Excerpt from Eurasian Universism: Sinitic Orientations for Rethinking the Western Logos by Xantio Ansprandi, forthcoming from PRAV Publishing:
Logos, possibly the most important concept of Hellenic philosophy, defining the order of self-unfolding of things, is usually translated as cosmic performative “Word” and “Reason”, Oratio and Ratio in Latin. A nearly equivalent concept is that of Noûs (Νοῦς), meaning cosmic “Intelligence” or “Mind”. The verbal root légō, légein (λέγω, λέγειν; “to say/to speak”), comes from the Indo-European *leg- and means “to arrange/ to put in order”; it is also related to the semantic field of “linking” and “binding” (cf. Latin ligō, ligāre), and in Romance languages also “reading” (cf. Latin legō, legere). The words “intelligence” and “religion” come from the same root, via, respectively, Latin intelligō, intelligere (inter+ligere, i.e. “linking together”) and religiō, religiōnis (“relinking”, “rereading” or “remembrance”).
Heraclitus (c. 535-475 BCE), was the first attested Hellenic pre-Socratic philosopher to deal with the Logos as the order of the universe. His thought prevented the development of a dualistic logic by conceiving opposite things and qualities as contending forces working within a coherent whole (Latin co+haereō, co+haerēre, “to stick together”), rather than as unchanging separated entities or abstract qualities of a substance. Heraclitus says that “God is day-night”, presenting duality as the dynamism of the unity, as the dynamism through which the oneness, that is the source of all things, works and manifests itself. Another Heraclitean concept is that “war (Polemos) is the father of all things”, meaning that competing forces are necessary to one another, and the tension between them produces the energy of the oneness. Notwithstanding Heraclitean thought, dualistic logic would have later prevailed in the form of the law of non-contradiction formulated by Aristotle.
The non-dualistic pre-Socratic style of thought, Jullien says, is analogical to that which has always been prevalent in Sinitic philosophy. Sinitic thought is founded upon the idea of a Tian whose Li or Dao manifests itself through the interplay between the 阴 yīn and 阳 yang. These latter are usually rendered, respectively, as “dark” and “bright”, “waning” and “waxing”, or “absorption” and “emanation”, but they cover a still wider semantic range. They are the modality of differentiation working between the original oneness and the many things of the world. Heaven and its Reason, the source and the way of configuration of the universe, are well expressed in Jullien’s terms as the “upstream” and “downstream” of the same manifestation process. Sinitic thought does not create an unbridgeable schism between metaphysics and physics, being and becoming, or between God and the Logos, so that any modality of configuration (shen and their li) is at the same time a way of communication with the source (源 yuán) of all things. Tian and the shen and their li are reciprocally and complementarily related, since oneness manifests itself in duality and multiplicity, and in turn oneness is continuously reassembled and reconfirmed by the multiplicity’s coherence. It is a system that allows for both unity and multiplicity, without denying the latter. Denying the oneness’s manifoldness is therefore the same as denying the oneness itself that is at work in the multiplicity.
The Hellenic Logos and the Sinitic Dao are often compared and contrasted, especially when the former is perceived to be “fixed” while the latter is considered to have preserved “flexibility”. Rather, the tauter opposition is not that between the Logos and the Dao, but between them and the Christian conception of the Logos as “Christ”. This last is a reification/objectification of the Logos as one single entity, spatiotemporally confined in the person of Jesus (Yeshua, “Ya who Saves”) of Nazareth.
I argue that the objectification of the Logos should be recognised as the ultimate cause of the degenerative pathology that plagues Western civilisation. The abstraction of the universal God — conceived as an otherworldly entity, an entity existing outside the universe that it created as a separate object — is the first step towards the separation between, and the objectification of both, God and the Logos. The latter’s fixation into one specific historical entity marks the critical point of its objectification, and at the same time its separation from the rest of the world and from humanity, which in turn are despiritualised and bereft of value. Once it is deprived of flexible and multifarious creativity, the Logos sclerotises and petrifies into an empty simulacrum, then plunging back into inorganic matter. Starting from the splitting between human reason and the Logos, it takes only one step for the complete denial of the latter and the unrestrainable hypertrophy of the former (rationalism) and its complete materialisation, its identification with matter itself.
We may identify the multiplex Logos or Li with the Lacanian concept of “Symbolic Order”, which is accessible by means of the “Name of the Father”. According to Jacques Lacan, symbols, and words which they represent, “umbelap the life of man in a network so total that they join together […] the shape of his destiny”.
