Jiang Qing and Daniel Bell in NYT Posted on July 11, 2012 by Steve Angle Jiang Qing and Daniel Bell have written an Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times that may be of interest.
I found this provocative, albeit somewhat disturbing:
In particular, historical and cultural legitimacy is spelled out according to literal lineage rather than, say, intellectual or religious heritage. Why does literal lineage provide that kind of legitimacy? I’m befuddled by the seriousness with which this is proposed.
Pretty interesting. My first thought was something to the effect of how unlikely it is that any of this will happen, though it’s maybe no more unlikely than China becoming a liberal democracy at the bidding of Hilary Clinton. I suppose part of the point of the project is to get on paper a concrete modern Confucian alternative to both Western style democracy and the status quo. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the book.
I was struck by the use of “exemplary persons”, which I’m taking to be a deliberate use of Roger Ames’ fairly popular translation of junzi. It’s politically handy that the English phrase is not gendered, but I take it the Chinese is. I’m wondering if that could complicate things a bit.
The original Chinese terms for the houses are tongru yuan 通儒院，shumin yuan 庶民院, and guoti yuan 国体院. So the “exemplary persons” are not explicitly gendered at all, though of course historically ru were almost always men.
Excellent article, thank you for recommending it! With due respect to secretary Clinton, who in these parts (SE Europe) happens to be a politician second in popularity only to her own husband – i think it’s rather naive to presume ‘democracy’, especially as interpreted through Western prism, can be somehow ‘transplanted’ on Asia… It won’t happen, at least not anytime soon and not because human rights traditionally are not known in Asia – more so, it is not really an ideal of the civilization which differences we somehow tend to dismiss… It is indeed possible that different frameworks of thinking do stem from very different religious and philosophical systems, but for what i know the question asked in China is what prompts such an interest in its internal affairs and whether it is indeed the proclaimed care for thy proverbial ‘neighbor’, or it’s merely an attempt to impose foreign domination on it’s economy.
First, let me second Manyul’s concern with the proposal, which strikes me as fairly umimaginative and troublesome for other reasons I won’t attempt now to address.
Re: “I think it’s rather naive to presume ‘democracy’, especially as interpreted through Western prism, can be somehow ‘transplanted’ on Asia[n] [soil]…”
I rather think democracy is (as are human rights) “universalizable” and if India can be a democracy (which it is in many important respects), there’s no obvious reason why China cannot as well, even if it is not in our lifetime. As one of my former teachers wrote some time ago: “Democracy is neither a parochial parlor game nor a peculiar national sport, despite the claims of some democrats. Liberty is neither an exotic plant suited only to special soils nor a disembodied spirit that deigns to take possession of chosen peoples, despite the pretensions of some libertarians. Both democracy and liberty are universalizable, although different traditions and new needs present formidable challenges to our conventional conceptions and demand high costst of commitment.”*
Of course would-be democratic polities need not (indeed, should not) slavishly imitate the older democratic States, institutionally or otherwise and the “deficiencies and defects of the structure of political democracy and public liberties [e.g., the national security state’s problems with the ‘war on terror’] in the older States are enormously pertinent to those emerging [or would-be democractic] polities which truly wish to profit from the lessons and illusions of traditional democratic development.” Again, in the words of my former professor, “ancient communities and civilizations should avail themselves of their own time-tested philosophies and cultural traditions” in democratizing (which our above proposal at least attempts to do), keeping in mind that democracy can be viewed as an ideal, a method, and a process….
The ideological and apologetic rhetorical trope: “interference with internal affairs” is invoked for all sorts of reasons, many (notice: I did not say ‘all’) of them not deserving of deference (e.g., when rationalizing egregious ‘dirty hands’ or violations of basic human rights, or even when simply used as a ritualistic formula for raison d’état) and calls for critical scrutiny on each and every occasion.
The economist (and philosopher) Amartya Sen has also written about the universalizability of democracy and human rights.
* See the essay, “Democracy and Liberty in Emerging Polities,” in Raghavan Iyer, Parapolitics: Toward the City of Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).
I agree with Patrick and share Manyul’s genuine befuddlement. But maybe we shouldn’t be quite so fuddled: though the idea that the reason for democracy is simply the sovereignty of the will of the majority is silly, it’s common enough. If one makes that common silly assumption and also notices the obvious systemic weaknesses of democracy, which the article identifies tolerably well, one might be ready to entertain the idea that this Confucian proposal is the worst form of government except for all the others.
