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« Feeling the Summer and Two by Li Po | Main | Chuang Tzu at the Movies »

June 10, 2008


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I must agree with Andrew Sullivan (usually I don't btw). If I were an American voter, I would want someone who can get the job done, an employee who has ability, not some moral exemplar. Waiting for some perfect leader who is both morally perfect and has ability is as rare as the proverbial Sage. Sure its great when one comes along, but you can't run a State with hope. Don't be like that idiot farmer from the State of Song, waiting vainly for another rabbit to hit its head on a tree so dinner can be served!

Confucians agreeing with American moral conservatives, ... no surprise, Confucians are our version of the Paleo-Cons, and both are equally as annoying and pathetic!!!

Legalism presumes that intellectuals and academic elites can rule a country.

If only I had a penny for every time that hypothesis was discredited.

Really, legalism is at best an excuse for massive social engineering. In the same way a drunk man blindfolded drives off a cliff, all the while supposing him to be clever - intellectuals drag a people off to disaster, all in pursuit of a fantastic utopia.

Morality is freedom, because morality exists in the heart of each individual person.

Morality is also fairness. It is ironic that legalism also advocates fairness, even though without morality, fairness is meaningless. Even if a practical advantage can be induced from fairness, it has no spiritual foundation.

"Legalism presumes that intellectuals and academic elites can rule a country."

- I don't know where you get this from, Legalists have the best record of putting intellectuals in their place, whether it's being registered and restricted, exiled, or buried alive under six feet of soil. No, Legalism presumes the Law must rule a country.

"Really, legalism is at best an excuse for massive social engineering. In the same way a drunk man blindfolded drives off a cliff, all the while supposing him to be clever - intellectuals drag a people off to disaster, all in pursuit of a fantastic utopia."

- Utopia? this term NEVER appears in Legalist writings, and last I check, Thomas More was not a Legalist. And yes, if massive engineering (social or otherwise) is what is needed to make a strong military and wealthy State, then so be it. The ultimate goal after all is a unified people and culture, i.e. China.

"Morality is freedom, because morality exists in the heart of each individual person."

- Is this just your wishful thinking? In fundamentalist Islamic countries they have Morality Police used as instruments of repression, in the US they had a Moral Majority, the leaders of which even John McCain called the 'agents of intolerance'.

Legalism is all about The Ruler and keeping The Ruler in power. But who is The Ruler? Legalism assumes The Ruler has a certain intellectual capacity. In pre-Qin and Qin times, only an educated person (then a very small minority) who could read not only Legalist texts but Taoist works as well could rule. How else would he be able to understand just how bad all those ministers really are? Indeed, if The Ruler is to be free of the influence and manipulation of the ministers - a primary Legalist concern - then he must have independent intellectual capacities. He must, in short, be an intellectual.

it took a lot of imagination to put "John McCain" and "Gentleman" in one sentence...not to say "Confucian"...just recall the "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran"...

More interest question would ... any "gentleman" ( "confucian" or not )out there in the political arena, who is not in the take, who is not paid??? Read my friend's piece if you have any doubt on this:
Obama Capitulates

Will Obama Stand Up to the War Party?
Don't bet the ranch on it
by Justin Raimondo

My point is: even for "last best hope" of the recharging the corrupted and corrupting Empire, Obama seems not be able to distance himself from the War Party. Is "democracy" as a cure-all snake oil panacea going to put Humpty Dumpty together again? I am crossing my finger and hope for the best...

As to export the said system to China... here is one piece

"Yeah...... Western liberal democracy...... like McDonald's hamburgers and french fries is the panacea for China's future.

On June 4th, this year, the 19th anniversary of Tiananmen, these proponents of spoonfeeding "liberal Western democracy" into China are still talking.

Except they grossly omit something so blatantly perverse and obscene about what they so mightily propose.... they don't practice what they preach for others."


I have to say I'm impressed by the quality of commentators (though not their respective comments). Clearly, everyone here is well-read.

Indeed. But it's unlikely Obama would be very popular among Confucians either, for similar reasons. Reportedly he engaged in some pretty aggressive tactics in Chicago to gain his Illinois state senate seat there. And Confucius might also be pretty miffed about his severing his ties with Jeremiah Wright because it hurt his mainstream appeal. What's a Confucian to do, when both major candidates have clear personal flaws?

Outside of someone well-versed the Spring and Autumn Annals, which I have admittedly am not, I don't think we have enough information as to what kind of politician Confucius would support. Clearly he did support various imperfect rulers, because he held various governmental posts, so it is safe to say that he didn't let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

On the other hand, Mencius and Xunzi both spoke extensively about the sort of ruler they would want in very clear terms. My guess is that Xunzi, with his support of the ba, would back McCain. The whole "Peace through Strength" stueck would be right up his alley. Plus rampant cultural conservatism was his bag. Mencius would probably go for Obama. When Obama talks about change, he is talking about the sort of inner transformation that Mencius was always going on about. Plus increased public works, and pacifism are up Mencius's alley.

So, depending on which one you think represents the most accurate continuation of Confucius's thought, you have your answer.

