Classical confucianism, punitive expeditions, and humanitarian intervention

Journal of Military Ethics 11 (2):81-96 (2012)


Abstract Building on the authors' previous work regarding the classical Confucian position on the legitimate use of military force as represented by Mencius and Xunzi, this paper probes their understanding of punitive expeditions undertaken against tyrants in particular ? aims, justification, preconditions, and limits. It compares this understanding with contemporary Western models of humanitarian intervention, and argues that the Confucian punitive expedition aligns most closely with the emerging ?responsibility to protect? model in Western discussions, although it also differs from the latter in certain respects. For example, the Confucian expedition explicitly forwards as legitimate aims regime change and the punishment of tyrants, in addition to rescue of an abused population and assistance in rebuilding a decent society. The Confucian understanding also appears to set a lower threshold standard (well short of genocide, ethnic cleansing, or large-scale massacre) for what counts as severe tyranny warranting intervention, and it explicitly speaks of an obligation (beyond mere permissibility) to intervene when that threshold is exceeded. In its concluding section, the paper discusses some possible contemporary implications of the classical Confucian understanding of a punitive expedition against tyrants

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Jonathan Chan
Åbo Akademi University

References found in this work

The Responsibility to Protect—Five Years On.Alex J. Bellamy - 2010 - Ethics and International Affairs 24 (2):143-169.
Ending Tyranny in Iraq.Fernando R. Tesón - 2005 - Ethics and International Affairs 19 (2):1-20.
Humanitarian Imperialism.Terry Nardin - 2005 - Ethics and International Affairs 19 (2):21–26.

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Citations of this work

Xunzi on the Role of the Military in a Well-Ordered State.Eirik Lang Harris - 2019 - Journal of Military Ethics 18 (1):48-64.

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