Confucianism for the Modern World

Confucianism for the Modern World

Confucianism for the Modern World

Confucianism for the Modern World

Synopsis

While Confucian ideals continue to inspire thinkers and political actors, discussions of Confucian practices and institutions appropriate for the modern era have been conspicuously absent. This volume discloses in meticulous detail the relevance of Confucianism to the contemporary world. Contributions by internationally renowned philosophers, lawyers, historians, and social scientists argue for feasible and desirable Confucian policies and institutions, as they draw out the political, economic, and legal implications of Confucianism for the modern world.

Excerpt

Confucians have long been preoccupied with social and political change. According to the standard account, Master Kong (Latinized name: Confucius; c. 551–479 b.c.) left his native state of Lu, hoping to find a ruler more receptive to his ideas about good government. Unfortunately, Confucius did not have any luck, and he was forced to settle for a life of teaching. Several generations later, a student in the academic lineage of Confucius's grandson named Master Meng (Latinized name: Mencius: c. 390–305 b.c.) committed himself to spreading Confucius's social and political ideas. Like the old master, Mencius moved from state to state, looking for opportunities to put his political ideals into practice. Mencius had slightly more success–he served briefly as Minister of the State of Qi–but he became disenchanted with political life and reluctantly settled for a teaching career.

Several hundred years later, however, the social and political ideas of Confucius and Mencius–as recorded in The Analects of Confucius and The Works of Mencius–proved to be literally world transforming. Following a shortlived experience with Legalism, the newly founded Chinese state of Han adopted Confucianism as its official ideology. For the next two thousand years, the country's best minds sought to interpret and modify Confucianism to make it more relevant in particular situations with novel features. By the late nineteenth century, the whole East Asian region was thoroughly “Confucianized. ” That is, Confucian values and practices informed the daily lives of people in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, and whole systems of government were justified with reference to Confucian ideals.

Since the advent of modernity in the latter half of the nineteenth century, however, Confucianism has fared less well. Max Weber, one of the earliest scholars to devote serious attention to the relationship between Confucianism and modernity, singled out Confucianism among the major “world religions” as the least conducive to capitalist development. East Asians, for their part, began to condemn this venerable tradition as they deepened their . . .

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