chapter  2
State Building 26
By2.1 Blood, Iron, Ideas, and State Building
Pages 50

The Roman Republic and pre-imperial China coincided with the golden ages of classical antiquity. These were the times of Confucius and Socrates, when meritocracy emerged in China and democracy thrived in Greece, when ideas blossomed that are inspirational today. These were also times of exceptional violence, cruelty, and, in the West that extolled freedom, massive slavery. How the humanistic philosophies responded to the realities of their worlds filled abstract theories with concrete meanings. How their times shaped their ethical and political doctrines revealed the genealogy of morals. More important for our purpose, ideas vaguely affect politics. This does not imply that power players follow some overarching ideology. They mostly tackle immediate practical problems or grasp at opportunities. Yet they do not act blindly or arbitrarily. The concepts available to them constrain their thinking. They partake in some tacit customs, preconceptions, preoccupations, and dispositional characters, which the philosophies partially articulate. Even when political elites are mostly self-interested, their decisions are influenced by their community’s shared values, which are embedded in their worldview, self-image, and rhetoric. Normative words such as honor and virtue, deployed in innovative ways by philosophers, can help to legitimize or delegitimize a policy or even a regime.