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The newest mercantilism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

David J. Sylvan
Political Science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.
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Review essay
Copyright © The IO Foundation 1981

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1 The word is used deliberately. In the first section of the paper, 1 am trying to represent the logical structure of each author's argument, which is all too often scattered widely or left implicit. This should not be confused with “rational reconstruction” (see, e. g., Reichenbach, Hans, Experience and Prediction [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938])Google Scholar, or with structural analysis a la Levi-Strauss (e. g., Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Structural Anthropology, trans. Jacobson, Claire and Schoepf, Brooke Grundfest [New York: Basic Books, 1963])Google Scholar. Rather, I am attempting to elucidate a “script” (see, e. g., Abelson, Robert P., “The Structure of Belief Systems,” in Schank, Roger C. and Colby, Kenneth M., eds., Computer Models of Thought and Language [San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1973])Google Scholar. In the last section of this paper, 1 shall attempt to begin a somewhat deeper “reading” (in the sense Ricoeur, Paul has established in his papers “Structure and Hermeneutics,” trans. Laughlin, Kathleen Mc in , Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, ed. Don Ihde [Evanston, III.: Northwestern University Press, 1974]Google Scholar; and “Explanation and Understanding,” in Ricoeur, , Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning [Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976])Google Scholar.

2 Cf. the “free rider” problem in the collective goods literature.

3 This is the methodology Gilpin employs (pp. 141–47) to argue a similar point.

4 This comes out more clearly in Block's essay “The Ruling Class Does Not Rule: Notes on the Marxist Theory of the State,” Socialist Revolution 7 (May–June 1977): 6–28.

5 Schurmann's, Cf. Franz use of the term in The Logic of World Power: An Inquiry into the Origins, Currents, and Contradictions of World Politics (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974)Google Scholar.

6 Since Block's book was published, this has begun to change. The U.S. government has come increasingly to sanction protectionism; and over the last few years, the Federal Reserve has begun to defend the dollar with deflationary policies.

7 Triffin's, Cf. classic argument: Robert Triffin, Gold and the Dollar Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961)Google Scholar.

8 Staley, Eugene, War and the Private Investor: A Study in the Relations of International Politics and International Private Investment, with a Foreword by Quincy Wright and an Introduction by Arthur Salter (Garden City, N. Y. and New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co. with the University of Chicago Press, 1935)Google Scholar.

9 An example of an overly recondite although otherwise admirable study is Shonfield, Andrew, gen, . ed., International Economic Relations of the Western World, 1959–1971, vol. 2: International Monetary Relations, by Strange, Susan (London: Oxford University Press for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1976)Google Scholar.

10 Economic “systems” should be distinguished from economic “activities”; the latter refers to the means of satisfying human, usually material, wants while the former refers to socially organized patterns of such activities. See Polanyi, Karl, “The Economy as Instituted Process,” Polanyi, in, Arensberg, Conrad M., and Pearson, Harry W., eds., Trade and Market in the Early Empires: Economies in History and Theory (New York: Free Press, 1957)Google Scholar.

11 Block goes further than Gilpin in advocating closure; Gilpin would still permit some investment, as well as multilateral trade.

12 Gilpin discusses the issues at length in his essay “Economic Interdependence and National Security in Historical Perspective,” in Knorr, Klaus and Trager, Frank N., eds., Economic Issues and National Security, National Security Studies Ser., vol. 7 (Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas for the National Security Education Program, 1977)Google Scholar.

13 The classic reference, and the one from which I have drawn the above characterization, is Hekscher, Eli F., Mercantilism, , trans. Mendel Shapiro, 2 vols. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1934)Google Scholar. Viner quibbles with Hekscher's exclusion of wealth as a goal: Viner, Jacob, “Power Versus Plenty as Objectives of Foreign Policy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” World Politics 1 (10 1948): 1–29Google Scholar. Wilson adjudicates amicably between Hekscher and Viner: Charles Wilson, Mercantilism, , Historical Association gen. ser., no. 37 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul for the Historical Association, 1958)Google Scholar. One polemic to avoid is Buck, Philip W., The Politics of Mercantilism (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1942)Google Scholar.

14 The National System of Political Economy, trans. Lloyd, Sampson S. (London, 1885Google Scholar; reprint ed., New York: August M. Kelley, 1966). Other writers in this school included Wilhelm Roscher, Gustav Schmoller, and in England, William Cunningham. For an overview of their ideas, see Condliffe, John, The Commerce of Nations (New York: W. W. Norton, 1950), chap 9Google Scholar.

