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"This book is a lively and insightful contribution to what will be a major debate of the twenty-first century: how profound differences of culture and value will give a different shape to the core institutions of modernity in different civilizations. Drawing on both philosophical analysis and wide empirical knowledge, Daniel Bell examines the continuing importance of Confucianism in East Asia, and its relevance for democracy, human rights, and capitalism. What's more, as a normative theorist, he goes beyond this to argue for the legitimacy of some persistent differences. This engaging and well-written book will provoke much-needed controversy in our overly complacent Western societies."--Charles Taylor, author of Multiculturalism and Sources of the Self

"Daniel Bell's Beyond Liberal Democracy challenges the prevailing idea in Western liberal political theory that liberal democracy is a universal value. By comparing East Asian and Western perspectives on issues such as human rights, democracy, and capitalism, Bell forcefully demonstrates that East Asian political traditions contain morally legitimate alternatives to Western-style liberal democracy. He demonstrates a rare knowledge of both Western and Eastern political philosophies. Bell's work will help Western political scientists understand the contribution of East Asian cultures to political theory. But equally it will help East Asian scholars understand their own political tradition through a comparative perspective."--Li Qiang, Peking University

"For over a decade, Daniel Bell has been probing the meaning and feasibility of 'democracy,' 'human rights,' and 'capitalism' in an East Asian setting. Beyond Liberal Democracy pulls many of these strands together in a stimulating, readable, and often humorous fashion. This book is a must for anyone involved with or concerned about China and the other important countries marked by Confucian political-legal culture. It's a friendly, engaging conversation."--Jerome A. Cohen, New York University and the Council on Foreign Relations

"For the past decade or so Daniel Bell has been a leading voice in the international discourse on democracy and human rights in the East Asian context, with his distinctive blend of intellectual inclusiveness, principled realism, and a sure-footed local knowledge that is at once respectful and frankly critical. In this thought-provoking new book, he carries further his culturally sensitive approach to political theorizing, an approach that allows him to move fruitfully between abstract normative reasoning and highly concrete discussion of issues of rights, political participation, and good governance. Those readers who are familiar with Bell's previous work will find here a yet deeper mining of East Asian philosophical resources--especially though not exclusively the Confucian tradition--for normatively attractive proposals that are realistic in and sensitive to contemporary local contexts, as well as an even more wide-ranging engagement with the complex East Asian realities of human rights, democracy, and economic development."--Ci Jiwei, University of Hong Kong

"Daniel Bell is one of the world's very few political theorists with the necessary competence to write on the subject addressed in Beyond Liberal Democracy. His writing style is very stimulating, clear, and accessible; his arguments are carefully constructed, thought-provoking, and original. This book will appeal not only to scholars in political theory and political philosophy, political science, human rights, and Asian studies, but also to general readers."--Joseph Chan, The University of Hong Kong

"Well written, interesting, and sometimes provocative, Beyond Liberal Democracy splendidly complements Bell's earlier work on democracy in an East Asian context. Anyone interested in an 'Asian values' debate would do well to look first to what Bell has to say. This book's reach is even broader, however, since it also offers many new insights into the assumptions of liberal democracy."--Jeff Spinner-Halev, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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Editorial Reviews

Far Eastern Economic Review - David Plott
Beyond Liberal Democracy is an intensely personal engagement with the author's experiences of Western liberal political ideas in an Asian context. . . . Mr. Bell . . . is a provocative thinker. He is also refreshingly candid. . . . [T]he result is an important contribution to the debate about liberal democracy in Asia.
Contemporary Southeast Asia - Surain Subramaniam
This work is a culmination of at least a decade of thinking and writing by a scholar who has observed closely the many intellectually significant issues that have arisen from political development in East Asian societies. . . . [T]he elegant narrative form in which Beyond Liberal Democracy is written makes for an interesting and timely piece of scholarship that should attract a wide readership.
From the Publisher

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2007

"Beyond Liberal Democracy is an intensely personal engagement with the author's experiences of Western liberal political ideas in an Asian context. . . . Mr. Bell . . . is a provocative thinker. He is also refreshingly candid. . . . [T]he result is an important contribution to the debate about liberal democracy in Asia."--David Plott, Far Eastern Economic Review

"This work is a culmination of at least a decade of thinking and writing by a scholar who has observed closely the many intellectually significant issues that have arisen from political development in East Asian societies. . . . [T]he elegant narrative form in which Beyond Liberal Democracy is written makes for an interesting and timely piece of scholarship that should attract a wide readership."--Surain Subramaniam, Contemporary Southeast Asia

