STEVE MILLER: Hi. My name is Steve Miller. I teach in philosophy, and I'm director of the program in ethics and public life. Today's visitor in the EPL series on the politics and ethics of the rise of China is Joseph Chan.
In China, as in the United States, people feel a great need for an adequate, shared, ethical basis for public life. There, as here, people don't think that freedom to get as rich as you can is an adequate basis. Joseph Chan has made a rich and diverse contribution to meeting that need in China and here over many years. Joseph is professor and chair of the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong. He's also founding director there of the Center for Civil Society and Governance.
Like most people in Anglo-American political philosophy, I first got to know Joseph Chan's work through challenging arguments that he made that inevitably and properly, political choices depend on the valuing of some ways of life as better than others. In such influential articles as "Legitimacy, Unanimity, and Perfectionism," well, Joseph challenged us-- that really didn't seem entirely liberal-- that view that politics should be used to advance certain ways of life in preference to others. And yet, one had to admit that Joseph's approach to this question captured profound truths in liberal political philosophy while saying that they weren't the whole truth in order to promote the goodness of lives. And yet, he was deeply concerned with the goodness of being tolerant.
That philosophical project has been combined in Joseph's activity with a deeply practical project as director of the Center for Civil Society and governance in Hong Kong. He has led their vital efforts in research and advocacy to promote freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. In recent years, the practical and the philosophical have been combined in Joseph's work.
His great project is now to derive an ethical basis for political discourse in China now from Confucian political thought. That's been the project advanced in a series of influential articles. It will culminate in a book soon to appear-- Confucian Political Philosophy-- A Critical Reconstruction for Modern Times. It is his way of answering to that deep need in China for an adequate, ethical basis for political discourse, and it reflects that same combination, as you will see, of appreciation of insights in liberal political thought and a distinctive view that sometimes contrasts with him, sometimes seeks to expose their limitations. Sharing this great project with us, Joseph Chan today will lecture on democracy, human rights, and Confucian values, reconstructing Confucian political thoughts for China's development.
JOSEPH CHAN: Thank you. Thank you for such a kind introduction. It's my great delight and honor to be here at Cornell University. And thanks to Professor Miller for inviting me to share my thoughts on Confucian political thoughts with Cornell's faculty and students-- my thoughts on a subject on which I've worked for more than a decade.
When I first received invitations from [INAUDIBLE] to be a speaker at this "Rise of China" lecture series, I was a bit hesitant because I'm a political theorist. I'm a philosopher, and my work on Confucian political thought has no really direct bearing on the contemporary situation of China in any direct way. But when I was reading the full title of this lecture series, it's called, "The Politics and Ethics of the Rise of China"-- now, the word "ethics," I thought, perhaps could give me an excuse to talk about ethical values and ethical foundation from a political thought called Confucianism. And then, after hearing or watching the two videos of the last two previous lectures by two distinguished speakers, I also felt able to find some connections between the previous two lectures and mine.
The last two lectures talk about the international role of China in Asia and in the rest of the world, as well as Chinese economy. Well, I think both lectures gave us a very good introduction to two aspects of China's power-- the economic power of China as well as the international political power.
So first of all is the economic power. Well, not first of all. According to the series, first of all is China is an influential, powerful player in the international scene, China being a member of the UN's Security Council, have veto power, China being so influential in Asia, and China being armed with nuclear weapons. It really makes China as a powerful player in international politics. But also, China is emerging as a powerful economic actor, too, and last lecture by Professor Lin talks about China's economic miracle-- China being the second-largest economy in the world, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, China is a big country, and its sheer population, which constitutes 20% of the total population in the world, 20% of humanity-- this sheer population can already account for a great deal of its influence, positive or negative. And now, having been armed with such economic, military, and political power, China's influence can easily reach any part of the world. A big country like China that pursues its interests or agenda through the use of its [INAUDIBLE] could be very threatening to neighboring countries and to others out of states, so China perhaps needs to think about adopting non-threatening means to influence international politics, to shape behavior of other countries, and to perhaps attract voluntary cooperation and compliance.
Here we come to the notion of soft power. What is China's soft power in addition to its hard power? Now, this musical instrument is one of the most ancient Chinese instruments.
Now, where does China's soft power lie, and what is its foundation and source? Well, political theorists are interested in this concept of soft power because soft power is ultimately linked to values. So soft power seems to give political theorists the pretense of thinking that what we do has practical relevance-- is related to politics in the real world.
Now, the United States has a great deal of soft power-- of course, also a lot of hard power. It stands for freedom, equality, human rights, and democracy. There's a large gap between the rhetoric and the reality, of course, but United States export its political ideals quite effectively at times, and it does so not just by the use of force. So the question is, what does China stand for?
Well, to many Westerners and Asians, China stands for these things. Well, delicious dim sum-- I love it. I have it every Saturday or Sunday with my mother and family. Calligraphy-- I've learned calligraphy for two years, and I've enjoyed its practice. Herbal medicine-- I drink large doses of medicine of this kind when I'm ill. Furnitures, fashions--
Now, these are, of course, very attractive and interesting to people outside of China, and well, in other parts of the world, China may stand for some other things. In Africa, China stands for a huge set of programs for training and education, economic aid, and diplomatic support. This African union new building was built by Chinese workers, funded by Chinese money. And this is the first symbol of Chinese presence in Africa and its contribution to African economy and a lot of soft power going on, as you can see.
But soft power comes not just from culture, institution, education, diplomacy, or cuisines. But also, above all, it comes from core values. And according to one commentator, it says, "Core values form the soul of soft power. If we don't know what China's core values are, the character of China's soft power cannot be identified." So what are China's core values? Where is China heading to in terms of its political ideal, its social ideal?
Well, here are some aspects of China's core values today-- high-tech development, high-speed rail, the latest technology in building infrastructure for the whole country. China's core value may also lie in the idea of political stability, political unity within a large country of diverse ethnicities and economic differences.
China's government also is using the word "harmony" to describe China's core value-- that despite all the differences, Chinese people emphasize harmonious social relationships. But of course, there is a way of local Chinese responding to the government ideology of harmony. People say that Chinese people are being harmonized by the government rather than really genuinely participating in spontaneous harmonious relationships.
