The notion that if democracy is to flourish in East Asia it must be realized in ways that are compatible with East Asian’s Confucian norms or values is a staple conviction of Confucian scholarship. I suggest two reasons why it is unlikely and even undesirable for such a Confucianized democracy to emerge. First, 19th- and 20th-century modernization swept away or weakened the institutions which had transmitted Confucian practices in the past, undermining claims that there is an enduring Confucian communitarian or cultural heritage today that democratic institutions have to adapt themselves to—or that a Confucian cultural spirit can be revived. Second, 20th-century East Asian statist regimes rationalized Confucianism for national ideologies meant to bind their citizens’ loyalties to developmentalist goals. Memories of this now delegitimized, statist Confucianism have contributed to the further marginalization of Confucian norms, and to their dissociation from democratic values, in today’s pluralistic democracies in East Asia. This essay argues that a Confucian conviction politics developed within the frame of East Asia’s actually existing liberal democracies provides a better course for advocates of Confucianism in democratic politics.
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