How to Defend a Small State?—Han Fei Zi, Plato, and Mencius


How to defend a small state is an important issue in politics and military affairs. Three important philosophical texts, the Han Fei Zi 韓非子, Plato’s Republic, and the Mencius, discuss this issue. In this article, I will analyze the three accounts offered in these texts, and compare and contrast them. We will see that the Han Fei Zi, a text in the “realist” tradition, offers a typically realist yet rather interesting account of how to save a small state from stronger enemies. Plato’s Republic, too, offers an amoral solution of the defense issue, in spite of its celebration of justice and the Good. The Mencius, a classical Confucian text that is often said to emphasize the power of virtue (humaneness in particular), does have a normative dimension, but it also takes political reality into account. In fact, it is even more realistic than the first two texts on international interventions in some aspects, partly because, paradoxically, it pays attention to the moral dimension of human affairs. After elaborating and comparing these three accounts, I shall argue that a synthesis may offer a realism-based normative theory of the just defense of a small state.

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This article is partly supported by China’s National Social Sciences Fund (general project, “The Political Philosophy of the Han Fei Zi,” 17BZX053).

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Correspondence to Tongdong Bai.

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Bai, T. How to Defend a Small State?—Han Fei Zi, Plato, and Mencius. Dao 20, 231–244 (2021).

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  • Han Fei Zi 韓非子
  • Plato
  • Mencius
  • Realpolitik
  • Just war