So what are China's core values? It should be things deeper than this, what we have seen in these pictures. I'm suggesting that a search for the core values of country amounts to nothing less than the development of political thought, or political ideology, or political philosophy suitable for that country. It is a search for the way, to use the traditional Chinese term-- the way, [CHINESE].
Confucianism was, of course, the way that has governed China for thousands of years, but in modern China, we have seen huge disruptions, discontinuities, and problems with the Chinese way. First of all, we have seen the emergence or rise of Western liberal thoughts in late 19th centuries and early 20th centuries challenging Confucianism, replacing Confucianism. So the May 4 movement was just one very obvious moment in which Chinese culture was really delegated to the dustbin and to be replaced by Western values and institutions.
But when China moved into the midst of the 20th century, it adopted another foreign philosophy-- Marxism-- to replace Western liberalism. And also, Confucianism was again heavily destroyed, denounced, or devastated by political forces during the Cultural Revolution time.
But towards the '80s in the 20th century and '90s and up to now, we have seen the re-emergence of Confucianism again. So you see, Confucianism has gone up and down in the political and intellectual history of China. And if you look at the historical influence of Confucianism and how world leaders and philosophers have received Confucianism, you see that there have been diametrically opposed evaluations of Confucianism. In the 18th century Europe, the most progressive thinkers in Europe regarded Confucianism as perhaps the best ethical and political philosophy in the world. But two centuries later, in the 20th century, the most progressive Chinese thinkers regarded Confucianism as the most wrongheaded, outdated philosophy in the world.
Now, what explains such a diametrically opposed attitude? It cannot be explained by resistance to the changing nature of Confucianism. Confucianism as a political thought hasn't changed that dramatically to merit or to be able to explain such change. It can only be explained by the changing political, economic, and social circumstances in China and in other parts of the world.
Well, however glorious the Confucian tradition has been in China, today, Confucianism cannot speak effectively to the new social and political environment in China because traditional Chinese society was disintegrated. The main institutions that built up Confucianism-- namely, you know the peasant economy, the family clan system, imperial bureaucracy and imperial governing system, the educational curriculum, the ritual system-- everything has gone in modern China.
So the question is, can Confucianism represent itself again as a contemporary political thought that has relevance and that can still provide some hope and guidance for China's long-term development? Well, this is my own research question, and I've tried my best to find out a way to reconstruct synthetically Confucian political thought for modern times.
Well, let me start with, first of all, the way I've approached this huge agenda, and I start with a very gentle, quick notion of the dual character or function of political philosophy. As I personally see it-- this is my own personal view. You don't have to share it. And if you are not political theorists or philosophers, you shouldn't be too bothered about these technical ways of seeing the function.
The first and most important function of a political thought or philosophy is to search for an ideal sociopolitical order that expresses the best part of humanity, and Confucianism, you see, does say a lot about what constitutes humanity and what constitutes ideal political and social order. But of course, when we look at the real world and reality, things always fall short of the ideal. And what should we do in a non-ideal reality situation? Political philosophy should be able to say something that guides us to act politically in non-ideal situations. It should give us principled guidance as to how we should act here and now.
So these are the two important functions, and you see that Confucianism has done a lot in the first function. And the problem today for Confucianism is to find out a way to develop such practical guidance that at once connects institutions and non-ideal measures to Confucian aspiration and ideal, and at the same time, be able to address real-life problems.
Now, let me start quickly with a very brief portrait of the Confucian ideal society, as it were. And of course, the most famous passage that people usually cite to articulate this Confucian ideal is a passage from the Confucian classic, Liji, the book of rites or rituals. This is the idea of [CHINESE], the grand union.
And according to the famous passage describing this grand union, in this ideal society, [CHINESE] is a society where the ethic of public-spiritedness and mutual care reins. People conduct affairs in sincerity and faithfulness, with the aim of cultivating harmony.
And in the political sphere, the virtuous and competent people are chosen to work for the common good. People normally look after their own family members, but also others outside of the family. Different needs are satisfied at different stages of life. The least advantaged, the poorest receive care and support from society, and also labor for others as well as for themselves. Goods are not kept merely for personal use, and wastage is frowned upon.
Now, in this ideal society, there is no mentioning of the existence of law or rituals. But even if there are laws and rituals, they need not be used because people really are public spirited, and caring, and willing to help each other out, because this is very much an ideal. And even in Confucius's time, he realized this is really the golden age myth that is far away from the reality in which he lived.
And Confucian thinkers talk about-- when they articulate the problems of reality, they articulate a lesser ideal. There is a compromise ideal that Confucians call [CHINESE]. In this less ideal society, certain things emerged which we could call non-ideal measures. These are like hereditary rule. People build city walls, trenches to protect themselves against invasion. Rules of propriety and righteousness emerge to regulate people's behavior and to regulate and control human conflicts.
Now, in this lesser ideal, the use of right is important. This is a concession. It is a concession because rights are backed up with certain sanctions, and rights legitimize a certain degree of self-interest. People can talk about their own family more than other people's family. They can talk about their own property rather than other people's property.
So [CHINESE] is a concession, but [CHINESE] ideal ultimately still retains certain ethical aspirations in the grand union-- namely, those virtues such as faithfulness, righteousness, harmony, respect, and those things really are also aspirations you find in [CHINESE].
However, even this lesser ideal was regarded as too idealistic in Confucius's time already, so both that [CHINESE] and the lesser ideal were bygone ideals. In his times, rituals have disintegrated. Rituals failed to control behaviors of the common people and the elites, and Confucian thinkers seem to have come to a dead end. They have nothing to recourse on to reconstruct society. They rejected the legalist strategy or solution. Legalism advocates the use of sanctions, the use of punishment and rewards to control behavior, treating humans as animals. And Confucianism cannot accept legalism because legalism gives up hope on the best of humanity.
Confucianism wants to find out practical means to address society needs, but means that can still retain Confucian ideal as an aspiration, if not as an immediate reality that can be reached. Maybe the Confucian ideal is hopeless. But nonetheless, it should still be regarded as an aspiration. People should keep this as an inspiring ideal that would guide their behavior in reality.
