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The Legalists

Among those who believed in the activism shunned by the Taoists were scholars who were called Legalists. These scholars described themselves as realists. In this Warring States period the Legalists believed in a strong government ruling a state undeceived by pious and impossible ideals. What was needed, they believed, was a strong government and a carefully devised code of law, along with a policing force that would stringently and impartially enforce these rules and punish harshly even the most minor infractions.

They saw Confucian worship of the past as a waste of time and Mencius' theory about the goodness of humanity as misguided. What the Legalists saw as goodness was people cooperating with authority. They believed that to keep people from deviating from this cooperation, authority had to threaten punishment. They believed in officials being ruthless, and of that a son shouldn't conceal the crime of a father. Seeing Confucian teachings and other rival theories as contrary, harmful or unessential and divisive, they favored restricting these. They accepted as a fact of life that power was in the hands of autocratic monarchs. They saw power in the hands of a single rational ruler and his ministers as better than acting on compromise with contrary opinion within the state.

Seeing rivalries between various states as a fact of life, the Legalists believed that strengthening the state was primary. They saw that a society benefited from military strength, and some among them advocated expansion as a means of acquiring more strength – more land, more laborers, more soldiers and a weaker neighbor. Stronger states had been absorbing weaker states, and strength enabled the state to survive. They also believed that frugality strenthened the state, and some among them believed in a devotion to agriculture and restrictions on commerce.

Their belief in order and strength contributed to accessing things in numeric terms, precise quantities and unified systems of recording, while many, including Confucianists, continued to believe that it was the gods that made things work.

Confucius had failed to move society as he wanted it moved. Mozi's philosophy had not changed Chinese civilization sociologically, and neither had Taoism. The Legalism of Shang Yang, a minister in the state called Qin, was the most successful. Qin was to survive as the conquering and unifying power emerging from the Warring States period.

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