15 List, National System, chap. 15. List deliberately counterposes “political economy” to “cosmopolitical economy,” and in many ways both reifies and deifies the “nation.” (The similarities to Fichte and Schleiermacher—but not Hegel, whose emphasis was the state, not the nation [pace Gilpin, , “Economic Interdependence,” p. 41]—are obvious.)Google Scholar Emmanuel misses this completely in his characterization of List's ideas as identical to those of Mill: Arghiri Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange: A Study of the Imperialism of Trade, with additional comments by Charles Bettelheim, trans. Pearce, Brian (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), p. xviiiGoogle Scholar.

It should be noted that the first wave of mercantilists saw nature as ultimately determinative; the state could only channel economic systems into preset lines. Hekscher, Mercantilism, 2:308–15.

16 I am thinking principally of Polanyi and Keynes: Polanyi, Karl, The Great Transformation, with a Foreword by Maclver, Robert M. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1944)Google Scholar; Keynes, John M., “Foreign Investment and National Interest,”The Nation and the Atheneum 35 (9 08 1924): 586Google Scholar; Keynes, , “National Self-Sufficiency,” Yale Review, n. s. 22 (1933): 755–69Google Scholar; and Keynes, , The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964), chap. 23Google Scholar. Keynes's inclusion is open to question, in view of his later espousal of a kind of multilateralism, but his earlier works do contain a distinctly mercantilist point of view. Keynes, of course, takes a less radical stance, particularly on the second theme, than does Polanyi.

17 See, e. g., Hawtrey, R. G., Economic Aspects of Sovereignty (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1930)Google Scholar; Hirschman, Albert O., National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade, Publications of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, University of California (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1945) 1Google Scholar; and Carr, E. H., Nationalism and After (New York: Macmillan, 1945)Google Scholar. A contemporary version of this type of analysis can be found in Knorr, Klaus, The Power of Nations: The Political Economy of International Relations (New York: Basic Books, 1975)Google Scholar. See also Knorr and Trager, Economic Issues.

18 See, e. g., Servan-Schreiber, J. J., The American Challenge, trans. Steel, Ronald, with a Foreword by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (New York: Atheneum, 1968)Google Scholar; and Levitt, Kari, Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada, with a Preface by Watkins, Mel (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1970)Google Scholar. Mandel provides an interesting variation on this approach: Mandel, Ernest, Europe Versus America? Contradictions of Imperialism (London: NLB, 1970)Google Scholar. The voluminous literature on MNCs in underdeveloped countries can be considered an offshoot of this offshoot.

19 Dieter Senghaas has claimed that the “dependencia” perspective is intellectually related to mercantilism, in “Dissociation and Autocentric Development: An Alternative Development Policy for the Third World,” in and Russett, Bruce, eds., From National Development to Global Community (London: Allen & Unwin, forthcoming)Google Scholar. I am dubious about this claim. There may be formal similarities between dependentistas and mercantilists, but the Weltanschauung of the former seems clearly Marxist. For a clear statement of this, see Cardoso, Fernando Henrique and Faletto, Enzo, Dependency and Development in Latin America, trans. Urquidi, Marjory Mattingly (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979), pp. vii–xxvGoogle Scholar; see also Palma, Gabriel, “Dependency: A Formal Theory of Underdevelopment or a Methodology for the Analysis of Concrete Situations of Underdevelopment?World Development 6 (1978): 881–924CrossRefGoogle Scholar. (Laclau's, Ernesto critique of dependencia as non-Marxist—”Feudalism and Capitalism in Latin America,” New Left Review 67 [0506 1971]: 19–38—does not deal with Cardoso and Faletto.)Google Scholar

20 The resemblance to Polanyi's argument is overwhelming.

21 It is worth noting that differential profit rates do not have to lead to resource outflows in an era of direct investment. Gilpin himself points out that capital can be raised abroad in local financial markets or through foreign profits (p. 157); this could (and did—p. 160) lead to a net flow of money from periphery to center. As for nonfinancial resources, it is not all that clear that “ [technology and managerial skills are transferred abroad and facilitate foreign economic development and productivity… “ (Gilpin, p. 187). Technology, for example, may be transferred but not the capacity for technological innovation; ironically, foreign profits may be used to enhance domestic innovating capacity. See Evans, Peter, Dependent Development: The Alliance of Multinational, State, and Local Capital in Brazil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), chap. 4, esp. pp. 176–77Google Scholar.