So the challenge for Confucianism in the old days and in the contemporary situation is the same. That is, is there any alternative that retains Confucian ideal aspiration and yet effectively tackles problems in a non-ideal world? And I've given myself this challenge. Can we develop a non-ideal solution that retains Confucian aspiration in a solution that is more or less effective?
Now, I should explain the nature of my project. I'm not doing intellectual history. I'm not doing history of philosophy. Neither am I doing pure contemporary political philosophy. I'm doing a kind of normative political theory of a special kind. I want to investigate a potential for ancient tradition and use it to answer or to reflect upon a set of fundamental modern questions like authority, democracy, rights, and liberty.
So I have to extrapolate a lot from ancient sources, and I have to draw implication out of it. Historians would not like what I do because they think I would be overgeneralizing, selectively using sources, et cetera. I can only plead for tolerance because of the purposes I have, because I have normative and practical purposes in mind in approaching Confucian thought.
The main line of argument I want to defend is this. I think there's a liberal democratic variant that can be used as a non-ideal means to address situations in contemporary China, and this means can also somehow be shown to be connected to Confucian aspirations. Now, this is not a one-way project. I'm not just assuming liberal democracy is a fixed point of reference and then show how it can help Confucianism to solve problems. It is a two-way street.
In doing this, I am also re-articulating the functions and the justification of liberal democratic institutions, and I want to really mix liberal democratic institutions with Confucian values in a way that makes both set of things stronger rather than weaker. So I hope my project can also be a contribution to the strengthening of liberal democratic institutions and not just strengthening Confucian political thought.
Well, because this is a huge project and I can only focus on one topic, which is democracy, I don't have time to go into, I'm afraid, human rights. Tomorrow in a workshop with faculty and graduate students, I will focus primarily on the issue of human rights and civil liberties. So today, I've just used democracy and Confucianism as an example to show how this approach works.
Well, for many people, democracy and Confucianism are diametrically opposed things. Confucianism talks about hierarchy, authority, and virtues, and democracy talks about equality, rights, citizens' participation, and they seem very different things. But my strategy is to first of all disconnect liberal institutions from-- sorry, democratic institutions from democratic ideologies or values. So the first half of my strategy is to disconnect institutions from a specification.
And I would connect the two in two ways. I would try to develop an expressive relationship between democracy and Confucianism as well as an instrumental relationship. By expressive relationship, I mean the claim or the view that democracy expresses certain normative ideals or values that Confucianism endorses.
Now, this is a very counter-intuitive claim. How can democracy as an institution express Confucian value? I'm going to show why this could be plausible. And then, instrumentally, I'm going to argue that democracy can bring about certain effects which are desirable in the view of Confucian thought. And of course, towards the later part of my lecture, I will talk about how Confucian values, in turn, can enrich and further promote democratic politics or the health of democratic institutions.
Now let us talk about expressive relationships first. As I said, I need to disconnect democracy from certain values and principles-- for example, the value of the principle of popular sovereignty or political equality. Democracy as an institution is often justified by these principles. Democracy embodies popular sovereignty. It embodies political equality as a moral principle.
Confucianism, however, does not accept the idea of popular sovereignty or political equality as a moral ideal. In terms of political authority, Confucianism has a very interesting-- and I think a pretty distinctive and unique-- view of political authority. One important element of the Confucian conception of political authority is what I call service conception, to borrow a term used by Joseph Raz. Of course, he doesn't use it in the way I use it.
So Confucian thinkers-- that is, for early Confucian thinkers, political authority must be justified by its service to the well-being of the people. A ruler is legitimated. He has legitimate authority only if the ruler is able to work for the well-being of the people.
So there is a strong consequentialist, so to speak, justification of authority there, and there is no natural or fundamental moral right to power. There is no natural rulership, or prince, or king in Confucianism. The ruler has to justify this power, has to justify this blessing from the heavens, has to justify this heaven's mandate by being virtuous, being committed to care for the well-being of the people.
Now, if that is the case, then its also implies that there is no natural power or authority for the people as well. Political authority, whether it is in the hands of the few or the one or the many, has to be justified instrumentally, in part, by service to the people. It means that people cannot naturally claim that they are political rulers themselves.
Now, the fact that democracy gives political power to every citizen-- it distributes power equally-- is interesting. And Confucianism may accept it, but not on the ground that people are born with natural political power like what John Locke has argued. John Locke really is saying that in a state of nature, we are our own political master.
Well, this creates a lot of controversies. I don't have time to defend this service conception view, and we could discuss it in a discussion. But let us assume we can disconnect democratic institutions from democratic principles. And then, how can we reconnect democracy institution with Confucian values?
Well, first of all, we should look at how Confucian thinkers understand political relationships-- an ideal political relationship? Well, for Confucians, politics not only concerns power and the use of authority. Politics is above all a kind of relationship between the ruled and the ruler. Political relationship is authoritative, yes. It's hierarchical, yes. But it is not top down, and it is not one sided, according to Confucianism. It is mutual. It is trustful. Political authority has to be won, and people are expected to freely submit to political authority.
Well, look at these several passages I got from The Analects. I'll just read them quickly. Without the trust of the people, no government can stand. Good faith inspires the trust of the people. Confucius says, "Ensure that those who are near are pleased, and those who are far away are attracted." When he was asked about the way of governance, he said, well, don't use force. Don't use coercion, but attract them to come. And if they have come, make sure that they are pleased.
And Confucius also says when people submit to the-- oh, sorry. This is Mencius. Mencius says, "When people submit to the transforming influence of virtue, they do so sincerely, with admiration in their hearts. [CHINESE]. An example of this is the submission of the 70 disciples to Confucius." Mencius is using Confucius as an example and role model for rulers. Mencius is telling the rulers, saying, be virtuous and be a role model so that your people sincerely submit to you with admiration of you.
So according to this Confucian ideal relationship, there is this mutual commitment. The rulers are committed to care for the well-being of the people, and they are trustworthy. The ruled, in turn, express their willing submission and endorsement and support for the ruler.
