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Epistemic Elitism, Paternalism and Confucian Democracy ( in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy)

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This paper brings a fresh, epistemic perspective to bear on prominent Confucian philosophers’ arguments for a hybrid Deweyan-Confucian democracy, or for an illiberal democracy with “Confucian characteristics”. Reconstructing principles for epistemic
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  Epistemic Elitism, Paternalism and Confucian Democracy Shaun O ‟ Dwyer Meiji University, Tokyo) Forthcoming in Dao A Journal of Comparative Philosophy Abstract This paper brings a fresh, epistemic perspective to bear on prominent Confucian philosophers‟ arguments for a hybrid Deweyan-Confucian democracy, or for an illiberal democracy with “Confucian characteristics”. Reconstructing principles for epistemic elitism and paternalism from the pre-Qin Confucian thought that inspires these advocates for Confucian democracy, it finds two major problems with their proposals. For those who abandon or modify this epistemic elitism and paternalism, the result is a philosophical syncretism that is either unconvincingly Confucian or unconvincingly Deweyan. For those who retain it more fully, the result is an illiberal democratic proposal that will probably lack legitimacy in increasingly pluralistic East Asian societies. In the end, there is a need for blended eastern and western philosophical perspectives in a politically changing East Asia, but they would benefit from being less “Confucian”.  Keywords: Confucius Mencius Confucian democracy Epistemic elitism Epistemic paternalism 1.   Introduction   An interesting feature of English language discussion of Confucian thought is the range of arguments it has fielded for the compatibility between Confucianism and democracy. Some philosophers are trying to convince English-speaking audiences of this compatibility with blueprints for non-liberal democratic institutions which are adapted to the Confucian, communitarian traditions of East Asian countries. Others, alluding to the great liberal-communitarian debate in western political philosophy, argue that Confucian influenced democratic practices and values could be viable alternatives to liberal democracy. Representative of the former group is Daniel Bell‟s suggestion for a representative democracy “ with Confucian characteristics ”  in China, featuring an upper house of unelected officials of demonstrated moral and intellectual merit (Bell 1999, 2006a, 2006b, 2009). Representative of the latter group are thinkers such as David Hall and Roger Ames (1999; Ames 2003) and TAN Sor Hoon (2003, 2012) who see common cause between classical Confucian ideals of moral cultivation and perfectionism in governance, and the more communitarian democratic ideas of western philosophers such as John Dewey. Taking inspiration from Thomas Metzger (2005: 31) I propose a fresh, epistemic   critical perspective on arguments for Confucian democracy. This perspective highlights the  epistemically elitist and paternalistic division of labour that pre-Qin Confucianism posits for governance: between leaders whose moral and intellectual cultivation qualifies them both to rule and to  know the good of those whom they rule,   and the masses who are ruled by them. Insofar as some contemporary Confucians reject or modify this division of labour in forging an alliance with Deweyan political philosophy, it must be asked whether the resulting philosophical syncretism retains recognizably Confucian or Deweyan partners. Insofar as this division of labour is accepted in other proposals for Confucian democracy, serious questions arise over their potential legitimacy in contemporary East Asia. 2.   Epistemic Elitism and Paternalism in Pre-Qin Confucian Thought   A common thread running through English language discussion of Confucian political philosophy over the past 25 years is this. Economic and social modernization are advancing rapidly in East Asian societies, and their most important moral tradition, Confucianism, has been under attack for over a century by eastern and western critics, who have seen it as an obstacle to modernization. However, contemporary Confucian philosophers such as TU Wei-ming (1990, 2000) argue that this same tradition has helped shepherd East Asian modernization while ameliorating its negative effects, including egoism and materialism, income inequalities, social injustice and neglect of the vulnerable and the aged. The difficult task is to identify which aspects of Confucian tradition can be, or already have been, successfully adapted to manage modernizing conditions in East Asian societies, while at the same time being compatible with the growing democratic sensibilities of East Asians. One avenue for developing a