the behavior of the Chinese or Western state, and therefore radically different. In the West, there is a continuous and unstable dialectic between the various real powers, between the deep state and the superficial “elective state.” In this dialectic, it is difficult to understand when the state is on the verge of a deep crisis or instead it is a superficial crisis. In any case, the dynamics and strength of the Western model state are enormous because there is not a single system that governs it, but various structures that interact. There is the bureaucracy, there are entrepreneurs, and there is the parliament divided in turn between government and opposition. There are also associations, trade unions, religious groups, and so on. Furthermore, the history of the management of these complex clashes has given great experience and strength to all the structures, individually and collectively. The Chinese system, on the other hand, is different and has more weaknesses. If the exoskeleton is compromised, the rift is immediately seen and almost immediately reflected in the state’s hold on power. But this fragility must not be exaggerated, looking at it from a foreign point of view. In fact, the complexity and strength of this exoskeleton cannot be underestimated—it has lasted through centuries. Moreover, historically, the Chinese Communist Party has resisted very strong shocks in moments of great internal weakness. The Communist Party won the war with India on the Tibetan border in 1962, immediately after the mammoth famine of the Great Leap Forward (1957–1959) and after the rebellion in 1959 by the Dalai Lama against the Chinese occupation of Tibet . This solidity is not unique to the Communist Party. The imperial system itself fell in 1911, but had lasted for about seventy years after the first Opium War. This happens because even if a small rift undermines the whole system, the armor is very extensive and very structured. So in theory the outer shell can withstand and even compensate for an incidental split. In other words, this creates dynamics in the Chinese state that are very different from those of the Western states. Nevertheless the system is not without dynamics. Of course, the mass of officials and members of the party must obey the supreme leader, especially today after the anti-corruption reforms led by President Xi Jinping. But even the president cannot ignore such a vast and elaborate structure. Indeed, the governing of this structure itself is the main issue of China’s own government.
Governing the government
That is, first the administration is governed and then the country. We can say that it is so everywhere, but in the West, in reality, the administration is only a piece of the state (there are parties, entrepreneurs, nobles, religions, etc.). Instead, in China the administration is all that holds the state together. China is in some ways governed by concentric circles. Starting from the outside, there is China outside the party and China within the party. The party itself is not uniform but composed of several increasingly important layers as you approach the center. Each stratum is marked by specific powers and privileges that go beyond the perceived salary. A structure of this kind isolates the central power from the feelings of the mass of the population and from the outside. This model actually protects the structure from corruption and influences of various kinds, but in fact also separates it from the country and the world and therefore makes it shortsighted in perceptions of the reality between China and the outside world. It also tends to be blind-sided because the officials must convey the will of the leader down, but not necessarily the opposite. The officials do not need to tell the truth, but to get the leader’s approval and not incur his wrath. Unpleasant information is often massaged and there is no incentive to receive thoughts contrary to the accepted vision. The results are therefore not always based in reality. On the other hand, this structure creates a very strong objective weight against change in the system. This system was shaken and broken from the inside during the Cultural Revolution of Mao (1966–1976). When in the late 1970s Deng Xiaoping launched his reform program, in fact there was not an apparatus that resisted. The new officials rehabilitated after the Cultural Revolution and old officials who continued to work during the end of the Cultural Revolution were all disheartened by the system and without a proper vegetable garden to defend. Forty years of reforms have instead enriched the whole of China but especially enriched the Communist Party’s aristocracy at various levels. These internal levels today are hostile to any change that puts their privileges at risk. This is the foundation of resistance to the ongoing anti-corruption campaign and also the basis of resistance to external and US pressures on international trade. The Communist Party has in fact created something similar to the curia in the Church with its own logic and its own meta-languages through which to see the world—things that in fact filter and obscure reality. The perception of rights and duties towards the outside is also in concentric circles. It is about first defending the rights and privileges of the party; secondly, in varying degrees, thus defending the rights of China; and thirdly, defending the rights of the world. The three levels are not all the same but have very different priorities. First comes the party, then China, and then the world. On one hand, the structure is so strong and so rigid that one cannot realistically think of destroying the structure of 90 million people. We need some form of accommodation. On the other hand, 90 million people cannot think of putting their rights and privileges before those of all 7 billion people on earth. In this logic, only the members of the narrower circle of the party feel a sense of responsibility and belonging to the state and to the country, and therefore they think that the long-term needs of the party and the country coincide with their own. The vast majority of the Chinese population lives in a state of great instability and their lives are aimed at maximizing short-term benefits because in the long term, there is no certainty—as demonstrated by the recent campaigns against corruption, which have uprooted the structure of present power, and as happened in the past with the Cultural Revolution. This structure therefore also creates enormous problems because it generates objective conflicts between the world and China, between “normal” Chinese and party within China, and between China’s lower-level aristocracy and the party’s great aristocracy. Since the structure does not have open and clear mechanisms of dialogue to solve its internal problems, it is not clear how and if a possible crisis might turn into an international tsunami.
