Legalism and Confucianism are curiously similar regarding one concept. The Confucians believed that the best king rules by moral magnetism: If a ruler’s moral virtues are perfect, his subjects and neighboring states will of themselves recognize him as their leader. Han Feizi believed in rule by the magic of power: If the king’s majesty is awe-inspiring, his subjects will obey without further ado. When the laws are complete, the people will know what to do without the need for the ruler to make any move.
This is an extension of the Daoist idea of nonactivity. Two chapters in the Han Feizi are devoted to an explication of the Dao De Jing. In giving his views on the Dao De Jing, Han Feizi makes it clear that he subscribes to the idea of dao as nature’s Way. There is a proper way for everything, for its existence and function. “Things have their appropriateness and materials have their right use,” and because the ruler who learns of dao knows how to put everything in its proper place and to assign it its proper function, there is nothing left to be done. What a ruler has to do is to set up laws according to the Way; then the state will go on to rule itself. The king ultimately will rule by not ruling.
Laws backed by the ruler’s infinite authority and enforced through the ruler’s instruments, the ministers, will free the ruler from any personal concern. Han Feizi here completes his idea of a perfect rule through nonactivity, for if every part of this political mechanism functions as it should, the ruler really does not have to be concerned with government. Han Feizi cites a number of historical cases in which a king indulged in comfort and yet his kingdom lasted; the philosopher attributes this result to the good laws set up by the king. Although Han Feizi stresses the importance of the king’s vigilance over the welfare of his state, the suggestion that the state can rule itself while the king enjoys life must have had a great appeal to many rulers.