Yutang Jin’s article “Self-Restriction, Political Myth, and the Politics of the Ordinary: Mou Zongsan’s Confucian Democracy” has been published in Political Theory; read on for the abstract.
This essay examines prominent New Confucian Mou Zongsan’s account of Confucian democracy by focusing on his key notion of “self-restriction.” According to Mou, true sage-kings would willingly respect ordinary people’s individual endeavors in the political realm and endorse democracy as a form of government. This move of self-restriction then aligns Confucianism with democracy in a way that fundamentally restructures traditional Confucian rulership. I make contributions on two fronts. First, I offer a reading of Mou’s self-restriction different from existing ones that can help to disambiguate many aspects of Mou’s political thought. Second, what is often left out of existing discussion on Mou is the narrative of political myth and distinctive personality types associated with it. For Mou, political leadership’s impetus for transcending rule-based order and the people’s aspirations for the “superman” run deep and lie in the lasting appeal of political myth. Invoking Nietzsche, I discuss the sense in which transforming traditional rulership is not only a question of ought—why Confucians ought to adopt self-restriction—but a question of how it is possible for self-restriction to fulfill its mission. Commentators on his thought have so far largely glossed over this second aspect of Mou’s thought, thereby selling short the complexity of the idea of self-restriction. My key argument is that Mou’s self-restriction shows an effort to revamp the superman’s politics of the extraordinary into a politics of the ordinary.