"In this engaging, provocative exploration of the intersection between East Asian values and Western liberalism, Bell challenges readers to take seriously the unique contributions of Confucianism and other Eastern traditions to 21st-century political theory and practice. . . . This book is an important contribution to the East-West dialogues of political theorists, activists, and politicians, and sets a high standard for subsequent forays into this field."--Choice

Far Eastern Economic Review
Beyond Liberal Democracy is an intensely personal engagement with the author's experiences of Western liberal political ideas in an Asian context. . . . Mr. Bell . . . is a provocative thinker. He is also refreshingly candid. . . . [T]he result is an important contribution to the debate about liberal democracy in Asia.
— David Plott
Contemporary Southeast Asia
This work is a culmination of at least a decade of thinking and writing by a scholar who has observed closely the many intellectually significant issues that have arisen from political development in East Asian societies. . . . [T]he elegant narrative form in which Beyond Liberal Democracy is written makes for an interesting and timely piece of scholarship that should attract a wide readership.
— Surain Subramaniam
"In this engaging, provocative exploration of the intersection between East Asian values and Western liberalism, Bell challenges readers to take seriously the unique contributions of Confucianism and other Eastern traditions to 21st-century political theory and practice. . . . This book is an important contribution to the East-West dialogues of political theorists, activists, and politicians, and sets a high standard for subsequent forays into this field.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691123080
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/24/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 5.97 (w) x 9.13 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel A. Bell is Professor of Political Philosophy and Ethics in the Department of Philosophy at Tsinghua University, Beijing. He is the author of "East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia" (Princeton) and "Communitarianism and Its Critics", and the coeditor of six other books.

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Read an Excerpt

Beyond Liberal Democracy

Political Thinking for an East Asian Context
By Daniel A. Bell

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-691-12307-1

Chapter One

Introduction: One Size Doesn't Fit All

In May 2002 the eminent American legal theorist Ronald Dworkin toured several Chinese universities and delivered lectures on human rights. The Chinese translation of his renowned book Taking Rights Seriously had been topping the best-seller lists for several weeks and his public lectures drew literally thousands of people. At the time, Professor Dworkin's tour was compared to the visits to China eight decades ago by John Dewey and Bertrand Russell. China had once again been opening up to the West, and it looked like another opportunity for cross-cultural exchanges and mutual learning by the leading intellectuals of "East" and "West."

Dworkin began his lectures by "conceding" that the human rights discourse is uniquely Western, but he argued that this "fact" does not bear on the question of the normative worth of human rights. If the concept of human rights is morally defensible, then the uniquely Western history of human rights should not be used as an excuse to prevent its application in non-Western contexts, including China. Dworkin proceeded to sketch a view of human rights self-consciously inspired by theliberal thinkers of the Enlightenment. He posited two moral principles (moral equality and self-direction) that support civil and political rights and then showed that these principles can underpin critiques of contemporary Chinese legal and political practices. He then challenged his audience to come up with competing principles based on "Asian values" that would justify violations of civil and political rights. The audience, however, failed to rise to the challenge; perhaps the idea of mounting a compelling oral defense of an alternative Asian philosophy in a brief question-and-answer period, particularly in a context where there may be political constraints, linguistic barriers, and cultural aversions to public intellectual battles, struck members of the audience as, to put it neutrally, inappropriate.

Those expressing "enthusiasm for liberal values," Dworkin noted, did voice their views: "all the scholars and almost all the students who spoke about the issue on various occasions insisted that there was no important difference between Western values or conceptions of human rights and their own." One member of the audience "said of course the fundamental situation of human beings is the same everywhere, that there should be no more talk of distinctive Chinese values, that China must begin what he called a 'renaissance' of liberal individualistic values. When he finished, the large audience clapped loudly." Nevertheless, Dworkin found it peculiar that members of the audience did not seem to share his desire to discuss specific cases of human rights violations, leading him to conclude that Chinese academic discourse remains "eerily abstract in a country whose government treats itself as above the law." What Dworkin seems to have learned from his trip, in short, is that Chinese academics cannot mount a successful defense of an Asian philosophy even when given the opportunity to do so. The only question that remains is how to implement liberal individualism in China, which apparently requires greater moral courage and concrete thinking on the part of Chinese academics.

