Already Xun Kuang (荀況, ca. 310 or 314 – c. 217 or 235 BC), a Confucian scholar who witnessed the chaos of Zhou`s collapse and the rise of Qin, incorporated elements of legalism into his philosophy. Xun`s basic ideas were Confucian, as he emphasized moral virtue. He wrote: The proposed way of estimating the performance of the public servant is not entirely reasonable (why punish a minister for excessive performance?), but at least it attempts to establish firm evaluation criteria, which in this case are linked to the minister`s own „offer” (Goldin 2013: 8-10). The advantages are obvious: the system prevents ministerial manipulation and reinforces the leader`s control over his officials. This last point is of particular importance to legalists. Various means by which the ruler was supposed to supervise ministers are referred to in Han Feizi and other legalistic texts as „technical” (shu術) or „rules” (shù數) (the meaning of the two terms may overlap: Creel 1974: 125-134; Yang, 2010). Both terms are similar to fa, but narrower in meaning, referring primarily to a variety of means by which the ruler controls his officials. Han Fei claims that Shu is the hallmark of Shen Buhai`s ideas, explaining its meaning as follows: The four-hundred-year debate between Confucian and legalist thinkers about human nature and the role of government in economics reflects the ongoing intellectual debate between liberals and mercantilists that began with Adam Smith`s publication of The Wealth of Nations in 1776. Liberals, like Confucian thinkers, argued for a limited role for the state in the economy, while mercantilists, like legalists of the Warring States period, argued for an increased role for the state in the economy to ensure protectionism and control human nature.
The interesting aspect is that this ongoing debate did not begin with Smith`s publication in 1776, but with The Analects of Confucius, published after his death in 479 BC. This intellectual debate turned into an all-out intellectual war during the Warring States period, when legalists began to question the assumptions inherent in Confucian thought to explain the anarchy, chaos, and constant war in which they lived. The contributions of jurists cannot be overstated, as their writings became the tools used to unite the empire in 221 BC. AD, ending the Warring States period. Moreover, the ongoing debate between liberals and mercantilists, which included notable figures such as Adam Smith, Friedrich List, Alexander Hamilton, and John Maynard Keynes, is an extension of the intellectual debate that took place between Confucians and legalists during the Warring States period until the founding of the Han Dynasty. This shows that a basic understanding and reading of history, including civilizations that may seem unknown, is essential to understanding the world today. Although the term „legalism” was only used during the Han漢 Dynasty (206/202 BC – 220 AD). A.D.) , its roots – or, more precisely, the idea of grouping together several thinkers possibly called „legalists” – go back to Han Fei 韓非 (died 233 BC), who is often considered the most important representative of this intellectual current. In chapter 43, „Defining Standards” („Ding fa” 定法) by Han Feizi 韓非子, the thinker presents himself as a synthesizer and enhancer, the ideas of two of his predecessors, Shang Yang 商鞅 (died 338 BC) and Shen Buhai 申不害 (died 337 BC).
(Han Feizi 43:397-400). The pairing of Shen Buhai and Shang Yang and the addition of Han Fei himself to them have become common since the beginning of the Han Dynasty (see, for example, Huainanzi 6:230; 11:423; 20:833). The historian Sima Qian 司馬遷 (c. 145–90 BC) identified these three thinkers as adherents of the doctrine of „fulfillment and title” (xing ming 刑名) (Shiji 62:2146; 68:2227; Translation borrowed from Goldin 2013: 8). This term was synonymous with the last fa jia (Creel 1974:140). This is a curious recommendation: the leader should cancel himself completely, both to preserve his authority against intriguing ministers and – wrongly! – to acquire a good reputation at the expense of the Minister. But this sovereign, who has neither desires nor observable views, becomes the ultimate slave of his office. For the sake of self-preservation, he must abolish his personality and be completely inundated by the system he is supposed to run. A.C. Graham provocatively notes that in Han Fei`s system, the rule „has no function that could not be performed by an elementary computer. Can we even say that in Han Fei`s system, it is the ministers who govern? (Graham 1989:291). This paradox of a captive ruler who enjoys divine omnipotence, but must abstain from activism to preserve this omnipotence, is one of the most fascinating manifestations of the internal contradiction of the authoritarian system.
When it comes from a thinker who is often described as unique authoritarian, it deserves the utmost attention. The belief that human nature is inherently evil has led to the belief that human nature and the resulting anarchy must be controlled. This led to the doctrine of legalism. Legalists use the state as a means to control human nature and prevent people from pursuing their own interests. Just as Mencius` economic policy was shaped by his belief in the rationality of the individual, the economic policies of the legalists were shaped by their belief in the irrationality of the individual and the need to control the individual in order to deal with inevitable chaos and anarchy. The Han Chinese emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty conquered Nan Yue and divided it into provinces; northern area of Vietnam, called „Chiao Chih” Chunqiu Fanlu develops an older distinction and uses the contrast of yin and yang, the associated qualities and their transformations to understand the characteristics of the world and people. One of the main features of this Han naturalistic change is the idea that „heaven/nature and humanity are one” (tian ren yi ye 天人一也, CQFL 49.1). Principles and patterns that explain how the natural world works, such as yin-yang and the five stages, also explain human characteristics, society, and behavior. There is debate about whether yin and yang are something like distinct properties belonging to objects and events, or whether they are qualities or types of qi. In some parts of the text, yin and yang are discussed as if they were special and concrete elements of the world, and in other parts of the text, yin and yang are discussed as characteristics of qi.
The Chunqiu Fanlu, unlike earlier Taoist texts, takes a partisan position here, claiming that we should place Yang above Yin. Yang is associated with positive qualities such as virtue, humanity, and life, while yin is understood as absence and is associated with the opposite characteristics of vice, violence, and death. This contrasts with earlier „Taoist” texts, which generally view Yin and Yang as mutually valuable principles of change that should be followed depending on the situation. Instead, the Chunqiu Fanlu argues that we should „honor Yang and denigrate Yin” (CQFL 43:1), and that „Yang is sublime, Yin is low.” (CQFL 43, Queen & Major 2016: 393) Accordingly, in the land of an enlightened ruler, there are no texts written in books and on bamboo strips, but the law is doctrine; There is no „speech” of the former kings, but the officials are the teachers; There is no private handling of swords, but beheading [enemies] is bravery. (Han Feizi 49:452) The second surviving text, Han Feizi 韓非子, is attributed to Han Fei, a descendant of the ruling family of the state of Hán 韓 (not to be confused with the Hàn 漢 dynasty), a tragic figure who is said to have been killed in the custody of the King of Qin, whom Han Fei wanted to serve. Of all the legalistic texts in the Han Imperial Catalogue, Han Feizi fared best during the vicissitudes of time: the 55 chapters attested in the Han Catalogue are still intact. Whether the entire book was written by Han Fei or not is controversial: considerable differences between the chapters in terms of style and argumentation lead many scholars to suspect that they come from different authors. On the other hand, the differences can be explained by the fact that they reflect Han Fei`s intellectual maturation process or the need to adapt reasoning to different target groups; and since most of the chapters offer a coherent perspective, this increases the likelihood that most of them were actually written by Han Fei (Goldin 2013).