But notice, this is different from Lockean understanding. Confucians are not saying that people are born with natural political rights. So rulers must obtain consent and support from the ruled in order to have legitimacy. It's not Lockean. The argument here is based on a certain perfectionist understanding of relationship. It's emotional. It's about virtue. It's about the desirable characteristics of political relationship.
Now, how is this conception of political relationship connected to democratic institutions? I'm suggesting that the point of democratic election is precisely, or could be understood as, to select those who are public-spirited, trustworthy, and caring, and also to make explicit the public's endorsement and support of those who are elected.
Well, look at the inauguration ceremony of the US president, for example. When a president is elected, the president has to swear in as a pledge, give an oath, and pledge himself or herself to the people, saying, I will work for the national interest, the common good of the people, and not for any sectorial interests. I will do my best to be faithful and to abide by the constitution.
It's not just US. If you look at the presidential oath in Japan and India and other democratic countries, it's all written like this. And then, the voters, the citizens will gather together and cheer and show their support for the elected leaders.
Now, is this just a Western democratic ideal? No. Confucianism, 2,500 years ago, has portrayed this sort of relationship, and of course, in its own language and terms.
Now, I'm not saying that democracy is the only possible way to express this very intimate-- not intimate, but desirable, close, mutual commitment relationship. In principle, a monarch could be also-- well, be supported-- could be shown as trustworthy and caring. So in a monarchical system, it could also win support. But I think that democratic institutions give the most direct institutional expression of this relationship.
So elections in particular are both a means of selecting good rulers and a way of expressing the mutual commitments of the ruler and the people. It's not the only means, but is the most effective means of expressing this.
Well, this is not only my view. In the 19th century, when Chinese Confucian thinkers have traveled abroad to observe democratic politics in England, for example, they were very impressed. Wang Tao helped to translate the Five Classics, and he himself was an educated Confucian scholar and very influential in politics too.
Wang Tao traveled to England and was very impressed, and has written this observation, no doubt very idealistic to you. Maybe he was not giving the full, most accurate view. This is not my point. That is, I'm not saying he gives the accurate historical picture of England, but this is how he saw the connection between democratic life and the so-called golden age of Confucianism.
He says, "The real strength of England, however, lies in the fact that there is a sympathetic understanding between the governing and governed, a close relationship between the ruler and the people. My observation is that the daily domestic political life of England actually embodies the traditional ideals of our ancient Golden Age." [CHINESE], he was referring to, the one that I've just described.
And he goes on. "In official appointments, the method of recommendation and election is practiced, but the candidates must be well known, of good character and achievements before they can be promoted to a position over the people. And moreover, the principle of majority rule is adhered to in order to show impartiality." This is public-spiritedness in the [CHINESE] ideal.
"The English people are likewise public-spirited and law-abiding. The laws and regulations are hung up high for everyone to see, and no one dares violate them." So this is the way Wang Tao saw the connection between Confucian ideal and democracy.
So far, so good. Well, let's assume I've shown the possibility of connecting things. But of course, this is a very ideal scenario. We are assuming that politicians are virtuous, caring, and they're elected by the people, and people also care about virtues of the elected officials too.
In a non-ideal situation, however, not every politician and voters possess the virtue and ability necessary for achieving the ideal relationship. Often, politicians have mixed motives. They have public spirits-- or they have public-spirited attitudes, but they also have self-interested attitudes or interests in power and vanity.
Now, how does democratic election fair in non-ideal situation? Well, elections can still be effective in a situation like what I've just described because elections can serve two functions-- the selection function-- selecting the virtuous-- and the able, and also, the sanctioned functions, because elections can sanction politicians who are not so good.
So for example, elections can compel the not-so-virtuous and not-so-public-spirited politicians to work for the people, and if they mess up, people can rise up and throw them out of office in the next election. So elections do seem to be a pretty effective means to protect people's self-interest-- legitimate self-interest, I mean. In that way, elections can at once address practical problems and make some connections through this selection function to Confucian ideals or the ideal political relationships.
This is, however, not to say that there's no tension between democracy as a political system and Confucianism, and now I'm moving into the second part of my lecture. Well, first of all, elections are necessarily competitive, and they necessarily produce winners and losers. In non-ideal situations, elections may induce highly antagonistic rivalry among candidates. We all know this when we watch elections in presidential elections or legislative elections.
Now of course, politicians also try to win votes by offering policies that are only good to the short-term interests and detrimental to the long-term interests of society. I don't need time to really go over all these problems. We are all familiar with the problems of elections.
And I just want to cite a few prominent American liberal democratic philosophers. They themselves are very unhappy with the situation of democratic politics.
Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson said, "In the practice of our democratic politics"-- they are referring to America-- "communicating by sound bites, competing by character assassination, and resolving political conflicts through self-seeking bargaining too often substitute for deliberation on the merits of controversial issues."
Ronald Dworkin, another prominent legal and political philosopher, says this, "American politics are in an appalling state. We disagree fiercely about almost everything. We disagree about terror and security, social justice, religion in politics, who is fit to be a judge, and what democracy is.
These are not civil disagreement. Each side has no respect for the other. We are no longer partners in self-government. Our politics are rather a form of war." Now, these words come from American thinkers, not from Singaporean politicians, or Malaysian politicians, or Chinese politicians.
Well, I think we can understand why Justice Louis Brandeis says the following. I think it is a very wise view. He said, "In a democracy, the most important office is the office of citizen." Why? Because "the quality of democratic politics and governance ultimately depends on the virtue and intelligence of the people."
If you've got bad rulers, you can get rid of them through elections. But if the people themselves are bad, elections have nothing to help. Elections can actually feed all these banners into the very process. That's why Madison said something like this.
He said, well, "Democracy works only if the people have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government can render us secure.
To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea." I think this is a profound truth-- should be shared by anyone who understand a little bit about democratic politics.
Now, what should be done? Well, Confucians are very concerned about this problem, because if democratic politics in the non-ideal real world produces antagonism, conflicts, short-term interests, injustice, disharmony, et cetera, et cetera.
