Thursday, November 13, 2014
Xunzi's political program
Xunzi is one of the most sophisticated and influential philosophers of China's Warring States period (479–221 B.C.E.). He considered himself a follower of Confucius and was one of the central early figures in the consolidation of what came to be thought of as the Confucian tradition. Xunzi's significance has often been underestimated, with most prominent Confucians since the Song dynasty aligning themselves with his rival Mencius. His writings address topics ranging from economic and military policy, through the justification of traditional authority and institutions, to action theory and the philosophy of language.
Xunzi strong point is his idea of social and political order, he refers to this tradition as li-yi, “rituals and duties.” Traditional rituals and other artificial social forms help transform natural human behavior, so that people refrain from desires that lead to disorder, conforming instead to the Way.
Not unlike Plato's Republic, Xunzi's social system as a whole is overseen by the chun-tzu, guided by a class of erudites that Xunzi referred to as ru. These would be men whose education and social position gave them the perspective and virtue to oversee the myriad particular activities that Xunzi considered necessary for an orderly state. Much of Xunzi's philosophy is based upon a distinction between what is natural or spontaneous and what is a product of human effort.
Xunzi conceives nature as the unchanging context for human action and organization. Human endeavors succeed or fail depending how they respond to this fixed context—not because of any natural advantages or disadvantages. The stability of a society depends on its ability to respond to natural human desires vs. available resources. The key is to strengthen and enrich the state, by providing social and political structures to regulate people's attempts to satisfy their desires and transforming people's characters (see that this is not precisely our libertarian ideal).