Dao
, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 269-282

A Right of Rebellion in the Mengzi?

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Abstract

Mengzi believed that tyrannical rulers can be justifiably deposed, and many contemporary scholars see this as grounding a right of popular rebellion. I argue that the text of the Mengzi reveals a more mixed view, and does so in two respects. First, it suggests that the people are sometimes permitted to participate in a rebellion but not permitted to decide for themselves when rebellion is warranted. Second, it gives appropriate moral weight not to the people’s judgments about the justifiability of rebelling, but rather to certain affections and behaviors that closely track their life satisfaction. I contend that in both respects the permissions Mengzi grants the people fall short of a proper right of rebellion. I conclude that the more historical account of Mengzi’s “just revolt theory” suggests an intriguing division of deliberative labor, and note some of the advantages of this account.