Sunday, May 5, 2013

More on Xunzi IV: Benevolent Soldiers

Scott Bradley


Xunzi instructs a king and a famous general on the conduct of war. They beg to know more. If a Way is only true when it seeks to sit in the seat of power and its sages must therefore govern, then they had best know how to wage war. No state ever has existed without the threat of violence and very few indeed without exercising it.

But a disciple, Chen Xiao, scratches his head and asks how it is that his master can speak of exercising benevolence and righteousness in the waging of war, and how a sage could allow the failure of diplomacy that would necessitate such an extreme act. Xunzi, among other things, answers that the soldiers of the sage-king are "soldiers of benevolence and righteousness".

Just like American soldiers presumably.

My present interest here isn't in the question of whether it is ever right to wage war, or if a sage should have anything to do with war or the governing that it would seem to require. I'm just using it to segue into this: Xunzi was a bullshit artist. (It takes one to know one you say. Exactly.)

What did Xunzi know about waging war? How many battles did he oversee? How many men did he disembowel? What did he know about governing? How a king should reign? What will most definitely happen if the rites are performed? Well, he might answer, he knows the 'principles'. And from these principles he spins an exhaustive account of how things ought to be and how they most surely will be, if only his principles are allowed to find expression. Thus I say: Xunzi was a bullshit artist. He didn't have a clue; it's all cotton candy.

I have already praised Xunzi for his many wise aphorisms; he has lots of interest to say. Only it is also best to remember that pontificators (including the one now writing) are not to be trusted to say only what they 'know'.

Since I am roasting Xunzi, I will close with a comment on his "rationalism' which is neither rational nor logical. Thinking we can explain the world (rationalism) does not mean that our explanations do, and it is irrational to believe they do when they don't. Xunzi 'proves' the efficacy of the "mastery of all moral principles" by declaring 'successful' rulers as those who possessed it and ‘unsuccessful’ rulers as those who did not. This serves only to prove his ability to sort the sheep from the goats, not why they are so.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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