In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Public Reason Confucianism: Democratic Perfectionism and Constitutionalism in East Asia by Sungmoon Kim
  • Paul J. D'Ambrosio1 (bio)
Public Reason Confucianism: Democratic Perfectionism and Constitutionalism in East Asia. By Sungmoon Kim. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Pp. ix + 276. Hardcover $99.00, ISBN 978-1-107-10622-2.

Sungmoon Kim's Public Reason Confucianism: Democratic Perfectionism and Constitutionalism in East Asia offers new perspectives and an innovative alternative to one of the most important philosophical and political discussions concerning East Asia today. As in the prequel, Confucian Democracy in East Asia: Theory and Practice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), arguments provided by Kim are well researched and engage extensively with major theories in the current debate. In this book, Kim is mainly in dialogue with the works of Daniel Bell, Joseph Chan, Jonathan Quong, John Rawls, and Joseph Raz. Both in terms of the content and structure, Public Reason Confucianism is systematic, neatly organized, tight, and crisp. Striking a tricky balance between summarizing relevant theories and developing his own responses, Kim's book is generally accessible to non-experts of political thought, while at the same time being mainly geared towards those familiar with this discussion. It is not, however, intended for an audience unfamiliar with Confucianism.

The title and subtitle already portray what Kim is advocating, namely a democratic perfectionism styled by certain Confucian values (most prominently filial piety). Democracy is defined here as "collective self-government of free and equal citizens" (p. 18). Accordingly, democratic perfectionism refers to "the public promotion of particular cultural values in the service of democratic citizenship under the normative constraints of core democratic principles" (p. 18). Kim's Confucian perfectionism is not, however, simply a comprehensive perfectionism; it operates in harmony with pluralism through its unique adoption of the Confucian way of life and the particular type of democracy Kim endorses. The point here is somewhat complex, and Kim revisits it repeatedly throughout the book. Perhaps the clearest articulation is found in Chapter 4, and defined (as is often the case in Public Reason Confucianism) in contrast to Joseph Chan's moderate Confucian perfectionism:

Unlike Chan's moderate Confucian perfectionism, public reason Confucianism is not merely concerned with certain items—traits, characters, or relationships—that are affirmed as Confucian (in light of classical Confucian texts) but are clearly severed from a particular mode of the Confucian way of life. Rather, it is concerned with a Confucian way [End Page 1] of life, but one affiliated with values socially adapted to democratic institutions as well as value pluralism. The partially of the comprehensiveness of public reason Confucianism derives from such social conditioning to which (comprehensive) Confucianism has to adapt itself (pp. 139-140).

Confucianism is non-traditional in the sense that it is not taken as a fixed set of values. That puts Kim very much in line with the actual records of Confucius's sayings in the Analects (9.3). Thus constitutionalism and public reason play an essential role in Kim's project.

"Public reason Confucianism" is a subset of both Confucian democratic perfectionism and public reason perfectionism. It refers to specific normative premises, such as the "Confucian way of life" and core Confucian virtues, as well as sociological ones. These include the rejection of monarchies, the breakdown of social classes, and pluralism. Accordingly, people from diverse backgrounds can accept Confucian values.

In the introduction, and throughout the book, Kim rejects meritocracy, though he acknowledges that Confucian democratic perfectionism is "inspired by" (but distinct from) Confucian meritocratic perfectionism (p. 16). Kim mainly opposes meritocracy for its elitism, which is given only superficial treatment, especially in light of Daniel Bell's recent defense in The China Model (Princeton University Press, 2015). In terms of Kim's overall project, however, The China Model is somewhat irrelevant. Kim is looking at East Asia writ large, and is especially focused on Taiwan and South Korea—places where democracy is already deeply rooted in society. Indeed Public Reason Confucianism also serves to inform readers about politics in South Korea today. Kim's proposal is then, in some sense, situated between Confucian perfectionism and liberal democracy. As he admits,

The product of such complex processes...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1-5
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.