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Review Essay: Whither Confucian Democracy Studies

journal contribution
posted on 2021-04-01, 00:00 authored by Baogang HeBaogang He
All major civilizations have confronted the challenge of democracy. To a certain extent the connection between democracy and the main religious traditions is testament to this. The connection is on some kind of party platform like “Christian democratic party” in Germany, or “Buddhist liberal democracy party” in Cambodia, or numerous “Islamic” political parties in South Asia and Middle East. It is also manifested on a grander scale in the case with so-called “Christian”, “Islamic”, and “Buddhist” democracies. The very placing of these adjectives before the noun of democracy is greatly disputed. Confucianism is no exception to this. In the last two decades the term “Confucian democracy” has proliferated throughout East Asia with many books and hundreds of articles examining the multifaceted relationship between democracy and Confucianism. Like Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist democracy, the idea of a Confucian democracy is contested and subject to different definitions and interpretations. Early studies of Confucian democracy tended to examine the question of whether Confucianism conflicts or is compatible with democracy, while more recent work on Confucian democracy has investigated how and why Confucianism and democracy ought to and can be combined. The two books under review make a further contribution to Confucian democracy studies in vastly different ways. Sung-moon Kim’s objective is to build a solid intellectual foundation for Confucian democracy, while O’Dwyer offers an empirical critique of the idea of Confucian democracy itself. Despite their significant differences in that Kim promotes Confucian democracy, while O’Dwyer rejects it, there are some common grounds and issues. Both stress the importance of citizens and civil society, promote the globalization of Confucianism, and indicate the new research topic of a hybrid model of Confucian democracy. However, both are limited in merely engaging the English literature, precisely the narrow “Anglo-American academia” writings, lacking an institutional analysis of Confucian democracy, and overlooking local actors, issues, and connections. Comparing their work, I suggest a problem-driven approach, or an empirical-based institutional approach, to a set of new practical challenges and issues so as to advance Confucian democracy studies.

History

Journal

Political Theory

Volume

49

Article number

966252

Pagination

1-9

Location

London, Eng.

ISSN

0090-5917

eISSN

1552-7476

Language

eng

Publication classification

C4 Letter or note

Issue

2

Publisher

SAGE Publications

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