Friday, July 1, 2011

Under Heaven: Mozi

Under Heaven: Mozi
by Scott Bradley


The philosophy which first challenged Confucianism was that of his contemporary, Mozi. Mohism is, I think, a perfect example of how good intentions can so easily become tyranny. Its closest modern equivalent would probably be communism.

The author of this chapter (33) of Zhuangzi has stated that each manifestation of the shattered Way has some of the Way within it, and he introduces each one by first telling us what that piece of the Way is.

In the case of Mohism it is: "To remain free from extravagance,...not wasteful in the use of any of the ten thousand things,...rigorously disciplining oneself as with rope and cords, and taking on oneself all the troubles of the world: these were some aspects of the ancient Art of the Course [Tao]." (B. Ziporyn)

Not surprisingly, this tells us as much, if not more, about the world view of the Confucian author than it does about Mohism. And some of it offers a happily stark contrast to the philosophical Taoism that inspires this blog.

Mozi taught universal love with a utilitarian cast; the good of all was of paramount importance. Extravagance, 'high' culture (music, ritual), failure to work for the common good — all these things must be eliminated.

The author's criticisms of Mohism are extensive, and rather than follow his arguments I will just offer a smattering of his observations:
  • "They went too far..." (Extremism).
  • They had "enforced standards for everyone" (Tyranny).
  • "They thought self-torture was the ultimate achievement" (Extreme asceticism).
  • "They disagreed and argued to the point of calling each other heretical Mohists" (Schismaticism).
  • "They considered their Great Pontiff a sage, willingly making him their lord and master, each hoping to succeed him — ..." (Dictatorship).
He concludes his criticism with a very insightful observation: "This is indeed the best kind of disorder, and the worst kind of order." Government, it seems, is a necessary evil and the best we can hope for is a balance between disorder and order.

Unfortunately, government, by its very nature — the will to power — always works (full of ‘good’ intentions) toward greater 'order'. And we, if we want to remain relatively free, must always insist on the virtues of 'disorder', the right to be different.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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