Special Issue on Ci Jiwei’s Political Philosophy

The recent issue of Brill’s Comparative Philosophy Theory includes a special issue on Ci Jiwei’s political philosophy. The synopsis describes the issue as “a symposium on the political philosophy of Jiwei Ci, co-organized by Yin Shoufu, Wenqing Zhao, and Simon Luo, is now published by Comparative Political Theory. Contributors: Tim Cheek, Michael Nylan, Trenton Wilson, John Dunn, Hans Sluga, and Simon Luo, with Ci Jiwei’s response”.

Here is a brief review of the contributions:

John Dunn’s essay interprets Democracy in China as a rejoinder to an old and unsettling question in the history of political thought: Can a repressive government be understood as governing legitimately? By uncovering the foundation of Ci’s prudential argument, Dunn demonstrates how political theorists can learn from a political philosopher struggling with and attempting to persuade a repressive regime that may benefit from democratization.
Michael Nylan’s essay argues that the Chinese political tradition can assist efforts of democratization by presenting a case study: the imperial court in Chinese history. As such, she urges comparative political theorists to develop a more nuanced understanding of tradition not dominated by the essentialist binary of modernity and premodernity.
Hans Sluga reads Ci as an innovative theorist of nihilism and questions why Ci does not confront the topic of nihilism in Democracy in China. Sluga’s essay shows how the repertoire of Ci’s scholarship enriches political philosophers’ and theorists’ understanding of the complex relationship between nihilism, democracy, and social change.
Tim Cheek’s meticulous analysis of Xi Jinping’s discourse of ideological governance foregrounds Ci’s understanding of ideology, a theme that Ci has written extensively about in his career. The conversation between Cheek and Ci invites scholars to further pursue a multifaceted concept of ideology that illuminates our understanding of legitimate governing in contemporary society.
In Trenton Wilson’s interpretation, Ci’s political thought helps us understand the problems with anti-hypocrisy politics in our day and age. By reading Ci against both classical Chinese texts such as the Laozi and the Analects as well as canonical thinkers in European political thought such as John Locke, Wilson indicates a way to handle both hypocrisy and the perils of anti-hypocrisy politics in our society.
Simon Sihang Luo reconstructs Ci’s account of democratization and proposes that Ci underscores a layer of democratization—the democratization of political possibilities—that has been missing in the mainstream literature on democratization, and shows how political philosophers and theorists, by thinking with Ci, can make genuine contributions by rethinking the concept of democratization.
We hope this special issue initiates a long overdue discussion about how to engage political philosophy and theory informed by contemporary Chinese political reality. Thinking with Jiwei Ci, to us, is thinking with the political possibilities and impossibilities harbored by contemporary China.

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