July 23, 2010

The confidence of the people

El Cabrero is on the road these days, but the blog is still rolling. The current theme is the philosophy of the ancient Chinese sage known in the West as Confucius, whose ideas are still influential in many parts of the world and merit a serious look.

While "Confucianism" has sometimes been classified as a religion, that is a label that doesn't fit too well. He was above all concerned with earthly things and political life.

While ancient Chinese philosophers like Confucius did not directly espouse democracy, they did call for good government that served the interests of the people. Some people have argued that the ancient Chinese idea of the "Mandate of Heaven" is similar to later Western ideas of the social contract. The basic idea is that a government is legitimate and enjoys the Mandate as long as it serves the people but loses legitimacy and the Mandate when it does not.

Here's a passage from The Analects:

Tzu-kung asked about government. Confucius said, "Sufficient food, sufficient armament, and sufficient confidence of the people. Tzu-kung said, "Forced to give up one of this, which would you abandon first?" Confucius said, "I would abandon the armament." Tzu-kung said, "Forced to give up one of the remaining two, which would you abandon first?" Confucius said, "I would abandon food. There have been deaths from time immemorial, but no state can exist without the confidence of the people.


That's something lots of tyrants have found out the hard way.

NOTE: I'm still on the road so there are no links. This post will not reflect any breaking news. Let's hope it's all quiet on the Western Front.

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