Friday, April 2, 2010

Confucius for Americans

Confucius is my favorite philosopher. Although his analects (sayings) are 2,500 years old, their truths may be more relevant than ever.

The Chinese Communist Party discouraged the study of Confucius and other classics during their rise to power and the years of Mao Zedong and his followers (1921-78). Since Deng Xiaoping put China on a path of opening up and modernization in 1978, Confucius is back in vogue. China has established hundreds of Confucian institutes around the world.

Confucius commented far and wide on politics, interpersonal relations, correct modes of behavior, and the importance of learning, among others. Like Aristotle, he described the good versions and the perversions of behavior in all of these areas. Confucius proposed a four-class system of social organization, with scholars at the top. Accordingly, education was his central focus, but he worried about its misapplication.

In illustrating his fear, Confucius says “Rarely do I meet a man who studies for three years without thinking of a [lucrative] post in government.” This has its counterpart in the United States. Rabushka says, “Rarely do I meet a man who works for three years in Washington, D.C. [in elected or appointed office] without thinking of a lucrative book deal, highly-paid speeches, and a fat post in a lobbying firm.” The concept of “public service” takes on a different meaning in the Confucian framework.

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