Dao
, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 201-221
Date: 18 Apr 2012

The Book of Lord Shang Compared with Machiavelli and Hobbes

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Abstract

This essay argues that political realism is an effective heuristic for understanding The Book of Lord Shang (Shangjun Shu 商君書), which it compares to the political thought of Machiavelli and Hobbes. It first lays out the premises of political realism as they emerge from this comparison: the real is the guiding heuristic of political realism; historical change is the fundamental condition; the nature of human beings is selfish but can also form customs favorable to political order. Based on these premises, the essay then discusses the major propositions of political realism: the purpose of central authority is to provide the multitude with the benefits of order and to reward the ruler; the benefits of order warrant the commission of cruel deeds, also called the reason of state in the West; legal and extra-legal actions are the means by which the central authority imposes order and counters contingency; punishment is the primary means to make the laws prevail. The essay closes with considering the question of whether a fully implemented realist order could put an end to historical change.