Political Liberalism, Confucianism, and the Future of Democracy in East Asia
The debate between political liberalism and liberal perfectionism has taken center stage in contemporary literature on liberal political theory. According to political liberalism, the most sensible thing to do for political philosophy is to apply “the principle of toleration” to itself in order to arrive at a public conception of justice that is independent of controversial moral, philosophical, and religious doctrines. According to liberal perfectionism, basic liberal ideals and principles are compatible with the view that the state should direct citizens to live good or meaningful lives, and discourage them from pursuing bad or worthless ones. Both political liberalism and liberal perfectionism have developed substantial arguments to support their positions, and the debate between them has helped to shape the intellectual landscape of contemporary political philosophy. At the periphery of the mainstream liberal discourse, there has been growing interest in establishing and maintaining at least some liberal and democratic ideals and institutions in the burgeoning and increasingly pluralistic region of East Asia. One of the recent developments has led to sophisticated attempts to bring out the political side of Confucianism, the dominant source of cultural influence in the region. As some Confucian scholars have pointed out, East Asian societies, like their Western counterparts, are under the influence of reasonable pluralism, which diversifies and even divides the population in a region that used to be highly homogeneous. Thus, a plausible political theory and a timely model of democracy for East Asia must reflect this crucial change. This dissertation aims to contribute to both the internal debate in liberalism and the application of political liberalism to the process of democratization in East Asia. In my view, political liberalism offers the most promising vision for liberal democracy, and it can be defended against three perfectionist objections. First, the objection that the political conception of justice cannot be separated from morality in the comprehensive sense will be defused by introducing what I call the public conception of morality. Second, the objection that political liberalism’s asymmetric treatment of the right and the good is problematic will be addressed by defending the distinction between foundational and justificatory disagreements. Third, the objection that Rawls’ inclusion of epistemic elements in the concept of reasonableness necessarily makes political liberalism perfectionist and weakens the political liberal account of respect for persons will be defeated by revising the understanding of epistemic reasonableness. Beyond Rawls’ original intention to limit the scope of political liberalism to only existing and well-ordered liberal democracies, political liberalism has the potential to inspire and contribute to democratic establishment and improvement in East Asia. Specifically, I will first demonstrate that both comprehensive and moderate approaches to political Confucianism suffer from practical and theoretical difficulties. Then, with the support of political liberalism, I will propose a model of democracy that has a multivariate structure for citizens to come to terms with democracy in their own ways, a neutral state to ensure the establishment and stability of democracy, and an active public role for Confucianism to prevent it from being confined to the private sphere. This model represents a more promising future for democracy in East Asia.