Changing the Chinese Curia to avert a tsunami
Therefore, it is necessary to modify and reform the system as soon as possible, before it turns into sclerosis or a tsunami. On the other hand, there is the inertia of the system that resists any change and therefore in fact may pull the rope until it breaks. Finally, the Chinese state does not understand the Western state, so it has not understood the intentions of Trump with the trade war, let alone the deep intentions of America in the late ‘80s. Or perhaps China thought they were manageable, that there was no need to worry because the reactions of the deep Western state are often impalpable, even if very clear. It was a bit like when the British say to an invitation, “Certainly we shall meet,” but they mean, I do not want to come. A Chinese person or foreigner, not accustomed to this culture, may take the statement literally as, I will certainly come. The opposite is also true. When a Chinese person responds to a suggestion by laughing, saying nothing, or kindly saying “no,” often foreigners think that it means “yes” because they think those who keep silent are agreeing. In addition, the concentric circles are not the only element of the organization of the country. Along with a hierarchical warp, there is a perpendicular weft that is exercised through a complex spectrum of organizations, also placed in hierarchical order but mutually dependent on one another. First, in reality, it is not the army, as in the easy statement “the power comes from the barrel of the rifle,” but the ideology, that which holds the apparatus together and convinces the soldier to take up and shoot the rifle. The affirmation and control of ideology is the main point of the organization of the Chinese state, which is why every new president presents himself with a new “idea” to be launched. There are the security apparatuses (the internal order in the party and in the state), and then there is the army, and then the economy that has to be able to pay for everything. They are delicate balances. There are two differences: one with the outside and the other with the Chinese past. Outside of China, the states are divided into the “superficial state” and “deep state” and find constant ideal and ideological renewal in the countrywide voting process, where ideology progresses and moves. According to the general principle of the protection of “liberties and the system of the state,” this system in turn is adapted and redefined gradually. The process can run amok, and got hijacked by “fake news” and populisms, but these uproars often are very superficial and do not touch the deep structure of the state, while introducing elements of renewals. In China, on the other hand, there is no open process of ideological renewal. The process is closed and internal, but it exists equally because for example Mao, Deng, or Xi won power with ideological platforms. Simplistically, for Mao it was nationalism and communism, for Deng it was development and decentralization, and for Xi it is a fight against corruption and decentralization. The essential difference between China and its past is that recently, under the communist party, the state has pushed the country to radical “Western” reforms. For 2,000 years, the fertility of China, its good administrative tradition, and the industriousness of its population guaranteed the wealth of the country once it had been kept in order. Mao had all these conditions but the country became impoverished. Deng enriched the country by including it in the world economic and political system. That is, China is no longer self-sufficient, and will never be. Its wealth depends on its integration in the world. China will naturally strive to mold the world in its image, but this will be extremely difficult, and the world ought to push for radical reforms that would save China and everybody else.