Legalism (Chinese philosophy)

Legalism (Chinese philosophy)

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In Chinese history
History of China
Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era, but the Yellow River is said to be the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world's oldest...

, Legalism was one of the main philosophic currents during the Warring States Period
Warring States Period
The Warring States Period , also known as the Era of Warring States, or the Warring Kingdoms period, covers the Iron Age period from about 475 BC to the reunification of China under the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC...

, although the term itself was invented in the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 and thus does not refer to an organized 'school' of thought.
Legalism was a utilitarian political philosophy that did not address higher questions like the nature and purpose of life. The school's most famous proponent and contributor Han Fei Zi
Han Fei
Han Fei was a Chinese philosopher who, along with Li Si, Gongsun Yang, Shen Dao and Shen Buhai, developed the doctrine of the School of Law or Legalism...

 (韓非子) believed that a ruler should use the following three tools to govern his subjects:
  • Fa : The law code must be clearly written and made public. All people under the ruler were equal before the law. Laws should reward those who obey them and punish accordingly those who dare to break them. Thus it is guaranteed that actions taken are systematically predictable. In addition, the system of law ran the state, not the ruler, a statement of rule of law
    Rule of law
    The rule of law, sometimes called supremacy of law, is a legal maxim that says that governmental decisions should be made by applying known principles or laws with minimal discretion in their application...

    . If the law is successfully enforced, even a weak ruler will be strong.
  • Shu : Special tactics and "secrets" are to be employed by the ruler to make sure others don't take over control of the state. Especially important is that no one can fathom the ruler's motivations, and thus no one can know which behaviour might help them get ahead, other than following the 法 or laws.
  • Shi : It is the position of the ruler, not the ruler himself or herself, that holds the power. Therefore, analysis of the trends, the context, and the facts are essential for a real ruler.

Origin


The early thought behind Legalism was first formed by Shang Yang
Shang Yang
Shang Yang was an important statesman of the State of Qin during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Born Wei Yang in the State of Wei, with the support of Duke Xiao of Qin Yang enacted numerous reforms in Qin...

 in the book of Lord Shang and was further developed by Li Si
Li Si
Li Si was the influential Prime Minister of the feudal state and later of the dynasty of Qin, between 246 BC and 208 BC. A famous Legalist, he was also a notable calligrapher. Li Si served under two rulers: Qin Shi Huang, king of Qin and later First Emperor of China—and his son, Qin Er Shi...

 as a realist reform oriented philosophy meant to strengthen government and reinforce adherence to the law. Legalism fully emerged during the Warring States Period
Warring States Period
The Warring States Period , also known as the Era of Warring States, or the Warring Kingdoms period, covers the Iron Age period from about 475 BC to the reunification of China under the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC...

, a critical point in ancient Chinese history. The Warring States Period and the preceding were marked by frequent violence and war, and many new philosophies were founded to cope with the environment of the time including, Daoism, Confucianism
Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

, and Mohism
Mohism
Mohism or Moism was a Chinese philosophy developed by the followers of Mozi , 470 BC–c.391 BC...

.

One of the first adopters of Legalism was the statesman Shang Yang of the State of Qin
Qin (state)
The State of Qin was a Chinese feudal state that existed during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods of Chinese history...

. He was said to have borrowed the legal elements of his theories from the Canon of Laws, a legal code attributed to Li Kui
Li Kui
Li Kui is a fictional character in the Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. He ranks 22nd of the 36 Heavenly Spirits of the 108 Liangshan heroes and is nicknamed "Black Whirlwind".-Background:...

 of the State of Wei
Wei (state)
The State of Wei was a Zhou Dynasty vassal state during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Its territory lay between the states of Qin and Qi and included parts of modern day Henan, Hebei, Shanxi and Shandong...

