Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Legalism Definition:

The rigorous and ruthless adherence to the word of the law, usually combined with a policy to regulate as much as possible.

A policy of law enforcement or interpretation, or legal philosophy, which purports to regulate as much as possible and to insist upon the adherence of the letter of the law regardless of the circumstances.

Legalism is often said to have originated in China (called fa jia) in about 400 BC as a check to Confucianism and what some saw as the associated moral laxness of Chinese citizens. Legalism's primary Chinese proponents were Siun-tseu (315-236 BC), Han Fei and Li Si.

Li Si (also spelled Li Ssu) wrote:

"Only an intelligent ruler is capable of applying harsh punishments to light offences. If light offences carry heavy punishments, one can imagine what will be done against a serious offence. Thus, the people will not dare to break the laws."

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