If ideas such as these are popular among opinion leaders of any sort, then I think it’s an excellent and healthy thing that they be offered up for good discussion. This piece seems to be a sort of advertisement for Jiang Qing’s forthcoming book. I hope the discussion of the essay and the book will be such as to be illuminating to Jiang Qing and others attracted by his ideas. I think that’s a difficult and intriguing project, but I’m strapped for time these days. More broadly, I think wide discussion of such proposals in China would be enormously valuable in general; it would be an exercise in thinking seriously about constitutions. The irrealism of the proposal might free up the discussion. Is a version of this book published in China?
Hi Bill and all — Jiang has published a great deal in China. His most influential book is 政治儒学：当代儒学的转向、特质与发展 [Political Confucianism: The Changing Direction, Particularities, and Development of Contemporary Confucianism], which came out in 2003. The essays in the book that is coming out in English are based on a later work, 政治儒學•續編 ——王道政治與儒教憲政：未來中國政治發展的儒學思考 [A Sequel to Political Confucianism — Kingly Politics* and Confucian Constitutionalism: Confucian Reflections on the Future Development of Chinese Politics], which has been published in Taiwan and has been variously available over the internet, but not yet published in China. Still, his ideas are widely known and discussed in China. Depending on who you talk to in China, he is prescient or quixotic, harbinger or irrelevant. For my own part, I think there’s a fair amount in his theorizing that’s interesting and worth engaging with, but there are also huge problems. I certainly think that Confucian voices should be part of a broad-ranging theoretical reflection on models of political theory and practice, but Jiang is certainly not the only Confucian game in town. (* = in the forthcoming book, “wang dao” is rendered as “humane authority.”)
Re: “prescient or quixotic, harbinger or irrelevant”
Insofar as such descriptions are often associated with utopian thought and imagination, I’m quite sympathetic whatever I may think about the specifics on offer, provided what is “utopian” is understood in the sense made clear by William Galston (of all people!) in Justice and the Human Good (1980), which accords it an important role in political thought (or ‘theory’):
Readers here should also take note of the critical reaction to Jiang & Bell’s piece by Sam Crane, and the more supportive reaction by Matt Cooper.
I should note that I’m guest-editing a forthcoming special issue of Contemporary Chinese Thought [note: seem to have lost my ability to add italics] on Jiang Qing and between that and writing on him for my book project I’ve tried to keep abreast of scholarship on him in Chinese. My unscientific assessment is academics are about 80/20 against, with many expressing similar sentiments to Manyul et al. A few people essentially told me he’s “not worth bothering with.” He’s got a few sympathizers among academics, especially Fan Ruiping at City University of HK, who also edited a volume on him in English that came out last year.
His real influence is among what I might call “social Ruists,” people who are not academics but are trying to revitalize Ru values, practices, and institutions in China now. He’s inspired quite a number of those. There was a post a while ago mentioning an article by our fellow contributor Sébastien Billioud which illustrates a good example of this kind of influence. These people are likely going to have more impact than the academics, so despite the philosophical and historical problems in Jiang’s work (which I think are considerable), I think he’s worth taking seriously.
Thanks guys. David, when will the issue come out?
I’m not sure. The articles are still in the process of translation and then will need to be reviewed, etc. Sometime next year at the earliest is my best guess.
I tried posting a comment here yesterday but I guess it was chomped up by the jaws of the internet! I agree with much of what’s been said so far, but my main worry about Jiang’s approach is perhaps the worry Rawls (and earlier Mill) had with political systems based on moral perfectionism. What grounds the authority of the first house, “the house of exemplary persons”? Jiang suggests that it is “the legitimacy of heaven (a sacred, transcendent sense of natural morality),” but therein lies the problem. If the source of this legitimacy is transcendent, then it also makes it impossible to determine according to the usual empirical means. Thus there’s a huge opening for the practical legitimization of basically any kind of regime one wants to set up. This is just what happened in the case of the “tian ming” theory of authority. Since there is no reliable method for determining who authentically has the tian ming, the best we can do is to assume that whoever has been able to come to power (regardless of how brutal and oppressive their rule) in fact has the tian ming! Maintaining the distinction between who has power and who OUGHT to have power becomes almost impossible. And when we add moral perfectionism to the picture, the situation becomes even more complicated. It’s going to be turn out to be much more difficult to determine what the good for a nation is than it will to determine who has the tian ming! I take it that the difficulty of determining what the good is and the intellectual modesty that admits that we may be wrong in our conceptions of what it is, is in part what was behind Mill’s position in “On Liberty”. When we involve moral perfectionism in government we’re looking for trouble, unless we’re certain that we in fact know what the good is. Thus, allowing the people to determine their own destiny in a democratic manner at least ensures that if they get things wrong (which they are as likely or unlikely, to as any council of exemplary persons, if we agree with Mill), it will be of their own self-determination. The only justification for the other two houses Jiang mentions seems to me to be from moral perfectionist considerations (the people don’t always know what is best, do what is morally right, aim at their own good, etc., and the government should do this), but if this is so, then Jiang takes on the enormous burden that all moral perfectionist political theories do, of presenting a justification that his conception (or the house of exemplary persons’ conception) of the good is the correct one.
