From the Berggruen Institute to Switchel

The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal for February 11-12 has an interesting article:

Philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen’s Big Bet on Philosophy

It’s an interview with Nicolas Berggruen in the “Weekend Confidential” column by Alexandra Wolfe. It’s on page C11 in the print edition. The first paragraph:

What the world needs now, says Nicolas Berggruen, is more philosophy. He thinks that the great thinkers of human history just might provide some solutions in our time of political and economic upheaval. “I always felt philosophy…doesn’t get enough attention,” says Mr. Berggruen, a philanthropist and financier who seven years ago launched the Berggruen Institute, an unusual think tank with an endowment of $1 billion. “We’re still shaped by ideas and by the people that created them thousands of years ago.” He hopes to encourage scholars and intellectuals to engage with the great traditions founded by such figures as Socrates and Confucius.

I think Socrates and Confucius would approve of the question in the blog header: “What is a proper relationship between a free people and their government?” Socrates was all about asking questions (see Socratic method). A major theme in Confucianism is proper relationships: “Social harmony results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the natural order, and playing his or her part well.” (source)

Socrates and Confucius, however, might not have included the word “free” in that question. The concept of “a free people” in the modern sense did not exist until the rebellious American Colonists invented it with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the United States Constitution in 1787.

Some of the major thinkers involved in the American Revolution were from Virginia (Jefferson and Madison), Philadelphia (Franklin), New York (Hamilton), and New England (Adams). New England played a major role—from the Boston Massacre in 1770 to the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to the “shot heard round the world” at Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775.

Hmm, there was rebellious and revolutionary activity in Colonial times in New England… That is just about the time and place that switchel began to be a “thing” in Colonial times in New England. Coincidence??

I agree with Nicolas Berggruen that the world needs more philosophy. Everything we do, whether inside or outside of government, is influenced by our belief system – our philosophy and/or religion. Some people in the world want government to be strictly based on religion – one religion – their religion. But that’s not working so well everywhere and it will never be a satisfactory basis for government for “a free people.” There has to be a better way. Hopefully the Berggruen Institute will help us find some better ways through philosophy.

I think I’ll go have a glass of switchel now while I ponder further.

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