, but this book is now considered to be a later forgery. Overall, Shang Yang advocated the belief that all people are fundamentally flawed and that stringent laws and harsh punishments are required to keep them in order. In addition, his theories thought all humanity was selfish and evil, which added towards the cause for Shang Yang becoming prime minister of the Qin under the rule of Duke Xiao of Qin
Xiao of Qin
Duke Xiao of Qin , born Ying Quliang , was the ruler of the Qin state from 361 BC to 338 BC during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Duke Xiao is best known for employing the Legalist statesman Shang Yang from the Wei state , and authorizing him to conduct a series of upheaving...

 and gradually transforming the state into a vigorously regulated machine, the sole purpose of which was the elimination of all rivals. The Qin Dynasty would eventually conquer six other feudal states and create what is regarded as the first true Chinese Empire. Shang Yang swept away the aristocracy
Aristocracy
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

 and implemented a meritocracy
Meritocracy
Meritocracy, in the first, most administrative sense, is a system of government or other administration wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their "merits", namely intelligence, credentials, and education, determined through evaluations or...

 – those who achieved could reach high places and birth privilege was reserved exclusively for the ruler of the state. Previously the army had been controlled by nobles and constituted of feudal levies. Now generals could come from any part of society, provided they had sufficient skill. In addition, troops were highly trained and disciplined. From then on, Qin was taking its shape to become the most powerful state in China before it eventually brought all of the six other states together (Qi
Qi (state)
Qi was a powerful state during the Spring and Autumn Period and Period of the Warring States in ancient China. Its capital was Linzi, now part of the modern day city of Zibo in Shandong Province....

, Chu
Chu (state)
The State of Chu was a Zhou Dynasty vassal state in present-day central and southern China during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States Period . Its ruling house had the surname Nai , and clan name Yan , later evolved to surname Mi , and clan name Xiong...

, Han
Han (state)
Han was a kingdom during the Warring States Period in China, located in modern-day Shanxi and Henan. Not to be confused with South Korea which shares the same character....

, Yan
Yan (state)
Yān was a state during the Western Zhou, Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods of Chinese history. Its capital was Ji...

, Zhao
Zhao (state)
Zhao was a significant Chinese state during the Warring States Period, along with six others...

, and Wei) under Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang , personal name Ying Zheng , was king of the Chinese State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BC during the Warring States Period. He became the first emperor of a unified China in 221 BC...

.

Roles of the Rulers


Primarily members of the ruling class, the Legalists emphasized that the head of state was endowed with the "mystery of authority” , and as such his decisions must always command the respect and obedience of the people. The state (country) comes first, not the individual. The emperor’s very figure brought legitimacy. In emphasizing the power of rulership, Legalists such as Shen Dao
Shen Dao
Shen Dao was an itinerant Chinese philosopher from Zhao, who was a scholar at the Jixia Academy in Qi. He is usually referred to as Shenzi 慎子.-Overview:...

 (ca. 350 - 275 BCE) and Shen Buhai
Shen Buhai
Shen Buhai was a Chinese bureaucrat who was the Chancellor of Han under Marquis Zhao of Han from 351 BC to 337 BC. Shen was born in the State of Zheng; he was likely to have been a minor official for the State of Zheng. After Han conquered Zheng in 375 BC, he rose up in the ranks of the Han...

 sought to devalue the importance of the charismatic ruler. Skillful rulers hid their true intentions and feigned nonchalance. To ensure that all of his words were revered, the wise ruler kept a low profile. Thus, theoretically, by cloaking both his desires and his will, the Emperors checked sycophancy and forced his subject to heed his dictates. While Shang Yang
Shang Yang
Shang Yang was an important statesman of the State of Qin during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Born Wei Yang in the State of Wei, with the support of Duke Xiao of Qin Yang enacted numerous reforms in Qin...

 (the Prime Minister of Duke Xiao of Qin) would allow rulers to listen to musical instruments rather than focus on foreign policy, Han Fei
Han Fei
Han Fei was a Chinese philosopher who, along with Li Si, Gongsun Yang, Shen Dao and Shen Buhai, developed the doctrine of the School of Law or Legalism...

 (the Legalist scholar most admired by the First Qin Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi) demanded more of the wise ruler. A good leader, by Han Fei
Han Fei
Han Fei was a Chinese philosopher who, along with Li Si, Gongsun Yang, Shen Dao and Shen Buhai, developed the doctrine of the School of Law or Legalism...