I think lawmakers, public officials, administrators, and so on routinely make assumptions about “what the good is,” the problem being they’re not explicit about the presuppositions and assumptions that animate their conceptions. Conceptions of “the Good” are found in the various reference groups that make for moral communities throughout civil society, including most conspicuously those religious and secular worldviews that have articulated conceptions of same throughout their history, endeavoring to one degree or another, successfully or not, to live out those conceptions in the daily lives of their members. These conceptions should not, I think, be thought any more vulnerable to epistemic skepticism than any of our other knowledge claims: in other words, none of them as has absolute authority: hence democratic methods and processes of participation, deliberation, and voting that can realize or thwart these conceptions as we see fit. “Certainty” is no more elusive here than it is in other fora of practical reasoning, be it about the common good or not, in fact, certainty is not among the relevant properties, criteria or standards for such political matters.
There can be no such thing, I think, as “neutrality” toward the Good. As George Sher has argued, for example, there exists a middle way between the view that there is no necessary connection between the government and the good life or eudaimonia (or human flourishing), and the view that there is an intrinsic or direct connection between those who live well or live the good life and those who should govern (living well requires governing as well as being governed). We need not ground the State in any particular conception of the Good to imagine a necessary or legitimate role for government in promoting “the Good,” or providing, at minimum, the necessary conditions for individuals to flourish: “To say that governments may legitimately try to promote the good is to take no special position about what IS good.” It does make the claim, however, that “it is easiest to hold that governments sometimes SHOULD try to promote the good if one believes that at least some value is INDEPENDENT of enjoyment, desire, and choice [unlike, say, the rational choice liberalism that sanctions capitalist democracy].”
Democracy, as an ideal, is about “self-rule,” individually and collectively, the former evidenced in appreciation of the fact that education (moral, civic…) is indispensable to democratic governance (by way of meeting classical Greek objections to democracy), there being a dialectic and synergistic relation between individual and collective self-rule. At bottom, the Good is about individual human flourishing, defined as that sort of human development “that leads to self-identification and autonomous, self-directed living, but is associative as an interdependence based in a division of labor with respect to the realization of values” (David L. Norton). (One can rely on any number of arguments here: natural duty, natural law, utopian…) Minimally speaking, the voluntary choice for such self-development is only possible given a set of necessary conditions, conditions individuals cannot self-supply and the provision of which is commensurate with the coercive nature of government. The irony here of course is that, traditionally, Liberalism appeals to autonomy in its putative justification for neutrality toward the Good. But an appeal to the value of autonomy is inextricably tied to conceptions of the Good, unless it be simply respect for autonomy simpliciter, avoiding reflection on precisely what is valuable about individual autonomy (all sorts of problems with that, many of which involve preference formation and distortion). As Sher points out, we must confront the question that invariably arises here: “are things valuable only because individuals seek them, or do individuals seek things because they are independently valuable?” Perfectionist theories are at odds with a subjectivist approach to the question of value (and the former theories can be perfectly pluralist with regard to value, that is, attaching value to ‘a number of irreducibly different activities, traits, and types of relationship’).
