Leavening of Culture, Identity, Civilization
Examples in Eurasian Traditions
H.B. Paksoy, D. Phil.
Lectures prepared for the
“Rewriting History: Emerging Identities and Nationalism in Central Asia”
At the CENTRAL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY
Budapest, July 2004
The story of a newly minted PhD is oft told, who, immediately after defending his dissertation, promptly ordered a shiny brass plate for his apartment entrance prominently displaying the initials "Dr." preceding his name. Shortly afterward, in the small hours of one morning, he was awakened by an urgent pounding on his door. A neighbor, half dressed, demanded of the Dr. that he get his bag and follow, for his wife was very ill. The young PhD made a futile attempt to explain that he was a doctor of philosophy. His neighbor responded with angry allusions to the sexual ancestry of such claims, and a doctors' responsibility to humanity under some oath that he heard all doctors swore. Observing the noose imagery hanging in the air, the new PhD asked a few exploratory questions: what were the symptoms of the ailment, what hurt. Swiftly emptying the briefcase of unfinished manuscripts, the "doctor" refilled it with the contents of his bathroom medicine chest. Immediately upon his return from the patient's bedside, the PhD posthaste transferred the brass door-plate bearing his cherished title to the bathroom cabinet.
In some cases, there has been a similar confusion between thinking and thought, and identity and function. For example, once a student asserted that he could think that he needed a drink of water, and that constituted ‘thinking and thought process.’ Perhaps. Thinking and thought process imply transformation, and that change is inescapable. One who does not adapt to developments beyond one's control, is likely to pass from the scene. This holds true not only for individuals, but especially for the identities of polities and cultures. Each successful community, one that prospered within its environment, had devised its own method of coping with transformation. Each successful society also transmitted its cultural identity values to future generations. The study of the means of those transmission methods is a fruitful endeavor.
An example of such adaptation is the American transition from a fundamentally theologically inspired educational environment to a liberal arts college system. This transition in the U.S. was essentially designed by a handful of individuals. The change was primarily impelled by the hopes of giving the fledgling republic a sound intellectual future base, an independent life, because the liberal education was by then regarded a vanguard of an open mind towards a balanced world view. The U.S. founding fathers and their followers were well read, and knew the tribulations of previous cultures and civilizations.
The Founding Fathers of the American Republic sought to avoid the errors of the old Greeks and the Romans, but went a step further. By establishing liberal arts institutions of higher learning, the Founders pursued a policy of educating the American masses, thereby ensuring the continuance of what was established; the Republic. Thus, in 1753 Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) helped found [among others], the College of Philadelphia, later to become University of Pennsylvania. Thomas Jefferson (1743- 1826) led the establishment of University of Virginia in 1819. George Washington not only gave his name to at least one college, but also supported the creation of others. These initiatives were followed by the founding of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago. These institutions were devoted to the development of Liberal Arts, as opposed to the training of clergy. Almost all colonial American colleges prior to 1776 were designed after the European model, including Harvard (1636), Yale (1701), Princeton (established in 1766 as College of New Jersey), and were first and foremost training institutions for preachers. The newly created Liberal Arts Colleges were to soon require the older universities and colleges to revise and reform their curricula, and adopt the liberal education approach. Most other institutions followed that lead.
Religion, or a given belief system, is also regarded as an essential ingredient of culture and civilization. Hence, approaches to religion of various cultures are important and the study of religion to the extent those societies have chosen to modify religion, to suit their own needs, is to be studied.
Thus we can summarize: We humans are influenced by events; whether we know their sources or not. If we are not cognizant of the sources of influences, it is too easy for us to be led astray. As a result, we may lose our humanity. There are many examples, not the least in the 20th century.
We are in search of that defining essence of humanity; what constitutes it. This is a long term search, one that may never be finalized. For good reason: The search itself is the infinitely dynamic voyage, and the results attained along the way are markers, if you will, of the evolving measures. If the humanity does not continually refine itself, than we run the risk of allowing the horrors and inhumanities experienced in the past to take over once again.
A free society cannot survive without the educated and active participation of its members. In order to participate as a responsible citizen, individuals must be prepared. Preparation includes the ability to comprehend and analyze information, which one learns through a liberal arts education. Familiarity with the society's goals and principles, as necessary as familiarity with ones' own, is attained through the study of societies in their entirety. A liberal arts education provides people with a broad foundation. Anything less than a whole education, that is Liberal Arts education, will eventually lead to a society which is not free. Without such a base, a democratic society will give way to the sway of an attractive rhetoric or personality, as has been demonstrated several times even in the 20th century.
Let us now consider how one culture flourishes and, a millennia later, influences another. In this case, none of the actors had any intention to do so. A booklet, issued by the U.S. Congress, contains the following information:
The 23 relief portraits in marble are of men noted
in history for the part they played in the evolution of
what has become American law. They were placed over the
gallery doors of the House of Representatives Chamber
when it was remodeled 1949-1950.
