[KS] Yu Kilchun

Ruediger Frank rfrank at koreanstudies.de
Tue May 9 03:26:00 EDT 2006

Dear all,

to move a bit from sociology to the macro perspective of International Relations theory, I 
would like to point at the principal similarity between Social Darwinism and (Neo)Realism 
(for some name dropping, see Morgenthau, Waltz). Roughly, Neorealism assumes that the 
world of international relations is anarchical (no enforceable rules, survival of the 
fittest), that actions of nation-states are driven by their interests, and that power 
determines in how far an actor is able to pursue that interest. "Voluntary" cooperation on 
the international level is just another way to pursue these interests, it is not binding 
per se and will be given up as soon as better options arise, power allows, and transaction 
costs are compensated. The United State's attitude towards certain international 
agreements (Den Haag, Kyoto) is telling and actually quite natural in this respect (as you 
see, Neorealism is a positive theory; morality as a normative criterion is not really 
valid). The classification of international agreements as an instrument of the strong 
against the weak - quite the opposite of what the WTO is telling us - reminds of Friedrich 
List's attack against the British promotion of free trade and liberalism in the early 19th 
century. The Neorealist contest for power is a zero-sum game, since power is measured in 
relative terms; if one side wins, the other inevitably looses. This is quite interesting 
with regard to the "peaceful rise" message sent out by China; for a Neorealist, the nice 
rhetoric doesn't matter, even if it's sincere. Rise is rise and automatically means 
decline for someone else. As far as I understand, Neorealists as believers in a 
meta-theory are not really dogmatic; they simply argue that a state either accepts the 
facts and tries to adapt, or it doesn't and faces a good chance to be wiped out. In other 
words, if you drop a stone, it will fall down, whether you believe it or not. You either 
pull back your foot, or you get hurt; it's up to you. I guess the rationale behind these 
theories is the attempt to understand social science in the same way as natural science - 
by the discovery of natural or objective laws. This makes me wonder if we shouldn't be 
careful to attach particular labels to thinkers who just in general believe in the working 
of natural laws within (and between) societies, such as Marx and others.



