On the Philosophical and Religious Roots of Constructive Political Agendas:
A reflection on the Western concept of “climate change”
as opposed to the Chinese vision of an “ecological civilization”
Clara H. Whyte
Economist & Political Scientist
Executive Director, Paideia Mundi
Abstract presented to:
Political Studies Association’s annual conference
University of York
April 10th-13th, 2022
A rapid look at the current geopolitical scene will show a rising China facing a collapsing Western world. It is most relevant and urgent for us as Westerners to question how we have come to this point, not in a negative and revengeful fashion toward China, which would be both destructive and useless, but rather in a self-critical manner. How did we get from being a productive and creative civilization to a fatalistic and decaying one, more concerned with deadly materialistic objectives than with constructive ones?
One area on which we might want to focus our attention to understand this issue is the environmental area. As far as the environmental political agenda is concerned, the Western world basically comes up with the apocalyptic vision of upcoming and almost unavoidable climate change that will kill or displace millions of people globally, using it as an excuse to take kids out of school, promote low birth rates and a falling living standard.
China, on the other hand, has developed and promotes the concept of “ecological civilization” (Shengtai Wenming 生态文明) that proposes to refocus our attention on qualitative life-standard improvements rather than quantitative ones. This concept offers an inspirational vision of the future in which, while fighting environmental challenges, new healthier and happier communities will be built, cities will be made greener and more livable, ecological agricultural practices will ensure people’s food supply in a sustainable way, etc. A very important feature of the concept of ecological civilization is that it relies on the large-scale mobilization of ancient religious and philosophical movements, from Daoism and Buddhism to Confucianism. Hence, contrary to what happened under Mao, the latter are being strongly encouraged and promoted as a way of fighting social anomie and modern desperation, and putting people back on the path of a positive and constructive vision for the future. In fact, a society can only work and be successful and productive if it relies on a positive set of common values for the future that helps it focus its energies on common constructive projects.
In this presentation, I shall first get back to the roots of the current Western crisis which I will show results from the collapse of its traditional worldview (both religious and philosophical). I shall then show how that reflects in its mostly deadly environmental political agenda, and how the latter stands in sharp opposition with the Chinese concept of “ecological civilization”, hypothesizing that those differences of approaches are at the root of the current geopolitical reshuffling, and this not only in terms of “soft power”. Finally, I shall come down with some proposals on how the Western world could get out of its destructive lethargy, and get back on the track of positivity and constructiveness by using its own traditional philosophical and religious heritage to build up inspirational future-oriented political agendas, of which environmental policies are only one aspect.
Clara H. Whyte is an economist and a political scientist. She holds two Master’s degrees, including one from the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po Paris). She has been working in her field for more than 20 years in Canada and internationally. She speaks fluently French, English, Portuguese and Spanish. She also has an advanced level in German and in Mandarin Chinese (HSK 5). What’s more, she is learning Quechua (the most widely spoken Indigenous language in the Americas). She is the Executive Director of Paideia Mundi, a non-profit organization dedicated to putting forward an ethics of political thought and action that is respectful of all human and living beings on the planet, this thanks to the promotion of world cultures and humanities. Very well versed in political philosophy, she currently focuses her research on the issues surrounding ethical leadership and political regimes.
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