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Reconstruction of morality, order in the modern world

Author  :  REN JUNFENG     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-02-04

Natural Society: Natural Law and the Formation of Modern Morality

Author: Li Meng

Publisher: SDX Joint Publishing Company

When using “natural society” as a conceptual analysis tool, a systematic approach can trace this term back to British thinker Edmund Burke’s article, Vindication of Natural Society: or, A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind from Every Species of Artificial Society, published in 1756. Burke wrote that natural society refers to a type of society based on man’s natural habits and instincts and is different from the man-made political society.

Li Meng adopted the concept but enriched its content. He argues that natural society first corresponds to natural politics. Characteristics of natural politics lie at the core of classical political philosophy and moral concepts while traits of natural society refer to modern political and moral philosophy represented by the school of natural law. According to this school of thought, natural society corresponds to political society, namely, states. In modern politics, the direct link between nature and politics in the classical sense has been broken, but close ties still exist between politics and social habits: The establishment of modern politics must be based on social interactions between people. Whether it is to overcome or to protect this state of affairs, modern political life and its ruling authority must take sociality as the starting point, in order to constitute a political society, not just a political community in the classical sense.

Li inherited Strauss’s ideas. Natural Society and Strauss’s Natural Rights and History have consistent themes: Diagnosing the reasons for “modern disease” through disputes between ancient people and modern counterparts, and then exploring solutions. The difference between them is that Strauss confronts the spiritual ruins left by the modern revolution and enlightenment, namely moral nihilism, while Li confronts the political crisis caused by the crisis of the modern moral world.

In Defoe’s fictional world, Robinson Crusoe is a metaphor for ordinary people, and Li takes this metaphor and moves it to the study of the moral and political philosophy of the school of natural law. After recounting the Robinson Crusoe story in the introduction, Li continues to employ it as the methodology for the entire book: From natural state to the political order, Crusoe’s moral and political experience become the “experience” basis and “historical” evidence of the morality and political philosophy typical of the school of natural law that the book aims to explore. In Crusoe’s adventures, politics rather than economics became the key theme of life when the protagonist found footprints. The moral and political world that Crusoe faces is the same world that schools of modern natural law are attempting to rebuild. From Hobbes, Grotius and Suarez to Pufendorf, Li analyzes modern lifestyles from the perspective of moral philosophy and its derivative political philosophy.

In addition, Crusoe in Natural Society is not only a metaphor for a philosophical understanding of methodology and modern “historical experience” but also represents a kind of survival experience of a civilization in modern times. This demonstrates Li’s more profound concern over the history of civilizations: Roaming, rather than leaving home, is in fact a journey home.

Editor: Yu Hui

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