Da Coconut Repablik

A Chronicle of the Da Pinoys and Da Coconut Repablik of Da Pilipins

Da Pinoy Chronicle: On Confucius,Virtue and Good Leadership

I am writing this article because there is an assignment given by our teacher to analyse some of the best sayings of the Chinese philosopher and politician Confucius. Most of us have heard of that name. He is one of the most influential philosophers that shaped the world and especially the philosophy of several Eastern Asian nations especially China, Korea and Japan.

He championed strong family loyalty, ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children (and in traditional interpretations) of husbands by their wives. He also recommended family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, an early version of the Golden Rule.

I have mixed impressions about Confucius. His philosophy about morality and ethics were applied and his political philosophy were adopted by China, Korea and Tokugawa Japan. Confucianism was the philosophy named after him, a humanistic philosophy.

The core philosophy of Confucianism is virtue and respecting authority. I despised him because of his treatment of women mainly as second class citizens. I also despised him for legitimising the rule of backward Chinese Emperors especially their insistence to modernise China during the 19th century which lead to its decline and downfall.

I criticise this quote from him that emphasises good governance and good leadership.

 “If you govern with the power of your virtue, you will be like the North Star. It just stays in its place while all the other stars position themselves around it.”

Virtue is a fragile idea. Since the dawn of civilisation, humanity had learned to walk upright, banded themselves into groups which had formed society. Humans had formed a government by electing their leader, which in time became hereditary, then the leader will appoint the best persons which will in turn form the aristocracy, then the leader will appoint sages, which will be the guardians of the supposed religion and the others will become commoners.

Humans will later form a code of edicts, then it will become morality. This is how society was formed. It is the theory of social contract, where the people will surrender some of their liberties for security, for the common good and peace.

But humans are not running out of desires. They are seeking something and they will not hesitate to take it. This is how the concept of war will enter the society, with societies forming large armies. It is efficient for humanity to have a sort of authority in order to preserve the social order or else, as Thomas Hobbes will put it it will be a bellum omnium contra omnes ( the war against all).

There are very few leaders who had used virtue alone to govern the people. Very few individuals only used virtue for the people to obey them, for the most part it is a combination of charisma, persuasion, manipulation, deceit, fear and strong rhetoric. Leaders will use populism to persuade the people into their own concepts of freedom, justice or liberty.

I will classify the 5 kinds of leaders:

1. Virtuous leaders- Marcus Aurelius, Trajan, Charles XII, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Gustavus Adolphus, Pericles, Shi Huang Ti, Mikhail Gorbachev, Louis XIV and Cincinnatus

2. Enlightened despots- Charles III, Frederick the Great, Augustus, Charlemagne, Peter The Great, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Oda Nobunaga, Suleiman The Magnificent, Gustav III, Napoleon Bonaparte and Jeongjo of Korea.

3. Incompetent leaders- Caligula, Noynoy Aquino, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Sukjong, Benito Mussolini, Corazon Aquino, Louis XVI, Tsar Nicholas II, James II and Charles I.

4. Competent leaders- Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir Mohammad, Meiji of Japan, Ramon Magsaysay, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Putin, Ferdinand Marcos, Gloria Arroyo, Fidel Ramos, The Qianlong Emperor,  Leonidas, Queen Victoria, Otto von Bismarck, Marquis of Pombal, John F. Kennedy and George III with the support of Prime Minister William Pitt.

5. Brutal tyrants/ dictators- Nero, Ivan The Terrible, The Kim family, Joseph Stalin, Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan, Oliver Cromwell,  Ronald Reagan, Suharto, Maximilien Robespierre, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Mullah Muhammad Omar, Saddam Hussein,  Bashar Al Assad, Francisco Franco, Ferdinand VII, Muammar Gaddafi, Julius Caesar and Richard III.

These types of leaders states it clear that only few leaders became virtuous at all. I exclude Maximilien Robespierre although he wants a ‘Republic of Virtue’, his methods were considered tyrannical for that goal.

In just a year, he guillotined 200,000 people during the Reign of Terror. Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao and Hitler are all examples of tyrants. They had killed millions of people for their own twisted ideals. I considered Hitler as incompetent because most of the early victories that the Third Reich had won during the Second World War were from the decisions from his top generals and he only took credit for it.

