The idea of harmony is valued in a wide variety of ways by a wide variety
of thinkers in early China. It is certainly most prominent in Confucian texts,
for which it is a clear and distinctive good both morally and politically.
However, texts like the Laozi and the Zhuangzi also have normative visions
that can be conceptualized in terms of harmony. Furthermore, harmony
has an important role to play even in much more “realist” texts such as the
This paper will argue that it is possible to think through Han Fei’s political
system from the perspective of a broader concept of harmony, and
that in doing so, several important points may be revealed. First, insofar
as harmony has a positive role to play, it must be systematized and turned
into an objective standard. Second, this objective standard must be hooked
up to the overarching cosmic dao, and third, this conception of harmony is
necessarily stripped of any moral normativity.
Thinking through harmony in this way may have a range of benefits not
only for understanding the concept in its original historical context, but also
in thinking through ways in which it may be of value today. It will perhaps
force us to realize that there are a range of incompatible conceptions
of harmony. As such, there may be a need to evaluate the disputations
over these various conceptions of harmony as we try to ascertain what,
if anything, from them may profitably be brought into conversation with
contemporary political philosophy.