22 The similarities to the classical economists (e. g., Ricardo or Mill) and to Marx are obvious; Gilpin recognizes this (p. 87). It should be pointed out that liberal domestic orders do not have to lead to liberal international orders: “national capitalism,” as Block points out (pp. 7–9), could logically exist. This is not to deny that there are relationships between liberal domestic and international orders, but merely that these relationships are not necessary ones.

23 This is not to say that the case could not be proven, at least if it were couched in terms of tendencies and not pure determinism. Attempts in this direction have been made by Mandel, Ernest, Late Capitalism, trans. Bres, Joris De (London: New Left Books, 1975)Google Scholar, who argues that structural crises in capitalism shape certain types of worker responses. Still, there are a number of responses that remain possible even under such straitened conditions: see Castells, Manuel, The Economic Crisis and American Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), chap. 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar. To be sure, most of these responses may not be viable over the long run (Castells, pp. 262–63), but a time frame must be specified if Keynes's dictum is to be vitiated. In general, it can be said that capitalism, if not a liberal international order, has shown a remarkable ability to survive the most severe economic crises, changing its form in important ways but not its essential characteristics. Cf. Heilbroner, Robert, Beyond Boom and Crash (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978)Google Scholar.

24 For the latter, see Bachrach, Peter and Baratz, Morton S., “Two Faces of Power,” American Political Science Review 56 (12 1962): 947–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

25 See, e.g., Keohane, Robert O. and Nye, Joseph S., Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1977)Google Scholar.

26 Even as late as 1978, Arthur Lewis was explaining the nineteenth-century world division of labor solely by differences in agricultural productivity due to market size and a “capitalist environment.” Lewis, W. Arthur, The Evolution of the International Economic Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), chaps. 2–3Google Scholar.

27 As pointed out above, Krasner defines the state as a portion of the government. So does Gilpin (implicitly—pp. 33–43), although he sees the state as larger than does Krasner. See below for a critique of this definition.

28 On foreign policy, see Krasner (chap. 8) or any good diplomatic history; Krasner omits Wilson's intervention in the Russian Civil War and a large number of post-1945 covert interventions. On domestic policy, see Caute, David, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978)Google Scholar.

29 This point is also made in Ruggie's, John G. review of Krasner's book, American Political Science Review 74 (03 1980): 298CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 Krasner's citation of the executive branch's unsuccessful attempt to take over the Saudi Arabian oil fields during World War II does not contradict this point. Only if similar attempts had been made successfully on numerous occasions during peacetime could the Saudi case be taken as anything other than sui generis.

31 These supporting claims are crucial to Krasner's argument, as he acknowledges on pp. 332–33. Even so, Krasner admits that “[i]t is not easy to find empirical evidence that can separate” statism from structural Marxism (p. 333).

32 Ruggie also makes this point in his APSR review, pp. 297–98.

33 See, e. g., Lindblom, Charles, Politics and Markets: The World's Political-Economic Systems (New York: Basic Books, 1977)Google Scholar; Offe, Claus, Strukturprobleme des kapitalistischen Staates (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972)Google Scholar; and Block, “Ruling Class.” Ironically, Offe's works are extensively discussed in the very article Krasner cites in his discussion of “structural Marxism”; see Gold, David A., Lo, Clarence Y. H., and Wright, Erik Olin, “Recent Developments in Marxist Theories of the Capitalist State,” pt. 2, Monthly Review 27 (11 1975): 3651CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Krasner also fails to take into account Poulantzas's use of the adjective “relative” to discuss the state's “autonomy”; Poulantzas, Nicos, Pouvoirpolitiqueet classes sociales (Paris: Francois Maspero, 1968)Google Scholar.

34 A classic example is the manipulation of school curricula. See Carnoy, Martin, Education as Cultural Imperialism (New York: David Mc Kay Co., 1974)Google Scholar; and Samuel Bowles and Gintis, Herbert, Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life (New York: Basic Books, 1976)Google Scholar. Ideology, of course, can serve general class interests without overt manipulation; such analysis begins with Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick, The German Ideology, pt. 1, ed. and with an introduction by Arthur, C. J. (New York: International Publishers, 1970)Google Scholar.

35 On pp. 324–25, Krasner does discuss the convergence of ideology and policy, but only from a general, nonmanipulative perspective.

