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Saturday, May 12, 2012



3.2 The Paradigm

There are two aspects to the Swiss paradigm; first, forces inside the Swiss domestic policy arena caused its formation. Secondly, the paradigm functioned as Europe’s prime example of successful economic management, during the 19th century. Both aspects undermine the Hobson’s Anglo-centric viewpoints on laissez-faire.127 Let us deal first with the paradigm as an instrument of Swiss state building.

Soon, after Napoléonic rule, the Swiss cantons ultimately transformed themselves into a

federal, republican version of Haller’s ideal patriarchal and monarchic Usong state. The emerging ‘new Eidgenossenschaft’ of the 19th century, would prove to be strongly supportive of free trade, merchants and industry. Nevertheless, agrocracy (the nongben foundation of Haller’s model) had to be first identified as the most virtuous foundation of the ‘old Eidgenossenschaft’, to be additionally embraced by the ‘founding elite of 1848’.128 In other words, the post-1800 affirmation of the agrarian variant of wu-wei was politically generated to legitimise the new domination of commercial wu-wei. After the Civil War of the 1840s, an constitutional reform based on this ‘double embrace’ promised to be the best way to assure national unity and economic welfare, while easing the strong national strife between Catholics and Protestants, commercial Liberals and agricultural Conservatives.129 To preserve the historical myth of the free, democratic alpine peasant (i.e. Wilhelm Tell) as the founder of the Swiss nation, inside the ‘new Eidgenossenschaft’, it was absolutely necessary to eulogize Haller’s ideal of alpine agrarian wu-wei and therefore to legitimize the new government of the Swiss commercial elite.130

Secondly, this successful economic compromise of Switzerland produced widespread admiration throughout 19th century-Europe – while images of prosperous China were still being diffused .The commercial wu-wei had resulted from the fact that Switzerland’s prosperity (i.e. the welfare of Swiss minben) had depended on the free flow of European commerce, for centuries.131 Haller’s general wu-wei 

framework of the ideal state included a re-affirmation of this Swiss
laissez-faire commercial tradition. As one of Europe’s key economic gateways, a majority of the cantons’s economies had conditioned themselves to function in a continuous environment of free trade (like Bale), although pockets of protectionism continued to exist (like Bern), right up to the 19th century.132 The influential English free trader Richard Cobden was one of the first admirers of Switzerland’s strange blend of agricultural and industrial prosperity, of agrarian and commercial wu-wei. On the 6th June 1834, he wrote to his brother, from Geneva:
"The people of this country [Switzerland], are I believe the best governed and therefore the most prosperous and happy in the world. It is the only Government [,] which has not, one     
douanière in its pay, and yet, thanks to free trade, there is scarcely any branch of manufacturing industry which does not in one part or other of the country find a healthy occupation. The farmers are substantial. Here is a far more elevated character of husbandry life than I expected to see. Enormous farm-houses and barns; plenty of out-houses of every kind; and the horses and cows are superior to those of the English farmers."133
Like the prominent German political economist Friedrich List, Cobden was amazed that the free-trading Swiss economy, unlike his native England, included substantial farming.134 Nonetheless, he was just as impressed by the Swiss partly urban manufacturing industry i.e. Haller’s commercial wu-wei. This type of admiration of the Swiss economy was typical for the 19th century-disciples of the Libaniusian model. In consequence, the paradigm of the Swiss wu-wei state helped to  
transform Europe into an altered image of the
wu-wei Empire. At last, Confucius and Libanius would fuse into one great modern Eurasian theory of political economy and the European diffusion of wu-wei had been completed.

To conclude, we will draw attention to the three major findings of this paper. Firstly, the analysis demonstrated that the Chinese principle of
wu-wei was actually imported and primarily diffused by the commercial and Jesuit nexus of the Low Countries. Consequently, the details of China’s expertise entered Europe via the textual diffusion of the Jesuit texts and were visually supported by million of minben-images during the ceramic boom. Secondly, it has been shown that the intellectual foundation of the School of Physiocracy is a direct replica of the imported Chinese economic craftsmanship of agrarian wu-wei; consequently the European Libaniusian ideology cannot to be considered the intellectual master-model of Physiocracy. Thirdly, it has been made clear that Switzerland was the first European paradigm state of wu-wei. The European crystallization process of wu-wei ultimately ended with the Swiss state of 1848, in which Chinese agrarian wu-wei was institutionally fused with traditional Swiss commercial wu-wei. In due course, this alpine paradigm enabled the Libaniusian model to verify and reflect upon its own theory of a commercial society. In the following, we will touch on the broader implications of these three findings.