's standards, must not only accept the advice of loyal ministers when shown to be in error, but must also extend courtesy to those beneath him or her and not be too avaricious. The adept ruler also understood the importance of strictness over benevolence. Although the ruler was expected to be paternalistic, the Legalists emphasized that being too kind would spoil the populace and threaten the state's internal order. Interestingly, according to Han's
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 Grand Historian Sima Qian
Sima Qian
Sima Qian was a Prefect of the Grand Scribes of the Han Dynasty. He is regarded as the father of Chinese historiography for his highly praised work, Records of the Grand Historian , a "Jizhuanti"-style general history of China, covering more than two thousand years from the Yellow Emperor to...

 (ca. 145-86 BCE), while the First Qin
Qin Dynasty
The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China, lasting from 221 to 207 BC. The Qin state derived its name from its heartland of Qin, in modern-day Shaanxi. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the 4th century BC, during the Warring...

 Emperor hid himself from the rest of the world (perhaps due to a desire to attain immortality) and thus maintained a low profile, he did not necessarily follow all of the Legalists’ advice on the role of the ruler.

Role of ministers in Legalist thought


To aid the ruler and help prevent misgovernance, for fifteen years – formalized the concept of shu , or the bureaucratic model of administration that served to advance the ideal Legalist ruler’s program. To the Legalists, the intelligent minister was the ruler's most important aide. Where as the minister’s duty was to understand specific affairs, the ruler was responsible for correctly judging ministers’ performances. Stressing that ministers and other officials too often sought favours from foreign powers by abusing their positions, Han Fei
Han Fei
Han Fei was a Chinese philosopher who, along with Li Si, Gongsun Yang, Shen Dao and Shen Buhai, developed the doctrine of the School of Law or Legalism...

 urged rulers to control these individuals by the two handles of punishment and favour. Officials were required, through fear, to ensure that ministers' accomplishments were neither greater than nor inferior to the assigned undertaking. According to the eminent sinologist Robin Yates, newly discovered Qin Dynasty
Qin Dynasty
The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China, lasting from 221 to 207 BC. The Qin state derived its name from its heartland of Qin, in modern-day Shaanxi. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the 4th century BC, during the Warring...

 legal codes show that officials were required to correctly calculate the exact amount of labor expected of all artisan
Artisan
An artisan is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewellery, household items, and tools...

s; if the artisan was ordered to perform either too much work or too little work, the official would be held accountable. Thus, in Legalist theory, ministers and other officials were prevented from performing some other official's duties and were punished if they attempted to blind the ruler with words or failed to warn the ruler of danger. One consequence of this situation was that the ministers could always be held accountable for royal misadventures while the ruler’s name was never to be tarnished. By emphasizing performance, however, over sophistry, the Legalists hoped to eliminate bureaucratic corruption and intrigues amongst the officialdom through fear of being severely punished, exiled or executed.

Purpose of law


The entire system was set up to make model citizens behave and act how the dynasty wanted them to act against their will. The laws supported by the Legalists were meant to support the state, the emperor, and his military. They were also reform
Reform
Reform means to put or change into an improved form or condition; to amend or improve by change of color or removal of faults or abuses, beneficial change, more specifically, reversion to a pure original state, to repair, restore or to correct....

-oriented and innovative. In theory, the Legalists believed that if the punishments were heavy and the law equally applied, neither the powerful nor the weak would be able to escape state control. The Legalists especially emphasized pragmatism over precedence and custom as the basis of law. Guided by Legalist thought, the First Qin Emperor, Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang , personal name Ying Zheng , was king of the Chinese State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BC during the Warring States Period. He became the first emperor of a unified China in 221 BC...

, would weaken the power of the feudal lords, divide the unified empire into thirty-six administrative provinces, and standardize the writing system. Reflecting Legalist passion for order and structure, Qin soldiers were only mobilized when both halves of tiger-shaped tallies (one held by the ruler and the other by the commanding general) were brought together. Likewise, all documents in the empire had to have recorded the year they were written, the scribe who copied them, and up to the exact hour of delivery. Accepting Shang Yang
Shang Yang
Shang Yang was an important statesman of the State of Qin during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Born Wei Yang in the State of Wei, with the support of Duke Xiao of Qin Yang enacted numerous reforms in Qin...

