Political Theory – Confucius on the proper role of government

Confucius - Ancient Chinese Philosopher


Confucius - Role of GovernmentConfucius, or Kung fu-tse, envisioned a society that returned to its roots in order to better prosper. People themselves should change and not just the ones that govern them. He insisted on a return to old customs and traditions. An emphasis was placed on one’s etiquette, or propriety. Additionally, in Analects, the teachings of Confucius describe the role of the government. Three responsibilities, or requisites of government, are described with one in particular being with utmost importance.

Confucius placed a lot of value on the traditions of past dynasties. The virtuous was one who respected these traditions and continued their practice. Rectification, or self-governing, is achieved through these traditions. He also associates intelligence with moderation and self-control. Further, he suggests that one disconnect from society and return to harmony in nature. But it is still vital that one knows their part in society and fulfill it to the best of their ability.

β€œLi” was a system of how one should conduct themselves in society. These were used to teach his students propriety. Daily rituals that one engages in regularly should be composed of those that lead to the happiness of themselves and society. Each individual had a responsibility to society, not just themselves. This system relied heavily on past traditions and values. Filial Piety was a major aspect of this. It involved showing respect for the ways of fathers and their fathers and so on. Ancestry was seen with much respect in the teachings of Confucius.

As for government, the three requisites are: β€œsufficiency of food, sufficiency of military equipment, and the confidence of the people in their ruler” (Analects). If only one is to be foregone, the Master insists that it is the military equipment. Of the two remaining, if another is to be foregone, the Master states that food should be the next to go. The most important is the people’s faith in their rulers. This is the foundation of the state and it can not exist without it. This is described in Chapter 7 of Analects in a conversation between the Master and Tsze-kung.

Confucius taught of how one is to govern themselves, and how the state is to govern society. The ways of governing can be seen in the traditions of forefathers. By returning to these, society can be virtuous and harmonious. Government is seen as a tool to help bring out the best of its people. Confucius saw it as responsible for the well being of its citizens but insists that they not forget their individual roles themselves. In order to properly carry out its role, government must be looked upon by its people for leadership and be respected. It must not lose the faith of its people.

Confucius - Ancient Chinese Philosopher