The fact that the Chinese principle of wu-wei was imported into Europe via the Low Countries proves clearly that research, which stresses the purely indigenous development of Europe’s laissez-faire doctrine, is mistaken. McCormick and others do focus too much on the non-Eurasian development of the European revival of the Libaniusian model and leave out the parallel emergence of the Chinese model. Only    
by re-focusing on the historical forces, which allowed both models to exist and mature simultaneously, can historians win a deeper understanding of the origins of  
laissez-faire in Europe. The Low Countries are a supreme example of the historical proximity of both models, and a great deal may be learned from a direct and more detailed juxtaposition of Grotius and the early characteristics of wu-wei’s importation; on this matter, I have only touched the historical surface. Furthermore, the Low Countries offered essentially two entry points for wu-wei’s diffusion into Europe: firstly, their printing presses and secondly, the import of ceramics.

The groundbreaking textual base was truly enhanced by the visual wave of images that confirmed a China at the peak of her economic development. The sinophile triangle of Amsterdam, Antwerp and Douai, was perfectly suited to push the message of       
wu-wei into the wider European arena of diffusion. Yet it was also an environment that was perfectly conditioned to receive wu-wei in the first place. In sum, wu-wei in the Low Countries was the outcome of a Catholic-Protestant, Flemish-Dutch co-production. Without the Jesuit from Douai the printing presses of Amsterdam would have remained quiet – so much for Max Weber.

The second part’s re-affirmation of Physiocracy as a direct copy of Chinese expertise is not as novel to current research, as it may sound – Hudson and Clarke are only the two recent examples of this approach. Yet, the assertion of Quesnay as the ‘Confucius of Europe’ remains controversial, until this very day. Repeatedly, textbooks on the history of economic thought have continued to re-instate Physiocracy’s debt to Europe’s indigenous Libaniusian model. In this Eurocentric model, the direct links between the ancient Stoics, Newton and Quesnay remain untouched by incoming Eurasian influences. Part two of this paper has tried to demonstrate that this linear model of European thought is erroneous. The relative qualities of Europe can only be located in her capacity to embrace, fuse and transform non-European information; it is incorrect to construct her history of economic thought around a nexus of  
mental autarchy and the example of the history of      
wu-wei in France verifies this claim. Quesnay has to be understood as a mind inside the Eurasian web of economic thought, his ordre naturel as a product of wu-weian influence and his so-called Physiocracy as a copy of China’s nongben-minben paradigm. It is only through this Eurasian assertion that one can appreciate the implications of Physiocracy’s Swiss connections.

Finally, Switzerland’s economic model of 1848 is not completely a one-to-one model of the wu-wei Empire, and of course, her commercial wu-wei is as much a product of the Libaniusian model as much it is reinforced by the European diffusion of wu-wei. Nevertheless, the first state inside Europe, which is actually deeply shaped by wu-wei, remains Switzerland – neither the British Empire of Adam Smith, nor François Quesnay’s France. Albrecht von Haller’s Swiss vision of Usong can be considered the first work of a European mind, which dis-connected the original agrarian wu-wei doctrine of China from its agrocentric i.e. nongben base, and added something truly European, namely commercial wu-wei. This process of fusion led to the European paradigm of wu-wei, namely 19th century Switzerland – admired and renowned by the disciples of the Libaniusian model, Cobden and List. The ‘new Eidgenossenschaft’ of 1848, based on free trade, commerce and a peasant state ideology can therefore be seen as the ultimate apex of wu-wei in Europe. Thus, two hundred years after the end of the terror of the Thirty-Years-War, a mountainous part of western Eurasia had created a new vision of harmonious government for the welfare of its people – we now know that without the diffusion of wu-wei, this might never have happened.           


Christian Gerlach

Department of Economic History
London School of Economics



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     For further copies of this, and to see other titles in the department’s group of working paper series, visit our website at: http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/economichistory/

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