Xunzi's moral analysis of war and some of its contemporary implications

Journal of Military Ethics 11 (2):97-113 (2012)
Abstract The early Ru or ?Confucian? figure Xunzi (?Master Xun,? c. 310?c. 220 BCE) gives a sophisticated analysis of war, which he develops on the basis of a larger social and political vision that he works out in considerable detail. This larger vision of human society is thoroughly normative in the sense that Xunzi both argues for the value of his ideal conception of society, and relates these moral arguments for the Confucian Dao or Way to what I take to be fairly hardheaded assessments of the dynamics of international relations in his late Warring States historical context. This combination of moral vision and political realism, combined with his advocacy of strong political authorities that nevertheless rule justly in service to the common good, makes his thought arguably more relevant to the contemporary world of contending nation-states, and a rising, undemocratic China, than any other pre-modern Confucian. Xunzi's own context, both intellectual and political/military, led him to argue about war in ways that look distinctive to contemporary Western ethicists ? and yet his preferred issues are revealing in themselves and are suggestive in relation to current debates in military ethics. In the first part of this paper I analyze Xunzi's argumentative strategy in debate about war, where he chooses to attack his adversaries on the question of how to cultivate true loyalty and obedience in subordinates. The second part briefly explores Xunzi's vision of the good society and how it fits into a multi-state world, which undergirds his critique of alternate discourses about war and government. The third examines the Xunzian vision of politics and war as a source for a contemporary Confucian theory of civilian-military relations. The fourth section explores some implications of a Xunzian account for international relations, through a brief comparison with the Kantian notion of ?perpetual peace? among liberal states, and whether such ?zones of peace? might be conceivable on Confucian grounds. The conclusion reflects on the ambiguous legacy of Xunzi's moralism in his analysis of war and statecraft, and the possible light this shines on contemporary Chinese political culture
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DOI 10.1080/15027570.2012.708178
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John Rawls (1993). Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.

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