Created in bas relief of white Vermont marble by
seven different sculptors, the plaques each measure 28"
in diameter. One is full face, and 22 are profile. From
the full face of Moses on the north wall, 11 profiles
face left and 11 face right, ending at the Webster
quotation on the south wall above the speaker's chair.
The subjects of the plaques were jointly chosen by a
group from the University of Pennsylvania, and the
Columbia Historical Society of Washington D.C. in
consultation with authoritative staff members of the
Library of Congress. The selection was approved by a
special committee of five Members of the House of
Representatives, the Architect of the Capitol and his
The plaster models of these reliefs may be seen on
the walls of the Rayburn House Office Building subway
terminal. In chronological order the lawgivers are:
Hammurabi (c. 2067-2025 B.C.); Moses (c. 1571-1451 B.C.);
Lycurgus (c. 900 B.C.); Solon (c. 595 B.C.); Gaius
(c. 110-180 A.D.); Papinian (c. 200 A.D.); Justinian
(c. 483-565); Tribonian (c. 500-547 A.D.); Maimonides
(c. 1135-1204 A.D.); Gregory IX (c. 1147-1241 A.D.);
Innocent III (1161-1216 A.D.); de Monfort (1200-1265 A.D.);
St. Louis (1214-1270 A.D.); Alphonso X (1221-1284 A.D.);
Edward I (1239-1307 A.D.); Suleiman (1494-1566 A.D.);
Grotius (1583-1645 A.D.); Colbert (1619-1683 A.D.);
Pothier (1699-1772 A.D.); Blackstone (1723-1780 A.D.);
Mason (1726-1792 A.D.); Jefferson (1743-1826 A.D.);
Napoleon (1769-1821 A.D.).
Thus we learn that Suleiman (1494-1566), the sixteenth on this list, whose epithet is Lawgiver (he recodified the laws of the Ottoman empire), is regarded as an individual whose actions and thoughts have influenced the formation of the U.S. law; therefore our actions. One can learn more about Suleiman's reign by reading works about him. However, a factor concerning
Suleiman needs to be considered: What influenced his mind?
Suleiman's ancestors in the Ottoman dynasty (13-20th centuries) have established a palace school. The purpose of this institution was twofold: to educate the future rulers (their own off spring) and to simultaneously train the future high level bureaucracy. In this manner, the high level bureaucrats and the rulers would know each other, from their earliest ages. As can be expected, Suleiman was also a student.
The palace school instructors also had to train future teachers, to maintain successful continuity. Among other subjects, statecraft (what we may term Public Administration) was taught at the palace school. One of the earliest known manuals of statecraft anywhere is Balasagun'lu Yusuf's KUTADGU BILIG. It was completed in 1070/1 C.E. in the heart of Asia, four centuries prior to the voyage of Columbus, and dedicated to Tavgach Han, the ruler of the Karakhanids in Central Asia. An English translation by Robert Dankoff is available, under the title Wisdom of Royal Glory: KUTADGU BILIG (Chicago, 1983). KUTADGU BILIG has three known mss. One of them is referenced as the Herat copy. According to a note found on the Herat mss, the volume was brought to Istanbul in 1474 (still before the Columbus voyage) from Tokat in Asia minor by Fenerizade Kadi Ali, for the specific needs of Abdurrezzak Seyhzade Bahshi. The late Professor Resit Rahmeti Arat makes the following observation concerning this note:
In the Ottoman bureaucracy, there were chanceries
managing the official correspondence with the Central
Asian states. At their head, there was an educated
individual with the title 'Bahshi' who knew the Central
Asian conditions well; often they themselves were from
those regions. Seyhzade Abddurrezzak Bahshi is such a
person during the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Mehmet
II), working in Istanbul. Thus we understand why the
said copy of KUTADGU BILIG is brought to Istanbul in
879/1474. However, it becomes difficult to trace the
peregrinations of that work afterwards. On page 190,
there is another note: "purchased from blacksmith Hamza;
next to Molla Hayreddin's friday chapel; as witnessed by
Hoca Haci Dellal. This Hoca Hayreddin mentioned is a
teacher of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, and died in 880/1475.
Recalling that Fatih died in 1481, his son Bayazit II in 1512, and so his son Yavuz Selim in 1520; Selim's son, Suleiman, ruled 1520-1566, one might place KUTADGU BILIG into perspective, by briefly considering similar works from other cultures, contents and messages.
