|Author argues for character,
individual responsibility as necessities for national will
Interview published in PrivateClubs Magazine
There is a
need for an organizing principle internationally, nationally, and personally
around which you can prioritize and analyze other issues. Banker and author
Tieman H. Dippel Jr. says the organizing principle for the new era of cultural
power will battle between the concepts of conscience and convenience. Good
versus evil is often in the eyes of the beholder, he notes, but conscience is
defined by an understanding of the common rules of civilization to which men
must ascribe. On the other hand, he says, convenience typically operates for
total self-interest political terrorism or economic corruption are tools that
are fed by the elements of its culture.
Dippel, a homeowner at
The Owners Club at Hilton Head and a frequent visitor to
The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, and Marina Vallarta Club de
Golf near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, recently completed the final book in his
Language of Conscience series, titled Instilling Values in Transcending
Generations. (The book boasts a Clarion five-star rating and is a finalist for
ForeWord Magazine's book of the year in philosophy and political science.)
Dippel is a former president of the Texas State Chamber of
Commerce, a former member of the board of directors of the Houston Branch of
the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, a former Naval lieutenant commander, and
the chairman of Brenham Bancshares Inc. His books share a distinction in that
they increasingly serve as a bridge for ethics, morality, and cultural values
between the People's Republic of China and Western cultures. Dippel's
small-government, value-oriented, free-market-system writings might seem an odd
choice to be the first Western book published by the Central Party School of
the Communist Party of China under its insignia. However, his books deal far
more with the power of conscience to unify people and bring about an
understanding of the common good. He says he simply makes an argument for
necessity of character, individual responsibility, and a culture of law, mutual
obligation (morality), and service (compassion). Ideas have power only if they
are in a form to be acted upon, Dippel says.
The following are excerpts from an interview with Dippel this
spring, just prior to his most recent visit to China.
How would you sum up your philosophy in a few words?
Conscience dominates on an individual level; convenience almost always
dominates the higher you rise in power. The only way to get conscience into
power is to have the culture fully appreciate why conscience is important.
Then, society seeks conscience in leadership, and even those of convenience
will follow it to gain election.
There is no certainty in the world, and never will be, but if
you care about your family, then you have to create a culture that is more
global than just the values that you teach your children within the family.
Otherwise, when they go into a corporation that does not hold those values,
they either are corrupted or they do not succeed. We each have the obligation
to leave this a better world and that requires participation.
What do you see as the greatest challenges in the future?
There are many. I do not think anyone knows the answer as to which are most
critical, but how to prepare for them is much simpler. We are at a unique
turning point in history. However, to underestimate the power of conscience and
morality is a significant mistake. Each time history has shown us reaching the
depths of problems, the resiliency of hope and understanding for a better
future seems to re-establish itself, provided character remains in the national
Economics, politics, and culture create pressures and force
change through dissatisfaction. In the United States, we have had a resilient
economy, but financial values and perspectives are shaped by what people think
of the future. Our middle class, which is the core of our democracy, is
pressed. They might have a net worth much greater than the net worth of an
average person in China. If the people in China, however, see the future as
brighter and their incomes rising — while in America they are not — we will see
significant pressures for change. If those pressures are not thoughtful and
intelligent, we can do a great deal to harm ourselves for the long run.
Thus, we need an organizing principle for unity and an operating
system for competence. And, the two must fit together. The uncertainty of the
Middle East and the uncertainty of Asia depend a great deal on whether
political alliances dominate the future, whether economic considerations
dominate the future, or whether cultural concerns can reunify a significant
number of principles that move civilization forward.
You write about idealists and realists. How do you distinguish
Every realist knows that you need some ideals, and every idealist
appreciates aspects of realism. The question is how to devise a common set of
ideas to unify very diverse groups. Aristotle, Christ, and Confucius all
believed in the redeemability of man; Machiavelli and others believed in the
inherent evil of man. For convenient men, the tactics of corruption, fear, and
absolute power set their tone and determine alliances and the nature of their
thought. Idealists, who look to bring out the best in man, realize that it
takes a set of principles that unify you and others to a higher calling, not
just personal alliances, and that unity is their strength.
Your books serve as a bridge for diverse groups of people. Please
comment on this seeming phenomenon.
People often simply reflect the situations in which they find themselves.
If they look at issues independently, or from a common perspective that isn’t
necessarily partisan, they usually end up with a very different perspective.
