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Reviewed by:
  • Confucianisms for a Changing World Cultural Order ed. by Roger T. Ames and Peter D. Hershock
  • Bart Dessein
Roger T. Ames and Peter D. Hershock, eds., Confucianisms for a Changing World Cultural Order. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press: East-West Center, 2018. vi, 277 pp. US$65 (hb). ISBN 9780824872588

As its title indicates, this edited volume addresses three interrelated concepts: world cultural order, change, and Confucianisms (in the plural). The question the fifteen essays of this volume try to answer is more precisely how Confucianism in its different forms and interpretations may contribute to formulating an alternative for what Michael Nylan in her contribution, “Whither Confucius? Whither Philosophy?”, defined as “the vice of the vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness” (p. 205) that characterizes the world in the age of global capitalism.

In the first part of this volume, “Confucianisms in a Changing World Cultural Order,” a general critique of neoliberalism is formulated, and two alternative social orders—an all-inclusive religious community and a restrictive Confucian community—are presented. The second part, “Different Confucianisms,” juxtaposes neoliberalism and East Asian Confucianisms. The third part, “Clarifying Confucian Values,” attempts to define core Confucian values that might contribute to the creation of a new global cultural paradigm. Reflecting on East Asia’s Confucian past, the fourth and last part of the volume, “Limitations and the Critical Reform of Confucian Cultures,” reflects on the limits of a Confucian world order.

In “Rethinking Confucianism’s Relationship to Global Capitalism: Some Philosophical Reflections for a Confucian Critique of Global Capitalism,” Sor-hoon Tan formulates a critique of the neoliberal order based on the early Confucian conviction that the state should take care of everyone’s basic material needs, which is more important than an increase in economic production to the profit of a few and the detriment of many, as well as of education of the people (pp. 11–12). This viewpoint can be read in Lunyu 論語 13.9 and 16.1, or in Mengzi 孟子 3A3. This reference to early Confucianism can also be read as a critique of contemporary China. Its professed return to Confucianism notwithstanding, the road of global capitalism the country has taken has brought about increasing social disparity, ecological problems, and grassroots distrust in politics. It is in this respect striking that while a development toward the rise of capitalism and individualism may not have happened in Confucian China,1 it appears that, as stated by Sor-hoon [End Page 87] Tan (p. 10), “[e]ven though Confucianism failed to bring about capitalism, it has proven conducive to capitalism once countries enter that system.”2

This critique of neoliberalism is shared by Lee Seung-Hwan in “Confucianism as an Antidote for the Liberal Self-Centeredness: A Dialogue between Confucianism and Liberalism,” which equates “[t]he Confucian emphasis on placing common good before self-interest, and communal harmony before individual rights” with Marx’s criticism of bourgeois “rights-talk” (p. 38). This observation is in line with the distinction Fei Xiaotong 費孝通 drew elsewhere between a Confucian society, and capitalist and individualist European societies. The interrelatedness of human agency in a Confucian society necessitates attention to communal harmony and the common good. In individualist European societies, on the contrary, human behavior is typically seen as motivated by self-interest.3

As an alternative to the neoliberal order, Peter Y. J. Wong’s “Toward Religious Harmony: A Confucian Contribution” posits a world order in which “[o]ur understanding of Religion expands beyond identification with a particular religion,” because only “then we can begin to explore the kind of religiousness of the ordinary . . . the development of a religious culture that is accommodating enough to include most religions, which are themselves in turn open enough” (p. 50). A different alternative is suggested by Zhang Xianglong in “The Special District of Confucian Culture, the Amish Community, and the Confucian Pre-Qin Political Heritage” in which he calls for “Special Districts of Confucian Culture” (p. 58).

The critique that is formulated of the neoliberal order and the ideal societies that are proposed by Peter Y. J. Wong and Zhang Xianglong bring the “growing contemporary relevance” of Confucianism (“Introduction,” p...


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