The debate on whether the people have any place in the state, whether they have any right to be heard in questions of their own governance, is not some issue which first arose in recent years. It goes back to the classical period itself.
As a sample of the terms in which that debate was carried on in that time, we here show two 04c texts in the act of debating that question. They are not the famous "right of protest" stories in the Dzwo Jwan and Gwo Yw. They are also not the "right of recommendation" pronouncements of the later Mencian school. These are part of the protest literature of the period. (For the place of those stories in their larger context, see our Citizenship paper). Instead, we present extracts from two elite-level statecraft texts, the 04c parts of the Analects (representing orthodox Confucian opinion) and the Gwandz (representing early Legalism, a much tougher theory of political structure).
That dialogue shows not only a difference, but a gradual convergence of views between the two. The Legalist side acknowledges the Confucian point about the need for the people's approval of government policies, and the Confucians, for their part, concede that a period of tutelage will be required before that citizen-like role becomes fully functional. At the end of the discussion, the two positions are still distinct, but each has been modified in the direction of the other. This mutual contact and mutual learning process is only visible when the texts are relatively dated with some precision. That more precise dating is our contribution to the subject.
What is exciting about this result is that it lets us witness the issue actually being discussed by advisors close to the power centers of their day.
We start with two paragraphs from the early part of Gwandz 3 (a text which was written in several layers, over a good many years). They insist on the importance of military power, and also on the need for compulsion, both positive and negative ("rewards and punishments"), in order to secure the civil obedience, and especially the military service, of the people. The states of the time were facing a crisis of survival, and the Gwandz authors, speaking as advisors to the ruler of Chi, were talking tough. Like this:GZ 3:2 If a state's area is extensive but the state itself is poor, it is because open land has not been brought under cultivation. If the people are many but the troops are weak, it is because the people are not motivated.
GZ 3:3. Therefore, if nonessential production is not prohibited, the open land will not be cultivated. If rewards and penalties are not credible, then the people will not be motivated. If the open land is not cultivated and the people are not motivated, then outside there will be no means with which to meet attack, and inside there will be no means with which to strengthen control.
Here and in the military writings, making punishments "credible" (syin) means executing a few offenders to convince the others that you mean business. It is the ultimate imposed order.
It can also be argued that the ethical impulse must be from within. Here is the Analects on that topic, as it introduces a term (rvn) that had earlier meant something like other-centeredness, and now reappears in a meaning closer to the standard translation "benevolence:"LY 12:1. Yen Ywaen asked about rvn. The Master said, To overcome the self and turn to propriety (li) is rvn. If one day he can overcome himself and turn to rvn, the world will turn to rvn with him. To be rvn comes from the self. Does it come from others?
This is said of the ruler or minister, the moral exemplar for society; it should be noted that even the ruler must achieve virtue by an inner effort. Before that effort is successful, he has no powers of moral suasion over others. Extending this idea, it might also be claimed that ordinary people should also be inwardly motivated and not outwardly constrained. This Analects hint is developed in the next Gwandz passage.
It is notable that the Gwandz also uses the Analects term li "propriety," in extending the Analects idea to the larger society. Here is their comment, which goes some distance to meet the Analects position:GZ 3:10. Put preceptors in the countryside to expound right behavior to them, and only then inform them of laws and decrees, urge them on by honors and rewards, and overawe them with punishments and penalties. Then the hundred families will all delight in going good, and violent and disruptive conduct will have no place to arise from.
The Analects, having scored a point, next takes up the military definition of society, and of the idea of "credibility" of punishments, from the preceding Gwandz passages, and reverses both of them:LY 12:7. Dz-gung asked about government. The Master said, enough food, enough weapons; the people having confidence in him. Dz-gung said, If he had to let something go, which of the three would go first? He said, Let weapons go. Dz-gung said, If he had to let something else go, which of the two would go first? He said, Let food go. Since antiquity people have always died, but if the people lack confidence, he cannot stand.
This syin or "confidence" is not the fear of punishment, which is what it had implied in the Gwandz passage quoted above, but the people's trust in the ruler, which can lead them to adopt his purposes as their own. It is their assurance that the ruler is not an enemy. In the view here presented, it is the basis of national loyalty, and of the national effort which alone can produce the food supplies and army recruits that the new state requires. There is a further comment on the fear of punishment versus the inward assent to the ruler's influence in this Analects passage:LY 12:19. Ji Kangdz asked Confucius about government, saying, If I kill those who have not the right way of behavior in order to uphold those who do have it, how would that be? Confucius replied, You are there to govern, what use have you for killing? If you desire the good, the people will be good. The virtue of the gentleman is the wind; the virtue of the little people is the grass. The wind on the grass will surely bend it.
