This article investigates two levels of society. The first is the contemporary, contingent, de facto condition of society, as evident especially in the American version of free-market capitalism. The second is a deeper structural condition that is both real (because that is the nature of the structure) and unreal because the contingent state of reality may reflect it poorly. This two-fold approach is inspired by the Neo-Confucian handling of this systemic tension between contingent conditions and deep structure in terms of a “physical nature,” and an “original nature.” I find the model a rich source of insight for considering virtually any level of living systems, including the entire social-environ-mental system. Thus I frame this paper as an inquiry into the Original Nature of Contemporary Society. In the end my objective is similar to the heritage of thought surrounding the “original nature”: to clarify what is distorted and the sources of the distortion, and to consider strategies of rectification. In contemporary terms, this is a Neo-Confucian reflection on the systemic tensions at the core of the contemporary sustainability crisis and on directions towards their remedy.


Capitalism, China, Co-evolution, Confucianism, Dynamics, Environment, Individualism, Nature, Neo-Confucianism, Organization, Pragmatism, Self-cultivation, Supreme, Ultimate, Sustainability, Systems, Technology, United States, Values, Western


  1. [book] Richard Norgaard / Development Betrayed : 26

  2. [book] Kauffman / At Home in the Universe : 189

  3. [book] Jacques Ellul / The Technological Society