We might imagine human autonomy or individual flourishing to demand the endeavor to realize what Martha Nussbaum terms “basic human capabilities,” and these are undoubtedly the result of making a rational claim as to what constitutes, minimally, a conception of the human Good, one in which governments must take an active, coordinating and facilitating role beyond mere claims to neutrality. The internal morality of the Law, we might say, requires an elaboration and substantive conception of the Good as intrinsic to democratic theory and practice. This has been all-too-hastily sketched, but I think you can get the gist of it without provision of the full arguments for each of its many connected claims.
my problem is not so much with notions of the good and the state aiming at attaining the good for its people–such a thing is proper for a government. The problem I have is with the claim (that Jiang implicitly makes) that a “house of exemplary persons” is more likely to have a grasp of what the good is than the people whose good is aimed at. I don’t think there’s any good reason to accept this kind of paternalism without good evidence that such an institution truly does have special access to the truth about the good. And absent that evidence, which is going to be hard to gain because of the difficulty of attaining such knowledge, the institution is going to have a hard time justifying its position. The burden of proof, it seems to me, lies with the one who wants to limit self-determination based on their own conception of the good. It seems to me that a contextualist approach might be a good one here, just as it is in the case of knowledge generally. The justification needed for one’s conception of the good is relatively modest when this is meant to guide one’s own actions, a bit stronger when meant to guide that of a family or group, but the standards for justification when used to coerce an entire nation to act in a certain way become much too stringent for any justification to possibly meet. Just as in contextualism in epistemology, if I make the claim that my bus is leaving at 5 o-clock in the context of my actions and their guidance, I need very little justification to support a knowledge claim (the fact that I saw the bus schedule would suffice), whereas this same claim made in the context of the skeptical debate would require a justification that might be impossible to construct.
This is all to say that I agree with you, in that I think any government should be concerned with the good (and I also think Mill is right that the good is best served by allowing liberty, so that we have freedom to “experiment” to better understand what the good is), but any claim of a government body to have justification to veto the self-determination of the people of a nation in the name of the good falls into the same trap that a philosopher does who makes the grandiose claim (like Descartes did) that they can know things with certainty, contrary to the skeptical hypothesis.
Presumably everyone has an interest in attaining their good, so the only possible claim that would ground moral perfectionist theories in the end would be that certain members of society (such as the house of examplary persons) have a better understanding of what the good is–and this claim brings with it a huge burden of proof, especially if one wants to use this claim to be able to veto the self-determination of the nation, as Jiang does.
this is all to say that, in the absence of certain, Cartesian, knowledge of the good, what justification is there to limit the self-determination of the people to understand and pursue the good as they conceive it, based on the dubious claims of one particular self-selected group (here, the “house of exemplary persons”)? What David mentions as the “bootstrapping problem” seems to me problematic enough to undermine the authority of such a group to make decisions that override those of the people, if not problematic enough to undermine the ability of a group to set norms for ITSELF aiming at the good. That is to say, the norms enforced that aim at the good that come from democratic agreement are NOT problematic in the same way, because this is a version of self-determination.
and it seems to me that one good justification for this “poltiical contextualist” picture I outline here is that with a larger scope of one’s conception of the good, the stakes go up. That is, if only I am operating based on a certain conception of the good, then only I am harmed if this conception of the good turns out to be incorrect, and thus the threshold of adequate justification is low. If a whoe society is made to act based on a certain conception of the good, however, all of society is harmed if this conception turns out to be incorrect, and this the threshold of adequate justification is raised to just that level (consistent with the fate of all society, which is to say, amazingly high).
Re: “the only possible claim that would ground moral perfectionist theories in the end would be that certain members of society (such as the house of examplary persons) have a better understanding of what the good is”
The reason I mentioned Sher (see his Beyond Neutrality: Perfectionism and Politics, 1997) is precisely because he demonstrates, I think, that this is not the only way to ground moral perfectionist theories, at least insofar as we imagine any one set of people in possession of such knowledge or a special claim to such….
I guess I’ll come to Jiang and Bell’s defense a little bit, an unusual position for me. Members of the House of Exemplary Persons will study at state-sponsored Ru academies, pass an exam, and go through a period in lower government positions before being selected. So there’s a bootstrapping problem, in that maybe once you have committed Ru worthies in positions of authority they can help educate and train the next generation, but how do you get started? This is a question and I don’t know that Jiang has an answer. But is it really that different from how academia works? You study under more senior people, take some exams, write a dissertation, and then if you get a job you continue to be evaluated by more senior people until you get tenure and become one of the people training and evaluating the next generation of potential scholars. If this system works reasonably enough, is it so crazy to apply it to government? Maybe a weakness in Jiang’s theory is the lack of mechanism for dismissing people from the House of Exemplary Persons if they prove unworthy, but that’s relatively easy to rectify.
The House of the Nation, on the other hand, I have no defense for. That’s the one that strikes me as really out there.
