Friday, August 4, 2006

Genghis Khan -- Classical Liberal

In searching for information about the epic film The Conqueror (1956), which, in the days before Identity Politics could star deathbed-convert-to-Catholicism John Wayne as Genghis Khan, I came across this fascinating review of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World:It lists some of the Khan's more notable achievements:
    [Author Jack] Weatherford presents the 13th century conqueror as a progressive and innovative ruler who not only established international law but subordinated his own power to it. He promoted social tolerance and humanitarian values, outlawing torture, abolishing the sale of women, granting diplomatic immunity, and establishing free trade. He even built schools and championed literacy (thanks to Genghis Khan, Mongolia today has a higher literacy rate than the United States).

    Genghis Kahn’s [sic] contributions to Western civilization can hardly be overstated. His trade routes introduced to Europe technologies such as printing, the cannon, compass, and the abacus, as well as Mongol products like tea, lemons, carrots, playing cards, rugs, and pants. The Mongols also developed the first international postal system and paper currency.
The artilce goes on to say that "Genghis Khan was a deeply spiritual man who established laws protecting religious freedom," asserting that "the maligned Mongolian leader may have done as much for religious freedom as Thomas Jefferson." About the Khan's own belief system, he is said to be a "devout shamanist" who "would sometimes pray for days, alone on a mountain, seeking the guidance of the Eternal Blue Sky."

Here is more about the Khan's moral beliefs:
    “I hate luxury,” said Genghis Khan, summarizing his ideals, and “I exercise moderation.” Raising his sons to become rulers, he insisted that the key to leadership was self-control, and he cautioned them against pursuing a “‘colorful’ life with material frivolities and wasteful pleasures.”

    Indeed, Genghis Khan’s paternal advice offers a timeless wisdom to our own age of unchecked consumption. He claimed that the fall of his enemies had more to do with their weaknesses than his own superior strengths, saying that God had condemned the civilizations around him because of their “haughtiness and their extravagant luxury.”

    Materialism, said the man who had conquered the world, leads the soul astray. “It will be easy,” he warned his sons, “to forget your vision and purpose once you have fine clothes, fast horses, and beautiful women.”

    And then, he added, “you will be no better than a slave, and you will surely lose everything.”
So, why does he get such a bad rap in the West? Some of the usual suspects are to blame it turns out:
    The khan’s undeserved bad rap, Weatherford shows, traces back to 18th century European anti-Asian sentiment. Though Renaissance writers praised Genghis Khan’s virtues extravagantly, Enlightenment thinkers blamed him and the Mongols for Europe’s most detestable qualities. In a play intended to attack the French king, Voltaire, perhaps fearing for his head, substituted Genghis Khan for his nation’s cruel and ignorant ruler. He described the khan as a “wild Scythian soldier bred to arms” and his people as “wild sons of rapine, who live in tents, in chariots, and in fields.” They “detest our arts, our customs, and our laws,” Voltaire wrote, “and therefore mean to change them all."

    In the 19th and early 20th centuries, pseudo-Darwinian scientists linked criminal behavior biologically to the Mongols, and eugenicists coined the term “Mongoloid” to describe retarded children, who they believed had inherited degraded Mongol genes through centuries of interbreeding.
Anyone hated by Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire and also by Darwinists and other pseudo-scientists can't be all bad. Indeed, it seems the Khan might well be deserving of a place on the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty's In the Liberal Tradition: A History of Liberty, which includes thinkers ranging from Hugh of St. Victor (1096–1141) to Karol Wojtyla (1920–2005).

Oh, yes. Here is the image that led me to the above article, showing the Duke brilliantly cast as the Khan:
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