Not surprisingly, Dworkin's visit generated less-than-friendly responses. Professor Liufang Fang, who teaches law at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, opens his critique with a sarcastic account of the college students who attended Dworkin's lectures because they "did not want to miss the festival-like event." They could hardly hear anything, but "being squeezed in the crowd itself was a joy to many of the students." Professor Dworkin, meanwhile, "unilaterally believed that his China tour was a valuable opportunity for China to be privy to his ideas of liberty." Ironically, he was taken for a ride by the Chinese government. His visit had been organized to showcase China's new freedoms, and the government knew full well that Chinese academics would not argue publicly about the details of particularly sensitive cases. Dworkin seemed unaware of the risks that China-based academics would incur by publicly endorsing his condemnation of the Chinese government's handling of such cases. As Professor Fang puts it, "the truth is that the degree of freedom of speech is negatively correlated with the risks borne by the speaker." Moreover, Dworkin seemed unaware of the extent to which "general discussions" of legal issues by China-based academics have led to substantial improvements of legal practice. Had Dworkin been better informed, he would not have made facile comments regarding the "eerily abstract" Chinese discourse. Professor Fang concludes his essay by suggesting that Chinese professors should spend more time reading, thinking, and writing instead of wasting time on "hot events."

Even scholars otherwise sympathetic to Dworkin's theory reacted with dismay. The philosopher Jiwei Ci expresses broad agreement with the two principles of ethical individualism spelled out in Dworkin's article "Taking Rights Seriously in Beijing," and he praises Dworkin for critically evaluating his own society on the basis of his moral theory in other works. However, Dworkin's theory "went out the window" when he addressed the Chinese audience. Rather than appealing to his radical first principle (which underpins his critique of economic inequality), he stuck to American political common sense that equates human rights with civil and political rights. As a result, Professor Ci notes, "the United States, and the West as a whole, emerge triumphantly above the threshold, well-placed to sit in judgment of the human rights record of the rest of the world.... When Dworkin leaves the Euro-American academic context and takes on the role of observer and critic of China's human rights record, he can come pretty close to an uncritical identification with the mainstream values of the West, at times almost sounding like its moral and political spokesman."

How could things have gone so wrong? Yes, Dworkin should have been better acquainted with the contemporary Chinese political context and the situation of Chinese academics in particular. His less-than-modest demeanor and hectoring tone did not help. The deeper problem, however, is that Dworkin made no serious attempt to learn about Chinese philosophy, to identify aspects worth defending and learning from, and to relate his own ideas to those of Chinese political traditions such as Confucianism and Legalism. Whereas earlier luminaries such as Dewey and Russell had expressed their admiration of Chinese culture and argued for a synthesis of "East" and "West," Dworkin merely put forward his own ideas and identified fellow "liberals," and the "debate" rarely moved beyond this starting point.


Unfortunately, Dworkin's experience is not atypical. Few, if any, Western liberal democratic theorists in the post-World War II era have sought to learn from the traditions and experiences of East Asian societies. Although derived entirely from the norms and practices of Western societies, their theories are presented as universally valid, and defenders of "Asian values" are viewed as archaic or politically dangerous.

This blind faith in the universal potential of liberal democracy would not be so worrisome if it did not take the form of U.S. government policy to promote human rights and democracy abroad, regardless of local habits, needs, and traditions. Notwithstanding the rather huge gap between liberal democratic ideals and the reality at home, and the repeated history of misadventures abroad due (at least partly) to ignorance of local conditions (Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam, Iraq), nothing seems to shake the faith in the universal potential of Western-style liberal democracy in official circles.

This is not to deny that academic defenders of liberal democracy have cast doubt on the means employed by U.S. foreign policy makers. Amy Chua has put forward an argument against promoting electoral democracy and free markets in poor societies on the grounds that they empower resentful majority groups who proceed to target relatively well-off minority groups. Thus, the U.S. foreign policy establishment should not recklessly push for immediate adoption of democratic practices that took root slowly even in relatively prosperous and stable Western societies. However, Chua does not seem to doubt that the "West is best" and that liberal democracy should be the long-term goal. Samuel Huntington, for his part, argues against exporting democratic ideals for now and the foreseeable future. Although he upholds these ideals, they are appropriate only in (Western) cultures with particular histories, and they will lead to clashes in non-Western "civilizations" with different histories and cultural outlooks. On the home front, the United States is under threat from multiculturalists who threaten to dilute Western civilization: "The futures of the United States and of the West depend upon Americans reaffirming their commitment to Western civilization." Thus, the U.S. government should stick to buttressing Western values at home and build up walls against foreign influence, at least until conditions change for the better in the non-Western world. In neither case do these critics of expansionist U.S. foreign policy suggest that liberal democracy can be substantially enriched by engaging with the principles and practices of non-Western political traditions.

