My review of Sungmoon Kim, Public Reason Confucianism: Democratic Perfectionism and Constitutionalism in East Asia (Cambridge, 2016) recently appeared in Ethics 127:3. The first paragraph of the review follows. A pre-publication version of the whole review is available here.
Sungmoon Kim’s latest book articulates a “new version of normative theory” (81)—namely, “public reason perfectionism”—and argues that a Confucian version of this theory provides a coherent and attractive political vision for the historically Confucian societies of East Asia, as an alternative to liberal democracy. The book thus has important lessons for several audiences, including political philosophers interested in challenges to Western-style liberal democracy, Confucian philosophers reflecting on the tradition’s modern, political significance, and students of East Asia seeking to understand its distinctive political and constitutional possibilities. The book is a sequel to Kim’s Confucian Democracy in East Asia: Theory and Practice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), providing a deeper and somewhat revised philosophical foundation for the political vision sketched in the earlier book. Public Reason Confucianism also engages in a sustained dialogue with Joseph Chan’s Confucian Perfectionism: A Political Philosophy for Modern Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), as well as with other works on Confucian political philosophy and much of the recent literature in liberal political theory. The result is an outstanding contribution comprising both a clear, novel, and compelling defense of political perfectionism, and a vital call for Confucians to understand the deep significance of pluralism and democracy in our modern world.