I think you’re right to point out the similarity to academia, but for me the important disanalogy here concerns the scope of authority. In academia, we only have the authority to set and enforce the norms concerning our own action based on our own conception of the (intellectual?) good, whereas the “house of exemplary persons” has a much wider authority applicable outside of its own organization to the nation as a whole. It seems to me unproblematic for the operation of an institution if the rules imposed by the institution are completely internal (in the case of academia, academic norms only apply to those within academia). But if we take the position that such institutions have authority over all others outside itself, then I think such a structure becomes problematic–again, on Millian libertarian grounds, which I’m leaning on pretty heavily, I admit (but I think he’s right!). It would be as if the academic institution in general began to claim authority over all learning behavior, such that one would be expected (by legal decree?) to follow the norms of academia even if learning and writing independently, with no desire to enter academia. The authority for applying the institutional norms to the public at large has got to have an airtight justification to warrant vetoing self-determination, and something as tenuous, esoteric, and hard to define as “the legitimacy of heaven” isn’t going to cut it, I think.
I completely agree with you on the “house of the nation”. I was a bit perplexed by that one…
I think I understand the appeal to “exemplary persons” in the Confucian vein, but being a great scholar is neither necessary nor sufficient for that purpose. There may be other virtues displayed in arenas other than scholarship or, more strongly, outside of academia that make a person exemplary. The scholar-official model of moral exemplars is certainly Confucian, but even there I’m not sure all of the moral exemplars historically admired were involved in it. Even if scholarship is to provide any grounds for legitimacy, it would have to be taken as one possible bit of evidence among many bits. It should go without saying that the content of the scholarship should be highly relevant to governing over a modern nation-state; otherwise the legitimacy required for political authority seems missing.
I also think I understand the appeal to historical and cultural legitimacy to ground authority. To me that seems important for careful thinking about political identity of one’s nation-state. Caring about and valuing the history and culture of a political body seems like a good thing, usually, for the sake of maintaining or even for revising the way that a people thinks of itself; it also seems useful for welcoming critical voices within the people as a valuable resource for self-evaluation. That said, again, I’m genuinely baffled by what kind of rationale could successfully be offered for caring about blood-lineage from cultural sages, Confucius included, in this arena. There’s a danger here of also imposing an official ethnic hierarchy within a nation-state already fraught with such hierarchies…
…Which leads to another general concern. Isn’t there some danger in the Humane Authority project of taking the Confucianism-Chineseness identity/collusion too much for granted? There at least appears to be a real continuation in this task of the anti-Buddhist or more generally anti-“foreign” influence crusade begun in the Tang and Song. Again, I would worry about the ethnic divisiveness along religio-cultural lines.
My gut reaction was “What the hell?!” but I’m glad to be thinking more calmly about this now with all of you. Any hints of what the reasonable view is that Qing and Bell are forwarding would help me, I think.
You certainly make a valid point that the analogy only goes so far. I do think you’re a little too sanguine about the possibility of opting out of academia. One certainly doesn’t need a Ph.D, but unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg or Kobe Bryant not finishing college is probably going to limit your economic prospects for your entire career.
It occurs to me, though, that law is an even better analogy. Here we have a profession that runs pretty much the same way, and that no one can opt out of. You can represent yourself in court if you want, but you can’t choose your judge. Some states have some kind of elective mechanism for certain judicial positions, but that’s about as far as it goes. Yet the courts generally have better approval ratings than elected officials. I think Daniel Bell cites one survey that showed the people are more satisfied with the Federal Reserve and Supreme Court than Congress. This survey is a little dated and the numbers might well be different now, but it does give one pause. Why are the parts of government that are (supposedly) appointed on merit rated better than those that are elected? Might it have something to do with the fact that they don’t have to pander and play politics?
One could certainly respond that there are still checks and balances. Judicial appointments have to be approved by Congress, for example. We could add something like that to Jiang’s proposal. Maybe nominees for the House of Exemplary Persons have to be approved by a majority of the House of the People? Or both of the other houses? Just throwing out an idea.
Oops, this was supposed to go after Alexus’s last comment. I’m not sure what I did.
I’ll just say I agree with you about two significant points.
1. “It should go without saying that the content of the scholarship should be highly relevant to governing over a modern nation-state; otherwise the legitimacy required for political authority seems missing.” It seems like one could certainly question the relevance of the Ru classics for governing a modern state. Minimally, one would want to be sure the education of prospective members of this house went well beyond the confines of the traditional education for scholar-officials.
