Confucian Democracy in East Asia:Theory and Practice (book review)

«It is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the future possibilities of democracy»

Confucian Democracy in East Asia:Theory and Practice

book review by


Associate Professor,
Harbin Institute of Technology, P. R. China.


This book explores a mode of democracy that is culturally relevant and socially practicable in the contemporary pluralistic context of historically Confucian East Asian societies, by critically engaging with the two most dominant theories of Confucian democracy – Confucian communitarianism and meritocratic elitism. The book constructs a mode of public reason (and reasoning) that is morally palatable to East Asians who are still saturated in Confucian customs by reappropriating Confucian familialism, and using this perspective to theorize on Confucian democratic welfarism and political meritocracy. It then applies the theory of Confucian democracy to South Korea, arguably the most Confucianized society in East Asia, and examines the theory’s practicality in Korea’s increasingly individualized, pluralized, and multicultural society by looking at cases of freedom of expression, freedom of association, insult law, and immigration policy.

«Democracy was no less foreign a concept to Europe for most of history. Understanding the plasticity of democracy seems like a more important issue than the debate about which mode of democracy is best. Confucian Democracy in East Asia is motivated by the conviction that democracy, properly understood, is desperately needed in East Asia, where political regimes remain authoritarian or only partially democratic.»{….}
The central thesis of this book is that in East Asian societies democracy would be most politically effective and culturally relevant if it were rooted in and operates on the “Confucian habits and mores” with which East Asians are still deeply saturated, sometimes without their awareness—in other words, if democracy were a Confucian democracy.»{….}
Although the debate remains ongoing as to whether Confucian democracy is possible both in theory and in practice ,and if possible what it should look like , a Confucianism worth defending in the complex, multicultural East Asia of today both can and must incorporate a robust form of democracy. {….}
It is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the future possibilities of democracy, the development of Confucianism in political studies, comparative philosophers and political theorists.»

FULL TEXT: Book Review



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