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Christine Bierre : The Eurasian Land- Bridge of Leibniz

Christine Bierre

journalist, Paris


Ladies and Gentlemen,

This session of the conference will deal with the great infrastructure projects which are at the heart of the BRICS strategy, and in that context I will speak about the “Grand Design” of Eurasian development proposed in the Seventeenth Century by the great German philosopher, scientist and political figure, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, which is still a wonderful model for today.

Before coming to that, however, some remarks about the question of great infrastructure projects. These are indeed, the very basis for the industrial development of a nation. No progress is possible without modern transportation, energy, and water infrastructure.

But, it would be false to look at those projects in themselves, thus risking the danger of falling into the mistakes of Keynesian economists, for whom what is important is to generate economic activity, in whatever area that may be, even if it’s only digging holes in the ground to fill them back up again!

What is important in the BRICS strategy is that that infrastructure, and the pulleys, cranes, and excavators used in its construction, are only the concrete expression of human creative genius, and of human will to master the enormous challenges of nature for the transformation of human society.

Before those objects come into existence, there is the conception of man as a creator, opposite to that of man as a predator which predominates today as a result of the varieties of extreme liberalism that the Western financial centers, the City of London and Wall Street, have spread throughout the world.

The BRICS strategy is also nourished by a more noble vision of human civilization, by the will to build a world where all nations, whatever their size and wealth, will have the right to full development; a Westphalian world where all nations will be sovereign to make alliances with the partners of their choice, and not be forced to submit to this or that ideological bloc, or to become vassals of this or that Empire. M. Kadyshev reaffirmed that principle this morning; the Chinese president M. Xi Jinping negotiates win/win contracts every day with small and large nations alike.

This vision of man has unfortunately disappeared in the trans-Atlantic area, where it has been replaced by that of a predator, and by the return of Empires. The vultures are everywhere: in the financial domain, in governments where they loot public wealth and the weakest among us, in war where they unleash their savagery, as in the Middle East.

France once had the opportunity to have a President Charles de Gaulle, who represented in his time the spirit of the BRICS. But now it has fallen into disgraceful opportunistic alliances, where, for a handful of dollars, France goes from the decadent American empire, to the most backward oil monarchies, without entirely excluding the BRICS however,—because, you never know, they might win in the end!

For the real France, let us reflect upon that 30th of January 1964, when Charles de Gaulle, president of a France just turned sovereign again, broke ranks with the Anglo-American bloc, announcing the reopening of diplomatic relations with another sovereign nation, China. Because, while he didn’t approve of China’s regime then, he made the bet, as he said it, that “in the immense evolution of the world, by multiplying the relations between peoples, one can serve the cause of men, that is, of wisdom, of progress and of peace. . . and thus, all the souls, wherever they might be on earth, could meet sooner at the rendezvous given by France 175 years ago, that of liberty, equality and fraternity.” In the aftermath of that decision, France left the integrated NATO command in 1966 and opened relations with the Soviet Union as well.

And it is because I am fully convinced that France can recover its age-old sovereignty and break with a western bloc, which the financial crisis and drive for Empire is pushing to world war against Russia and China—and that other European countries can also find there the inspiration to do the same—that I will present to you the immense Eurasian project proposed by Leibniz in the Seventeenth Century.

It is also because this project sets a very high standard, and that in order to succeed in what we are doing, all those who are struggling today to bring about this new world that the BRICS are creating, must nurture in ourselves this beautiful ideal.

Leibniz’s Eurasian Grand Design

Leibniz’s Eurasian Grand Design It was in order to change a Europe devastated by irrational wars and hostage to the demons of religious fanaticism, that Leibniz, a contemporary and collaborator of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, fought to create the conditions for peace and development throughout the Eurasian continent.

His Grand Design? An alliance between Europe and China, the most developed areas at that time, and to let Russia, which is in between the two, progress through the increase of cultural and economic exchanges between them. The relations among nations are not the same today, but the principles remain.

It is that design that Leibniz presents poetically in the preface of his work “Novissima Sinica” (News from China), by saying that:

a particular disposition of providence has made things such that the highest cultures and ornaments of humanity find themselves concentrated at the two extremities of our continent, Europe and China. . . Perhaps supreme providence, by having the most advanced nations extend their hands to one another, has sought to elevate everything that is found in between, for a better rule of life.

And Leibniz adds that Tsar Peter the Great is favorable to the project and is supported in the endeavor by the Orthodox patriarch.

Leibniz was extremely lucky that both Tsar Peter the Great and the Chinese Emperor, Kangxi, were opening to Europe and showed “a great zeal to bring to their countries the knowledge of sciences and of European culture.” Having worked for years to build a privileged relation to both those heads of State, Leibniz, in his role of counselor to the Princes, attempted to change the course of history. He met three times with Peter the Great (1711, 1712, 1716), and became his advisor. The Tsar had asked him for help to “bring his people out of barbarism.”

Concerning Kangxi, the relation was not direct, but through a group of Jesuit missionaries who had been working in China for a century, and who, thanks to their scientific knowledge, had succeeded in gaining the Emperor’s trust, and in particular that of Kangxi, who was in power at that time. Leibniz was in epistolary contact with many of those Jesuits, and even inspired the mission of five Jesuit mathematicians who left for China in 1685 to work with Kangxi.

Bringing Progress to Russia

All the memoires of this impassioned dialogue between Leibniz and Peter the Great and his advisors are fully accessible today thanks to the collected works of Leibniz compiled by Fouchier de Careil.

