Confucianism was developed by China’s most influential thinker, Confucius. The teachings were based from The Analects of Confucius which particularly highlights the virtues that one must possess in order to contribute to a moral society. Confucius discussed several values such as filial piety, propriety, loyalty, and righteousness. He believed that to acquire superiority as a human being, these virtues should be reflected upon. Consequently, a moral society can transpire if it is governed by someone who possesses these traits. This paper will focus entirely on the two verses from the Book 2 of The Analects which Confucius considered to be elemental principles towards good governance.
The Ideal Government According to Confucian Beliefs
Confucius is one of the most renowned philosophers in China One of his most famous quotations is the golden rule which clearly insinuates the relationship of an act and its consequence, but what can his teachings say with regard to politics and governance? What can he say to our leaders and citizens? How does he define an ideal ruler and government?
Like most famous philosophers, Confucius also made use of his knowledge by educating students. “He wandered through many states of China, giving advice to their rulers. He accumulated a small band of students during this time. The last years of his life were spent back in Lu, where he devoted himself to teaching” (Robinson, 2004). Therefore, it is justifiable that Confucius’ teachings are competent enough to contribute to an ideal government. Based on his book The Analects or Lun Yu, Confucius reiterates the importance of possessing moral values in cultivating oneself and one’s society. As Robinson (2004) discussed in his article, the writings of Confucius “deal primarily with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power by the rulers” (Robinson, 2004). This paper aims to explicate how some verses from The Analects or the Lun Yu can be a functional basis towards the betterment of a certain society. This paper also seeks to emphasize the thoughts of Confucius which are elemental to the development of oneself.
The North Star
One of the most popular verses in The Analects is the one wherein Confucius compared a virtuous ruler to the North Star, as stated in this line: “He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it” (Confucius, 2007, p.10). First question: Why did Confucius make use of the North Star as a point of comparison to the virtuous ruler? There are three answers to this question. First, it is simply because a good ruler is firm with his principles and decisions just as the North Star is fixed in the sky. Second, a good ruler is respected by his constituents and co-rulers just as the other stars and constellations revolve around the North Star. Lastly, a virtuous ruler is the perfect aid for his constituents just as the North Star was a useful assistant for navigation centuries ago. Like what Janice Karin stated in her article in Pagewise, “For many years, the North Star has been used as a navigation aid and to chart navigational maps” (Karin, 2002, n.p.).
Simply put, exercising government by means of virtue is synonymous to administering moral values to one’s leadership. If a ruler is comparable to the traits and features of the North Star, he would be respected and followed by his constituents. Nevertheless, how can a ruler ensure that he possesses righteousness in leadership? How can he be certain that he would be respected and followed accordingly? How can he discipline his people with virtue?
Based on Dr. Meredith Sprunger’s study, she stated that “another key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself. When developed sufficiently, the king’s personal virtue spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom” (Sprunger, n.d., n.p.). Confucius has been emphatic on the principle that in order to prepare oneself to manage a unit efficiently, he must learn to manage himself as an individual. He should be as disciplined and as cooperative to be under someone else’s authority. Everything must always come first within us. From there, his people would learn from him and give him the respect and obedience that is necessary for the improvement of his kingdom.
The Ideal Society
Confucius (2007) stated that
If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good (p. xi)
We can assume that Confucius was a naïve philosopher and that he believed that man is good in nature. Honestly, however, if we apply this in our society today, majority would probably become opportunists. He does have a critical point but that is if man is indeed good by nature. He thoroughly explains in his discussions in the Book 2 of The Analects the importance of virtue in one’s leadership. He discourages violence and punishment and sees them as the major causes of moral descent in one’s personality. He believes that if people are disciplined by means of penalties, they would ponder on the ways to avoid them rather than realize the mistake and correct them. Therefore, it would create many rebellious and unwilling constituents. However, if the people are governed with kindness and sensitivity, they would be ashamed enough to disobey the rules.
So, what makes a virtuous man? What specific virtue should one possess to gain the title of a virtuous ruler? The two verses from The Analects are simple and easy to understand, yet to administer it as one’s principle would not be that easy for us to put into application. Based on his teachings, it can be inferred that Confucius encourages superiority and discourages mediocrity in oneself. The teachings seem too ideal that it takes a hopeful to participate in his line of thought. With the combination of all the virtues that he had discussed with his students, he believed that a superior man can materialize. However, I believe that it would take an already superior man to attempt to possess all these virtues. This was how Confucius visualized the ideal society. This is how he would define an ideal government and ruler.
Confucius. (2007). The Analects. Sioux Falls, SD: NuVision Publications.
Karin, J. (2002). What is the north star? Essortment. Retrieved September 30, 2008, from http://www.essortment.com/all/northstarastro_rmdz.htm
Robinson, B. A. (2004). Confucianism: Founded by K’ung Fu Tzu. Religions Tolerance. Retrieved September 30, 2008, from http://www.religioustolerance.org/confuciu.htm
Sprunger, M. (n.d.). An introduction to Confucianism. The Urantia Book Fellowship. Retrieved September 30, 2008, from http://www.ubfellowship.org/archive/readers/601_confucianism.htm