Authors
Sandra Leonie Field
Yale-NUS College
Abstract
At the centre of Powers' (2019) China and England is an extraordinary forgotten episode in the history of political ideas. There was a time when English radicals critiqued the corruption and injustice of the English political system by contrasting it with the superior example of China. There was a time when they advocated adopting a Chinese conceptual framework for thinking about politics. So dominant and prevalent was the English radicals' use of this framework, that their opponents took to dismissing their points as 'the argument from the Chinese'. In my review of Powers' book, I welcome the profound reconfiguration of our political understandings that knowledge of this historical episode brings. However, I question Powers' framing presumption that the generic problems of any complex society lead to convergence on a single master political value of 'social justice'. Surely there are deep and enduring differences amongst thinkers of political value, even within a single society, let alone across different societies. Taking this point seriously would challenge the simple linear directionality of Powers' story of moral and political progress.
Keywords social justice  'the argument from the Chinese'  meritocracy  Whig history
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