The Legalists present a definite 180 in terms of the advancement of human rights. In much the same way that the Babylonians, Hebrews, and early Indians dealt with laws, the Legalists in China were concerned first and foremost with security and survival; specifically, the survival of the state. The state was supreme. And people were just the selfish pawns that should be used to make the state survive as long as possible.
It is exceptionally important to understand how the concept of human nature shapes the laws created by the legalists, and how they contrast so sharply with people such as Asoka. Furthermore, and in a general sense, it is essential to this unit to understand how a group's concept of human nature helps completely and totally shape the laws that are enacted. In a society that feels that human nature is inherently good, laws that require citizen participation will most certainly develop. In a society that feels human nature is essentially selfish and/or evil, less participation would be required (because if people are evil, their participation in the creation of laws could only make the law worse). Every law code implies a certain belief about human nature, as as you see more law codes, this will become quite apparent.
Finally, its important to recognize the variation in legal development that's going on throughout the world in the ancient era. Different localized factors are affecting the manner in which the law develops in each geographic region, so each set of laws will develop at a unique pace and in unique ways. Environmental, political, and social factors affect each region in very different ways, and as such, the law becomes an expression of those differences. As the world becomes more interconnected, however, these different law codes begin to migrate from society to society through cultural diffusion, and the resulting law codes in later generations will be comprised of a mix of all these ancient law codes in some form. Legalism, Roman republicanism, Babylonian law, and a mix of others will all influence later generations, so even though some of these law codes flame out rather quickly, their impact remains. As we continue on in this unit, be on the lookout for characteristics of these ancient law codes in later codes.