NDRP has published a review by BAI Tongdong of Fudan University of my recent book, Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy: Towards Progressive Confucianism (Polity, 2012). Many thanks to Tongdong for this generous review!
I’d like to take this opportunity to respond very briefly to a couple of the things that Tongdong says in his review. He feels that both Mou Zongsan and I, in our related but separate ways, have left largely unaddressed the question: “can Confucianism make any constructive and systematic contributions to fundamental issues in political philosophy other than being only a “cheerleader” (a sincere one, as Angle tries to show) of liberal democracy?” This is related to some of the other critical remarks he raises late in the review, including the suggestion that in my chapter on human rights, I rest content with the current “responsibility to protect” doctrine, and also Tongdong’s questions about how “Confucian” Progressive Confucianism is.
As I think Tongdong would agree, one of the contributions the book tries to make to political philosophy is its explanation of the meaning of “self-restriction (ziwo kanxian)” and an argument concerning the importance of this concept. In a new essay (forthcoming in a book that Brian Bruya is editing), I expand on this theme by arguing that both Aristotelian and Humean theories of the relations between ethical and political value themselves need to be supplemented by something very like “self-restriction.” I am glad that Tongdong says that my effort to make the idea of self-restriction clear has been at least somewhat successful.
What he really has in mind with his “cheerleader” comment, though, is the degree to which I argue that once we have reconstructed Confucian notions of political authority, rule of law, and so on — reconstructions that are motivated from the “inside,” that is by theoretical concerns internal to Confucian theory — we end up with a participatory, constitutional polity that in several respects bears a strong resemblance to (some forms of) liberal democracy. There are, to be sure, some real differences in form, but the key differences lie within, in the justification of politics and of political structures. Is this a bad, un-Confucian result? I feel that such a conclusion begs the question. We all agree that Confucian political philosophy today is not going to deliver the same answers as it did in the past, even as we all agree that there must be considerable continuity with the tradition, its key insights, and its core values. There’s obviously a lot more to say here, including questions about how much continuity Neo-Classical approaches like Tongdong’s, or Institutional approaches like Jiang Qing’s, themselves actually have. But I’ll put that off for another moment.
One final comment, prompted by Tongdong’s remark about human rights and the responsibility to protect. I did not mean to suggest that with the responsibility to protect doctrine, discussions over human rights have somehow come to an end. Rather, (1) I think it suggests that things are moving in the direction of a more genuinely global (i.e., tianxia-based) institution rather than a solely nation-based one, as Zhao Tingyang advocates and Confucians (I argue) should hope; and (2) the nature of global human rights should be such that while Confucians are a voice in the conversation, global norms emerge from a broad, actual process of dialogue and debate: so a “Confucian” view on human rights, as I try to show, will end up endorsing a set of rights that is not solely “Confucian” in content.
Enough for now! In closing, let me once again express my sincere thanks to Tongdong for reading the book so carefully, describing its contents so clearly, and expressing his continued disagreements with his typical verve. I look forward to continued conversation.