Symbols constitute a web that, since the dawn of history, permits humanity to rise above undifferentiated matter by building languages and civilisations. The Name of the Father is the wherewithal that moulds and sublimates the otherwise shapeless Thing (Das Ding), the original undifferentiated oneness that at one time generates and reabsorbs individual things. In other words, the Name of the Father opens a gap between the individual and the Thing within which thought may develop.
Christianity’s reduction of symbols to one historicised person corresponds to what Lacanians define as an “obduracy” or “network sclerosis”, that is the stiffening of the Symbolic Order and its infestation with the deathly aspect of the Thing. In this process, the network of symbols ceases to be dynamic, it becomes saturated, and it protractedly reproduces itself as a machine-like empty shell.
All forms of totalising egalitarian ideology produced by the Enlightenment, together with the whirl of postliberalism discussed by Dugin — i.e. ideologies denying the existence of functional differences in the organisation of reality, that is to say, the hierarchical manifestation of the Logos as a multiplicity of degrees or orders of being (thymoi or shen and li), or even actively trying to destroy such qualitative differentiation — are pathological symptoms of the same illness that, once embryonically contained in Christian theology, became wholly manifested with the latter’s secularisation in the modern era. I argue that the remedy for such Western sclerosis must start from a deconstruction of the sclerotised Logos, rethinking it with the purpose of onsetting its palingenesis. This may be done by means of operative frameworks offered by Sinitic thinking.
If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.
Sinitic philosophy relates the corruption of society to that of language, and to the loss of the meaning of names. Confucius sees language corruption as a consequence of the separation of the human mind from the order of the universe. When names are inappropriate, they fail to address things and things do not reveal themselves for what they are, men do not know how to relate to things and to one another, and ultimately actions are blocked and may not be accomplished. This is based on the belief that the etymological composition of words demarks accurately the natural formation of the things that they signify. The treatment prescribed by Confucius for healing the corruption of language is the “rectification of names” (正名 zhèngmíng), which may be likened to the practice of etymological analysis, reconstruction, and interpretation; in one word, the “redeeming” of things. This section deals with the redemption of reason.
Etymologically, the term “Reason”, a Latinate from Ratio (in the sense of “order”, “rule”; “ration” and “race” are alterations of the same word) or Oratio (“word”, “speech”, cf. the verbal ōrō, ōrāre, but also “kind” and “style”), comes from the Indo-European root *her-, *hreh-. The latter primarily means a “movement” aimed at “putting together properly”, whence the derivative meaning of “well composed” or “well joined”. Such root is otherwise spelled Ar or simply R-, and refers to the principle and mode of unfolding of the universe. It continues in modern German Ur (“Origin”), in Er, or in Or, the latter contained as the radical element in many Greco-Latinate words. It is therefore the same concept expressed by the Hellenic Logos or Nous.
Specialised through various suffixes, the Ar root gives rise to many words of common usage that originally have a cosmic and axial significance. There are, for instance, the Latin ordō (“order”), as well as ars, artis (“art”), artus (“fit”, “apt”, “appropriate”, “right time”), arma (“tool/device/gear”, “weapon/defensive arm”, “armour”) and rītus (“rite”), and also, significantly, the verbs orior, orīrī (“to rise”) — which begets orīgō (“origin”), ortus (“risen”, “sprung”, “appeared”) and oriēns (“east/ orient”, “daybreak”; meaning “rising”, “originating” when used as a participle) — and arō, arāre (“to plough”).
In the Greek language, there are Arkhḗ (Ἀρχή, “beginning/origin”) and Orthótes (Όρθότης, “rightness”; cf. also the adjective ὀρθός orthós, “right”) — uppercase when meaning the origin and order of the cosmos — and all their derivatives such as “archaic”, the prefix “arch(i)-”, and hierárkhēs (ἱεράρχης, “holy principle”), and also armonía (ἁρμονία), arithmós (ἀριθμός, “number”, “rhyme”, “right time”), and aretḗ (ἀρετή, “virtue”), the latter being the quality of the áristoi (ἄρῐστοι; a superlative meaning “the rightest/the best”).
In Germanic languages, one of the branches of *hreh- produces all the words pertaining to the semantic field of “right” (straight, correct, appropriate movement and direction, appropriately ordered behaviour, juridical right) and “rich” (originally it itself meaning “to be right”). The same stem, in Latin, produces the verbal regō, regere, rēxī, rectum (“to rule, to reign, to righten, to straighten”), and the noun rex (“king”).
