East Meets West

East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia

Daniel A. Bell
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    East Meets West
    Book Description:

    Is liberal democracy a universal ideal? Proponents of "Asian values" argue that it is a distinctive product of the Western experience and that Western powers shouldn't try to push human rights and democracy onto Asian states. Liberal democrats in the West typically counter by questioning the motives of Asian critics, arguing that Asian leaders are merely trying to rationalize human-rights violations and authoritarian rule. In this book--written as a dialogue between an American democrat named Demo and three East Asian critics--Daniel A. Bell attempts to chart a middle ground between the extremes of the international debate on human rights and democracy.

    Bell criticizes the use of "Asian values" to justify oppression, but also draws on East Asian cultural traditions and contributions by contemporary intellectuals in East Asia to identify some powerful challenges to Western-style liberal democracy. In the first part of the book, Bell makes use of colorful stories and examples to show that there is a need to take into account East Asian perspectives on human rights and democracy. The second part--a fictitious dialogue between Demo and Asian senior statesman Lee Kuan Yew--examines the pros and cons of implementing Western-style democracy in Singapore. The third part of the book is an argument for an as-yet-unrealized Confucian political institution that justifiably differs from Western-style liberal democracy.

    This is a thought-provoking defense of distinctively East Asian challenges to Western-style liberal democracy that will stimulate interest and debate among students of political theory, Asian studies, and international human rights.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2355-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    A small set of crucial human rights are valued, at least in theory, by all governments in the contemporary world. The most obvious are the prohibitions against slavery, genocide, murder, torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, and systematic racial discrimination. These rights have become part of customary international law¹ and they are not contested in the public rhetoric of the international arena. Of course, many gross human rights violations occur off the record, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International have the task of exposing the gap between public allegiance to rights and the sad reality of ongoing abuse. This is...

    • CHAPTER 1 Toward a Truly International Human Rights Regime
      (pp. 23-105)

      Scene: Hong Kong, December 29, 1997. Sam Demo, the East Asia program officer for the U.S.-based National Endowment for Human Rights and Democracy (NEHRD), enters the home of Joseph Lo. Lo heads the Hong Kong–based East Asian Institute for Economic and Political Risk Analysis, and he is also known locally as a well-connected human rights activist. Demo and Lo were acquainted with each other as fellow undergrads at Princeton over two decades ago.

      Demo: Thanks for receiving me. I always suspected we’d reestablish contact in this part of the world. Now I’m told you’re the man to see on...

    • CHAPTER 2 Democratic Rights: On the Importance of Local Knowledge
      (pp. 106-172)

      Scene: Hong Kong, November 17, 1998. Demo has returned the previous evening from a trip to the NEHRD’s Washington headquarters. He requested another meeting with Lo, and they decided to renew their discussion at Lo’s office in the Bank of China building in central Hong Kong.

      Demo: Thanks for finding the time to see me again.

      Lo: No problem. I enjoyed our meeting last time. Besides, my business has dropped of late and I have more time to do human rights work.

      Demo: So this economic crisis does have a silver lining!

      Lo (smiles): I guess so. And for those...

    • CHAPTER 3 Is Liberal Democracy Suitable for Singapore?
      (pp. 175-232)

      Scene: Singapore, February 18. 1999. Demo meets Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew to begin a prearranged discussion on the pros and cons of democracy in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, “the grand old man of Asia,”¹ has established himself as the leading spokesman for “Asian” guardianship as against “Western” democracy, with Singapore, the country Lee founded and ruled for over three decades as prime minister, held up as the ideal Asian regime. In this chapter, Demo presents several liberal justifications for democracy derived from the recent Western experience, which Lee tries to rebut on the basis of Singapore’s particular history and...

    • CHAPTER 4 A Communitarian Critique of Authoritarianism: The Case of Singapore
      (pp. 233-276)

      Scene: Singapore, May 25, 1999. Lee and Demo pursue their discussion on the pros and cons of democracy in Singapore. In this chapter, Demo turns to another consequentialist justi-fication for democracy, namely, the view that democratic political practices can strengthen communal forms of life such as the family and the nation.¹ Demo—now well versed in Singaporean local knowledge—argues that this “communitarian”² justification is particularly appropriate for the Singaporean context.

      Demo: I enjoyed our discussion last time. In fact, I share many of your concerns regarding democracy. It’s difficult to deny that ethnic warfare, poverty, and corruption pose serious...

    • CHAPTER 5 A Political Proposal for the Post-Communist Era
      (pp. 279-336)

      Scene: June 3, 2007. Beijing University in Beijing, China.¹ Sam Demo, now based in Beijing, steps into ProfessorWang’s² office to begin a prearranged interview. Professor Wang, a respected political philosopher at Beijing University in his mid-forties, has been selected to participate in a constitutional convention due to begin the following day in Beijing.

      Demo (out of breath): Thank you for receiving me today. I realize it must be a very busy time now. (pause) I’m sorry I’m late. I was stuck in traffic for over two hours.

      Wang: I guess that’s the price a society pays for economic development. One...

  8. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 337-352)
  9. Index
    (pp. 353-369)