And these really go deeply against the Confucian ideal or aspiration. "What needs to be done, I think, is for democracy to be supplemented with a strong ethical foundation and alternative institutions." And I think we can draw on Confucian resources to do that.
And this is how I think Confucianism can provide some positive inputs to the health of democratic politics. Let's start with civility when we talk about ethical foundation. Of course, Western thinkers have known the importance of civility for a long time.
This is nothing Western or East Asian. A civility is important for people in politics and especially if we're strangers for people who are not intimates. We need civility to deal with our interaction and disagreement.
People say that civility is "a virtue that disposes people to be polite, respectful, tolerant, and decent to one another." Someone has said that "Civility is behavior in public, which demonstrate respect for others, and which entails curtailing one's own immediate self-interest when appropriate."
And still some other said that "Civility is a civic orientation that does not duck conflict altogether, but that simultaneously embraces the importance of maintaining harmonious social relationship." So how can we maintain civility in the context of disagreement and potential conflict?
Well, you might think, well, this is, of course, very important. But how can we get anything like civility from Confucian ethics? Isn't Confucian ethics about family clan ethics, filial piety? Isn't Confucianism about intimate relationship? Can Confucian ethics teach anything about civility?
Well, I think so. And there are profound teachings about civility in Confucian texts. Or just take a look of this several passages from the Analects. "The Master," Confucius, "said, 'The gentleman seeks harmony, not sameness. The petty person seeks sameness, not harmony.' The gentleman will not seek--"' well, this is a very condensed statement. It means something like the following, I think. It requires interpretation. It means that a "gentleman will not seek sameness or conformity without principle." And it will not just be seeking self-interest.
"On the other hand, being a principled person, the gentleman is not imposing, or is not being too competitive, but maintains harmony with others." I think there are two qualities behind a gentleman who is civil.
The "first is non-partisanship. Unlike the petty person, the gentleman doesn't form cliques," doesn't form parties that pursue self-interests or narrow group interests. "Implicit in this attitude is a concern" for the common good, "for righteousness."
And, for example, here you got some passages. "The gentleman is-- associate openly with others-- is not partisan." Well, these are other passages. "Gentleman is self-esteeming but not contentious, gregarious but not factious."
There's another quality. Being a principled person, the gentleman remains true to his principle, but yet, is able to maintain harmonious relationship. Now, how is it possible? Well, Confucius doesn't say too much. He gives us an interesting example-- the archery competition.
He said, "Gentlemen are not competitive, except when they have to be in a archery ceremony, greeting, like bowing with hands folded in front of the chest," greeting to each other first, before you rise to the platform, and do the archery, and then "making way for each other-- rang.
The archers ascend the hall. Returning, they drink a salute." After they are done, they drink and together celebrate the gentlemen competition. Well, "For Confucius, competition can be gentlemanly if it is embedded in rituals that express a spirit of respect and civility."
The notion-- the Chinese word "rang," to give way, is very rich in meaning. It's not just being respectful. It's not just being civil, but it really means giving way to people, giving way to the weak, yielding, compromising, deferring for the sake of maintaining a good relationship with others.
He says where the "rulers are able to effect order in the state, through the combination of observing ritual propriety and deferring to others, what more is needed? But if they are not able to accomplish this, what have they to do with observing ritual and ritual propriety?"
To observe ritual, you have to have the spirit of deferring-- "rang," to give way, to make compromise. And there are other passages. We just don't have time. In politics, around the spirit of give way, it's expressed through this very fundamental principle-- is to "select the virtuous and give it to the able."
That is, if you find somebody who is more virtuous and more competent than you, then you give way. Let that person take up office, take up responsibility. "Recommend the virtuous and yield to the able." But, however, when you think that actually you are better than others, you're more benevolent, you're more able than others, then you do not give way.
You just recommend yourself. You would seek opportunity to make yourself your own virtue and talent and to contribute to the public. So we could summarize a few principles of civility from the sources of Confucianism-- "Priority of the common good, yielding" to people.
But when you think you can contribute to the common good, better than others, then you have the duty to participate in politics to promote a good. But in competing and offering yourself, you do so with respect and in civility. We've reached civility. Now, you think these are very idealistic precepts.
But to the extent that a society view this as too idealistic, it really show that society is in a terrible situation. It's in a sorry state. In an ideal situation in a healthy society, these precepts are just everyday norms that people follow. If, in reality, very few people follow these norms, it really means that the society is not that healthy.
Now, how can we instill civility and related virtues in people? How can we help people practice these precepts? For Confucians, they can be done through moral education. Confucians have invested a great deal of thinking, reflection, and resources into programs of moral education or curriculum.
"This is a rather substantive kind of moral education, which is quite foreign," or not amenable, or not attractive to mainstream liberal thinking. Well, liberalists wants to dissociate themselves from a whole set of moral ideals, which are controversial, and maybe disagreed upon by others.
Now, "what is the mainstream liberal thinking" about civility, the education of civility, and whether this thinking is sufficient, is good enough? And I'm arguing that it's not good enough, and it's limited. Traditionally, democratic theorists do not talk about moral education, or even civic education.
They rather want to think that if you let citizens-- to participate-- if you follow Tocqueville's line of argument, let them participate in civics association, town hall meetings, political campaigns. They will sooner or later acquire virtues and civility. But this is, in reality, I think, too idealistic.
Because a lot of political scientists have done a lot of research to show that "participation can lead to serious conflicts if participants" are not civil themselves. "Political discussions among people with different views can lead to polarization of position, animosity, and resentment if they are not conducted in a spirit of civility."
So, actually, you need civility to make sure participation can bring about a healthy or more virtuous incivility. And "even when liberals talk about the necessity of education, they prefer the term civic education to moral education."
And they think of civic education in narrow terms, like education of people's critical thinking, acquisition of knowledge of public affairs. For example, Benjamin Barber, a very well-known democratic theorist-- he says, "Civic education primarily means equal access to civic information and the holding of local and national discussions."
For Ronald Dworkin, civic education means "the introduction--" I'm quoting him-- "a contemporary politics course to every high school curriculum, so as to instill some sense of complexity of the political controversies of the day.
