Department of Religion and Philosophy
The classical Confucian position on the legitimate use of military force
Focusing on the thought of Mencius and Xunzi, this essay reconstructs and examines the classical Confucian position on the legitimate use of military force. It begins by sketching historically important political concepts, such as types of political leaders, politics of the kingly way versus politics of the hegemonic way, and the controversial role of lords-protector. It then moves on to explore Confucian criteria for justifying resort to the use of force, giving special attention to undertaking punitive expeditions to interdict and punish aggression and tyranny. Following this discussion, the essay then attends to important Confucian moral constraints on how military force is properly employed, including prohibitions on attacking the defenseless, indiscriminate slaughter of enemy forces, destruction of civilian infrastructure, prisoner abuse, and non-consensual annexation of territory. The essay concludes by first discussing an illustrative case from Mencius and then comparing its reconstruction of the Confucian position to those offered by other scholars. © 2012 Journal of Religious Ethics, Inc.
just cause, lord-protector, Mencius, moral constraints on military conduct, punitive expedition, right authority, righteous or just war, true king, Xunzi
Source Publication Title
Journal of Religious Ethics
Link to Publisher's Edition
Twiss, S., & Chan, J. (2012). The classical Confucian position on the legitimate use of military force. Journal of Religious Ethics, 40 (3), 447-472. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9795.2012.00531.x