36 One need only recall Marx's caustic analysis of the inherent weakness of Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” and “The Civil War in France,” in Tucker, Robert C., ed., The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972)Google Scholar.

37 Gilpin's primary concern is with “economic development”; his secondary concern is with labor and the balance of payments (chap. 7). Block's concern is primarily with the underclasses of capitalist society; he calls for “democratic socialism” (p. 225).

38 For a discussion of the term, see Schmitter, Philippe C., “Still the Century of Corporatism?” in Pike, Fredrick B. and Stritch, Thomas, eds., The New Corporatism: Social-Political Structures in the Iberian World, International Studies of the Committee on International Relations, University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974)Google Scholar. This fear is not without foundation. A fairly benign example is the way that antitrust legislation in the United States has not only ended up legitimizing most types of oligopoly, but, for a while, was even transformed into an antiunion tool. See Hofstadter, Richard, “What Happened to the Antitrust Movement?” in Cheit, Earl F., ed., The Business Establishment (New York: Wiley, 1964)Google Scholar. See also, for a more general critique of an earlier closure advocate, Marx, Karl, “Draft of an Article on Freidrich List's Book ‘Das Nationale System der Politischen Oekonomie,’” in Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick, Collected Works, 50 vols. (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 4:265–94Google Scholar.

39 Gilpin's “Economic Interdependence” begins to remedy this situation, as does Block's “Ruling Class.”

40 Weber, Max, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, 2 vols., ed. by Roth, Guenther and Wittich, Claus (New York: Bedminster Press, 1968)Google Scholar, 1:54. The specific definition is worth quoting for later comparison: “A compulsory political organization with continuous operations will be called a ‘state’ insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order” (italics in original).

41 Strictly speaking, these biases are concordant propositions, not logical corollaries.

42 There are, of course, many alternative perspectives, ranging from the Greek conception of the polis through to Rousseau and, eventually, Nietzsche. My choice of Leninism is not made for normative reasons but simply because it is the most far-reaching critique of Weberian-type analysis with which I am familiar. (The contrast between Weber's thought and Lenin's is also developed, albeit in a somewhat different direction, by Wright, Erik Olin, Class, Crisis and the State [London: New Left Books, Verso, 1979], chap. 4.)Google Scholar

Two additional points should be made with respect to terminology. First, “Leninism” is usually understood to comprise a number of prescriptive statements about revolutionary strategy in addition to its analytical claims about the state. I would not quarrel with that characterization, but in this paper, “Leninism” will be used only to denote the latter, analytical claims, and not the former, prescriptive ones. Second, “Leninism” is used because Lenin expanded and, more importantly, popularized Engels's reformulation of Marx. Compare, for example, Lenin, V. I., State and Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1943)Google Scholar, with Marx, , “Critique of the Gotha Program,” in Tucker, Reader, and with Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State: In the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan, with an Introduction and Wotes by Leacock, Eleanor Burke (New York: International Publishers, 1970)Google Scholar. In this sense, ‘Le'iinism’ is a subset of ‘structural Marxism’ concerned with questions of state power and political struggle. However, no hard and fast distinctions between the two ‘isms’ are possible—cf. Poulantzas, Pouvoirpolitique.

43 Lenin, State and Revolution, passim. The most concise single definition is found in Lenin's essay “The State”, in Lenin, , Marx Engels Marxism (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1978), p. 512Google Scholar: “The state is a machine for maintaining the rule of one class over another.”

44 Wright, , Class, Crisis and State, p. 210, n. 15Google Scholar. See also Poulantzas, Pouvoir politique, pt. 1, chap. 3, who would add that pure structures are the relations between governmental and nongovernmental organizations on the one hand, and uninstitutional relations on the other. This treads perilously close to tautology. Althusser, too, chances this danger: Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation),”in Althusser, , Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays, trans. Brewster, Ben (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971)Google Scholar. For critiques of Poulantzas and Althusser, see Miliband, Ralph, “The Capitalist State-Reply to Nicos Poulantzas,” New Left Review 59 (1970)Google Scholar; Miliband, , “Poulantzas and The Capitalist State,” New Left Review 82 (1973)Google Scholar; and Thompson, E. P., “The Poverty of Theory or an Orrery of Errors,” in Thompson, , The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978)Google Scholar.