In short, defenders of liberal democracy, notwithstanding different interpretations of implications for U.S. foreign policy, do not seem to doubt that the "West is best." This helps to explain why Western liberal democrats, pace occasional lip service to openness, fail to allow engagement with the non-Western world to challenge the normative underpinnings of their preset views. They serve, de facto, as secular preachers of the democratic faith, blind to the possibility of defensible alternatives that may be worth learning from. Here the asymmetry with East Asia is most striking. Since the late nineteenth century, the dominant trend has been to recognize (and act upon) the importance of learning from Western political theories and practices. It would be almost unthinkable for contemporary East Asian political thinkers and actors to uphold political theories and practices that owe nothing to liberal democracy.

This sad state of affairs, at the level of both Western-style political theory and political practice, is not, fortunately, replicated in other domains. The modern history of Western painting has been immeasurably enriched, consciously so, by its encounter with East Asian art. French Impressionists and post-Impressionists were directly inspired by Japanese prints. Occasionally, this took the form of slavish imitation and incorporation of Japanese themes. At its best, however, familiarity with the Japanese tradition led to subtle incorporation of Japanese techniques and styles, to the point that they were both unmistakable yet almost impossible to separate from the whole. Vincent van Gogh, who had spent several years studying Japanese art, told his brother Theo that his landscape drawings from the Arles period did not look Japanese but "really are, more so than others." By the twentieth century East Asian thought and art did not just influence formal and visual techniques, they also provided the philosophical inspiration for some revolutionary developments in Western art. For example, "the parallels between the free existentialist gestures of Pollock, Kline or Soulages and Zen ink painting [the Zen ink flingers of the thirteenth century] seem too close to be mere chance." In some cases, the influence was direct, as in Paul Klee's expressive distortion of form inspired by his immersion in Chinese poetry.

Until recently, Western medicine had developed largely impervious to East Asian influence, but there has been a rapprochement of late. Acupuncture is widely practiced in the United States to treat back and other pains (and it is often covered by medical insurance, which is the ultimate test of social acceptance in the American context). Herbal remedies are increasingly used, and recent emphasis on the links between lifestyle and health parallels the Chinese idea that patients should be treated as wholes, not simply as carriers of this or that defective physical part. "Alternative medicine" has been relabeled "complementary medicine" by the U.S. medical establishment, partly to make it sound more acceptable. Medical professionals in Western countries have not (yet?) reached the point of routinely prescribing mixtures of Western chemical drugs and Chinese herbal medicines, as in Japan and China, but it is not implausible to surmise that we may be heading that way.

In psychology, too, there is growing awareness of critical differences between Westerners and East Asians, along with the concomitant idea that both "sides" can be enriched by mutual learning. The social psychologist Richard Nisbett, following intriguing questions by his then student (now collaborator) Kaiping Peng, has engaged in comparative research that points to profound cognitive differences between Westerners and East Asians. In one famous experiment, Nisbett showed an animated underwater scene to two groups of students and found striking differences in their responses: American students focused on a big fish swimming among smaller fish, whereas the Japanese students made observations about the background environment. Drawing on such experiments, Nisbett argues that Westerners typically have a strong interest in categorization and analytical separation, and East Asians rely more on contextual and background knowledge. These contrasting cognitive patterns are explained with reference to different philosophical backgrounds, language structures, and child-rearing practices. While they are not impervious to change (Asian Americans scored midway on most tests), they express pervasive and long-lasting differences that have implications for reforming such apparently "culturally neutral" practices as IQ tests. Nisbett also surveys the advantages and disadvantages of Western and Asian thinking styles, concluding with a normative plea for mutual enrichment.

Once again, Western liberal democratic theory stands out by its apparent imperviousness to developments in East Asia and elsewhere in the non-Western world. This insularity would not be so worrisome if East Asian political traditions and practices had nothing of value and it really was just a matter of exporting Western political ways or building barriers until the non-Western world becomes more "civilized" and hence willing and able to implement Western-style liberal democratic practices.

My own view, not surprisingly, is different. I will argue that that there are morally legitimate alternatives to Western-style liberal democracy in the East Asian region. What is right for East Asians does not simply involve implementing Western-style political practices when the opportunity presents itself; it involves drawing upon East Asian political realities and cultural traditions that are defensible to contemporary East Asians. They may also be defensible to contemporary Western-style liberal democrats, in which case they may be worth learning from. But there may also be areas of conflict, in which case the Western-style liberal democrat should tolerate, if not respect, areas of justifiable difference.