Frank Hoffmann schrieb:
> Thanks Vladimir:
> *Most certainly* isn't Social Darwinism the highlight of Korea's modern 
> intellectual history. I very much hope I did not write anything giving 
> such impression. It played, however, a very important role before and 
> after 1900 -- and that is the period I was trying to talk about.
> By the way, when looking into the history of translations during the 
> early colonial period (mostly 1910s and early 20s) I was astonished by 
> the unexpected number of works translated from French and Russian -- not 
> just via Japanese but also from directly from these languages. One 
> really should not underestimate what was available to Korean 
> intellectuals at that time.
> Quote:
>> So, the question has to be formulated in a bit other way, I guess - 
>> while the quest for secrets of "wealth and power" led Katoo Hiroyuki, 
>> Tokutomi Soohoo, Liang Qichao, and their Korean followers - that is, a 
>> large, almost dominant group of East Asia's early modern intellectuals 
>> - to embrace the belief that the life is a zero sum game, and to eat 
>> up the others in order not to be eaten up yourself_ is a right thing 
>> to do_?
> Okay, but this is a bit over my head. The right thing to do? Isn't this 
> a moral question, maybe a religious question, and maybe a question about 
> political effectivity if extended somewhat. Right or wrong? How would 
> this get us any further when looking at how societies advanced? The 
> question I was trying to address earlier is how Social Darwinism in 
> Korea is being depicted today? And why it is depicted the way it is.
> When referring to the inevitability in which histories have recorded 
> Korea's embracing of such ideology, what I really had in mind is the 
> question of power, legitimacy, and historical truth. One of the first 
> things we learn in East Asian History 101 is that one of the first tasks 
> of each new dynasty was the rewrite of dynastic history, creating a 
> legacy. Isn't that what happened (the U.S. and Japan being the winners)?
> Aidan wonders "how Weberians can be Darwinists" -- well, is America not 
> fundamentally Darwinist? Whatever else you add to this, it is not going 
> to go away. In that sense I am not speaking of Social Darwinism as 
> something that can be separated into some school of thought but as an 
> inherit part of the country's ideological foundation and lifestyle.
> In the U.S. the popular interpretation and utilization of Weber's 
> capitalism theory had been dominated by Talcott Parsons who was also the 
> translater of/ The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism/ 
> (1904-05, 2nd rev. ed. 1920, first English edition 1930). His reading of 
> Weber is very well Social Darwinist in its roots. By directing all your 
> attention on certain aspects of a work with the depth of that of Weber's 
> it is easy enough to serve existing ideologies rather than challenging 
> them. Then again, both Weber and Parsons are so complex that I do not 
> see how to discuss this topic on a message board without simplifying to 
> a degree where nothing is accurate anymore....  Weber works with what 
> sociologists call ITM (Ideal Type Model). Weber's 'community' is such 
> ITM, and in his terms it equals Protestant ethic. His conceptualization 
> is not about "real type" history but about "ideal type" community in a 
> sociological sense. Other than Marx, for example, he does not understand 
> capitalism as a system per se but focuses on the/ Geist/, the spirit of 
> a community in a certain historic time and a certain historic setting 
> that drives capitalism. That's the theory he develops in/ The Protestant 
> Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism/, where he explains how northwestern 
> Europe enabled itself to go ahead with its modern economic revolution, 
> leaving behind the formerly rich Catholic South that had dominated 
> Europe culturally and economically for so many centuries. It is 
> noteworthy here that this is indeed the book that made Weber famous in 
> the United States while his main work,/ Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft/, 
> and other important works never really got that much attention -- quite 
> the opposite to the perception in continental Europe. As a personal 
> note, to illustrate this a little: the first time I heard about Weber's 
> capitalism theory was in Carter Eckert's class at Harvard. It was a real 
> eye-opener (thanks!). We did read quite a bit of Weber in the three 
> years of Sociology at my neo-Marxist dominated high school, nicely 
> packaged into bite-sized digestable 5 or 10 page portions ... Weber 
> served a minority non-Marxist teacher as a tool to oppose the hard core 
> stuff brought in by his colleagues, everything from Marx to Adorno and 
> Habermas, from Rudi Dutschke to texts about city guerilla tactics. But 
> that was a different Weber, a whole different context, a different 
> reality. It took me till last year to actually read/ The Protestant 
> Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism/ rather than just summaries of it. In 
> Germany it's now being sold by 2001, that's a very successful discount 
> bookseller, a Barnes & Noble kind of chain store, mostly feeding the 
> needs of high school kids and university students. Weber for 5 bucks. 
> The book is getting popular here for the same reason Walter Benjamin's 
> works have seen a revival -- because American students read them. In the 
> 80s we would read Benjamin in art history and say "so what? -- anything 
> new under the sun?" Cult wasn't yet his middle name at the time. While 
> Benjamin is popular the postmodern packaging in which he was redelivered 
> back to Germany is not really that hot. The icon travels, the wider 
> intellectual context does not, not necessarily. In the case of Weber the 
> same is true. In British and the U.S. academia we see that the somewhat 
> technicist neo-Weberian view of social class seems to predominate in the 
> social sciences. In Germany, I think, that aspect had always been 
> replaced my Marxist analysis, even within conservative circles.
> Quote:
>> Other thing is that (Neo)-Darwinist explanations of the workings of 
>> the world and society looked almost as holistic and all-encompassing 
>> as Neo-Confucian ones, but that is another story...
> That "other story" is what I think is really interesting! "Holistic and 
> all-encompassing as Neo-Confucian" -- this seems a wonderful observation 
> and almost convincing.
> Frank
> -- 
> --------------------------------------
> Frank Hoffmann
> http://koreaweb.ws

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