Posts Tagged ‘autocracy’

Modern Free Society Needs the Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

(Please also see my paper on my website “The Traditional Chinese Supremacy of Relationship-Defined Obligations vs. the West’s Supremacy of Love”)

Making the Cardinal Obligations supreme, treating them as the supreme value, as the Confucian-Chinese tradition has done for over two thousand years, is most compatible with a modern free society. Nay more, making the Cardinal Obligations supreme is extremely conducive to the development of an even freer society than what we have now.

How so? Many will ask, shocked. Isn’t the Confucian-Chinese tradition autocratic? One young man has actually told me that he has always thought that Confucianism is fascist! Oh wrong, wrong; oh how wrong! Oh times! Oh morals!

True, historically there has been significant streaks of autocracy in Confucianism and true, China has had a totalitarian system of government for over two thousand years, where government control has been remarkably pervasive for a society based on technology quite primitive today. Traditional Chinese autocracy and totalitarianism, however, have been based mainly on Legalsim and the idea of Craft* (Shu` or 术), not Confucianism. In fact, historically Confucianism has been the restraining and humanizing influence on traditional Chinese totalitarianism.

Let us not get into a huge debate about exactly where, when, and how much are the autocratic and totalitarian streaks in Confucianism; let us just look at the core idea of Confucianism: the Cardinal Obligations. Quite opposite to autocracy and totalitarianism, the essence of the Cardinal Obligations is that they enable a society to function with the least amount of coercion, the least amount of government control, and thus the maximum freedom and voluntary choice.

It is now the twenty-first century, and it is high time to purge the autocratic and totalitarian streaks that have contaminated Confucianism, the core teaching of which, the supremacy of the Cardinal Obligations, is by nature against autocracy and totalitarianism.

Feng Xin-ming


*Political and historical writings from traditional China often distinguish between Dao` (the Way) on the one hand, which is the good and the benevolent, and Shu` (Craft) on the other, which is the “art” or “craft” involving Machiavellian deceit and cruelty but considered justified means to achieve the greater good. Writers would laud a personnage, for example an emperor or a prime minister, for adhering to the Dao` in carrying out good and benevolent deeds, and would exonerate the same personnage of his heinous and underhanded deeds by invoking the necessity of Shu` (Craft). The term Shu` (Craft) can be expanded as Zhi` Guo’ Zhi- Shu` (the Craft or Art of Ruling a State)

Feng Xin-ming

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