’s earlier emphasis on the standardization of weights and measures, the Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang , personal name Ying Zheng , was king of the Chinese State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BC during the Warring States Period. He became the first emperor of a unified China in 221 BC...

 would also accept Shang Yang
Shang Yang
Shang Yang was an important statesman of the State of Qin during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Born Wei Yang in the State of Wei, with the support of Duke Xiao of Qin Yang enacted numerous reforms in Qin...

’s philosophy that no individual in the state should be above the law (by ensuring harsh punishments for all cases of dissent) and that families should be divided into smaller households. While there is reason to doubt Sima Qian
Sima Qian
Sima Qian was a Prefect of the Grand Scribes of the Han Dynasty. He is regarded as the father of Chinese historiography for his highly praised work, Records of the Grand Historian , a "Jizhuanti"-style general history of China, covering more than two thousand years from the Yellow Emperor to...

’s claim that Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang , personal name Ying Zheng , was king of the Chinese State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BC during the Warring States Period. He became the first emperor of a unified China in 221 BC...

 did in fact divide households into groups of ten, certainly the other examples of standardization and administrative organization undertaken by the First Emperor reflect the importance of Legalist thought in Qin
Qin
-Chinese dynasties and states:*Qin , a state of China during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty*Qin Dynasty , which followed Qin's unification of China in 221 BC and ended in 206 BC*Da Qin , Roman Empire, 202 BC to AD 220...

 law. Based on promoting the interests of the state Qin, the law served as a vehicle to both control the populace and eliminate dissent.

Legalism and individual autonomy


The Legalist philosophers emphasized the primacy of the state over individual autonomy. The lone individual had no legitimate civil rights
Civil rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

 and any personal freedom had to strengthen the ruler. Han Fei, in particular, would be very caustic towards the concept of individual rights. Fundamentally, the Legalists viewed the plebeian (common people of lower class) and their actions as evil and foolish.

However, Legalism allowed the common people to gain in rank if they performed well. For example, soldiers would gain in rank according to the number of heads the soldiers collected. A soldier may even gain noble rank. In contrast, some other states allowed only the well-connected to gain higher ranks. An example of this would be Lü Buwei
Lü Buwei
Lü Buwei , Lord Wenxin 文信侯 was a Warring States Period merchant who schemed his way into governing the State of Qin. He served as Chancellor of China for King Zhuangxiang of Qin, and as regent and Chancellor for the king's young son Zheng, who became Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China...

, who originally a merchant, was able to become Chancellor of China, an occurrence that would never happen in the other six states. He played a major role in King Zhuangxiang of Qin
King Zhuangxiang of Qin
King Zhuangxiang of Qin , personal name Yiren , later renamed to Zichu , was the ruler of the Qin state during the 3rd century BC in the Warring States Period of Chinese history.-Biography:...

's rise to power.

According to Shang Yang
Shang Yang
Shang Yang was an important statesman of the State of Qin during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Born Wei Yang in the State of Wei, with the support of Duke Xiao of Qin Yang enacted numerous reforms in Qin...

's The Book of Lord Shang
The Book of Lord Shang
The Book of Lord Shang was an early Legalist work generally attributed to the eponymous Lord Shang. It is a foundational work of that harsh tradition: ""The Book of Lord Shang teaches that laws are designed to maintain the stability of the state from the people, who are innately selfish and ignorant...

, the people themselves wanted a ruler to generate order. Social cohesion in the Legalist state mandated that the populace never escape punishment. The Qin dynasty
Qin Dynasty
The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China, lasting from 221 to 207 BC. The Qin state derived its name from its heartland of Qin, in modern-day Shaanxi. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the 4th century BC, during the Warring...

 used the people, for example, to maintain vigilant mutual surveillance over one another under threat of death.