Confucian democratic philosophy adopted by a recent generation of Confucian scholars writing in English (Bell 1999, 2006a, Hall and Ames 1999, Tan 2003) is to return to the pre-Qin era Confucian texts of Confucius and Mencius, which are untainted by later, legalist interpellations and by the state ideology that Confucianism became during the Han and later dynasties. The emphasis these works place on the importance of minimally coercive, mutually beneficial human relations as schools of moral cultivation, and on humaneness and merit (rather than birthright or might) as sources of legitimacy in governance, suggests some compatibility with democratic practices. Here, however, I am interested in whether existent notions of “ Confucian- inspired”  democracy are politically viable in contemporary East Asia and philosophically persuasive. In order to test for that viability and persuasiveness, I will first reconstruct three principles for elitist and paternalistic governance from Mencius and then evaluate how much they are accommodated by different advocates of Confucian democracy today. Book 3 of the Mencius   famously refutes a contemporary thinker with Mencius, HSU Hsing, who argued that rulers share in the physical labour of their subjects  –   and that there be no  division of labour between rulers and ruled. Mencius invoked the precedents of past exemplary rulers and their ministers to justify a division of labour in political activity which had already been hinted at by Confucius (  Analects  :   4.11): “In the time of  Yao, the Empire was not yet settled. The Flood still raged unchecked, inundating the Empire; plants grew thickly, birds and beasts multiplied; the five grains did not open; birds and beasts encroached on men...The lot fell to Yao to worry about this situation. He raised Shun to a position of authority to deal with it. Shun put Yi in charge of fire. Yi set the mountains and valleys alight and burnt them, and the birds and beasts went into hiding. Yu dredged the Nine rivers, cleared the courses of the Chi and the T‟a to channel the water into the Sea, deepened the beds of the Ju and the Han, and raised the dykes of the Huai and the Ssu to empty them into the River. Only then were the people of the Central Kingdoms able to find food for themselves”.  After noting how improved methods of cultivation introduced by the minister Hou Chi led to increased population and inadvertently to degeneracy and idleness, Mencius added that Yao “appointed Hsieh as Minister of Education whose responsibility was to teach the peop le human relationships: love between father and son, duty between ruler and subject, distinction between husband and wife, precedence of the old over the young, and faith be tween friends” ( Mencius  : 3A4). In this passage Mencius asserts the legitimacy of rule by an intellectual and moral elite  –   a legitimacy grounded in their ability to master and engineer physical nature for the human good, and in their ability to rectify human nature through inculcation of the five human relationships ( wulun  ) and their associated obligations and virtues. We can note in passing the sophisticated argument by analogy behind the claim “that those who use their minds...rule” and “those who use their muscles...are ruled”. Hsu Hsing‟s doctrine of individual self- sufficiency in the production of goods required the “wise ruler to share the work of tilling the land with his people” ( Mencius  : 3A4). Against this, Mencius observed both that it was practically impossible for anyone, including Hsu Hsing, to be entirely self-sufficient in producing goods for their own needs. There is greater efficiency in the production and distribution of goods in a society where there is a division of labour between specialists in crafts and specialists in agriculture, who trade their products with one another. If everyone followed Hsu Hsing‟s doctrines, “the Empire (would) be led along the path of incessant toil”. Just as efficiency in the production and distribution of goods is made possible by a division of labour and specialization, so also the efficient rule of empires  requires a class of morally and intellectually qualified specialists who rule, separate from those “who are ruled” and who support the rulers with their labour. Mencius ‟  argument for elite governance compliments Confucius ‟  earlier assertion that those who “hold no rank in a state do not discuss its policies”  (  Analects  :   8.14). Confucius justified his exclusion of commoners from political deliberation through appeal to the ideals of social stability and centralization in governance, in accordance with the heavenly mandate ( Tianming  ) for rulers: “ When the way prevails under heaven, policy is not decided by Ministers; when the way prevails under heaven, commoners ( shuuren  ) do not discuss public affairs ”  (  Analects  : 16.2). Confucius