Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Van Norden on the Confucian Roots of Xi Jinping’s Thought

A couple weeks ago, Bryan Van Norden published “The Confucian roots of Xi Jinping’s policies” in The Straits Times (Singapore); a Chinese translation was also subsequently published. The essay begins:

Commentators have been quick to observe that the recent Chinese Communist Party Congress guaranteed President Xi Jinping’s firm grip on power for years to come. However, few have noted the Confucian roots of Mr Xi’s world view.

Mr Xi himself has been very candid about his admiration for traditional Chinese thought and his view that Chinese socialism is consistent with it. As I point out in my recent book, Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto, Mr Xi’s appropriations of traditional Chinese thought are sometimes opportunistic. But the same can be said of the way many US politicians appeal to the Bible. In addition, there are at least four points on which Mr Xi is genuinely Confucian in spirit.

December 5th, 2017 Posted by | China, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Confucianism, Politics | 2 comments

2 Responses to Van Norden on the Confucian Roots of Xi Jinping’s Thought

  1. Bill Haines says:

    I do not know if the president has taken steps to move his own family away from their accumulation of vast wealth. I haven’t been paying close attention.

    But I disagree with the essay on the following points.

    • I think a crackdown on corruption is not an instance of rule by virtue rather than penalty.

    • I think not engaging in corruption (the criminal abuse of one’s power to steal vast amounts of money, land, etc., including from the weak and poor, by processes that undermine the basic integrity of those under one’s influence) does not constitute virtue or even a virtue.

    • I think being against corruption is no more “genuinely Confucian in spirit” than is the view that 2+2=4, or the vision of a moderately prosperous society with a strong middle class.

    • I do not think that “the United States take[s] it for granted that direct democracy is the best form of government.” Our intellectuals do not assume this and our institutions do not exemplify it. As for more moderate democracy, and civil liberties, when I was a college teacher in many parts of the US, some years ago, I found that the majority of my students had lost sight of those values. I think Trump is a symptom.

    • Civilization is organized society’s institutionalized respect for the vulnerable, and its least unstable form is liberal representative democracy. (That is not to say that there are not more stable forms of government.) Granted, institutions that are (here and there) excessively democratic make us vulnerable to demagogues and thus to tyrants and plutocrats, but what significant Western political philosopher has disagreed with that?

    • I think the danger today is unprincipled plutocracy rather than the (pro-regulation) ideas of Adam Smith; the danger to civilization today is departure from the basic ideas of the rule of law and the regulations that can preserve it.

    On that last point I’m very pessimistic.

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