Early Confucian Concept of Yi (议)and Deliberative Democracy

Political Theory 42 (1):82-105 (2014)
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Contributors to the debates about the compatibility of Confucianism and democracy and its implications for China’s democratization often adopt definitions of democracy that theories of deliberative democracy are critical of. Attention to deliberative democracy is timely given its importance in democratic discourses and recent experiments in “deliberative” or “consultative” democracy in China. Would Confucian understanding of political deliberation help or hinder deliberative democracy? This essay compares the concept of yi in the early Confucian texts with a contemporary concept of democratic deliberation. The differences between the concept of yi in early Confucian texts and the concept of democratic deliberation show that the presence of deliberation, even when they meet stringent norms, does not guarantee that the politics would be democratic. Rather, the political environment and processes must be democratized for deliberation to be democratic. This comparative study considers how the similarities between two concepts, and other aspects of Confucian philosophy might be deployed to close the gap between early Confucian view of ideal government and deliberative democracy. At the same time, it does not simply embrace all aspects of the chosen democratic theory, but argues that Confucian deliberative democracy may differ significantly, for example, in approaching politics from the perspective of a comprehensive ethical theory. In doing so, it offers a different conception of deliberative democracy and shows how the chosen theory is limited by certain assumptions specific to its own context and that the understanding of deliberative democracy needs to be expanded and modified to approach genuine universalism.



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