Is liberal democracy appropriate for East Asia? In this provocative book, Daniel Bell argues for morally legitimate alternatives to Western-style liberal democracy in the region. Beyond Liberal Democracy, which continues the author's influential earlier work, is divided into three parts that correspond to the three main hallmarks of liberal democracy--human rights, democracy, and capitalism. These features have been modified substantially during their transmission to East Asian societies that have been shaped by nonliberal practices and values. Bell 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, Bell argues, 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.
Beyond Liberal Democracy is indispensable reading for students and scholars of political theory, Asian studies, and human rights, as well as anyone concerned about China's political and economic future and how Western governments and organizations should engage with China.
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Princeton University Press
July 23, 2006
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Excerpt from Beyond Liberal Democracy by Daniel A. Bell
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 the liberal 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."1 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.