This intrastate realpolitik
Realpolitik
Realpolitik refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises...

 would end up devouring the Legalist philosophers themselves. Shang Yang
Shang Yang
Shang Yang was an important statesman of the State of Qin during the Warring States Period of Chinese history. Born Wei Yang in the State of Wei, with the support of Duke Xiao of Qin Yang enacted numerous reforms in Qin...

, in advocating the state’s right to punish even the heir-apparent’s tutor, would run afoul of the future King Huiwen of Qin
Huiwen of Qin
King Huiwen of Qin , also known as Lord Huiwen of Qin or King Hui of Qin , personal name Ying Si , was the ruler of the Qin state from 338 BC to 311 BC during the Warring States Period of Chinese history.-Early life:...

 (circa. 338 -311 B.C.). Whereas at one point, he had the power to exile his opponents (and, thus, eviscerate individual criticism) to border regions of the state, he died when torn into pieces by chariot
Chariot
The chariot is a type of horse carriage used in both peace and war as the chief vehicle of many ancient peoples. Ox carts, proto-chariots, were built by the Proto-Indo-Europeans and also built in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. The original horse chariot was a fast, light, open, two wheeled...

s. Similarly, Han Fei would end up being poisoned by his envious former classmate Li Si
Li Si
Li Si was the influential Prime Minister of the feudal state and later of the dynasty of Qin, between 246 BC and 208 BC. A famous Legalist, he was also a notable calligrapher. Li Si served under two rulers: Qin Shi Huang, king of Qin and later First Emperor of China—and his son, Qin Er Shi...

, who in turn would be killed (under the law he had introduced) by the aggressive and violent Second Qin Emperor that he had helped to take the thrones.

Decline


In later dynasties, Legalism was discredited and ceased to be an independent school of thought. However, both ancient and modern Confucian observers of Chinese politics have argued that some Legalist ideas have merged with mainstream Confucianism
Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 and still play a major role in government. The philosophy of imperial China has been described as a Confucian exterior covering a core of Legalism . In other words, Confucian values are used to sugarcoat the harsh Legalist ideas that underlie the Imperial system. During the Sui
Sui Dynasty
The Sui Dynasty was a powerful, but short-lived Imperial Chinese dynasty. Preceded by the Southern and Northern Dynasties, it ended nearly four centuries of division between rival regimes. It was followed by the Tang Dynasty....

 and Tang dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

, Buddhist
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 ideas were also part of the external face of the imperial system.

There was a brief revival of Legalism during the Sui dynasty's efforts to reunify China. After the Sui dynasty was replaced by the Tang dynasty, the Tang government still used the government structure left behind by the Sui dynasty, albeit with much reduced punishments.

More recently, Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

, who had some knowledge of ancient Chinese philosophy, compared himself with Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang , personal name Ying Zheng , was king of the Chinese State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BC during the Warring States Period. He became the first emperor of a unified China in 221 BC...

and publicly approved of some Legalist methods. One such method approved in the 1980s under Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping was a Chinese politician, statesman, and diplomat. As leader of the Communist Party of China, Deng was a reformer who led China towards a market economy...

 administration is the reward and punishment, which has increased the size of the Beijing government in the process. However, since the 1990s the related concept of the rule of law
Rule of law
The rule of law, sometimes called supremacy of law, is a legal maxim that says that governmental decisions should be made by applying known principles or laws with minimal discretion in their application...

 has gained currency.

Related figures


The Confucian thinker Xun Zi
Xun Zi
Xun Zi was a Chinese Confucian philosopher who lived during the Warring States Period and contributed to one of the Hundred Schools of Thought. Xun Zi believed man's inborn tendencies need to be curbed through education and ritual, counter to Mencius's view that man is innately good...

 is sometimes considered as being influenced by or having nourished Legalist ideas, mostly because of two of his disciples (Li Si
Li Si
Li Si was the influential Prime Minister of the feudal state and later of the dynasty of Qin, between 246 BC and 208 BC. A famous Legalist, he was also a notable calligrapher. Li Si served under two rulers: Qin Shi Huang, king of Qin and later First Emperor of China—and his son, Qin Er Shi...

 and Han Fei
Han Fei
Han Fei was a Chinese philosopher who, along with Li Si, Gongsun Yang, Shen Dao and Shen Buhai, developed the doctrine of the School of Law or Legalism...

