Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Genghis Khan: As a Philosopher and Secular Ruler

Genghis Khan was a courageous warrior, a ruthless military commander, an inspiring political leader, and an original philosopher. According to Edward Gibbon, John Locke was inspired by Genghis Khan’s religious philosophy. In Volume Four of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon wrote: “But it is the religion of Zingis [sic] that best deserves our wonder and applause. The Catholic inquisitors of Europe who defended nonsense by cruelty, might have been confounded by the example of a barbarian, who anticipated the lessons of philosophy and established by his laws a system of pure theism and perfect toleration."

In a footnote on the same page, Gibbon wrote: “A singular conformity might be found between the religious laws of Zingis Khan and Mr. Locke.” To justify his contention of a connection between Khan and Locke, Gibbon has cited the constitution of South Carolina, then a British colony. Locke had played a role in the writing of South Carolina’s constitution. Gibbon believed that Locke’s secular constitution for South Carolina was inspired by Genghis Khan’s vision of a secular political community based on common law. 

The achievement of Genghis Khan and his descendants was not only that they conquered several tribes, cities, and nations, and created the largest contiguous land empire in history, but also that they enabled people of different faiths, cultures, and geographical backgrounds live together under the Great Law (the constitution of the Mongol Empire). The Great Law made it a crime to victimize any person in the Mongol Empire on account of his religion. While most Mongols adhered to the Mongol tradition of God of the “deep blue sky,” a significant part of the population of the Mongol Empire was made of Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Confucians, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Manichaeans, and animalists. The Mongol Empire served as a religious and cultural melting pot—it was history’s unrivaled carrier of ideas.

The biography of Genghis Khan, History of Genghizcan the Great, First Emperor of the Ancient Moguls and Tartars (published in 1710), edited by François Pétis de la Croix, was introduced to the American colonies by Franklin. The book was in Washington’s library. Jefferson owned several copies of it. He gifted the book to his granddaughter Cornelia Jefferson Randolph on her seventeenth birthday—on the book’s first page he wrote that she must try to learn from Genghis Khan. Jefferson’s copies of the book have entered the United States Library of Congress and the library of University of Virginia. On May 26, 1795, Jefferson wrote to Jean Francois Froulle, a Paris bookseller, asking him to send him more leather bound copies of the book.


David Hart said...

Unbelievable how I got to this blog. A couple of years ago i read The Secret History of the Mongols and was fascinated at what i not only didn't know, but had never remotely heard. I was particularly intrigued by the religious debate in the capital in 1253 (1254 according to William of Rubruck's account of his participation). Today, while doing research into the events and errors of foreign policy from the firing of Gen. Stillwell and his expert staff in 1944 in favor of Washington/Chaing yes men. That led me into a history of the region, Sino-Japan war of 1894-95 leading to Sino-Russian war of 1905, Korea and Formosa going to Japan until end of WW2. Near involvement in support of France in N. Viet & ultimate involvement in S. Vietnam and ultimate decision of Johnson admin to formally begin bombing program on Feb 5 1965 after bombing of a remote helicopter base near Pleku while top admin advisor McGeorge Bundy was in Saigon AND while the new Soviet President was in Hanoi to wind down support for their efforts in S. Viet. The bombing formalized the escalation of US policy that was warned as part of 1954 review (by Gen. Matthew Ridgeway staff) of proposed assistance of French at Dien Bien Phu would probably fail and lead to ground troops. Eisenhower listened and the US did not get involved (then). With the election behind him, and with Bundy in Saigon with his hair on fire and now recommending they move ahead with 'Rolling Thunder', the bombing campaign began. Much of this is from David Halbersham's 'The Best and The Brightest'. It is a lesson in international politics and the limits of imperialism that anyone above the 'rank' of dog catcher should be aware.

Ultimately, I believe it comes down to being a slave of ideology, religious or other. Part of the ideology of the leaders then was that the US was tops, that they were the smartest, that, until then, they (and America seemingly) had always been able to have their way. They forgot if they ever knew the lessons of fighting an insurgency, especially overseas or a LONG ways off and how that would drain their public support which would probably be created by lies and deception that would fall apart long before the insurgents give up. The N. Vietnamese may have been communists, but they were first nationalists throwing off the yoke of colonialism. The mistake back then by the men left over in the halls of power (they had fired most of the ones who knew better) was that there was an international communist conspiracy. Ultimately, each country's commie style and flavor is very different. As many advisors would say (such as Charles DeGaul) - it would be better to let Vietnam become a communist country, then China and Soviet Union would have all their developmental and governmental headaches.

It would be nostalgic to think this mere hindsight if not for documents showing that this advice was there, just ignored.

Back to your topic. Your review of The Secret History of the Mongols was TERRIFIC. I look forward to working my way thru other titles on your list.

Anoop Verma said...

@David Hart: Interesting points. I think the Vietnamese were not communists in the beginning. Ho Chi Minh had lived and worked in the USA for many years (mostly in small jobs) and he had great deal of respect for Western society. It is during the years of struggle against Western military power (mostly American military power) that the Vietnamese turned towards radical communism. So America bears some responsibility in "forcing" the Vietnamese to move into the Soviet camp