Stalin, on the other hand was a monster who killed 60 million of his people during his 28 year regime. It includes the Great Purge, the Holodomor and the Second World War. Political executions were common during his time, as well as surveillance by the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police. The Holocaust was more frightening than Stalin’s Red Terror because it was a clear representation of xenophobia and extreme racism.

The only important thing for a leader is the preservation of his power. Niccolo Machiavelli had emphasised this in his book The Prince, the book which became the foundation of political science as we know today. Whether The Prince is a satire or not, because I also considered it as a satire, Machiavelli had written a book that became the foundation of modern state power.

I know he was a republican, a staunch defender of liberty and i know that he intended to use that book to spark a revolution against the Medicis. His contribution to power politics was enormous however, it became the basis of realpolitik that countries are using today.

In this book, he emphasises that a prince must do all the things necessary to preserve his power even betraying the morality of his society. He also emphasised that the prince must be popular and must act virtuous and moral in order to win the public support of the people, while his true intentions are hidden. He will become a lion and a beast, as well as a philosopher and a king.

In my conclusion, Confucius’ emphasis on virtue was too fragile. There are very few leaders who exercised it purely. In a world of constant change and progress, his emphasis in good governance is too vague. Consider this an example.

In the Philippines, several candidates are running under the platform of anti corruption. I repeat we do not need leaders who are not corrupt but incompetent to govern. All we need are competent bureaucrats to run the country. That is why i support Constitutional Reform. I have  hopes for a true democratic society that was ruled by rationality and competent leadership.

Be it democracy, communism, fascism, totalitarianism, socialism or conservatism, the role of power and politics will still be the same. It is an inevitable part of life, and even a part of human nature itself. Virtue is a vague term for governance, leaders must be wise yes, but they must also be cunning and manipulative to survive.

Darwin’s law of Natural Selection, the survival of the fittest applies here. That is my explanation why i criticise the philosophy of Confucius regarding good governance and virtue. Even virtue can be corrupted and some leaders may attempt to exterminate people in the name of virtue.

Where are the masses? Unfortunately, they will be forever pawns to the influential and the powerful. Even if they sparked several revolutions to change the order, it will still be the same, although the governance of the new elite will depend on how reforms are conducted.

The masses can still engage in political affairs because I believe that any person as long he exercises competence to govern the people can lead a community.

This will be the law of politics no matter what you will do. It is a part of progress of the human race as a whole. Love it or hate it, oppression will always be the law to preserve the wealth of nations.

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3 comments on “Da Pinoy Chronicle: On Confucius,Virtue and Good Leadership

  1. Darl
    November 5, 2012

    You used the word “especially” too much at the start. I have a different take on what Confucius said, though this may be a poor interpretation since I know little of Confucius.

    I think what he meant was that a man who stays true to what he wants to achieve, in other words keeps his virtues, his ideals, in order for them to spread will achieve much more than a man who rules through other means such as punishment where the people are merely slaves in chains wherein, if the chains be cut, will run away from you as fast as possible.

    The “you” me and(probably) Confucius are talking about here is not really you, but the embodiment of your ideals. He speaks of “virtue”, probably, because “virtue” and “ideals” was practically synonymous at the time.

    I do not think that he aims to discount the need for cunning and all those other things with his saying, but that he aims to show that they can only take you thus far. After all, what happens to your kingdom after you die?

    You need to be able to inspire the populace so that there would be at least one person who is worthy to take your place after you pass on and make it so that even after that they’ll still be positioning themselves around “you”.

    • dachronicler
      November 5, 2012

      There are very few leaders who had shown that trait because most of them will use virtue only as a sham for their interests. George Washington was an example of that virtuous person. Napoleon was a virtuous leader but i gave him a ranking of enlightened despot because he betrayed some hopes of the Republicans of France during that time.

      • Darl
        November 6, 2012

        And whose legacy lives on? Whose ideals are still being, if only a little bit, upheld nowadays? It’s the man who lived them, his ideals that is.

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This entry was posted on November 5, 2012 by in Culture, Democracy, News, Religion and tagged , , , , .
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