2. “Isn’t there some danger in the Humane Authority project of taking the Confucianism-Chineseness identity/collusion too much for granted?” Again, I’m completely with you. I find this tendency to reduce “Chinese” to “Confucian” very problematic, but it’s not just Jiang. It’s endemic in contemporary Ruist writings.
This response may overlap with others.
If the source of this legitimacy is transcendent, then it [is] impossible to determine according to the usual empirical means. … there is no reliable method for determining who authentically has the tian ming
1. I want to cavil at this, because I’m inclined to think there are fully adequate publicly available grounds to deny that there is a divine authority concerned to have us follow it, and because I think that’s a very important feature of the human condition. So I’m inclined to think that Jiang’s idea of institutionalizing the authority of Tian is in far more dire epistemological straits than you suggest.
a. In your first sentence above, how is the antecedent supposed to imply the consequent?
b. Separately: is there reason to think that Tian as Jiang Qing understands it is “transcendent” as you mean that?
c. Do you think there are not in fact widely available, hence publicly available, reliable grounds for views about the real divine authority?
Since there is no reliable method for determining who authentically has the tian ming, the best we can do is to assume that whoever has been able to come to power (regardless of how brutal and oppressive their rule) in fact has the tian ming!
d. Why would that be the best we can do? That method arguably follows from, and depends upon, the proposition that Tian is omnipotent and always gets its way. (Is that something Jiang and other Confucians believe?) Other features of Tian might suggest other methods. For example, the idea that Tian endorses certain virtues suggests that we identify Tian’s agents by their exemplification of those virtues. One might further think that someone chosen by people chosen by people chosen by the people is especially likely to have the virtues, so that that should be the test.
if [the demos] get things wrong (which they are as likely or unlikely, to as any council of exemplary persons, if we agree with Mill)
2. I don’t remember where Mill asserts this equivalence. Mill, I seem to recall, advocated tutelary imperial rule over India. His “On Liberty” defended individuals against e.g. the demos. Anyway, before hearing how the members of the council are to be chosen, replaced, etc., I’d like to suspend judgment on the truth of the point you ascribe to Mill.
The only justification for the other two houses Jiang mentions seems to me to be from moral perfectionist considerations (the people don’t always know what is best, do what is morally right, aim at their own good, etc., and the government should do this), but if this is so, then Jiang takes on the enormous burden that all moral perfectionist political theories do, of presenting a justification that his conception (or the house of exemplary persons’ conception) of the good is the correct one.
3. I agree with you this far: insofar as Jiang’s constitution is based on the idea that the traditional Confucian classics are the unique repository of wisdom, or significantly wiser and more cohesive in their thought than a ten or twenty novels chosen randomly from the set of all the world’s novels weighted for sales in the twentieth year after publication, then I think his constitution is in trouble. But I wonder what you think of the U.S. Supreme Court as an institution, or the Federal Reserve?
4. No book has ever impressed me as much as the Federalist Papers, when I read it in college. What really blew me away was its responsible carefulness about the realistic practicalities of the institutionalization of decisionmaking on great and antecedently unknown things: in short, the sheer responsibleness of it. One has to have any eye to the real limitations of any proposed decision-making method; for example, legislation by popular referendum. I’m wondering whether the line of thought you’re following rules out on very abstract philosophical grounds any modifications of extreme democracy?
5. I’m not sure what you mean by “moral perfectionism”, or why it would be implicated in the idea that certain kinds of institutional supplement can improve on the evaluative views of an individual or a popularly elected body.
The problem I have is with the claim (that Jiang implicitly makes) that a “house of exemplary persons” is more likely to have a grasp of what the good is than the people whose good is aimed at.
The authority for applying the institutional norms to the public at large has got to have an airtight justification to warrant vetoing self-determination
6. As Jiang&Bell’s essay emphasizes (in paragraph 3), major effects of a country’s public choices fall on people not voting (or even residing) in the country when the choices are made: because they live elsewhere or have not been born yet. Not to mention whales. So even democracy (like the alternatives) means people deciding what happens to other people. I think this is ever-increasingly true.
Presumably everyone has an interest in attaining their good
7. I don’t presume that everyone is much interested in that, or has that as the main leading interest. First, look at me; I know I shouldn’t be spending my time on this. And surely it is publicly knowable that on almost all occasions where people buy jumbo sodas, buying a smaller one would be better for them? I suspect any house of random academics in any field would see this. (I still think Bloomberg is wrong ’s proposed regulation is a terrible idea.) And second, I think good people base their decisions in significant part on things other than their own good: on others’ good, for example, and on patriotism, tradition, honor, Mom, etc.
if only I am operating based on a certain conception of the good, then only I am harmed if this conception of the good turns out to be incorrect
8. But isn’t this plainly false? Indeed I would think the total good or harm that I can do to others dwarfs the theoretical maximum of good or harm that I (or anyone else) can do to me. There are so many others.