In this book, I will try to show that the main hallmarks of liberal democracy-human rights, democracy, and capitalism-have been substantially modified during the course of transmission to East Asian societies that have not been shaped by liberalism to nearly the same extent. The normative argument points to the dangers of implementing Western-style models and proposes alternative justifications and practices that may be more appropriate for East Asian societies. If human rights, democracy, and capitalism are to take root and produce beneficial outcomes in East Asia, they must be adjusted to contemporary East Asian political and economic realities and to the values of nonliberal East Asian political traditions such as Confucianism and Legalism. Local knowledge is therefore essential for realistic and morally informed contributions to debates on political reform in the region, as well as for mutual learning and enrichment of political theories.

The book is divided into three sections that correspond to the main hallmarks of liberal democracy. Each section opens with a chapter that discusses the historical and philosophical roots of legitimate East Asian alternatives to Western-style human rights, democracy, and capitalism, respectively, followed by chapters that focus more directly on contemporary themes.


Excerpted from Beyond Liberal Democracy by Daniel A. Bell Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Chapter 1: Introduction: One Size Doesn't Fit All 1
The Uniquely Parochial Development of Liberal Democracy 4
Human Rights for an East Asian Context 9
Democracy for an East Asian Context 11
Capitalism for an East Asian Context 14
A Note on the Culturally Sensitive Approach to Political Theorizing 17

Part One: Human Rights for an East Asian Context

Chapter 2: Just War and Confucianism: Implications for the Contemporary World 23
The Ideal World versus the Nonideal World 24
General Confucian Principles of Good Government 31
Mencius on Just and Unjust War 35
Implications for Contemporary Societies 40

Chapter 3: Human Rights and "Values in Asia": Reflections on East-West Dialogues 52
Trade-offs and Priorities 55
Asian Justifications for Human Rights 62
Values in Asia versus Western Liberalism: Justifiable Moral Differences? 72
Cross-Cultural Dialogues on Human Rights: What Is the Point? 78

Chapter 4: The Ethical Challenges of International Human Rights NGOs: Reflections on Dialogues between Practitioners and Theorists 84
The Challenge of Cultural Conflict 87
The Challenge of Dealing with Global Poverty 92
The Challenge of Dealing with States That Restrict the Activities of INGOs 103
The Challenge of Fund-Raising 107
Implications for INGOs in East Asia 111

Part Two: Democracy for an East Asian Context

Chapter 5: What's Wrong with Active Citizenship? A Comparison of Physical Education in Ancient Greece and Ancient China 121
Two Ancient Civilizations 123
Why Compare State-Sponsored Physical Education in the Two Ancient Civilizations? 132
Political Competition and Sports Competition 134
Commercial Societies, Leisure Time, and the Pursuit of Physical Excellence 143
Implications for Contemporary East Asian Societies 146

Chapter 6: Taking Elitism Seriously: Democracy with Confucian Characteristics 152
Political Elitism and Democracy: Two Important Values 153
Institutionalizing Confucian Democracy 162

Chapter 7: Is Democracy the "Least Bad" System for Minority Groups? 180
Some Definitions 185
Democracy and Nation Building 190
Implications for Outside Prodemocracy Forces 202

Chapter 8: Democratic Education in a Multicultural Context: Lessons from Singapore 206
Singapore's Political History 207
Racism in the Classroom? 211
Inclusive Multiculturalism 215
Beyond Singapore? 218

Part Three: Capitalism for an East Asian Context

Chapter 9: Culture and Egalitarian Development: Confucian Constraints on Property Rights 231
On the Selection of Feasible and Desirable Confucian Values for Modern Societies 234
The Overriding Value of Material Welfare 237
The Value of Care for Needy Family Members 243
Exporting Confucianism? 251

Chapter 10: East Asian Capitalism for an Age of Globalization 255
East Asian Capitalism and Economic Productivity 259
East Asian Capitalism and Social Welfare 271
Implications for Public Policy 278

Chapter 11: Justice for Migrant Workers? The Case of Migrant Domestic Workers in East Asia 281
The Political Concerns of Foreign Domestic Workers in Hong Kong and Singapore 283
Should Foreign Domestic Workers Be Given Equal Rights? 290
The Role of Culture 305
Migrant Domestic Workers in Mainland China 313

Chapter 12: Responses to Critics: The Real and the Ideal 323

Selected Bibliography 343
Index 369

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