).

Related philosophies and concepts

  • Platonism
    Platonism
    Platonism is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In a narrower sense the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic realism...

    , the concept of a philosopher king
    Philosopher king
    Philosopher kings are the rulers, or Guardians, of Plato's Utopian Kallipolis. If his ideal city-state is to ever come into being, "philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize" .-In Book VI of The Republic:Plato defined a philosopher...

     in Plato
    Plato
    Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

    's The Republic, a form of enlightened absolutism
    Enlightened absolutism
    Enlightened absolutism is a form of absolute monarchy or despotism in which rulers were influenced by the Enlightenment. Enlightened monarchs embraced the principles of the Enlightenment, especially its emphasis upon rationality, and applied them to their territories...

     or the "benevolent despot", similar to Statism
    Statism
    Statism is a term usually describing a political philosophy, whether of the right or the left, that emphasises the role of the state in politics or supports the use of the state to achieve economic, military or social goals...

     and the concepts advocated by Thomas Hobbes
    Thomas Hobbes
    Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

     and (arguably) Niccolò Machiavelli
    Niccolò Machiavelli
    Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is one of the main founders of modern political science. He was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic...

    .
  • Meritocracy
    Meritocracy
    Meritocracy, in the first, most administrative sense, is a system of government or other administration wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their "merits", namely intelligence, credentials, and education, determined through evaluations or...

    , Realism
    Realism (international relations)
    In the study of international relations, Realism or political realism prioritizes national interest and security over ideology, moral concerns and social reconstructions...

    , and Rule of Law
    Rule of law
    The rule of law, sometimes called supremacy of law, is a legal maxim that says that governmental decisions should be made by applying known principles or laws with minimal discretion in their application...

     are important concepts in Legalism, although they are also important concepts in other, unrelated philosophies.
  • Confucianism
    Confucianism
    Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

    , Taoism
    Taoism
    Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

    , and Mohism
    Mohism
    Mohism or Moism was a Chinese philosophy developed by the followers of Mozi , 470 BC–c.391 BC...

     were traditional competing philosophies to Legalism, that rejected many of the concepts advocated by the Legalists.
  • Progressivism
    Progressivism
    Progressivism is an umbrella term for a political ideology advocating or favoring social, political, and economic reform or changes. Progressivism is often viewed by some conservatives, constitutionalists, and libertarians to be in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.The...

    , Libertarianism
    Libertarianism
    Libertarianism, in the strictest sense, is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view...

    , Anarchism
    Anarchism
    Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations...

    , Agorism
    Agorism
    Agorism is a political philosophy founded by Samuel Edward Konkin III and developed with contributions by J. Neil Schulman that holds as its ultimate goal bringing about a society in which all "relations between people are voluntary exchanges – a free market." The term comes from the Greek...

    , and Classical Liberalism
    Classical liberalism
    Classical liberalism is the philosophy committed to the ideal of limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets....

     are modern philosophies that reject core elements of Legalism.
  • Zero tolerance
    Zero tolerance
    Zero tolerance imposes automatic punishment for infractions of a stated rule, with the intention of eliminating undesirable conduct. Zero-tolerance policies forbid persons in positions of authority from exercising discretion or changing punishments to fit the circumstances subjectively; they are...

    , a philosophy of punishment which calls for a rigid and strict set of consequences for infractions (although not necessarily harsh in nature).

Sources

  • Barbieri-Low, Anthony, trans. The Standard Measure of Shang Yang (344 B.C.) (2006)
  • Creel, H.G. “The Totalitarianism of the Legalists.” Chinese Thought from Confucius to Mao Tsê-tung. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1953.
  • Duyvendak, J.J.L., trans. The Book of Lord Shang: A Classic of the Chinese School of Law. London: Probsthain, 1928.
  • Graham, A.C., Disputers of the TAO: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Open Court 1993). ISBN 0-8126-9087-7
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