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Confucian Perfectionism

Confucian Perfectionism: A Political Philosophy for Modern Times

Joseph Chan
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Confucian Perfectionism
    Book Description:

    Since the very beginning, Confucianism has been troubled by a serious gap between its political ideals and the reality of societal circumstances. Contemporary Confucians must develop a viable method of governance that can retain the spirit of the Confucian ideal while tackling problems arising from nonideal modern situations. The best way to meet this challenge, Joseph Chan argues, is to adopt liberal democratic institutions that are shaped by the Confucian conception of the good rather than the liberal conception of the right.

    Confucian Perfectionismexamines and reconstructs both Confucian political thought and liberal democratic institutions, blending them to form a new Confucian political philosophy. Chan decouples liberal democratic institutions from their popular liberal philosophical foundations in fundamental moral rights, such as popular sovereignty, political equality, and individual sovereignty. Instead, he grounds them on Confucian principles and redefines their roles and functions, thus mixing Confucianism with liberal democratic institutions in a way that strengthens both. Then he explores the implications of this new yet traditional political philosophy for fundamental issues in modern politics, including authority, democracy, human rights, civil liberties, and social justice.

    Confucian Perfectionismcritically reconfigures the Confucian political philosophy of the classical period for the contemporary era.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4869-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Daniel A. Bell

    The first two books in the Princeton-China series—by Yan Xuetong and Jiang Qing—were written by influential Chinese intellectuals in mainland China. Yan and Jiang use values and concepts in ancient Chinese political thought to draw implications for social and political reform in China today. Yan’s book is meant to provide standards for evaluating China’s foreign policy, and Jiang’s is meant to provide standards for evaluating domestic constitutional reform in China. Joseph Chan’s book also draws on values and concepts in ancient Chinese political thought, but he integrates them with arguments and theories developed in the West. Chan has...

    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Interplay between the Political Ideal and Reality
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book examines Confucian political thought from a perspective that explores the intricate interplay between political ideal and reality. This perspective is not unique to the study of Confucianism but common to much of the political theorizing carried out under the name of “political philosophy.” Political philosophy has a dual character: viewed as a philosophical field of study, it searches for an ideal social and political order that expresses the best aspects of humanity and our most deeply held values;¹ viewed as a political field of study, it aims to illuminate our understanding of the real world and give principled...

  6. PART I. Political Authority and Institution

    • CHAPTER 1 What Is Political Authority?
      (pp. 27-45)

      In this and the following chapters, I shall attempt to develop a Confucian conception of political authority by answering a number of questions, namely: What is political authority? What are its purposes? How can it be justified? Do people who are ruled play any role in the justification? What scope of authority should a state or government have? What institutional structure of authority should a state adopt? Viewed together, the answers to these questions will form the backbone of a theory of political authority. Although the texts of early Confucian thinkers do not outline anything close to a systematic theory...

    • CHAPTER 2 Monism or Limited Government?
      (pp. 46-64)

      The previous chapter discussed the nature and justificatory basis of political authority in early Confucianism. The conclusion was that political authority is not a dominium, a form of property to be owned by the ruler or the people, but an imperium, a legitimate right to govern within a jurisdiction. This right to rule is grounded on its service to the good life of the people and on the people’s willing acceptance of being ruled. In this chapter I discuss how early Confucian thought deals with two further issues related to political authority: the scope of authority of a ruler (or...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Role of Institution
      (pp. 65-80)

      In the previous two chapters I have rejected the dominion interpretation of the Confucian conception of authority and criticized the Confucian emphasis on a monist and supreme authority. I have reconstructed and further developed a conception that justifies authority by its service to the people and the people’s willing acceptance. This conception expresses an ideal political relationship between the ruler and the ruled—the ruler is committed to governing the people in a trustworthy and caring manner, and the ruled, in return, express their willing endorsement and support of the ruler. This ideal relationship is marked by mutual commitment and...

    • CHAPTER 4 Mixing Confucianism and Democracy
      (pp. 81-110)

      This chapter takes another look at the relationship between the Confucian political ideal and democracy. In chapter 3 I focused on one aspect of this relationship—the way in which democratic elections can be understood as an institution that addresses real-world problems and yet tallies with the spirit of the Confucian conception of the ideal political relationship. Building on the conclusions of the previous chapters, I shall examine the complex relationship between Confucian political ideas and democracy in more detail, to see if there are affinities and tensions between the two in both ideal and nonideal contexts.

      The overall argument...

  7. PART II. Rights, Liberties, and Justice

    • CHAPTER 5 Human Rights as a Fallback Apparatus
      (pp. 113-130)

      One of the most complex issues involved in developing a contemporary Confucian ethical and political theory is the question of human rights and individual autonomy. Since the May Fourth Movement (1915–1926), Confucianism has been criticized for failing to recognize the dignity of the individual and the value of individual autonomy as understood in the Western liberal traditions of political thought. Some critics have even contended that Confucianism not only fails to recognize but actively suppresses individual autonomy. The most forceful critic in this regard was Chen Duxiu (1879–1942), who argued powerfully that Confucianism is inappropriate as a model...

    • CHAPTER 6 Individual Autonomy and Civil Liberties
      (pp. 131-159)

      May Fourth intellectual Chen Duxiu argued that Confucian ethics is incompatible with modernity. Modern life, he said, is based on recognition of the individual, or the independence of individual personality and property. The spheres of modern society—the family, economy, and politics—are organized by the principle of respect for individual autonomy, whereas Confucianism preaches the opposite: the son is not independent of the father, the wife is submissive to the husband, and the people are subjects to the rulers.¹ But is it true that Confucianism does not recognize individual autonomy? Some contemporary Chinese scholars have argued that although Confucianism...

    • CHAPTER 7 Social Justice as Sufficiency for All
      (pp. 160-177)

      In the first part of this book I argued that the Confucian conception of the ideal ruler-ruled relationship is one of mutual commitment—the ruler’s commitment to take care of the people and the people’s willing submission to or acceptance of the ruler’s control. In Confucian political thought, the ruler’s commitment to take care of the people is expressed through the image of the benevolent ruler, who protects and promotes the people’s good life (especially their material well-being) through a set of social and economic policies that Mencius calls “benevolent rule” (ren zheng). In this chapter and the next, I...

    • CHAPTER 8 Social Welfare and Care
      (pp. 178-190)

      In chapter 7 we saw that Mencius’s well-field system is first and foremost about fair distribution of land—namely, that the government has a duty of justice to distribute to every household sufficient land to provide a decent standard of living. In this sense it is appropriate to say that social justice is the foundation of the well-field system. The well-field system, however, is a multilayered system of provision, in which the family and the village or commune also have specific roles to play. Mencius’s vision is not of a nanny state that takes care of every aspect of people’s...

  8. CONCLUSION. Confucian Political Perfectionism
    (pp. 191-204)

    Throughout this book I have attempted to develop a viable alternative for governance that can simultaneously retain the spirit of the Confucian ideal of society and politics and effectively deal with problems arising from nonideal situations. In the Confucian ideal society, the virtuous and competent are chosen to work for the common good; people conduct affairs in sincerity and faithfulness with the aim of cultivating harmony; rulers care for the people, and the people trust them and willingly submit to their rule; rulers ensure that there are sufficient resources for the people to lead a materially secure and ethical life;...

  9. APPENDIX 1: Notes on Scope and Methods
    (pp. 205-212)
  10. APPENDIX 2: Against the Ownership Conception of Authority
    (pp. 213-232)
    (pp. 233-246)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 247-256)