MAGNA CARTA (1215) is a well known document. It was forced on King John, by his noble subordinates. It does not address the concerns of the general British population; but regulates only the relations of barons with their king. The barons grew weary of the King confiscating their wealth, and the basis of the document reflects this aspect. By signing MAGNA CARTA, King John promised not to expropriate the lands and money of his nobles. By contrast, KUTADGU BILIG is primarily concerned with the happiness of the masses as the basis of the legitimacy of the ruler. In other words, according to KUTADGU BILIG, the ruler should rule by the consent of the ruled; and that the ruler ought to be impeachable, if she does not bring forth happiness for the masses. Consequently, the ruler must be just, predictable in principle and action and in constant touch with the populace.
It should be remembered that KUTADGU BILIG was completed some century and a half before MAGNA CARTA. It is also of interest to note that MAGNA CARTA has been held as a model "constitution" for many a successor document.
THE PRINCE (1513) is another well known work. Written almost five centuries after KUTADGU BILIG, The Prince sides with the Italian rulers (of the city states of the time); again, as opposed to the masses. We may consider that as a requisite of the time and the locality. There is no proposition in THE PRINCE, as the U.S. constitution states "...for pursuit of happiness..." for the individual citizen, or the society in general.
Naturally, this list may be extended by the mention of the works by Hobbes-Locke and Erasmus-Luther debates, and, of course, many others.
The aforementioned decision of the US House of Representatives in 1950, then, is a tribute not only to Suleiman, but by extension a celebration of the pluralism of KUTADGU BILIG. This can be considered an example of the educational "leavening" process in societies at large.
Accordingly, the founding fathers were acquainted with Plato (c. 4th B.C.E.), who in his book entitled Republic suggested that the true function of the state is to balance the social forces for the advancement of society. Revolutions and social upheavals may be started by seemingly simple reasons. In actuality, they are the result of accumulated injustices. In the end of sometimes protracted struggles, democracy may be achieved. The principle of democracy is the independence and self governance of the people. However, the masses must be educated in order to select their suitable governing representatives. If a population cannot choose wisely, democracy may decay into autocracy. Demagogues, through their superior orations, may gain leadership. It may even seem that those able to garner votes are capable of governing. The true democracy requires education.
It was the Greeks who first disregarded Plato's teachings, and their democracy was lost to empire end dictatorship. The Roman Republic shared the same fate in the hands of Julius Caesar (100-44 C. E). The Roman historian Tacitus (First Century C. E.), in his The Agricola and the Germania [H. Mattingly, Tr.] outlined the policy of the Roman empire in Britain:
[We] elevated King Cogidumnus to the throne,
who served us loyally... in this manner, enslaved
masses were governed for the Roman Empire. Britons
were at first living in scattered settlements thus
prone to rebellion. [The Roman Governor of Britain]
Agricola privately encouraged Britons to build
temples, baths and Roman style public buildings, in
order to gather them into large settlements and to
induce them to live in luxury and in pursuit of
pleasure. In his official capacity, Agricola helped
those Britons who undertook his wishes, and rewarded
them. Those who were slow to accept Agricola's
invitation were scorned and criticized. In this
manner, Agricola sought to control the Britons not
through state coercion, but by introducing private
competition and sowing discord among them.
Moreover, Agricola sought to educate the children of
the Britons in the Roman way, and in Latin. In a
short span of time, Roman clothing and ways
proliferated among the Britons. The Britons began
to lose their indigenous customs, commenced
attending baths and hosting magnificent parties.
Due to their inexperience, Britons thought of their
new ways as civilization. In actuality, it was
nothing but a requirement of their servitude.
On the other hand, in the same work, Tacitus also records the thoughts of some Britons, apparently obtained through informers, who were aware of the predicament their society was facing. These opponents of Roman policies resorted to physical fight in order to free themselves. This is akin to the Basmachi movement, or the Movement for the Liberation thereof, of Central Asia during 1916 1930s, as described by one of their leaders, Togan:
Basmachi is derived from "baskinji," meaning
attacker, and was first applied to bands of
brigands. During the tsarist times, these brigands
existed when (Turkistan) independence was lost and
Russian occupation began in Turkmenistan,
Bashkurdistan and Crimea. Bashkurts (in Russian
language sources: Bashkir) called the ayyar, by the
Khorasan term. In Crimea (and, borrowed from there,
in Ukraine) haydamak was used. Among Bashkurts such
heroes as Buranbay; in Crimea, Halim; in Samarkand,
Namaz became famous. These did not bother the local
indigenous population but sacked the Russians and
the Russian flour mills, distributing their booty to
the population. In Ferghana, these elements were
also active during the tsarist times.... After the
proliferation of cotton planting in Ferghana [with
the forced the tsarist policy of replacing grain
production] the economic conditions deteriorated.
