A comparative study between Hanfeizi vs Machivelli


Abstract: As we know, Hanfeizi is the most representative figure of the legist school. His ideas are best described in his book “Hanfeizi ”,in which he strongly advocated the importance of “law”, “means”, “force ” for an emperor to control his country. About one thousand years later, in Italy there was an politician named Machiavelli. In his famous book called “The Prince”, he adopted the same attitude with Hanfeizi towards how an emperor should rule his country. In this paper, the author tries to explore some similarities and some dissimilarities between the two great thinkers from the aspect of their background, their attitudes towards the nature and relationship of human beings and so on.


I Similarities in their backgrounds

   Hanfeizi (280BC_233BC) was born in the Spring and Autumn Period in Han state. At that time Han state was the most weakest state of the seven states. Hanfeizi ,who was much influenced by his teacher Xunzi and the Taoism, saw the political corruption in his country and put forward much useful advice to carry out reform.. Unfortunately the emperor of Han would not like to adopt his ideas and let his country wither away. However the emperor of Qinshihuang admired the talent of Hanfeizi and wanted to give him a position in Qin state. Although Qinshihuang finally killed Hanfeizi owing to listening to the unfaithful advice of Lisi., he ruled his country on the principles advocated by Hanfeizi. Until that time did the divived situation come to an end and the united central right come out.

Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy at a time when the country was in political upheaval . Italy was divided between four dominant city-states, and each of these was continually at the mercy of the stronger foreign governments of Europe. Since 1434 Florence was ruled by the wealthy Medici family. Their rule was temporarily interrupted by a reform movement, begun in 1494, in which the young Machiavelli became an important diplomat. When the Medici family regained power in 1512 with the help of Spanish troops, Machiavelli was tortured and removed from public life. For the next 10 years he devoted himself to writing history, political philosophy, and even plays. He ultimately gained favor with the Medici family and was called back to public duty for the last two years of his life.  Machiavelli's greatest work is The Prince, written in 1513 and published after his death in 1532. The work immediately provoked controversy and was soon condemned by Pope Clement VIII. Its main theme is that princes should retain absolute control of their territories, and they should use any means of expediency to accomplish this end, including deceit. Scholars struggle over interpreting Machiavelli's precise point. In several section Machiavelli praises Caesar Borgia, a Spanish aristocrat who became a notorious and much despised tyrant of the Romagna region of northern Italy. During Machiavelli's early years as a diplomat, he was in contact with Borgia and witnessed Borgia's rule first hand. Does Machiavelli hold up Borgia as the model prince? Some readers initially saw The Prince as a satire on absolute rulers such as Borgia, which showed the repugnance of arbitrary power (thereby implying the importance of liberty). However, this theory fell apart when, in 1810, a letter by Machiavelli was discovered in which he reveals that he wrote The Prince to endear himself to the ruling Medici family in Florence. To liberate Italy from the influence of foreign governments, Machiavelli explains that strong indigenous governments are important, even if they are absolutist.

II Similarities in their attitudes reflected in their works

1.On force

  From the experience Machiavelli learned that weak countries had no diplomatic relationship with other counties. In his work he put forward that the weakest thing in the world was the power that was exaggerated. He tried to persuade the emperor to make a strong army, which would become the solid foundation of any course. While Hanfeizi held the same opinion with Machiavelli, he said that the most important task for an emperor was to develop his country in many ways such as increasing the production of agriculture, establish clear encouragement and punishment laws, have a forceful army under his control.

2. On humans nature and their relationship
Though humanists of Machiavelli's time believed that an individual had much to offer to the well being of the state, Machiavelli was quick to mock human nature. Humanists believed that "An individual only grows to maturity- both intellectually and morally- through participation' in the life of the state."
 Machiavelli generally distrusted citizens, stating that "...in time of adversity, when the state is in need of it's citizens there are few to be found.” Machiavelli further went on to question the loyalty of the citizens and advised the Prince that "...because men a wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need keep your word to them."
  The same to Hanfeizi. Under the influence of his teacher Xunzi, Hanfeizi adhered to the principle that human nature was bad. And his developed his ideas to the enumerated kingdom which he thought was the heaven of the earth. He believed that human beings were driven by the greed for profit. We can see some trace in his famous saying: strict mother has kind children, while kind mother has brute children.
  Both of them believed that the relationship among human beings was a kind of naked interest_oriented relationship. They make use of each other, not believe in others, and would try every means to reach ones aims.
3.On the image of emperor.
  In The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli presents a view of governing : state that is drastically different from that of humanists of his time. Machiavelli believes the ruling Prince should be the sole authority determining every aspect of the state and put in effect a policy, which would serve his best interests.  These interests were gaining, maintaining, and expanding his political power. His understanding of human nature was a complete contradiction of what humanists believed and
taught.  Machiavelli strongly promoted a secular society and felt morality was not necessary but in fact stood in the way of an effectively governed principality. Though in come cases Machiavelli's suggestions seem harsh and immoral one must remember that these views
were derived out of concern Italy's unstable political condition. If a prince can not be both feared and loved, Machiavelli suggests, it would be better for him to be feared bey the citizens within his own principality. He makes the generalization that men are, "...ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well they are yours." He characterizes men as being self centered and not willing to act in the best interest of the state,"[and when the prince] is in danger they turn against[him]." Machiavelli reinforces the prince's need to be feared by stating: Machiavelli postulates that a prince must also deceive those whoattempt to flatter him.
  In choosing wise men for his government and allowing those the freedom to speak the truth to him, and then only concerning matters on which he asks their opinion, and nothing else. But he should also question them toughly and listen to what they say; then he should make
up his own mind.
  Machiavelli actively promoted a secular form of politics.  He laid aside the Medievalli conception "of the state as a necessary creation for humankinds spiritual, material, and social well-being." In such a state,"a ruler was justified in his exercise of political power only
if it contributed to the common good of the people he served, and the ethical side of a princes activity...ought to be based on Christian moral principles...."
  Machiavelli believed a secular form of government to be a more realistic type. His views were to the benefit of the prince, in helping him maintain power rather than to serve to the well being of the citizens. Machiavelli promoted his belief by stating: The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among those who are not virtuous. Therefore,
if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must learn not to be sovirtuous, and to make use of this or not according to need.
Hanfeizi also had the same attitude .He advocated his ideas about the “law”, ”mean”, ”force”. Many emperors in the Chinese history adopted his ideas in order to rule their countries. He believed that as an emperor ,one should know the dividing line of the encouragement and punishment and use these them wisely. The emperor should learn to get rid of the opponents and use law to rule the country so that all the citizen would know what they should do and what they should not.

 III Their different result 

Hanfeizis ideas have led our country to the absolutism, while Machiavellis ideas became the
resources of the western democracy. Their ideas were about the same, why their result had so much difference? This was because that the feudality system lasted for almost two thousand years.While after Machiavelli there existed many philosophers in the west to discuss the validity of the absolute monarchy. They changed with the tides, while on the other hand we Chinese kept the old form and too outdated. 

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