I’d like to say a few things about Mill (standing on the shoulders of others) relevant to my earlier comments, some remarks by Alexus, and the response here by Bill. In some respects, I think it reveals how even a “Millian” might be sympathetic to at least the efforts of Jiang and Bell. The portrait of Mill I have in mind is in large measure captured by the discussion of his thought in Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book, The Ethics of Identity (2005), which provides in some respects a more nuanced and thus original interpretation of the younger Mill’s thoughts on democracy, politics, community, identity, and so forth than one finds in the secondary literature that invokes his ideas on these subjects.
It’s interesting to recall what J.S. Mill wrote in Considerations on Representative Government: “The first element of good government…being the virtue and intelligence of human beings composing the community, the most important point of excellence which any form of government can possess is to promote the virtue and intelligence of the people themselves.” Mill did believe representative government was the best form of collective government “because it is uniquely qualified as the staging-ground in which the latent, merely potential capacity of individuals for self-government can be developed. This is because democracy is participatory collective government and thereby encourages the active character-type against the passive….” (David L. Norton) Mill described or defined political participation as the “school of public spirit” owing to its capacity for encouraging the moral self-development of individuals, as it involves serving the public spirit in a way that transcends the exclusive self-interests of the individuals qua individuals. For Mill, in what may sound strange to our ears today, given the cynicism and apathy that surrounds the mere mention of “the political,” political participation is tantamount to “salutary moral instruction.” As Norton rightly points out, the role Mill assigns to political participation is “too great to be generalized,” reminding one of the more unrealistic proposals for participatory democracy for all, or most of, what ails us.
While the kind of political participation Mill had in mind was eminently reasonable: voting, jury duty, and service on parish councils, for example, “it borders on giddy optimism to anticipate that from it the large strides in the moral self-development of individuals that Mill describes.” Politics is many things, not all of them degrading or pernicious, and much of politics is worthy of vigorous defense (cf. Bernard Crick, In Defense of Politics, 1962, and Matthew Flinders, Defending Politics: Why Democracy Matters in the Twenty-First Century, 2012), but so little of politics today strikes one as on the order of a “school of public spirit,” although admittedly our views are often distorted by mass media representations of “the political” and corresponding meager public knowledge or appreciation of the less or “invisible” work of politicians and public officials we routinely take for granted (see, for example, and just with regard to legislators, Jeremy Waldron’s Law and Disagreement, 1999, and The Dignity of Legislation, 1999). To some extent, Mill appreciated this fact, thereby setting conditions on that type of politics equivalent to a “school of public” spirit so as to enable the bulk of its participants to identify and emulate, that is, show deference to, their moral betters (exemplars of technical and moral excellence). Mill, like the authors of The Federalist Papers, was concerned about the tyranny of the majority, and his conditions were one way of avoiding or minimizing the effects of such tyranny. These conditions included “plural voting” and the “transferable vote,” the former meaning persons of “higher” occupational status (or superior education) are accorded extra votes on the belief that they are above average in moral development! In any case, there does not appear in Mill an independent argument for accounting precisely why we “deference” mechanisms will operate even in these cases.
Mill was right, I think, to attempt to tie individual self-development or self-determination and self-fulfillment, what we’ll loosely refer to as the basis of eudaimonia, to collective self-governance, but perhaps wrong to look in the first place to government or the State as the means for this linkage rather than, say, the “community” (which need not, indeed, and with Norton and others, I believe should not, be defined in ‘communitarian’ terms) in which a well-lived life involves individuals recognizing and utilizing values produced and exemplified by others, a mutual interdependence of values recognition and realization wherein individuals have a moral obligation to realize objective value in the world as part of the process of self-actualization and self-governance.
As I said in an earlier comment, the primary role of democratic government dedicated to the Good is thereby located in its provision of the material or practical conditions for same that are not self-suppliable by these individuals (probably something not far from what historically is identifiable as the social democratic form of the welfare state, the other main forms being ‘corporatist’ and ‘liberal’). The State, in other words, grants universal entitlement to necessary non-self-suppliable conditions so individuals can engage in autonomous projects of self-realization in community, a process that amounts to individuals interdependently creating the common good, a common good that is the joint enterprise of both individuals-in-community AND the democratic State (this overcomes the tensions in Mill’s thought between the classical liberal conception of the individual and more eudaimonistic conceptions of same, or between what Kwame Anthony Appiah calls his antipaternalism and perfectionism).