made ominously clear what would happen if the wrong people usurped the policy-making powers which properly belong to the rulers of a centralized state. In such circumstances “ the way does not prevail ” , the mandate of Heaven is withdrawn and both dynasties and usurpers soon fall. This raises the awkward question of how itinerant scholars like Confucius or Mencius could claim for themselves the privilege of speaking out on public affairs in the times when they were not holding any political office. Perhaps their argument would be that in times when the way does not prevail (and Confucius and Mencius certainly thought it did not prevail in their times), morally and intellectually qualified commoners such as exemplary persons (  junzi  )   not only can, but also must speak out on public affairs in urging its restoration. We can summarise the principle for Confucian Elite Governance (CEG) thus: Governance is most efficient, most able to preserve social order and in accordance with the Mandate of Heaven where there is a division of labour between those who, through demonstrated moral and intellectual excellence, are qualified to deliberate and rule for the public good, and those who are not qualified, and who are ruled. CEG grounds what can be termed a  perfectionist conception of governance, in which it is the duty of rulers to promote the moral good of citizens or subjects. However, CEG does not make clear by itself what justification there is for believing that morally and intellectually excellent elite deliberators can know the public good and therefore deliberate effectively for it without much informational input from those whom they rule over  –   who, after all, have little or no say in public affairs. It does not furnish the epistemic grounds for thinking that such a division in intellectual labour in governance will be effective. We should also note also that this perfectionism promotes a comprehensive conception of the good. It is comprehensive in John Rawl s‟  sense of the word because it seeks, with the aid of a  tradition of thought teaching the five primary relationships, the authoritative pronouncements of sages and the practice of rites, to rank and prescribe coherently values that are to be upheld in all spheres of human life (see Chan 2000: 13, 17, Rawls 1996: 12-13, 59). It is comprehensive in the additional sense that its goal is the conformity of all citizens to “ the way ”  exemplarily demonstrated by sage rulers and  junzi,  and because it is intolerant of rival doctrines that teach different conceptions of the way (Chan 2002: 295, Rawls 1996: 37). Knowledge of the tradition which so comprehensively ranks values and knowledge of how to uphold them in context-sensitive ways is no easy achievement. Thomas Metzger (1998: 7-8, 2005: 21-31 ) has pointed to a traditional “epistemic optimism” in Chinese society regarding the capacity of elite deliberators to know the good of those on whose behalf they are deliberating, and to know the most effective means for exemplifying that good; and about the efficacy of means (such as rigorous public service examinations) for identifying such intellectually and morally excellent deliberators. Yet he is highly skeptical about the capacity of such elites to live up to this epistemic optimism in actual governance (1998: 15). In an analysis of status conflict in post-war Japanese society, political scientist Susan Pharr argues that in certain types of cultural circumstances elite deliberators may be capable of knowing and securing the good of the masses subject to their rule (as that good is understood by both), without requiring much of their informational input.  Pharr writes the following about the governing methods of Japan‟s bureaucratic managers , business and political leaders in the post-1960 era of economic prosperity: “ the cultural homogeneity of Japan is an important asset to authorities in carrying out their mandate. In a society where elites are not expected to be directly responsive to the public and where the direct articulation of grievances by social subordinates is discouraged, this homogeneity enables elites to understand and anticipate the needs of those subject to their authority” (Pharr 199 0: 222). On this argument, the capacity of elite governments and bureaucracies to rule effectively without much   informational input from their subordinates relies upon cultural homogeneity in values. Such homogeneity limits the range of needs, discontents and expectations which superiors could conceivably have to know   and anticipate from subordinates in well-functioning, stable hierarchical relationships. Mencius‟ description of the benevolent ruler who knows intimately the “business of the people” and the agricultural, taxation and educational policies needed to ensure their constancy
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