Zhu Xi's Exemplary Politics: A Preliminary Interpretation Based on Zhu's Commentary on Great Learning

Ying, Jingcai, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
White, Stephen, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Ceaser, James, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Focusing on Zhu’s commentary on Great Learning, this paper glimpses at Zhu’s vast system of metaphysics, ethics, and politics. Departing from contemporary Confucians' concern with Confucianism’s compatibility with democratic institutions, I want to demonstrate Zhu’s exemplary politics as a way to integrate metaphysics, ethics, and politics. For Zhu, humanity’s original ethical perfection and its material distortions have determined the political mission as to be one of renewing the populace by the exemplar. This is accomplished through a progression going from self-cultivation to the household, to the country, and finally to bringing peace to the world, a progression whereby the exemplar seeks proper patterns in his relationships and arouses virtues in others by his ethical excellence. Hence, we contemporaries may learn from Zhu that state coercion is not the only way to achieve perfectionism because virtues do not have to be imposed. They can be aroused. As an ongoing event, the exemplar’s good life enables the populace to experience the beauty of the heavenly pattern, which Zhu believes is innate to all humanity, and motivates them to live a virtuous life. Based on Zhu’s exemplary politics, I then evaluate President Clinton’s sexual scandal and demonstrates that ethical exemplarity does not imply moral elitism that shields statespersons from legitimate moral criticisms. Nor do such moral criticisms entail any excessive moralization of politics.

MA (Master of Arts)
Virtue, Exemplar, Great Learning, Zhu Xi, Metaphysics, Ethics
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