Notes Toward a Confucian Politics


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Louis B. says:

    Liberals, and libertarians for that matter, are terrified of seeming “judgmental” because they fear negative judgments might encourage state intrusion into culture.

    This is a crucial point. See libertarian philosopher Roderick Long’s article about Confucian views on state intrusion.Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    Great post and there’s certainly much to be said in favor of it. I found myself more in agreement as I read along having started off at the beginning in considerable disagreement and it is there that I’d like to object.

    Setting aside the obvious stuff like the treatment of women and minorities during the ages of chivalry I’d like to observe that this era of gentility existed really only in the very highest classes of the time. Since only the well to do and well educated tended to preserve records of themselves and their world and since the classes were considerably more separated than they are now our vision of the past is one of geniality, dignity and politeness when I believe that the world was considerably ~more~ coarse then than now. Certainly the 1800’s gentleman was very dignified or the Confucian era scholar. But the peasantry, working class of both societies lived in abject squalor and what little we know of their behavior seems to have matched their environment. We know that rape, murder, theft, rudeness and unbelievable coarseness was completely a matter of course to the vast majority of humans in those eras. The masses, that is to say, are now probably considerably better behaved than the masses then. So perhaps our modern socialite is much less straight laced than a 1770 debutant but a modern ordinary Joe is much much more polite than a street urchin or a peasant from the same time (to say nothing of being much freer).

    That one objection aside I do agree with the rest.Report

    • Avatar Rufus in reply to North says:

      @North, Oh, yeah- it’s a perennial gripe, and actually, even the aristocracy have improved. At one point, it was quite normal for them to duel at the drop of a hat, for example. The University of Virginia actually had a terrible problem with young gentlemen shooting each other. They finally cracked down after some drunken students killed a professor during a near riot.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Rufus says:

        @Rufus, well yes and that’s another thing. There’s nothing like the threat of ~mortal combat~ to encourage people to be polite and proper.Report

        • Avatar Rufus in reply to North says:

          @North, Absolutely. Well I think the important point here is that Confucius has a specific time in the past with a specific culture that he’d like to revive, while I don’t. It’s more that I see the future as unwritten and would like to see certain behaviors flourish in the culture as we move forward, rather than wanting to go back to some idealized past. (Here I think of the old line about conservatism promising us all a better yesterday.) I have worn a fedora for some time, and recently read an article that claims they’re coming back- I can’t take the credit for that, sadly. So, I’d say that fedoras, social calls, and vinyl records are the only things I’d like to bring back (maybe penmanship); but here’s the wonderful thing about the present- we have all of those things right now! The bad things will pass into the dustbin of history and the good will endure. At least, I hope so. But I think it’s a matter of active choice.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    libertarians for that matter, are terrified of seeming “judgmental”

    Then why are they so fond of calling people “statists” and “parasites”?Report

  4. Avatar ~trumwill says:

    Excellent post. To me, the primary alternative to state intrusion is social condemnation. One of the arguments if favor of liberty from state intrusion is that just the state should not prohibit all that it’s citizenry would discourage. But if something being legal makes it automatically socially acceptable and disapproval of it improper, that makes the argument in favor of legal sanction less uncompelling. Social norms must pick up where we don’t want the law to go.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to ~trumwill says:

      @~trumwill, Yeah, that’s kind of how I see it. Social norms as a way of saying to the state, “No, no, we got it. Don’t worry.”Report

    • @~trumwill, I think that’s kind of the essence of the Thoreau quote: “That government is best which governs least, because its people discipline themselves.”

      I live in Japan, a nation heavily influenced by Confucian ideals. Many a foreigner that slips up, finds himself ostracized. This has usually taken the form in Japanology literature of “Japan is a strange land, and they mistrust foreigners” but I think it’s pretty straight forward given this element of Confucianism.Report

      • Avatar Rufus in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        @Christopher Carr, An old insult in China held that, “your parents haven’t taught you to be a human being”. But the assumption was that one has to learn how to be a human being. As I understand it also used to be the case (maybe still is) that strangers were not shy about correcting other people’s kids in public for similar reasons.Report

  5. Avatar Jon says:

    You know, all people, including yourself and Confucius, do rude, showoffy and dumb things, especially while young. Different people do those things different ways, usually in a deliberately rude way to annoy different sets of people. You might also want to keep in mind that one of rules he was so proud of was considering people like you barbarians.

    Aristocracy has a terrible historical record on this earth, and Confucianism` was an an embodiment of aristocracy. So, to me, you’re talking about a bad crowd here. Problems with aristocracy:
    o Always seems to have lotsa oppressed serfs or slaves to do the nasty work.
    o The little guys are neglected and often enslaved.
    o Bad for innovation because pnly the aristocrats are allowed to do anthing real, andin ways that keep their superiors happy and unafraid of themselves.
    o The aristocrats always actively keep the little guys down to keep them from revolting.
    o There are few freedoms, and none for the majority peasants.
    o Little accountability – the top guys are highly corrupt because nobody stops them.
    o Usually bad at diplomacy.

    The Confederacy was easier for the North to beat because the deep South was an aristocracy of big planters and suffered all those problems. They inflicted horrors on their slaves, and even oppressed po cracker whites to keep them down as well.Report