At the heart of his proposals: “attract all active and capable men of all professions”; instruct his subjects, in particular the young ones; teach them how to “create,” by rediscovering the great discoveries of the past; translate into Russian the descriptions of all the arts and sciences; open up schools everywhere and create Science Academies in the main cities, Moscow, St Petersburg, Kiev and Astrakhan.

He called for founding libraries and observatories everywhere, and laboratories to build machines.

A century before the British, Leibniz, who collaborated with the efforts of the Academy of Sciences of Paris to develop heat-powered machines, advised the Russians to create a laboratory where the good chemists and pyro-technicians could study the uses of fire for work in the mines, foundries, glass factories and even for artillery. Like a modern day Prometheus, he said: “Fire must be regarded as the most powerful key to the bodies.”

Concerning infrastructure, he advised them to reflect on what could be done for rivers and for national planning. To think about the Volga (which could be united to the Don by canal) and to improve navigation especially on the Dnieper and the Irtysh. Make canals to transport goods, as well as to dry up the swamps, he said.

A ‘Trade of Light’ with China

Leibniz’s work in China is also a beautiful example of cooperation among nations, respectful of their best traditions, from which the sorcerer’s apprentices of color revolutions in the West could greatly profit.

In his Novissima Sinica, he compares the relative merits of Chinese and European cultures, which he finds almost equal. “The Chinese Empire,” he says “does not lose out in comparison to cultivated Europe when it comes to land area, and even surpasses it in terms of population.” Europe, says Leibniz, is victorious when it comes to knowledge of forms that separate mind from matter, such as metaphysics and geometry. The Jesuits worked to solve that by teaching geometry, astronomy and mechanics,—see the steam car invented by Father Verbiest, tutor of the young Kangxi,—and by assisting in great engineering projects.

But it was the level of daily wisdom of the Chinese that totally impressed Leibniz:

If we are equal in terms of techniques, if we are victorious in terms of contemplative sciences, it is certain that we are beaten in terms of practical philosophy (I’m almost embarrassed to acknowledge it); by that I mean the rules of ethics and of politics appropriate to life and to the usage of mortal beings. One does not even know what to say about the beautiful order, superior to the laws of other nations, that rules the Chinese in all things, for the sake of public tranquility and of relations among men

This culture of wisdom and of harmony between daily life, political life and the cosmos, was the heritage of the philosophy of Confucius (551-474 BC), enriched by other philosophical traditions. Let us reflect upon the fact that already in the Eleventh Century, China had discovered linear perspective, and that the great art historian Guo Ruoxu wrote in 1074:

If the spiritual value of a person is elevated, it follows that the internal resonance is necessarily elevated and that the painting will then be necessarily full of life and movement (shendong). One can say that in the most elevated heights of the spiritual, it can compete with the quintessence.

Against the majority of the religious orders and vicars of the Pope who were bent on trying to Christianize the Chinese by force, and who in the end provoked the failure of Leibniz’ project, Leibniz supported the ecumenical dialogue of the Jesuits and following an indepth study of Confucianism, he concluded that a dialog, of equal to equal, could be established between the natural theology of Confucius,—not with the revealed Christian faith,—but with Christian metaphysics.

The mission of the French Jesuit Mathematicians

Finally, to remind those who govern us, again and again, of the best traditions of our foreign policies, let us come back to the mission of the five Jesuit mathematicians to China in 1688 which contributed to found, more than 300 years ago, France’s special partnership with that country.

Those Jesuits were the emissaries of the working group constituted by Jean Baptiste Colbert, at the Academy of Sciences in Paris, around the director of the Observatory of Paris, Jean Dominique Cassini. The aim of the group? Use astronomy to correct geographical maps and solve the great scientific and practical endeavour of that time, the definition of longitudes for navigation in deep sea.

Those investigations required the sending of scientists to different parts of the globe in order to collect a maximum of data. The mission of the five French Jesuits in China, was the follow-up to the trips of Academicians Jean Picard to Uraniborg in Denmark, Jean Rich to Cayenne, Varin to the Gore Island and the Antilles, for the same objectives.

Leibniz and Colbert set up the mission around this issue which interested Leibniz at the highest level. In his correspondence on Russia, he described that scientific project in detail, and sets it up as one of his three priorities, calling for such experiments to be conducted in Russia, especially close to the North Pole. The leadership of the team was entrusted to Father Fontaney, who was already in collaboration with other prominent academicians, such as the Danish scientist Ole Römer and Christian Huyghens, who presided over the Academy.

When they set out for China in 1685, the Jesuits were carrying in their suitcases, the tables for the satellites of Jupiter established by Cassini, and some 30 instruments among the most sophisticated of their time. Among them were two machines from Ole Römer: a mechanical planetarium which could reproduce, for any given hour, all the movements of the planets and the stars; and an eclipsorium which indicated the year, month or part of the month where the solar and lunar eclipses would occur.

As a conclusion: If Leibniz was desperate about the corruption of Europe in his time, to the point of having proposed that a Chinese delegation come to Europe to help change things, what would he say about the present situation? Where compared to a China which has made tremendous progress, and a Russia which has recovered its world power status, Europe today is playing the role of the sick man.

I think, however, that the emergence of the New Silk Road, the BRICS and the Eurasian union, can provoke an upsurge in France and in Europe. On the verge of the abyss, on the verge of a new world war, France must quickly renew its dream of liberty, and use these new developments as leverage to rebuild a Europe of the fatherlands, for the greater progress of sciences, arts and its peoples.

Such a change will depend on our actions after this conference!