The Golden Rule, the common good, the desire for a rule of law and not of other
men, and conscience really are found in every man. The challenge is to bring
that out. The realists will say that doesn’t work because idealism is not
effective in politics. The reality, however, is that when realism has taken you
to a point that it is no longer effective, it is idealism that is seized to
start the next trend.
The question is not whether the world is going to find a new
balance toward conscience. It is when. There could be another Dark Age or an
early Reformation and Enlightenment. Usually, change takes place in great
crises or problems. The hope is that there can be enough bridges built by the
good people who do care to avoid those problems for future generations. If you
care only about yourself now, that doesn’t matter. If you care about your
children and grandchildren, then your perspective is different, and there is a
lot you can do to bring about change. It is not the money you leave your heirs
that ultimately shows how much you love them, but the sacrifice you are willing
to make for them. That sacrifice also defines you as a person.
Your last book includes the writings of several of the most
prominent Chinese thinkers and you draw parallels from the West. What was the
challenge in fitting these perspectives together?
One of the great concerns I have in looking at our current situation and
history is Darwin’s observation that it is not the strongest or the most
intelligent who survive, but the most adaptable. Adaptability is a cultural
trait. In America, we seem to be losing our ability to work as a common unit in
our civic affairs. China looks very differently at issues. China has its
problems, but it seeks consensus. Its success has been its focus on economic
growth as well as the fact that it plans, in cities like Shenzhen, what will
occur 50 years hence. But they now recognize that has human and environmental
China also looks to what type of society needs to fill those
cities 25 years hence and what values need to be placed into the present
generational system. If China becomes free-market oriented and more value
based, the country is going to develop an incredibly competitive system. The
issue is not whether or not China will rise, but what type of society will
dominate China as it does rise — that fact will determine its relationship with
the United States and the rest of the world. Milton Friedman described the
evolution of freedom as in three stages — economic, civil (rights of speech,
assembly, property), and finally, political freedom or the right to select
leaders. China is embarking now on a growth in civil freedom. Frederick Bastiat
in The Law noted it is not the law that gives you the culture, but the
culture that gives you the law.
After SARS, China’s thinkers adopted a much more
competence-based approach to decision-making or an updated scientific method
with ideological overtones. The type of society viewed as a goal is called the
Harmonious Society. The concept recognizes the very significant problems that
growth has brought, and how they now need to solve environmental, health,
education, infrastructure, and a variety of issues. China is a long way from
the development of the United States. Its economy probably is similar in size
to that of California, but it is growing very rapidly.
In America, we are wealthy, but a “leveling” world will press
our middle class and the solvency of government programs. As individualists, we
do not look at the future in the sense of a modern philosophy. We take parts of
many different ideas, and we often don’t integrate them conceptually.
In your book, you present the “Triangles of Enlightened
Conservatism.” Please explain.
One of the things that Instilling Values does is to create a Western
philosophy as a comparison for the dialectic with the Harmonious Society. The
book also presents a series of triangles that are based upon developing the
concept of conscience for the future. The progression starts with the forces of
change versus the status quo and how the factor that settles the difference
between them is individual dignity.
How people perceive their future influences the stability of the
society and its economic and civil future. Western, independent thought has
been a strength of society, but there needs to be some uniform base of thought,
like the values of morality, so you have a melting pot and not a salad bowl.
In the end, three cultures help you judge where a society is and
where it is headed. The first is the discipline within society, which is the
rule of law and how it is enforced. The next level of culture is what we call
the culture of obligation — the Golden Rule and morality. This is not what we
are required to do, but what others expect us to do and what we expect from
others. The final culture is one of service or one of compassion. Here, by
doing things that are not necessarily expected of you, through non-profits or
charity, you define yourself by a higher standard. This solidifies the personal
character that gives a nation its strength.
These are the components of Enlightened Conservatism and are
relatively comparable to the conceptual approaches in the Harmonious Society.
The goal is to devise a society that is not divided, rich versus poor or left
versus right, but by conscience or convenience from a cultural perspective. If
we look at the problems that exist between different societies, we often
discover it is not the cultures or even the religions that are the
underpinnings of difference, but individual groups within each nation, culture,
or religion that pursue convenience rather than conscience.
Terrorism and corruption always will be with us. We cannot fight
them solely with traditional means. The ultimate victory rests in the hearts
and minds of people. Understanding concepts such as the common good and men’s
obligations and responsibilities to other men — that sense of dignity of man
has to be conveyed and taught. As Marcus Aurelius noted, “A man should be
upright, not kept upright.”
Photography by Pam Francis.