1 philosophically instructed monarch.

In document The question of the Asiatic mode of production : towards a new Marxist historiography (Page 30-36)

The type of argument put forward by Boulanger became much more popular in the nineteenth century, when India rather them China had become the

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prime reference point for the model of Oriental despotism. The passivity and submissiveness towards the 'supernatural' (including temporal power) supposedly inculcated by eastern religions then became a popular explanation for Asiatic despotism. For example, Lieut.-Col. Wilks, one of Marx's

any other people, they 'do not refer to those savage times when it was necessary for men to be cheated in order to be guided.' (Ibid., p. 83.)

^ Nicolas Antoine Boulanger, Recherches sur 1'origine du despotisme oriental, in Oeuvres de Boullanger (sic), 8 vols., Paris, Jean Servieres and Jean-

Frangois Bastien, 1792-1793, Vol. IV, 1792, pp. 236-237. A similar attempt to use the Oriental example as a warning to the contemporary French monarchy to reform itself is to be found in the Essai sur le despotisme of Mirabeau

(2nd ed., London, 1776). Mirabeau urged the monarch not to indulge in despotism, because this would bring on France the weakness it had brought on Turkey, Persia and Mogul India.

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Boulanger himself had been swimming against the tide of eighteenth century thought in applying his concept of the politics of irrationalism to China. He conceded to the Jesuits that natural law might set the tone at the begin­ ning of each dynasty in China. Thereafter, however, the hidden vices of the system were bound to re-emerge. (Recherches sur V origine du despotisme oriental, loc.cit., p. 222.)

sources on India, was also to raise Montesquieu's climatic explanation only to dismiss it,^' and to write that: 'The shackles imposed on the

human mind by the union of the divine and human code [including political, civil and criminal codes] have been stated as the efficient causes of despotism . ..'*2

Meanwhile, the concept of Oriental despotism had been undergoing a metamorphosis, and in eighteenth-century France it emerged for the first time as a positive model, held up for the instruction of the West in

rational government.

Oriental Despotism and French Politics 3 The Second Phase: A Positive Model for Europe

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jesuit missionaries in China had done much to create a more flattering image of the Orient than that which had prevailed in Europe prior to the seventeenth century. It was largely owing to the information provided by the Jesuits and other missionaries that the concept of Oriental despotism came to be used by one

faction of French political life in the eighteenth century as a positive, rather than a negative model for Europe. This faction,as we shall see, sought the strengthening and rationalisation of central government at the expense of feudal powers, and in the process of their propaganda campaign, fused models of enlightened despotism and of Oriental despotism.

One of the most influential examples of the Jesuit literature produced in this period, and one which in fact was utilised by both the proponents and opponents of despotism, was the Description geographique, historique, chronologique, politique et physique de 1'Empire de la Chine et de la

Lieut.-Col. Mark Wilks, Historical Sketches of the South of India, 3 vols., London, Longman, 1810-1817, Vol. 1, p. 22.

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T a r t a r i e c h i n o i s e , b y P e r e J e a n - B a p t i s t e d u H a l d e . T h i s w o rk e n j o y e d t h e h o n o u r o f b e i n g t r a n s l a t e d f r o m t h e o r i g i n a l F r e n c h i n t o E n g l i s h , Germ an, 2 a n d R u s s i a n ; o f b e i n g m i s q u o t e d b y M o n t e s q u i e u ; a n d f i n a l l y , o f b e i n g a c c l a i m e d i n t h e D i c t i o n n a i r e de B i o g r a p h i e F r a n ^ a i s e a s h a v i n g e x e r c i s e d on t h e h i s t o r y o f i d e a s i n t h e e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r y 1 2 * 4 5 6une i n f l u e n c e 3 d o n t o n n ' a p a s f i n i de m e s u r e r l e r e t e n t i s s e m e n t ' . The w o rk i t s e l f c o n s i s t e d i n a c o l l a t i o n o f a m ass o f m a t e r i a l s e n t t o P a r i s f ro m members o f t h e O r d e r who w e r e i n t h e f i e l d . I t i n c l u d e d c h a p t e r s on e d u c a t i o n , t h e e x a m i n a t i o n s y s t e m , a n d t h e s y s t e m o f g o v e r n m e n t . C o n c e r n i n g t h e l a t t e r , d u H a ld e w r o t e : ' T h e r e i s no m o n a r c h y m ore a b s o l u t e 4 t h a n t h a t o f C h i n a '. The o u tc o m e o f t h i s was a h a p p y o n e , h o w e v e r , a s ' n o P e o p l e i n t h e w o r l d h a v e b e t t e r [Laws o f G o v e r n m e n t ] ' . ^ T h e s e l a w s w e r e i n t e r p r e t e d a n d a d m i n i s t e r e d by men o f t h e h i g h e s t m e r i t ; p o s i t i o n i n C h i n e s e s o c i e t y a n d g o v e r n m e n t b e i n g d e p e n d e n t n o t o n b i r t h b u t on