Some understanding of positions different from those-- the students are likely to find at home or among friends and some idea of what a conscientious and respectful argument over the issues might look like." You think, well, is critical thinking enough? No. Is knowledge enough? No.
These are just cognitive abilities. They are not yet virtues or ethical dispositions. If you want to help people develop civic virtues, you really need some kind of other means. And liberals said, OK, we need to talk about civic virtues and civic education directly and not through indirectly-- other means.
But even when they talk about civic virtues, they talk about these virtues as instrument to well-functioning, deliberative processes and not as human virtues. And Confucianism talks about civility as human qualities, as human virtues, and not civic virtues.
And, for example, Confucius said, "Conduct yourself with respect. Perform your duties with reverence. Treat others with whole-hearted sincerity. Even if you should journey to Yi and Di with the foreign countries--" barbaric areas-- that "you cannot abandon these."
Now, these are the very human virtues that you need to cultivate, and you need to practice them in whatever situation you find yourself in. And there are other passages saying, well, we should cultivate five things that constitute humanity-- "respectfulness, lenience, truthfulness, industry, and beneficence."
Well, why do I think that moral education is more important or necessary than civic education? I can think of three reasons. First of all, moral education is about educating a good person. Civic education is about educating a good citizen.
Well, if you do not care too much about politics or being a citizen-- if you are primarily concerned about your family, work, friends, then you are not very-- you don't feel the incentive, the will to cultivate citizens' virtues, because citizens' life doesn't appeal to you.
But if you think that these civic virtues are actually human virtues, then I'm sure that for a normal person, there a stronger desire to be a good person, at least to appear to others to be a good person, rather than to be a good citizen.
We want to be a good citizen, but we want more to be a good person. So there's, I think, a stronger incentive to practice and cultivate civic virtues, when they regard it as marks of a good person. And secondly, moral education provides a lot of opportunities and expectation.
You're expected to practice these virtues in different places, not just in citizens' forum in political spheres. And there is always a serious problem when we come to civic virtues. If other citizens do not behave civilly, justly, why should I behave?
My civic virtue is conditional upon other people's willing compliance. But if you treat yourself-- these virtues as good citizens-- as good peoples' virtues, then even people are bad to us-- view. You do not easily just brush aside your virtues.
Because in doing so, you're changing yourself as a person. Now, so much about a case for Confucian virtues and moral education, which is, I think, important to democratic politics. But how about institutions?
Can we think of institutions-- are ways to improve and strengthen democratic institutions? Well, a lot of political scientists and philosophers are quite pessimistic about our ability to reform, refashion democratic institutions, legislature, party politics, political parties.
We have known all the problems, and we have not yet found ways to really improve these institutions. So instead, theorists have turned to, again, democratic participation, citizens' participation, deliberative politics at a grass-root level. But what about institution at the top level, elite level?
What about helping political elites to improve themselves in terms of behavior and in terms of institution and development? Well, I'm suggesting, perhaps, that we could consider something which is quite foreign in Western political culture, which is the adoption of a non-democratically elected second chamber, to balance a democratically elected first chamber.
This is not just a ancient or Asian idea. It was thought about by John Stuart Mill. Even Hayek himself has said something like that. First of all, what is the value of a second chamber? Well, it contributes to governance. If you can select really virtuous and competent people-- let's assume this for the sake of argument at this moment.
If you can find these people and place them in a second chamber, it contributes to democratic deliberation. It contributes to lawmaking and to the monitoring of government. But above all this, serves as a model. It sets educational purposes. These second chamber members may serve as a role model for other politicians and other citizens.
The way they deliberate, the manner they'd speak, the way they treat their opponents in deliberation should be educative. Well, there are three common issues surrounding this sort of second chamber institution. The first, of course, is the legitimacy.
It's not democratically elected. Confucians are not too worried about-- by Confucianists' service conception of authority, an institution-- a particular way of distributing power is to be assessed by, first of all, its contribution to the well-being of people.
And second, assessed by whether or not it captures the ideal political relationship. But the most common criticism of this second chamber is this. That "there is no reliable way of identifying virtuous and competent rulers." Well, this can take two form-- this criticism.
What's first is there's simply "no objective basis for differentiating people, according to their virtue and competencies." I think this is wrong. I don't have time to go into it, but just think of these ordinary virtues we expect of people and leaders-- trustworthiness, integrity, fairness, open-mindedness, being responsible, being competent.
Now, we make evaluative judgments of people, according to these standards all the time in our daily lives. When we recruit colleagues, when we promote people to the chair of a department dean, we evaluate candidates, according to this understanding of their ability and virtues.
But even if-- conceptually, we know what is expected of these people in terms of virtue, even if we've had experience of differentiating the virtuous from the not so virtuous. But there seems no reliable institutional mechanism to select them. Now, this is a more difficult challenge to meet.
Well, some people-- some Confucian scholars like Daniel A. Bell have proposed competitive examination to select them and he called the House of Virtue and Talent. So people have to sit for examination to test for "economic and political knowledge of contemporary world, knowledge of philosophy and literature." In the case of China, the Chinese classics and Chinese history.
Also, they should-- examinations should consist of "essay questions on ethics to help filter out political demagogues and brilliant but morally insensitive technocrats." But there are clear limitations to this method. Examination can only test ethical knowledge at the most, not ethical dispositions.
Knowledge is one thing. The disposition to act is another. So I'm suggesting, perhaps, we should consider another institution. I don't have time to go through this. This is an idea that I draw from a Tang dynasty intellectual. The idea is that it is very hard to get to know people.
The only way to select the virtuous and the competent is to observe these people over an extended period of time, so that you have sure knowledge of their virtues and abilities. And Lu Zhi-- he recommended the principle of "recommendation by local prestigious elderly and officials."
Because these people in local districts-- they mingle with other people. They get to know a lot of people. So they know who are good, and know who are not good, and they recommend. "A contemporary variant" on proposing a "selection by colleagues." And I'm [INAUDIBLE] my lecture very soon.
