How Confucius contributed to the development of political science and democracy

Who was Confucius?

Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) was a Chinese philosopher who is considered one of the most important and influential people in the world today. His contributions to democracy and the development of political science through teachings and theories are immeasurable (Csikszentmihalyi., 2020).

Statute of the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius

Confucius was born during a time of political and social turmoil in China, where he developed a philosophy that came to be known as Confucianism. Due to its growing popularity in academic circles, Confucianism has given rise to another influential philosophy, Neo-Confucianism. Teachings from Confucius dominated Chinese thought and culture for many centuries and have gained relevance, as well as strong credibility, in today’s society because the famous philosopher emphasized on the importance of strengthening social bonds, encouraging humanity, preserving family and kinship, respecting parents and elderly people, maintaining loyalty to the government, and upholding righteousness, among others (Confucius., 1998; Rosemont & Roger., 2016; Hunter., 2017).

Confucius was the first Chinese philosopher to establish private academies for the rich and the poor alike. Remarkably, he promoted meritocracy rather than inherited status. With this virtue, the influential scholar changed China’s education system (curriculum) which until this day encourages self-development, hard work and honesty. Confucian philosophy is fundamental to the best-selling book “Four Books and Five Classics” (Rosemont & Roger., 2016).

How Confucius contributed to the development of political science and democracy

On governance, particularly in his popular work “Analects,” he identified three requisites for good governance vis-a-vis: (a) sufficiency of food (b) sufficiency of military equipment, and (c) the confidence of the people in their ruler or government” (Lau., 1979).

Out of the three requisites, Confucius (who is commonly referred to as ‘Master’) advised that if there only one to be removed from the three, it should be investment in military hardware. But out of the remaining two, he placed emphasis on people’s confidence in their leaders, adding that sufficiency of food is not a priority—especially in the political development of nations. Confidence in the leaders is the bedrock of political development and no government can last for so long without the people’s faith. Confucius gave a detailed explanation of this in Chapter 7 of Analects, which outlined a conversation between the Master and Tsze-kung (Legge., 1971).

Further, Confucius taught people how to govern themselves, and how the government (state) should administer its society. His theory of governance emphasized a return to agelong socio-cultural settings where our forefathers promoted virtuous and harmonious existence. In this way, Confucius viewed the government as a communal tool utilized to bring out the best in citizens (Cai., 2020).

Basically, Confucius believed the government should exist for the people. But he encouraged people not to forget their individual roles to the society while the government takes responsibility for their well-being. Thus, Confucius promoted mutual responsibility by identifying a link between the government and society, with the tenet of ‘faith in our leaders’ as a driving force for good leadership, hence, political development (Christopher., 2020).


Lau D.C. (1979), “The Analects (1st edition),” Penguin Books Ltd

Legge J. (1971), “Confucian Analects, The Great Learning The Doctrine of the Mean (1st edition),” Dover Publications

Cai, Zong-qi (1999). “In Quest of Harmony: Plato and Confucius on Poetry”. Philosophy East and West. 49 (3): 317–345. doi:10.2307/1399898

Christopher Hancock (2020), “Christianity and Confucianism: Culture, Faith and Politics.” London, United Kingdom: Bloombsbury Publishing. p. 382. ISBN 9780567657688.

Hunter, Michael J. (2017), Confucius beyond the Analects, (Studies in the History of Chinese Texts 7), Leiden: Brill.

Confucius, (1998), The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and his Successors, E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks (trans/eds), (Translations from the Asian Classics), New York: Columbia University Press.

Rosemont, Henry Jr. and Roger T. Ames (2016), Confucian Role Ethics: A Moral Vision for the 21st Century? Göttingen: V & R Unipress and Taipei: National Taiwan University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi M. (2020), “Confucius”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

One thought on “How Confucius contributed to the development of political science and democracy