Confucian Perfectionism:
A Political Philosophy for Modern Times
Joseph Chan

Paperback | December 2015 | $24.95 | £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691168166
272 pp. | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Hardcover | 2013 | $35.00 | ($24.50) / £24.95 | (£17.47) | ISBN: 9780691158617
272 pp. | 6 x 9
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Since the very beginning, Confucianism has been troubled by a serious gap between its political ideals and the reality of societal circumstances. Contemporary Confucians must develop a viable method of governance that can retain the spirit of the Confucian ideal while tackling problems arising from nonideal modern situations. The best way to meet this challenge, Joseph Chan argues, is to adopt liberal democratic institutions that are shaped by the Confucian conception of the good rather than the liberal conception of the right.

Confucian Perfectionism examines and reconstructs both Confucian political thought and liberal democratic institutions, blending them to form a new Confucian political philosophy. Chan decouples liberal democratic institutions from their popular liberal philosophical foundations in fundamental moral rights, such as popular sovereignty, political equality, and individual sovereignty. Instead, he grounds them on Confucian principles and redefines their roles and functions, thus mixing Confucianism with liberal democratic institutions in a way that strengthens both. Then he explores the implications of this new yet traditional political philosophy for fundamental issues in modern politics, including authority, democracy, human rights, civil liberties, and social justice.

Confucian Perfectionism critically reconfigures the Confucian political philosophy of the classical period for the contemporary era.

Joseph Chan is a professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong.


"[T]he political vision that emerges from the pages of this book is reasonable, humane and inspiring."--Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Chan has created a very interesting work in the Confucian tradition of revival and reinterpretations for current times."--Choice

"[This book is] at the forefront of contemporary attempts to grapple with the normative and empirical issues presented by East Asian politics and the relationship of those issues with democracy. [It] supplies important insights into, and reasons for, considering alternatives to liberal democracy, but also raises equally important questions and problems related to those alternatives."--David J. Lorenzo, Perspectives on Politics

"Joseph Chan’s book is an exceptionally ambitious yet moderate reconstruction of Confucianism for such an inhospitable world and, as such, it is important both in its own right and as an exemplar of a steadily expanding normative enterprise."--Jiwei Ci, Dao

"Chan’s writing is very clear and wellstructured. His arguments and in-depth analysis of issues shows that he has a thorough understanding of the strengths and limitations of both western liberal democracy and ancient Confucianism."--Andrew T.W. Hung, European Political Science


"This splendid book makes a powerful case that Confucianism has much to contribute to contemporary political thought and practice the world over. With clear and careful argumentation, Chan shows that Confucian perfectionist ideals retain their attractiveness in the present day and that new kinds of institutions are needed to best realize these ideals in our modern world."--Stephen C. Angle, Wesleyan University

"Joseph Chan is one of the most sophisticated and insightful people working not only to understand traditional Confucian political philosophy but also to develop it as a powerful and attractive view for the modern world."--Philip J. Ivanhoe, City University of Hong Kong

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Table of Contents:

Foreword by Series Editor ix
Preface xi
Introduction. Interplay between the Political Ideal and Reality 1
PART I. Political Authority and Institution 25
Chapter 1. What Is Political Authority? 27
Chapter 2. Monism or Limited Government? 46
Chapter 3. The Role of Institution 65
Chapter 4. Mixing Confucianism and Democracy 81
PART II. Rights, Liberties, and Justice 111
Chapter 5. Human Rights as a Fallback Apparatus 113
Chapter 6. Individual Autonomy and Civil Liberties 131
Chapter 7. Social Justice as Sufficiency for All 160
Chapter 8. Social Welfare and Care 178
Conclusion. Confucian Political Perfectionism 191
Appendix 1: Notes on Scope and Methods 205
Appendix 2: Against the Ownership Conception of Authority 213
Bibliography 233
Index 247


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