Well, how am I going to select virtuous people? Well, first of all, we should talk at not beginners, but experienced public civil servants or-- sorry, not civil servants-- public servants like seniors, retired legislators, judges, chairmen of statutory bodies, diplomats, et cetera, et cetera.
Not all of them are competent or virtuous, but if they can really climb up the rank and have been observed by people, then this gives us a pool. And now, who are the one to select them? Well, I say these three people, at least.
Well, this senior public servant themself, because they know each other, at least in certain committees in organization, and senior secretariat staff, who have worked with them for a long period of time, and also, experienced journalists who have been following these people's report and news.
They are the ones who know-- really who have observed these people and know about their character and ability. Now, what are the roles and powers of the second chamber? Well, it depends on the development of politics, and culture, and society. It could be a strong role-- a guardian vetoing this first chamber. It could be an equal role, like a partner.
It could be a weak role, simply an advisor, like the current House of Lord in England. And in terms of the membership, there need not be any fixed terms of seats. Members could serve a maximum of two terms, let's say. And the standard corruption prevention measures apply to the second chamber as well as to the first chamber.
So this is one way, I think, we could develop a non-democratic institution to balance the democratic institute-- first chamber-- and contribute to democratic deliberation. But just to conclude, I'm running out of time. I think Confucianism and democracy can be linked expressively and instrumentally in both directions.
And a well-functioning democracy needs a virtuous citizenry to prevent it from degenerating into an antagonistic, political competition, based solely on narrow interests. And Confucian ethical insight and reflection can make democracy ethically more attractive and practically more feasible. Thank you so much for attention.
STEVE MILLER: We have a little more than 15 minutes for questions. Anyone? Means you're ready for [INAUDIBLE] shows you to advise, or perhaps even an ego, or those of us who are unvirtuous elected representatives. OK, up here.
JOSEPH CHAN: Yes?
AUDIENCE: Do you think it's possible for other world religions, Western religions to come to similar conclusions that you used to-- or values that you elicited from Confucianism toward the form to kind of this issue for democracy?
JOSEPH CHAN: Yes. I don't think Confucianism is a necessary, indispensable moral resource for thinking about improving democracy. Christianity-- I don't know much about Buddhism. But Christianity does talk about moral education, and it has its own tension with democracy in ways which are different from the Confucian problem with democracy. But, yes, I am not claiming that you must learn from Confucianism.
I'm just offering Confucianism as a source for Westerners. But my primary interest is not telling what Western democracies should do. My interest is actually developing a view for China, how Chinese people can make use of their own cultural resources and ethical resources, not only to make use of democracy, but improve democracy in their own way.
AUDIENCE: Not very relevant, but the first two-- the battles of democracy you just mentioned-- I think many people in regards to China-- nowadays China is a country where her people have a lack of beliefs. And however they dropped their beliefs can bring people not only restoration, but also, fears, so that they can behave themselves better.
And so that makes the whole society much better, and people dropped out. The lack of beliefs is the major coast-wide China. Now, [INAUDIBLE] applied the total democracy to institution. And so I just want to know what you think of the lack of belief.
JOSEPH CHAN: Yes, obviously, I agree with you, that there is a moral vacuum, so to speak, in China. There's a lack of a set of moral and political ideals or beliefs that command respect and adherence of a majority of the Chinese population.
And the reason for this moral vacuum has much to do with the way Chinese Confucian culture was disintegrated and not yet replaced by another powerful-- ideological beliefs. Liberalism has yet to grow. And Marxism is still the official ideology, but people are just paying lip service to it.
And also, another reason for this lack of moral virtue is the corruption of the institutions in China. So when people observe to find out officials are corrupted, and they are not really following the law, and they gain a great deal of benefits from bribery and whatnot, then why should I be complying-- be a law-abiding citizen? When other people are not complying with law, why should I?
So these various reasons have contributed to really a great deal of problem of moral decay in Chinese society today. And the solution is very complex, and there's no easy solution. You have to build institutions that are fair, that are not corrupted. And you also have to start moral education from scratch. You have to redesign school curriculum, et cetera, et cetera.
DICK MILLER: Can you repeat that?
AUDIENCE: Yes, sir. I would just like to thank you for your presentation, and say that there are many people in this country that have said-- in your last statement, you could substitute the United States for China.
JOSEPH CHAN: You mean the moral decay, moral vacuum?
AUDIENCE: Everything you said.
DICK MILLER: Joseph, could I ask you about something that seems to be like-- think of modern people who call themselves broadly liberal-- would say that one very important function of political justice is to respect people who are morally informed interest, but self-ruled, being authors of their own lives and that has great inherent importance, even though it's not calling for it.
And I think that's one reason why many of us would say that depriving an adult of suffrage of a vote is, among other things, an insult. I guess it's also a reason why we'd say that it's important for there to be a Bill of Rights, protecting people and the fundamental aspects of their self-rule or autonomy, setting limits to democracy.
It wasn't clear to me what the standing of that fundamental interest was in your account. You talk about people yielding to one another. Now, someone like me would say, well, yeah, yielding is important, but that's important because one is acknowledging people's interest in self-rule. But would you put it that way? It doesn't seem to fit the model.
JOSEPH CHAN: Yeah. That's a very good question and a difficult one. First of all, we have an interest in personal autonomy. And this notion of personal autonomy is entirely foreign to Confucian ethics. And I think the contemporary version of Confucian ethics has to [INAUDIBLE], or appeal to some mild notion of personal autonomy, like being able to choose a path of life, a career plan, religious beliefs, et cetera, et cetera.
But personal autonomy is one thing. Self-rule in the political sense is, I think, another. Personal autonomy doesn't imply that you must have political rights to make collectively binding decisions with others.
A lot of libertarians think, actually, that the best ideal political form, or form of political government, is a libertarian one-- just leave me aside. And that is the best guarantee for personal autonomy. Whether the government is elected or not, it's empirically-- it's an impeccable question, but it's the most-- not the most fundamental one.
The most fundamental thing is about-- is to have a limited government-- very, very limited, so that we have a big sphere in which we can decide upon on our own lives. Now, you also mentioned an insult to people's dignity or self-respect.