In Vedic Sanskrit, the root *her- produces ऋत Ṛtá, otherwise spelled Rita or Arta, the second form being the Iranian rendition, and ऋतु ṛtú, referring to the “right timing” for sacrificing in attunement with the Rita. The latter has preserved, in Vedic literature, its original meaning of “Holy Reason” or “Holy Right”, and in later religious literature was replaced by the concept of Dharma (the cosmic “Law”; Latin Firmus, Firma), which originally indicates a mere specialisation of the Rita. William K. Mahony corroborates the meaning of “moving in a fitting manner”, and highlights its relation to “rites” interpreted as movements that dramatically establish order in space- time. He defines the Rita as the way of things coming together in a “structured yet dynamic whole”. As I clarify in the following sections and chapters, this cosmic Reason, the Logos, is the second person of a triune vision of the God of Heaven shared by all the cultures of Eurasia, and the attunement with such Reason, implying to be right and thus prosper, means to steer human activities in vertical accord with the time of Heaven.
The separation of human reason from the Logos in Western thinking entails at the same time a dichotomisation between “reasoning” and “ritualising”, even despite the etymological affinity of the two words. As explained in the foregoing chapter, the modern manifestation of this separation may be traced back to the seventeenth century, but its earliest roots are to be found in Christian metaphysics. The philosophy of the Enlightenment explicitly rejected whatsoever ritual tradition as a stagnant reproduction of the “old order”. According to the Icelandic philosopher Geir Sigurdsson, based on the historian Peter Burke, an articulate opposition of reason to rite was first laid out with the Protestant Reformation. The reformers’ doctrines despised ritual as an illusory artifice that hides true spirituality.
Sigurdsson alters a dictum of Kant’s in the light of the concept of Li, saying that “tradition without reason would be blind, and reason without tradition would be empty”. Analogously, the Analects of Confucius say that “learning without reflection results in confusion, reflection without learning results in peril”. Reason is not an abstract entity but is always incarnated in a cultural context, in which reason itself enlivens and moralises. Conversely, whenever human reason is deprived of its background, it results in meaningless abstraction. Reason and cultural tradition are concurrently complementary in both their epistemology and praxis. When reason does not consider the forces at play in the context in which it works, it threatens the existence of both itself and the context. Alienated reasoning is immoral since it fails to measure the potential inchoately working in the present time and to behave appropriately towards them.
In Lacanian terminology, as explained in the foregoing chapter, the Li may be identified as the Symbolic Order established by the Name of the Father, a mode of reasoning to deal with reality. Rite may therefore be regarded as a mould that gives shape to the Thing, the original indistinct oneness. At this point, it is worthwhile making a distinction between the Thing in its structured symbolisation, which I call the Yang-Thing by integrating Lacanianism with Sinitic cosmology, and the Thing in its primordial shapeless state, which I call the Yin-Thing. Rite is the device aimed at creating a Yang-Thing, while the abstraction of the Symbolic Order from any context marks the beginning of its sclerotisation, obdurate senseless repetition. When this happens, as is the case in modern Western civilisation, the Symbolic Order becomes asphyxiated and overrun by the Yin-Thing, which reëmerges from the network’s sclerosis and dissolution. An obdurate Symbolic Order is the Yin-Thing disguised as Yang-Thing, comparable to the perversion of the fatherly function, that is to say, the Lacanian concept of the “Father of Pleasure”, the “Father of the Horde”, of anomic undifferentiation and of the “Hatred of God”. This is comparable as well to the “inversion of sign” which takes place in dying civilisations, of which Ernesto de Martino spoke, by which the anabasis/anastrophe or ascending and public-wise movement turns into the katabasis/catastrophe or descending and private-wise movement, corresponding, in the life of individuals, to a turn from healing altruistic publicisation to a shattering egoistic privatisation. Due to this inversion, the world as a “temple”, as a “hodology”, a common project of operativity and usability, crystallises and then collapses.
Now the Rites necessarily have their origin in the Supreme One, which divides to become Heaven and Earth, revolves to become yin and yang, and changes to become the four seasons.