g

a b i l i t y . The E m p e ro r e x e r c i s e d u l t i m a t e c o n t r o l o v e r p r o p e r t y , t h r o u g h t a x a t i o n , b u t t h i s c o n t r i b u t e d t o t h e g e n e r a l p r o s p e r i t y as t h e t a x r e v e n u e was u s e d t o p r o v i d e w e l f a r e s e r v i c e s , p u b l i c b u i l d i n g s , s a l a r i e s f o r t h e m a n d a r i n s , e t c . 7 % Above a l l , du H a l d e saw i n t h e C h i n e s e p o l i t i c a l s y s t e m t h a t g r e a t e i g h t e e n t h - c e n t u r y v i r t u e o f s t a b i l i t y. He w r o t e : C h i n a h a s t h i s A d v a n t a g e o v e r a l l o t h e r N a t i o n s , t h a t f o r 4 , 0 0 0 Y e a r s , a n d u p w a r d s , i t h a s b e e n g o v e r n e d a l m o s t w i t h o u t I n t e r r u p t i o n , b y i t s own n a t i v e P r i n c e s , a n d w i t h l i t t l e D e v i ­ a t i o n , e i t h e r i n A t t i r e , M o r a l s , Laws, C u s t o m s , o r M a n n e r s , f r o m t h e w i s e I n s t i t u t i o n s o f i t s f i r s t L e g i s l a t o r s . ^ F i r s t p u b l i s h e d i n P a r i s , 1 7 3 5 , i n f o u r v o l s . 2 M o n t e s q u i e u q u o t e s d u H a l d e a s s a y i n g * I t i s t h e c u d g e l ( b a t o n ) t h a t g o v e r n s C h i n a ' . {The S p i r i t o f L a w s . , o p . c i t . , Book V I I I , Ch. 2 1 , p . 1 23 ; s e e a l s o Book X V II, Ch. 5 , p . 2 6 8 . ) No s u c h s t a t e m e n t i n f a c t a p p e a r s i n du H a l d e ' s b o o k . E n t r y u n d e r J e a n - B a p t i s t e du H a l d e i n t h e F r a n q ^ a i s e . 4 J . - B . d u H a l d e , H i s t o r y o f C h i n a , L o n d o n , 5 I b i d . , V o l . I l l , p . 6 0 . 6 I b i d . , V o l . I I , p p . 9 9 - 1 0 8 . 7 I b i d . , p . 2 2 . D i c t i o n n a i r e de B i o g r a p h i e W a t t s , 1 8 4 1 , V o l . I I , p . 1 2 . I b i d . , p . 1 . 8

Works such as that of du Halde became the fuel for the eighteenth- century vogue of sinophilia, which in France became a veritable sinomania.^ This vogue was more than just a demonstration of enlightenment cosmopolitan­ ism. It was part of the intellectual campaign against feudal prejudice at home, in favour of a ’modern' state, administered by a rational bureau­ cracy.

The mandarinate and examination system, for example, were of parti­ cular interest to enlightenment figures in arms against the old forms of government based on ascriptive principles. This interest was finally transformed into practical policy in the nineteenth century, when the

'Chinese' system of recruitment to the civil service through examination was generally adopted in Europe. The system of state schools admired by Western observers of China in the eighteenth century was also eventually transplanted to Europe.

