A diplomacy without conscience may achieve short-term results, but normally fails in the long run. A citizen diplomacy with conscience is needed to solve the Tai Ji Men case.
by Massimo Introvigne*
* Conclusions of the webinar “International Cooperation for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Tai Ji Men Case,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on April 24, 2023, International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy.
Near Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia, from where I am speaking today, lies the largest and oldest rainforest in the world, called the Daintree Rainforest. Several dangerous animals roam in the forest and in its rivers. The most deadly is the Australian crocodile. While on a boat tour, we were fortunate to spot what is know to the locals as the most vicious and aggressive male crocodile of the forest, who lies in hiding waiting for its preys and is rarely spotted. Locals call it Old Nick, and it is from this name that I would draw our conclusions tonight.
In British English, Old Nick is the name of the Devil. It is believed that the Devil has a first name and is called Nicholas. More precisely, his name is Nicholaus: the oldest form of the given name, hence Nick. Interestingly Nicholaus in English folklore is the first name of both the Devil and of the quintessential good guy known as Santa Claus. The name “Santa Claus” derives in fact from Saint Nicholaus.
The Devil and the smiling old man bringing gifts to children at Christmas share the name Nicholaus. For centuries, Santa Claus was called in Britain “Saint Nick,” while the Devil was “Old Nick.”
However, they acquired the names based on two different historical characters whose first name was Nicholaus. Santa Claus takes his name from the immensely popular Christian Bishop Nicholaus of Myra, who died in 343 CE. Although Bishop Nicolaus came from present-day Turkey, it was in the Italian city of Bari, where the main part of his body is buried in the local cathedral, that a legend was born, which then traveled internationally. The story was that, after his death, the good Bishop Nicholaus was asked by Jesus to work with him and bring gifts at Christmas to children who had been good during the year.
The Devil on the other hand acquired his name Nicholaus, or Old Nick, in England from Nicholaus (It. Niccolò) Machiavelli, the most famous Italian diplomat and author of books on politics of diplomacy of the Renaissance, and perhaps of all times. He worked for the Republic of Florence and died in 1527. In English, the word “Machiavellian” still indicates a cunning and astute scheme.
In the popular lore of the British isles, after they turned Anglican or Protestant and started denouncing the Catholic Church as corrupted, Machiavelli incarnated all Italian Catholics were accused of, i.e., of continuously inventing devious schemes to prevail against their enemies.
Not only the first name of Machiavelli was given to the Devil, but diplomacy and politics, particularly as practiced by foreigners, acquired a bad reputation. A “Machiavellian” diplomacy was one that may succeed but would do it by using lies, deception, and immoral methods.
In Italy, however, Machiavelli was differently interpreted. While some would agree that he was, as German-American political philosopher Leo Strauss called him in the 20th century, “a teacher of evil,” there is an entirely different Italian tradition, epitomized by the famous 1806 poem by Ugo Foscolo “I sepolcri” (Sepulchers), which describes among others the grave of Machiavelli in the church of Holy Cross in Florence. Foscolo’s poem portrays Machiavelli as Machiavellian, but in the sense that by pretending to teach princes and diplomats how to lie and deceive, he was in fact denouncing to the readers of his books their tyranny and immorality.
The jury is still out, but what Machiavelli described—either to recommend or subtly denounce it—was a diplomacy without conscience. It may look brilliant, but many who commented on Machiavelli noted that hidden in his works is the idea that a diplomacy totally separated from morality and conscience may achieve results occasionally but in most cases, and in the long run, would not work.
There are two lessons here for the Tai Ji Men case, which resonate with the papers of our webinar. First, we should acknowledge the great work of Tai Ji Men’s Shifu (Grand Master), Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, in bringing the message of conscience to the temple of modern diplomacy, the United Nations. Adding the International Day of Conscience to the list of U.N. days of observance was also a warning against the risks of a diplomacy without conscience.
Second, today’s webinar reminded us of the importance of a new diplomacy, citizen diplomacy, which comes “from below” rather than from the state. It is practiced by NGOs, human rights activists, and academics. Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men are in themselves examples of good practices in the field of citizen democracy, having brought their conscience-based peace education to more than one hundred countries.
Yet, at the same time, Tai Ji Men may today need the help of a citizen diplomacy from abroad to solve its domestic problems in Taiwan. In this sense, we who are not dizi (disciples) of Tai Ji Men but scholars and observers sympathetic to their cause are all citizen diplomats. The recent trip of some of us to Taiwan that others have mentioned was an exercise in citizen diplomacy.
However we decide to read him, Machiavelli listed as the three features of effective diplomacy caution, art (meaning the mastery of a number of technical tools), and above all patience. The abnormal length of the Tai Ji Men case may have exhausted the patience of the dizi. But it is now the time of the patience for the citizen diplomats who second and continue the dizi’s fight. A patient diplomacy, as Machiavelli said, will often achieve the result.