If a person is cruel by nature, it will be difficult to make him kind. (Think of Chou Hsin of Yin)
If a person is a known womanizer, how can he be persuaded not to fool around with beautiful women? (Think of King Fuchai of Wu)
If the person has an eye on profits or his well being most of the time, it will be difficult to stop him from being greedy or corrupt. (Think of various rulers during the Warring States)
If a person wants to be a hero all the time, he would think of wars and hegemony. (Think of Duke Xiang of Song)
Obviously you are free to replace the proffered examples with known bad rulers (prime ministers and/or presidents) of modern times!

If you happen to have such rulers, even the wisest advisors or ancients in the world could do nothing.

Just like the Master advised in 15. 8 (Analects – Legge), high natures value virtue more than life. Therefore knowing each of the candidate’s character well, before voting in the next US president, is of utmost importance.

I am sure the Americans would love a humane and just ruler who could bring back peace and prosperity to the country, and to the world. Just make sure the next US President has the original virtue – that of sincerity, unless they are prepared to be conned again!

I think we're missing the bigger picture. Confucius shows us in passages 14.6 and 14.7 (of the Analects) that a ruler doesn't have to be wholly Humane, but they should follow the advice of good ministers.

Duke Huan, brother-killer, isn't a picture of Humanity, but he had Kuan Chung as a minister. Kuan Chung enabled Duke Huan to unite all beneath heaven, the benefits of which are still enjoyed by the people today. These passages seem to tell us that a ruler's own lack of Humanity is remedied by good ministers. They may also suggest that ruler's own slights against Humanity are outweighed by the greater good they bring about.

Taking these passages into account, perhaps we should look past McCain's own lack of Humanity and look instead to the people he takes advice from--we may be able to get an ideal ruler from a person who is not so ideal. Unfortunately, I think if we actually looked at who McCain surrounds himself with, it will lead to an even greater Confucian condemnation than the one we started out with.

"I think we're missing the bigger picture.
Duke Huan, brother-killer, isn't a picture of Humanity, but he had Kuan Chung as a minister.

The big picture is that we have much to learn from ancient history and the need to understand it well. The Spring and Autumn Annals is not dry-as-dust as Legge suggested.

Ancient Chinese history has repeatedly told us that when two brothers contend by force for the throne, the loser has to die. In this instance, Duke Huan of Qi repelled the attack from the Lu army, forcing Duke Zhuang of Lu to execute Jiu (the brother of Duke Huan) and deliver Guan Zhong as a prisoner.

In abandoning his personal grudge and appointing Guan Zhong to be his prime minister, Duke Huan showed his magnanimity. Guan Zhong had earlier shot him with an arrow, fearing that he would first arrive in Qi to take the throne.

Later, through Guan Zhong’s reforms, the Qi state prospered and grew increasingly powerful. If the ruler was not wise and humane, could it have happened?

Allan Lian,

I always enjoy your posts. These days, I'm trying to apply the lectio divina method to the Confucian Classics. Since you are one of few remaining people who take the Classics seriously, I'm always quite inspired by your posts, both here and at your blog.

I just want to say, good work. I hope one day I can analyse the Zuozhuan as skilfully as you.

"If the ruler was not wise and humane, could it have happened?"

Yes. Unless I'm grossly misinterpreting the passages, I think that was the point of 14.6 and 14.7; the ruler does not have to be wise and Humane, so long as he heeds the words of wise and Humane ministers. Confucius even says in 14.5 that the duke is upright (I would add, aside from the brother-killing business) but not crafty, signaling that the duke is lacking in areas. This is further supported by the history of our specific example, as Duke Huan was overthrown by bad ministers after Kuan Chung died. I would argue it's pretty convincing at this point that the good minister is making up for some of the ruler's weaknesses, and Confucius recognizes that.

I also don't believe the specifics of historical practices change anything, because it isn't brought up in the Analects. This either means Confucius already implicitly incorporated this into his reasoning or that it didn't matter to him and didn't factor into his reasoning at all. Either way, what we have is Confucius' response, which I think tells us that a ruler only has to be wise and Humane enough to recognize Kuan Chung's good advice.

Unless I'm totally wrong, I think my assertions, ones on Confucius and McCain, still stand.

I agree that Confucius would not require moral perfection in a leader, and that there may be historical practices that run against the general principles of Humanity (as Allan suggests), and that good ministers may be crucial for good leadership (a la Gary). However, there are limits. Accepted historical practices and good minister are insufficient to justify a fundamentally inhumane leader. Duke Huan united the country and brought prosperity - he served a higher purpose of Humanity (in a rather consequentialist manner). He ultimately did good and that is why Confucius honored him. On the other hand Confucius, and especially Mencius, hold up Shun as a moral exemplar. And Shun did not kill his brother, who had tried to kill him, when he become Son of Heaven. This is the ideal, which Duke Huan apparently did not live up to. The Shun example suggests that Confucianism (in the Mencius strain at least) might accept imperfections in a leader but still maintains a high standard of ethical conduct for rulers.
To get back to McCain, a Confucian might ask: why did he dump his first wife. Was it, like Duke Huan, in the service of higher national purposes? No, it wasn't. It was a matter of vanity and personal power, neither of which would be understood as morally sufficient to a Mencian-Confucian.

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