China was credited by missionary observers with having a political system that was both rational and based on natural law in spite of the

absence of the Christian religion. Society was sustained through a practical morality that was inculcated through the legal system, without the benefit of revealed religion - a claim that in other hands became useful ammunition in the struggle for religious toleration.

French sinomania reached its height with figures such as Voltaire and the Philosophes (with the notable exceptions of Diderot and Rousseau). It was revived towards the last quarter of the century by the Physiocrats. The significance of the Physiocrats was that they saw in China a positive model for France, not only in its political aspects, but also in its economic aspect.

The Physiocrats were advocates of what they termed 'legal despotism' in France. What they meant by the term legal despotism was aptly defined 1 For the most comprehensive account of this aspect of French thought in the eighteenth century see Basil Guy, 'The French image of China before and after Voltaire', Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Vol. 21 (1963), pp. 1-468. Henri Cordier's Bibliotheca Sinica (2nd ed., Paris, Guilmoto, 5 vols., 1904-1924) is still indispensable for the bibliographical details of this period of Western writing on China.

by one of their number, Le Mercier de la Riviere. He decribed Euclid as the epitome of the legal despot; his laws rightly had absolute authority because they were backed by the irresistable force of the evidence, or, in other words, because of their obvious congruence with natural laws."*" In the same way, governments should wield absolute power in order to up-

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hold the laws of nature relating to society (i.e. economic lav/s) .

The major tenet of the Physiocrats was that the source of all value lay in agricultural production, or land made fertile by labour. Hence they believed that taxation should be limited to a direct tax on agricul­ tural production, payable by the proprietor to whom the surplus accrued

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in rent. The revenue thus obtained should be used by the government to provide the general conditions for agriculture.

Where the government was co-proprietor of the 'net product' through its share of the agricultural surplus it would have a natural interest in encouraging productivity. Per contra, any other form of taxation, tolls, or internal barriers to trade served only to upset the natural laws of the economy, and was detrimental to the prosperity of the nation.

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As was noted by Marx himself, the intellectual position of the Physiocrats was complex: objectively they sought the removal of obstacles

from the path of capitalist production, but they did this in the name of beliefs about land as the only source of value. 'The bourgeois glorify

La Mercier de la Riviere, L'Ordre naturel et essentiel des societes politiques, London & Paris, 1767, facsimile ed., Paris, P. Geuthner, 1910, Ch. 24. For further explanations of the concept see Dupont de Nemours in Ephemerides du citoyen, Vol. XII (1767), pp. 188-204, and in de l'Origine et des progres d'une science nouvelle, London, 1768.

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Francois Quesnay, Despotism in China, comprising Vol., 2 (bound together with Vol. 1) of Lewis A. Maverick, China: A model for Europe, San Antonio,

Texas, P. Anderson, 1946, p. 225. 3

The Physiocrats anticipated the'iron law' of wages, whereby competition forces wages down to the minimum level necessary to maintain the existence of the labourer. For this reason, the Physiocrats argued, tax could not be deducted from the wages of farm-labourers without making them a burden on their employers.

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Marx, [Private Property and Labour], Early Writings, ed. T.B. Bottomore, London, Watts, 1963, pp. 149-150.

f e u d a l i s m i n t h e o r y . . . o n l y i n o r d e r t o r u i n i t i n a c t u a l p r a c t i c e . * 2 They w e r e t h e ' f a t h e r s o f m o d e rn e c o n o m i c s ' , i n t h a t t h e y made v a l u e a f u n c t i o n o f l a b o u r r a t h e r t h a n a n i n t r i n s i c p r o p e r t y , b u t t h e y d i d n o t b e l i e v e t h a t v a l u e c o u l d b e c r e a t e d i n t h e l a b o u r o f m a n u f a c t u r e . The k i n d

In document The question of the Asiatic mode of production : towards a new Marxist historiography (Page 30-36)