This increased the brigandage. Among earlier
Basmachi, as was the case among the Western Turks,
the spiritual leader of the Ozbek and Turkmen bands
was Koroglu. Basmachi of Bukhara, Samarkand, Jizzakh
and Turkmen gathered at nights to read Koroglu and
other dastans. What has the external appearance of
brigandage is actually a reflection and
representation of the thoughts and spirit of a wide
segment of the populace. Akchuraoglu Yusuf Bey
reminds us that during the independence movements of
the Serbians, the Hoduk; the Kleft and Palikarya of
the Greeks comprised half nationalist
revolutionaries and half brigands... The majority
and the most influential of the Basmachi groups
founded after 1918 did not follow the Koroglu
tradition; they were composed of serious village
leadership and sometimes the educated. Despite
that, all were labelled Basmachi. Consequently, in
Turkistan, these groups were regarded as
'partisans;' more especially representing the
guerilla groups fighting against the colonial power.
Nowadays, in Ozbek and Kazakh press, one reads about
Chinese, Algerian and Indian Basmachi.
[See H. B. Paksoy, "The 'Basmachi' (Turkistan National
Liberation Movement 1916 1930s") MODERN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF
RELIGIONS IN RUSSIA AND SOVIET UNION [MERRSU] (Academic
International Press, 1991) Vol. IV. Pp. 5 20; idem, "The
Basmachi Movement From Within: An Account of Zeki Velidi
Togan" NATIONALITIES PAPERS Vol. 23, No 2. June 1995. Pp.
373 399, Reprinted in H. B. Paksoy, Ed. CENTRAL ASIA READER:
The Rediscovery of History (New York/London: M. E. Sharpe,
This, of course, is quite contrary to the views of the Bolsheviks. On the other hand, theirs is only one side of the event.
Now, how to transmit our findings to the students? How to interest the students in Erasmian and Lockean traditions as opposed to the Spencerianism that seems to pervade most settings in the current world? Why not ask them to enjoy the rose for what it is, versus their viewing the rose as the concept of social Darwinistic "How to Grow the Great American Beauty" approach? Even though they may not even have heard of these phenomenon? Or, is this shunning ‘reality’ and ‘truth?’
Perhaps the first step is to introduce them. Not all will at first accept, learn to enjoy the rose for its own magnificent source of fragrance and aesthetic existence. Possibly, some will remain skeptical. Not because they belong to that ancient school of thought, but perhaps because they have not had the opportunity to consider the alternatives. That constitutes a danger of losing humanity and the consequences of that loss. Such loss will inevitably lead to the well known horrors of Holocaust, totalitarianism, police state, slavery and intolerance and the resulting violence of all types.
Next comes the difficult task of encouraging the students to think for themselves. In an environment where the commentaries abound on every conceivable topic, the opinion seems to drown out the fact. In many a case, the rearrangement of facts to fit a pre-conceived solution or end pervades. The resultant opinion might masquerade as the received truth. Many a student arrived in my courses armed with the mental baggage of such commentaries deeply coloring their world-view. I never challenge their position, only state that they are free to think and believe in what they like. My job, I explain, is to present the extant and received corpus and point to future possibilities. By learning that there is a "perspective," a prior beginning to what they believe in, some begin to question the sources of their "learning." At this point, the paradoxical questions come to our aid. "How do we know what we know" is particularly useful. It functions as a bridge to more soul-searching approaches.
Aristotelian binary approach to questions lend themselves to a nice to contrast with the Siddhartan. If we can summarize, for the sake of a short demonstration, that Aristotle's position on a given topic is either one or zero. Put in other terms, "A or Not-A." A quill is either sharpened or not. But there are other possibilities when the humans are concerned. If I am to be pardoned to reducing the position of Buddha to a similar term, then it will be "A AND Not-A." The simplest demonstration can be, for example, England is all Anglican, vs, England is both Anglican and Catholic. U.S. is comprised of 73 Christian sects besides.
The human rights topics are always good for extended discussions. Invariably there will be students who will be unadulterated Spencerians---knowingly, or due to "received wisdom" of commentaries and popular commentators. They will forgive and defend all transgressions on UN Charter or even the US Constitution with the argument that labor is a free market commodity. That every laborer is free to decide whether to work for 5 cents an hour or not in a given country. At this point, the question "What makes humans think that they have rights" gives them pause. The pregnant silence inevitably following this invitation allows the teacher to explore the development of "freedoms" in near and far history.
What I strive to inculcate in students is not a memorization of minutiae, but the ability to compare and contrast. The ability to see the panorama as Burckhardt put it. They need to leave each and every session with more questions than they thought possible, with the understanding that they need to understand; and for the purpose, they need to acquire more "data" in the form of what the humanity thought and can teach us now.
If we do not engage in the humanistic tradition, then the Intolerant will do it their way. As they have done in the past.
Extracted and translated (with additions) by the author from a much longer paper he presented to a Toyo Bunko
(Tokyo) audience. That original paper previously appeared in:Annals of Japan Association for Middle East Studies
No. 7, 1992. Pp. 173-220.
[Reprinted in Yeni Forum
Vol. 13, No. 277, Haziran 1992.]