Here’s another reaction to the NYT piece: http://www.newparadigmsforum.com/NPFtestsite/?p=1360
Thanks, Michael, for this reference – I find Dr. Ford’s analysis highly elucidating, extremely sharp and ultimately devastating for both Jiang Qing and Daniel A. Bell. Remember that Jiang Qing’s worries about “Western” liberal modernity (“Jiang has declared that democratic governance is immoral, and that giving such importance to the will of the people leads to ‘extreme secularization, contractualism, utilitarianism, selfishness, commercialism, capitalization, vulgarization, hedonism, mediocritization, this-worldliness, lack of ecology, lack of history, and lack of morality.'”) are not new at all: similar positions have been held by many conservative philosophers and thinkers on the right during the 19th and 20th century (just think of Tocqueville’s worries about American democracy or think of Schmitt’s and Heidegger’s claims about German parliamentarism). And in order to understand the fate of global modernity, we need of course to take these philosophers seriously. But I don’t see that Jiang Qing is concerned with philosophical argumentation; from a more philosophical point of view, it’s rather depressing how simple-minded, even caricatural Jiang Qing’s criticism of Western modernity often is… I’ve talked to Daniel in private and I think I somehow understand what motivates him, but I don’t see at all how somebody who proclaims to be “on the left” is willing to associate with a fellow like Jiang Qing (I just hope he would join our conversation on this blog and defend his views…)
I also found Ford’s essay to be insightful — and am rather taken by the term “neo-Kong” he suggests for views like Jiang’s. There is certainly truth in what he says about the interest that the CCP leaders have in a discourse of antidemocratic legitimacy. At the same time, I worry about the throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater sentiment that I find here:
“…Whatever thoughtful philosophizing and benevolent aspirations for political reform might lie behind some of the political Confucianism emerging from the Chinese academy, therefore, its effect is to strengthen Confucianism’s ancient philosophical foe of Legalism by providing CCP hegemony with a more attractive cloak and strengthening party leaders’ conviction that they have something coherent and profound to say in response to, and in rebuttal of, ongoing foreign and domestic calls for genuine democratic accountability in China.”
Notwithstanding the truth of Kai’s worries about the frequently simple-minded critiques of democracy, there surely are good reasons to think that simplistic forms of democracy, on their own, may cause enormous problems. Liberal democracy seeks to solve this through rule of law, robust systems of rights, and welfare state limits on inequality. Some of the discourse about democracy in China seeks to imagine other packages of values and institutions that might achieve as good or better results and legitimacy. Ford’s challenge about the danger of co-option is trenchant, but I do not think we can just assume that we have already arrived at the best political theory (“End of history,” etc.).
Yes, Steve, I see and agree in principle: we should’nt just assume that we have already arrived at the best political theory: the state of our world and the fate of global modernity (or what I prefer to call “bourgeois modernity”, i.e. liberal democracy and a certain cultural mind-set) demand new modes of thinking. But the issues are so difficult, that simple answers won’t take us anywhere (so called “Confucian” institutions won’t help us either). What we need are more contextualized, historically informed and critical attempts to understand the dynamic forces of contemporary China (that is not necessarily Confucian). Maybe a book like Chen Kuan-Hsing’s “Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization” (Duke University Press, 2010) which I find quite convincing and subtle, because the author is aware of the complexities of the contemporary Asian situation.
Chen sounds intriguing — and, having googled him, so does the “Asian studies in Asia” movement — so I’ll take a look at the book. And I certainly agree that simple answers won’t take us anywhere, and that China is “not necessarily Confucian.” What Confucianism does offer, though, is a set of insights into the human condition and values based thereon that I believe we should continue to take seriously. We need the positive ideals of harmony, humaneness, propriety, and so on just as much as we need the critiques, the deimperialization and decolonialization. So we need thinkers — Asian and non-Asian — who take both sides seriously.
By the way, he is very explicite about the internal tensions of his own point of view: neither does he want to be seen as embracing sino-centrism and the thesis of a general superiority of Chinese culture, nor is he willing to endorse uncritically the ideals of American or Japanese modernity…