Moral example will thus evoke a moral response in the people, whereas killing, the ultimate punishment and deterrent, has nothing to do with achieving civil order. The people need moral leadership, and the basis of moral leadership is a people capable of responding to moral leadership. The technique of exerting moral leadership is further developed in this later Analects passage:LY 13:9. The Master went to Wei, and Ran You was his equerry. The Master said, How numerous they are! Ran You said, Once they are numerous, what should be added to that? He said, Enrich them. Ran You said, Once they are rich, what should be added to that? He said, Teach them.
Here, it seems, is a move in the direction of the Legalist position. We may paraphrase: Even if you assume a moral nature in the people, so that they are capable of entering into civil relations with a moral leader, moral capacity does not exist in a vacuum. The people must first eat and become numerous. Then they must prosper, so that the business of eating and feeding does not usurp their whole strength. On that basis, a civil society can be built. The trust of the people is the theoretical foundation of the state, but trust is not chronologically first in the order of building the state. First eat, and then politicize.
The Gwandz responds by conceding some ground in turn to the Analects view. Note the "shepherd" motif, implying considerate care of the people in their charge:GZ 3:29. Whoever would shepherd the people should cause men to refrain from evil acts and women to refrain from illicit affairs. When men do not commit evil acts, it is because they have been properly instructed. When women do not engage in illicit affairs, it is because they have been properly admonished. When instruction and admonition mold customary behavior, punishments and penalties become rare.
The previous Gwandz passage envisioned teaching as a preparation for intimidation to have its proper effect. Here, teaching is itself socially constitutive, and makes intimidation unnecessary. This is a major rethinking of the grounds of the previous policy. Punishments in the earlier Gwandz view were the standard mechanism of public order; here they can be seen as indicating a failure of the public order.
The theory that rulers should rely on the people's innate moral responsiveness leads to the question of what that responsiveness consists of. What can replace fear as an inner sanction against evil actions? The Confucian view is that it is shame, the spontaneous inner sense of having done wrong:LY 2:3. The Master said, Lead them with government and regulate them by punishments, and the people will evade them but with no sense of shame. Lead them with virtue and regulate them by propriety, and they will acquire a sense of shame - and moreover, in the course of so doing, they will also become orderly.
This amounts to a further step in the same direction. Good civil order is not to be sought directly; it is a side effect of good moral order. The attempt to impose order from the outside will only prevent the development of the inner individual sanctions on which true order must rest. There is no question of a period of tutelage by force, looking to a future tutelage by moral suasion. Force does not develop the conditions under which moral suasion can occur. Force prevents the emergence of civil society.
This Analects position is taken up by this Gwandz passage:GZ 3:34. Those who would shepherd the people desire them to have a sense of shame. Since they desire them to have a sense of shame, it must be displayed even in minor matters. If a sense of shame in minor matters is not displayed throughout the country, it is impossible to expect the hundred families to display it in major ones.
A difference of style and emphasis still separates the Analects and Gwandz positions, but readers who return to the first passages in this series cannot but be impressed with how far they have moved toward convergence. Both sides now hold that spontaneous order is better than imposed order, and that the people's moral capacity is at the basis of civil order, and that civil order in turn is the basis of national success. Neither considers that moral capacity can be developed if basic material needs are unmet. Both regard moral capacity as requiring to be developed; both envision it as capable of being developed. Both look to society's leaders to teach the rest of society. As to how long the development of a civilly capable populace might take, it happens to be the Analects, not the Gwandz, that gives the numbers. For the basic civic trait, a willingness to contribute to the national strength in arms, we have:LY 13:29. The Master said, When good men have taught the people for seven years, one may then have recourse to arms.
But for civil society to reach the more advanced stage where all constraint could be dispensed with, and killing punishments can be abolished altogether, the Analects timetable is longer:LY 13:11. The Master said, If good men ran the state for a hundred years, one could finally rise above cruelty and abolish killing - true indeed is this saying!
The interest of these political details is manifest. We would like to note in conclusion the philological moral of the demonstration. It is that juxtaposing texts or text strata from the same period greatly enhances their intelligibility, and that distinguishing early and late material within contemporary texts permits us to witness philosophy in the process of coming to be: arising out of the public needs of the time, and taking shape against competing ways of addressing those needs. It is only in relation to other texts that any one of the Warring States texts becomes fully intelligible, and fully meaningful.
4 April 2000 / Contact The Project / Exit to Implications Page