Joseph Chan on Confucianism and Democracy

In IS210 today, we viewed a short clip from this interesting lecture by Professor Joseph Chan given at Cornell University. Professor Chan of the University of Hong Kong talks about the shared moral basis of contemporary Chinese society. With Leninism/Marxism/Maoism being discredited amongst most Chinese, the search begins for a new moral basis/foundation for society.

As Professor Dick Miller says in his introductory remarks:

In China, as in the United States, people feel a great need for an adequate, shared, ethical basis for public life. There, as here, people don’t think that freedom to get as rich as you can is an adequate basis.

So, what is that basis, if the official ruling ideology of the political regime no longer seems legitimate. Liberal democracy? Confucianism. There are adherents in China of both of these as the proper ethical foundation. What does Professor Chan have to say about the compatibility of Confucian ideals with democracy? Watch and find out. It’s a very informative lecture.

Development and Underdevelopment–the Commanding Heights

We addressed the topic of development and underdevelopment in POLI 1100 this week. Amongst the many issues covered, we started to explore some of the alleged causes of economic growth and development. Why is there still such disparity in income and economic growth around the world, not only between countries, but within? Why have countries in the global “South” lagged behind, for the most part, their counterparts in the global “North”? There are various answers to this question and we addressed a couple of them in class. I showed clips from a fantastic documentary series put together by PBS, called (and based on the book of the same name) The Commanding Heights. All the information you’ll need is at the PBS website. Fortunately, each of the three 2-hour episodes has also been uploaded (in its entirety) to the Internet. From the narration at the beginning of the first episode, we learn that

This is the story of how the new global economy was born. A century-long battle as to which would control the commanding heights of the world’s economies–governments or markets.

I encourage you to watch all three episodes.


Dependency Theory and Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI)

PBS broadcast a tremendously informative series called Commanding Heights, which took a look at the the battle over the world’s political economy during the 20th century.  Below you’ll find a portion of the episode on Latin America, which has been uploaded to You Tube.  The clip below explains the concept of dependency theory–the theoretical impetus behind the establishment of the political economic institution of import-substitution-industrialization (ISI).  Unfortunately, ISI did not work very well in practice, and Moises Naim–the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, explains why in the clip below.

P.S. “The Chicago Boys” were not Michael, Scotty, and Phil. 🙂

What are the Fundamental Tenets of Confucianism…Culture as Destiny?

Over the past few weeks, we have addressed the debate regarding the relative explanatory power of cultural versus institutional and rational choice approaches to the analysis of political phenomena.  In the book excerpt, “A Brief History of Human Liberty,” Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria analyzes the cultural argument regarding economic growth and democracy. He quotes the former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew:

“…if you want to see how culture works, compare the performance of German workers and Zambian workers anywhere in the world.  You will quickly come to the conclusion that there is something very different in the two cultures that explains the results.”

Zakaria has some sympathy for this argument, but then argues that it is strange that Lee Kuan Yew is such a strong proponent of cultural arguments* given that while Singapore is culturally very similar to its neighbor, Malaysia, Singapore has been much more effective in its economic policies than has its neighbor.  In fact, I would add that a strong argument against cultural explanations of democracy and economic development are the differences between East Germany and West Germany (in the post-WWII-era until unification) and the present difference between North and South Korea.

The 38th parallel may be just a line on a map, and the division of the nation of Korea into two separate states may be a historically contingent act, but it demonstrates the tremendously powerful impact of institutions on a society.  South Korea was able to develop good political and economic institutions, while North Korea has not.  The cultural foundation of each state was similar (although I’m not an expert on Korea, so maybe there was a cultural difference between the “north” and the “south” that can account for the vast differences in the two states today–although I’m highly skeptical) before the division and we know, in a methodological sense, that a constant can not explain an outcome that varies.

Getting back to Zakaria and Lee Yuan Kew, Zakaria writes that

“the key to Singapore’s success…is Lee Kuan Yew, not Confucius.  The point is not that culture is unimportant; on the contrary it matters greatly…But culture can change…A hundred years ago, when East Asia seemed immutably poor, many scholars–most famously Max Weber [we’ve read his Protestant Ethic argument]–argued that Confucian-based cultures discouraged all the attributes necessary for success in capitalism…A decade ago, when East Asia was booming, scholars had turned this explanation on its head, arguing that Confucianism actually emphasized the traits essential for economic dynamism. Today the wheel has turned again and many see in ‘Asian values’ all the ingredients of crony capitalism.”‘

What are these Confucian and ‘Asian values’ about which there has been so much discussion.  Well, needless to say Asia is a vast land mass, with exceedingly high levels of diversity–culturally, linguistically, religiously, racially, etc.  So the concept of ‘Asian values’ may be so amorphous as to  Confucianism, however, is a distinct and compact body of ideas that has a comprehensive philosophical foundation.  What are Confucian values, then and do they help or hinder China’s precarious journey towards democracy and economic development?  Well, here’s an answer from political philosopher Daniel Bell, who insists that ultimately, Confucianism is about three core values.  What are these?  Listen to the first ten minutes of the audio podcast from this episode of “On Point.”  Here’s a link to the URL on which you can find an archived version of the show.

**Here, it should be noted that a reason Lee Kuan Yew is strongly predisposed to arguing on the basis of culture is his contempt for the licentiousness of Western values and his desire to prevent demands for those kinds of freedoms (as long as political liberty) to take root in the strongly authoritarian state of Singapore.  Just read his statements during the infamous Michael Fay incident.

It wasn’t long before Singapore patriarch Lee Kuan Yew weighed in. He reckoned the whole affair revealed America’s moral decay. “The U.S. government, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. media took the opportunity to ridicule us, saying the sentence was too severe,” he said in a television interview. “[The U.S.] does not restrain or punish individuals, forgiving them for whatever they have done. That’s why the whole country is in chaos: drugs, violence, unemployment and homelessness. The American society is the richest and most prosperous in the world but it is hardly safe and peaceful.”

Here’s another story on the incident.

Monty Python’s take on Constitutional Government

I am a huge fan of the British sketch comedy group Monty Python.  For a political science professor, this clip is like politico-comedic gold.  Here is Dennis the peasant’s views on democratic legitimacy, the proper role of popular mandates in the wielding of supreme executive power, and a sarcastic critique of socialist critiques of liberal capitalism (“oh, there you go bringing class into it again!”).  And remember, “you don’t vote for kings.”