– “Record of Rites” (Liji)
Sigurdsson defines lǐ 礼 (classical character: 禮), with the meaning of “ritual”, as a device for the regular invocation/evocation and cultivation of spirit(s), which is flexible and adaptable to the continuously changing reality. Confucius and his close disciples theorised the implementation of li as instruments for their project of reviving Zhou culture. Rituals consist in the “active and personalised participation” of individuals in a “tradition’s sustention and evolution”. When looked at from a merely sociological perspective, li may appear as efficacious tools for the education and the cultivation of individuals and societies. In the following sections, I illustrate the li as an axiological instrument for appropriately moving in space, thriving in time, and — summarising these two perspectives — ceremonially centring and verticalising space-time, in sight of Heaven. In De Martino’s terminology, rite (which, as the practical counterpart of myth, constitutes the symbol) is a technical device of imitatio naturae for imitating the circle of the eternal return of nature to project the spiral of culture, shaping time into a history. In the light of the idea of Heaven in Sinitic thinking, we may more clearly speak about rite as imitatio Caeli, imitation of Heaven, or, as it will be made clearer in the third chapter, of the stellar configurations of the circle of the north celestial pole.
The purpose of rituals is to establish communication with the continuously changing reality. Within Sinitic tradition, Ruism prioritises the establishment and upholding of morality and thus civil society, which is seen in a continuum with the environment and the universal process of naturation. Taoism differs from the Ruist perspective by prioritising a mystical, personal, and localised understanding of the process of nature, conceiving human society as a distinct entity that depends on the former.
The shared idea is that harmony never crystallises into a definitive and permanent code since the things in the world “persist in a continuous process of emerging order”, in a continuous reconfiguration. The universal Li is iridescent and constantly changing, and the incompleteness of creation is precisely what permits the movement and renewal of life. As part of the world, humans should “themselves participate in this process by configuring and reconfiguring their position within the whole”.
Humanity realises its true role within the world when ways of symbolic and decorous interaction with the latter and with the forces at play within it are established. Rituals and morality spontaneously arise in the process of negotiation with such forces, and simultaneously they permit the continuity in time of moralised humanity. Concisely, rituals (li) establish and transmit true humanity. Interaction is progressively autopersonal (directed towards oneself), interpersonal (directed towards others), and then directed towards the gods working in the umbegoing world.
The etymological dictionary Shuōwén Jiězì explains that li means the “appropriate footsteps” to be followed “to serve the spirits”. Sigurdsson adds that they are devices aimed at establishing morality, but also instruments that provide individuals with the skill to enter the moral sphere without injuring themselves. Noteworthily, the Latinate word “appropriate/proper” comes from proprius, which means “one’s own”, or “congenial/congenital”, “characteristic”. The Sinitic equivalent of proprius is the cardinal Ruist concept of yì 义, usually rendered as “righteousness/correctness”. Sigurdsson defines it as a “heuristic model for acquiring the skill of successfully realising the values of the cultural tradition”, for education and socialisation, and therefore humanisation and identification, within the cultural tradition. This is the meaning of being ritualised.
Rituals (li) are the concrescence of various orders of being (li) within the universal Li. As such, they may be conceived as devices that give individuals the ability to traverse the various orders — or the spheres of the Gnostic Ktisma cosmology, or the branches of the Li intended as an arborescent structure. It is by means of acquired ritual styles that an individual may move across the cosmos, enter various groups, and establish relations with other individuals. Ultimately, rituals may be regarded not only as means of contextual coherence but also as practical tools for the self-transformation and emancipation of individuals, tools to create and switch reality.
Sigurdsson proffers a further explanation of li through the concept of habitus (which is the perfect participle of the Latin verb habeō, habēre, “to have/own”, and is considered as synonymous with the already treated mos, “morality”), described by Pierre Bourdieu as a “system of structured, structuring dispositions” that is “constituted in practice and is always oriented towards practical functions”. Habituality synthesises in one single concept the preëminent pragmatism and contextuality of the li. The habitus is a historically and culturally pertinent practice, forged by the experience of a given configuration of reality as the best way to interact with the latter, and it is as well “the active presence of the whole past of which it is the product”. The habitus is, in other words, contextually and temporally legitimised and able to adapt itself to the shifting conditions and to individual actors’ peculiar experiences; at the same time, it is traditional, i.e., transmittable between individuals, in the present and towards the future. Every context and contextualised entity has what Bourdieu calls its own “logic of practice” of space-time. The li as habitus is interpretable as a “spatiotemporal pragmatism”.
Conceived as habitus, ritual wholly overlaps with “reasoning” in the latter’s definition given by John Dewey in Democracy and Education (1916), later conflated with that of “intelligence”:
Reason is just the ability to bring the subject matter of prior experience to bear the significance of the subject matter of a new experience. A person is reasonable in the degree in which he is habitually open to seeing an event which immediately strikes his senses not as an isolated thing but in its connection with the common experience of mankind.