Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The origin of the principles of humane government

The origin of humane government begins with the human heart. It is the human heart that determines the nature of our experiences in life. It is these experiences which determine everything else.

According to Mencius, without the feeling of commiseration one is not a human.

  • The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity or benevolence.
  • The feeling of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom.
  • The feeling of deference and accommodation is the beginning of propriety.
  • The feeling of shame and dislike of the shameless is the beginning of righteousness.
The truth of this is found in a work as far in time and distance as one can get from ancient China. That work is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Although modern western civilization has little in common with ancient China in terms of taste in food, music, or beauty, there is little doubt that we share much in common with the human feelings of kindness versus cruelty.

It is on this basis of common feeling that Mencius says:

"All men have the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others. The ancient kings had this mind and therefore they had a government that could not bear to see the suffering of the people. When a government that cannot bear to see the suffering of the people is conducted from a mind that cannot bear to see the suffering of others, the government of the empire will be as easy as making something go round in the palm." (Chan, 1963)

This is not say that lesser men in positions of power will not abuse that power for their own ends. It is for this reason that Confucius clarified the principles of humane government based on the record of exemplary rulership of the ancients, particularly Shun and Yu. Philosophically, the principles of humane government are rooted in commiseration being the beginning of humanity. Without this foundation there is no manner of interpersonal relations whether in a family, among friends, or in government that will bring peace to the land and enable people to enjoy any happiness. It is therefore important to understand that the ultimate basis of all our relations are moral and not merely legal. Even the Declaration of Independence makes this point that all people are created equal and are inviolably morally worthy beings and thus the purpose of government is to ensure that this is so.

Both the Declaration of Independence and the Chinese Mandate of Heaven are clear that when any government is in violation of not only its own principles but of the greater moral basis of all our relations then the people have not only a right, but a duty, to change or abolish it and institute a new government.

Commiseration, therefore, is indeed the basis of humane government.