Solomon and Confucius, part 3

This is the third entry in a 3-part series on the book of Proverbs and the Analects.

As mentioned in the previous posts in this series, I'll wrap it up by looking at what Solomon and Confucius had to say about governing a just society.

Governing a Just Society

An aspect of good government that Confucius emphasizes is that the ruler himself should be righteous—leading by example:

The Master said, "When a prince's personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed." (13:6)

Leading by a virtuous example is better than issuing harsh punishments:

The Master said, "If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame.
"If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good." (2:3)

(In fact, Confucius says that capital punishment could be abolished if good men were to govern for a straight century ((13:11))

Maintaining the confidence of the people should be the foremost priority of the government:

Tsze-kung asked about government. The Master said, "The requisites of government are that there be sufficiency of food, sufficiency of military equipment, and the confidence of the people in their ruler."
Tsze-kung said, "If it cannot be helped, and one of these must be dispensed with, which of the three should be foregone first?" "The military equipment," said the Master.
Tsze-kung again asked, "If it cannot be helped, and one of the remaining two must be dispensed with, which of them should be foregone?" The Master answered, "Part with the food. From of old, death has been the lot of all men; but if the people have no faith in their rulers, there is no standing for the state." ((12:7))

In addition to maintaining the confidence of the people and leading by example, a ruler should also surround himself with wise and good advisers:

The wise are mightier than the strong,
and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger.
So don’t go to war without wise guidance;
victory depends on having many advisers. (Proverbs 24:5-6)


It is God’s privilege to conceal things
and the king’s privilege to discover them.
No one can comprehend the height of heaven, the depth of the earth,
or all that goes on in the king’s mind!
Remove the impurities from silver,
and the sterling will be ready for the silversmith.
Remove the wicked from the king’s court,
and his reign will be made secure by justice.

Don’t demand an audience with the king
or push for a place among the great. (Proverbs 25:2-6, emphasis added)


Whoever loves a pure heart and gracious speech
will have the king as a friend. (Proverbs 22:11)


The Duke Ai asked, saying, "What should be done in order to secure the submission of the people?" Confucius replied, "Advance the upright and set aside the crooked, then the people will submit. Advance the crooked and set aside the upright, then the people will not submit." (2:19), emphasis added)

Solomon emphasizes the importance of dispensing impartial justice, not taking bribes or acquitting the guilty, but properly weighing the evidence. His reign should be 'built on justice':

A king detests wrongdoing,
for his rule is built on justice.
The king is pleased with words from righteous lips;
he loves those who speak honestly.
The anger of the king is a deadly threat;
the wise will try to appease it.
When the king smiles, there is life;
his favor refreshes like a spring rain. (Proverbs 16:12-15)

Confucius advises rulers to be generous and not oppressive:

Tsze-chang asked Confucius, saying, "In what way should a person in authority act in order that he may conduct government properly?" The Master replied, "Let him honour the five excellent, and banish away the four bad, things;—then may he conduct government properly." Tsze-chang said, "What are meant by the five excellent things?" The Master said, "When the person in authority is beneficent without great expenditure; when he lays tasks on the people without their repining; when he pursues what he desires without being covetous; when he maintains a dignified ease without being proud; when he is majestic without being fierce."
Tsze-chang said, "What is meant by being beneficent without great expenditure?" The Master replied, "When the person in authority makes more beneficial to the people the things from which they naturally derive benefit;—is not this being beneficent without great expenditure? When he chooses the labours which are proper, and makes them labour on them, who will repine? When his desires are set on benevolent government, and he secures it, who will accuse him of covetousness? Whether he has to do with many people or few, or with things great or small, he does not dare to indicate any disrespect;—is not this to maintain a dignified ease without any pride? He adjusts his clothes and cap, and throws a dignity into his looks, so that, thus dignified, he is looked at with awe;—is not this to be majestic without being fierce?"
Tsze-chang then asked, "What are meant by the four bad things?" The Master said, "To put the people to death without having instructed them;—this is called cruelty. To require from them, suddenly, the full tale of work, without having given them warning;—this is called oppression. To issue orders as if without urgency, at first, and, when the time comes, to insist on them with severity;—this is called injury. And, generally, in the giving pay or rewards to men, to do it in a stingy way;—this is called acting the part of a mere official." (20:2)

Solomon likewise rejects oppression, and stands up for the poor and weak; Proverbs frequently expresses special concern for the poor (see Proverbs 14:31, for example).

Don’t rob the poor just because you can,
or exploit the needy in court.
For the Lord is their defender.
He will ruin anyone who ruins them. (Proverbs 22:22-23)


Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice. (Proverbs 31:8-9)


A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.
A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
but one who hates corruption will have a long life. (Proverbs 28:15-16)

An interesting Confucian concept is that the ruler should be responsible for the rectification of names; society should be structured in accordance with the truth:

Tsze-lu said, "The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?"
The Master replied, "What is necessary is to rectify names."
"So, indeed!" said Tsze-lu. "You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?"
The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
"If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
"When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
"Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires, is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect." (13:3)

The fruit of good government is stability and a growing population:

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability. (Proverbs 28:2)


A growing population is a king’s glory;
a prince without subjects has nothing. (Proverbs 14:28)


The Duke of Sheh asked about government.
The Master said, "Good government obtains, when those who are near are made happy, and those who are far off are attracted." (13:16)

Christmas Wishes

Since it's Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of a Baby to be the King of kings, I'll end this post with this piece from Handel's Messiah (taken from a passage in Isaiah):

Merry Christmas to all my readers!