I can conceive this. This could be a valid argument, but this is a cultural argument, I think. That is to say that within certain culture, in which people tie their dignity with a vote, we have the ability to participate in democratic election. Yes, for this culture, democracy is intrinsically desirable and intrinsically necessary.
It's not just instrumentally useful, because it really is the necessary embodiment of our dignity, et cetera, et cetera. But I can readily see there are cultures and societies which people do not tightly connect dignity or self-respect with electoral votes. That's my view. I may be wrong.
AUDIENCE: Do you think that political reform like that you're suggesting could happen directly like economic reform has, [INAUDIBLE] or putting the need of revolution or explosion to have it?
JOSEPH CHAN: Right. Yeah, that's a good question. Now, I'm an academic. When I talk about second chamber, it's really pie in the sky. It doesn't mean things will come out that way. When we really have to be very serious about institution [INAUDIBLE] in, we have to look at the context and conditions.
A lot of institutions' development are just path dependent, the notion that you are not at liberty to freely redesign the service institutions as if, let's start from square one, and redesign them. It's not like this. You have to build upon existing practices, modify them, change them.
Now, is there any current institutions in China that can be slightly modified, so as to go along this way to have a second chamber? I think so. It's the national consultative committee, the [CHINESE]. This is a consultative-- it doesn't really have to have the legislative power, unlike the People's Congress.
But these people taking part in this consultative institution-- intellectuals, some well-established businessmen, and respected people in society-- they are recommended to sit on them and to give advice on policies and law.
Now, we could revise this thing, like this second model, empowering them a little bit, and also, be more careful in the way selecting them, et cetera, et cetera. So there is, I think, some empirical path that we could develop a second chamber, not from a completely new way, but using a current institution as a basis.
AUDIENCE: I have a question. [INAUDIBLE]
JOSEPH CHAN: Can you speak louder? We can't hear you.
AUDIENCE: I think America is more [INAUDIBLE] because-- and the general democracy is basically the tool for the majority, while here there's little focus on individual rights and the protections of the minority. And I'm just wondering, what would be the role of Confucianism, sort of in a natural protection of the rule of the minority? Because you're talking about respect, but there's going to be conflict between most people and more number of people and how Confucian thinkers utilize both devices.
JOSEPH CHAN: Well, thank you. I don't think Confucian thinkers would have any problem accepting certain institutional devices, such as separation of powers. Well, I should really-- qualified it. In one of my chapters of the book that I've just completed, I spent a whole chapter saying Confucian conception of authority as being a monist supreme conception is wrong. And I have to reject it to allow the notion of separation of power to come in.
But I don't think Confucian thinkers would object to the institution, or to the notion of a Bill of Rights that is used to protect legitimate, fundamental interests of humans or citizens. I don't see any conflict between Confucian ideas, and the idea of judicial review, and a Bill of Rights to protect a minority.
I did see a conflict, as I said, between separation of power and the early Confucian conception of authority being supreme and monist-- one single. But my recommendation is to reject the Confucian belief for the idea of separation of power. So I'm not accepting the whole of Confucian political thought as you can see.
AUDIENCE: So this is just to follow up on Dick's point. So you mentioned that you wanted to bring in the notion of personal--
DICK MILLER: I would prefer for you to speak up.
AUDIENCE: --I'm sorry.
JOSEPH CHAN: Yes?
AUDIENCE: So you mentioned that you wanted to bring in the notion of personal autonomy, and that this is important, and it's something that heretofore is peripheral to the other kind of justificational sources found in Confucianism. That's what I was thinking. But my question is, what would be the foundational justification for bringing in this sphere of personal autonomy?
I mean, there's the kind of liberal notion, which is a million-- well, the size of the kind of Rawlsian notions, right? Or the kinds of justifications that Dick was hinting at. There's also the instrumental justification that's a million justification. And that seems like that would be amenable to Confucianism.
But it also seemed like there's an additional source, which I hadn't thought of before. And that is coming from this idea of yielding. That is there's a foundation for them, or a justification for bringing in this sphere of personal autonomy, which may come from the vice of coercion, and not yielding to other people, et cetera, et cetera. And I'm wondering what you saw--
JOSEPH CHAN: Yes?
AUDIENCE: --the justification for this additional--
JOSEPH CHAN: Yes, that's a good question. There is a notion of moral autonomy in Confucian ethics, but it's different from personal autonomy-- moral autonomy meaning that a person engages in moral life-- has to be reflective and has to reflectively endorse the demands of morality.
So a person is not leading a moral life if it is just coercing to it. But the moral autonomy notion doesn't bring you very far. It doesn't tell you that you can freely choose about your marriage partner, or your career, your work.
In traditional Confucian society, it is the parents who really dictate the children in terms of marriage partner, work, career. And I can see why. In an agricultural passing economy, the family-- it's not just a family. It's an economic unit.
You need a hat in order to devise the labor, divide the labor, et cetera, et cetera. You need continuity of labor and whatnot. And Confucianism in the past also talks a lot about obedience and filial piety, which do not fit comfortably with the idea of personal autonomy.
But, again, the importance of obedience and filial piety has to be understood against this passing economy background. In the old days, there weren't many career choices for people. Either you continue to plow your land, or you go to the city.
But now, today in a pluralistic modern society, there are so many careers, so many occupations, so many ways of life. Even if you are being a caring parent, you want your child to be-- to live the best life. You wouldn't want to dictate him, to tell him what to do.
Because you have to let them-- let him try and make-- develop their own rational capacity-- to have the capacity to make choices, so as to flourish. And in a fast-changing society, what you have learned as a parent when you were young are no longer relevant to the young people.
It's easily outdated-- your experience and things. So I can see there's a strong sociological argument for making room for personal autonomy. Personal autonomy-- actually, it's important only against certain fundamental facts about modern society. It's pluralism. It's fast-changing nature, et cetera, et cetera.
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Joseph Chan, professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, spoke on human rights and democracy from a neo-Confucian perspective, March 5, 2012
Chan's talk was part of a lecture series, "The Rise of China," hosted by the Cornell Program on Ethics and Public Life.