The Pathos of Politics (13-1) Confucius


The administration of government lies in getting proper men. Such men are to be gotten by means of the ruler’s own character. That character is to be cultivated by his treading in the ways of duty. And the treading of those ways of duty is to be cultivated by the cherishing of benevolence. ~ Confucius

Kong Qui (551–479 BCE) earned the honorific title Kong Fuzi after his passing, which was Latinized to Confucius. Like most educated middle-class men, Confucius pursued a career as a government bureaucrat, rising to the post of minister of justice in the northeast state of Lu.

Confucius was a consummate conservative: his moral perspective firmly rooted in Chinese convention. Combining concepts about the innate goodness and sociability of humans with the rigid structure of Chinese society, Confucian philosophy had at heart the traditional virtues of loyalty, duty, and respect. Yet Confucian ideas were met with suspicion during his lifetime. Members of nobility and the ruling families were unhappy with his implied dismissal of their divine right to rule (their “mandate from heaven”) and felt threatened by the power Confucius proposed for government ministers.

This trampling was temporary. Confucianism became the official state philosophy under the Han dynasty in the 2nd century bce, establishing itself as the philosophic lifeblood of Chinese culture. Brief expulsion under Maoist communism in the 1950s did not rip out its roots. In the early 21st century, Confucianism was once again ascendant in China, as the turbulence of adopting capitalism left the Chinese clinging to the anchors of their traditions.

In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. ~ Confucius