45 The difference between organizational and structural views of the state is a more basic distinction than the one that Krasner draws between “instrumental” Marxism and “structural” Marxism. “Structural” Marxists actually define the state differently from either “instrumental” Marxists or “statists”; to put it another way, the question is not just “who governs?” but “what is governing?”

46 A succinct discussion is Bettelheim's, Charles essay, “Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Social Classes, and Proletarian Ideology,” in Sweezy, Paul M and Bettelheim, , On the Transition to Socialism, 2d ed., enl. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971)Google Scholar.

47 Block (p. 213) recognizes the latter point and comes to the same conclusion: “The whole thrust of the present study has been to argue that the specific way in which the world economy is organized has important consequences for the distribution of resources among nations and within nations, and this means that the specific organization of that world economy can never be ‘above politics.’ It is politics” (italics in original). The argument about the political character of production relations, however, is not present in Origins; cf. Laclau, “Feudalism and Capitalism.”

48 Gramsci—certainly no Leninist—is the classic source for this discussion. See his analysis of “hegemony” in Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Smith, Nowell, eds. and trans., Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (New York: International Publishers, 1971)Google Scholar. A good application of Gramscian categories to foreign policy is Cox, Robert W., “Labor and Hegemony,” International Organization 31 (Summer 1977): 385424CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 Cf. Lenin 's argument that in times of crisis the veneer of democracy and state neutrality drops away, leaving only class repression: Lenin, V. I., The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1975), p. 22Google Scholar.

50 Lindblom, , Politics and Markets, pp. 167, 273Google Scholar. Lindblom, of course, is not a Leninist.

51 In this respect, Krasner is technically correct when he argues that if ideology “can take on a life of its own… there is no empirical evidence that can distinguish this position [structural Marxism] from a statist one” (p. 325, n. 98). Evidence from “thought experiments” is certainly not empirical, but this hardly disqualifies it as invalid. See Kuhn, Thomas S., The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), chap. 10.Google Scholar

52 It is only fair to point out that this promise is far from being realized. At present, there are only a handful of studies that employ a Leninist or other, related (see n. 42) conceptualization of the state to analyze the phenomena that Gilpin, Krasner, and Block look at. One approach has been to employ Kondratieff “long wave” ideas to explore the dynamics of international capitalism; see Mandel, Late Capitalism; and Wallerstein, Immanuel, “Friends as Foes,” Foreign Policy 40 (Fall 1980): 119–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A second approach looks at secular crisis tendencies in capitalism; see Castells, Economic Crisis. A third approach looks at ideological crises; see Habermas, Jürgen, Communication and the Evolution of Society, trans, and with an Introduction by Thomas Mc Carthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979), chap. 5Google Scholar. These studies are both limited and flawed, but they do represent promising directions. It is reasonable to expect that such research could eventually approach the sophisticated and comprehensive level of the related literature on underdevelopment; see, e. g., Cardoso and Faletto, Dependency and Development.

53 We should remember that both Gilpin and Krasner employ a positivist mode of analysis, in which phenomena have univocal characteristics. From that perspective, states have a determinate, albeit changing, degree of autonomy from societal influences; the notion of relative rather than partial autonomy, in which states can become both more and simultaneously less autonomous (as Evans shows in the case of Brazil in Dependent Development), is excluded from consideration.

54 As mentioned above (n. 39), Gilpin does transcend this in his later “Economic Interdependence.” Krasner's “State Power and the Structure of International Trade,” World Politics 28 (April 1976): 317–47, employs a more sophisticated theoretical approach in its last section, but its topic is tangential to the book. I am at a loss, however, to say why Block did not use the remark-ably subtle and precise model in “Ruling Class” in his book.

55 Gilpin's reading of dependencia is also apparently flawed, according to Cardoso, and Faletto, , Dependency and Development, p. 186, n. 2Google Scholar.

56 Weber, Economy and Society, 2:1381–1462.

57 See Wallerstein, Immanuel, The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, Studies in Social Discontinuity (New York: Academic Press, 1974), chap. 3Google Scholar, for a good discussion of the literature on this point. Anderson's dissenting view on absolutism, although provocative, appears to be in a minority: Anderson, Perry, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London: New Left Books, 1974)Google Scholar.

58 Moore, Barrington Jr, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), chap. 8.Google Scholar

59 Burns, James MacGregor, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1956).Google Scholar

60 Quoted in Levenson, Joseph R., Confucian China and Its Modern Fate: A Trilogy, 3 vols., combined ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), 3:124–25Google Scholar.