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Title: Political legitimacy, representation, and confucian Virtue
Author: Lee, K. H.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis first examines the compatibility of political development and Confucian traditional thought in East Asia, and South Korea in particular, and then suggests an alternative methodology for the study of political theory in regards to culture. In order to accomplish these goals, this research focuses on three concepts: legitimacy, representation, and Confucian virtue. This research proposes political legitimacy as the most fundamental basis in the study of the relationship between political development and culture. Legitimacy is essential in every government and cannot be borrowed externally. Rather, it must be established through the practices and customs of the people and thus, involves culture. From this view, Confucian traditional thought should be considered the foundation of political development in Confucian East Asia. In most cases in modern politics, representation is the only legitimate form of democratic governments. While in principle, representation seems to conflict with democracy, in the sense that not all people participate in the decision-making procedure and representatives are required to have some level of competence, in modern representative democracy, it has been accepted as reasonable by the people. This is possible through an epistemic understanding of democracy whereby democracy is regarded as a system in which people pursue better decisions. Although the concepts of representation and democracy conflict, and the linking of the two in representative democracy shows the double-sided characteristics of representation, this double-sidedness emerges from the conceptual nature of representation in politics—the representation of the people’s interest and will. While representation of will seems to be the intrinsic element in the democratic principle of equality, the epistemic understanding of modern representative democracy implies that the representation of the people’s interest is also important. Based on this view of representative democracy, this thesis argues that Confucian representative theory, that only good people make good representatives, is not in conflict with modern representative democracy. It is often alleged that Confucian virtues do not coincide with the virtues required for modern democracy, even though representative democracy also demands competence in its representatives. However, Confucian virtue is based on the theory of conditional government founded on the Mandate of Heaven. This idea of limited government requires rulers to hear and to respect the people because Heaven only speaks and hears through the people. Therefore, the concepts that are regarded as essential in representative democracy - responsibility, responsiveness, and cooperation - are also important elements in Confucian representative theory, both in principle and practice. The coherence of virtue, one of the characteristics of Confucianism, is not unique to Confucian East Asia. The concept that integrated virtue is necessary in a good representative can also be found in western tradition. Some western theorists have been interested in this topic in regards to whether the good representative in reference to virtue is relevant in modern democracy. For this reason, there seems to be no reason to deny the Confucian view of the virtue of a representative in regards to the coherence of virtue. Although this thesis mainly discusses democratic legitimacy and Confucian virtue, one of the most important implications of this research is the existing methodology used in the comparative research of political theory. This thesis suggests the concept of legitimacy as the foundation of comparative political theory study. Second, this research argues that in comparative political theory research, it is necessary to focus on practice as the accumulation of the people’s behaviours in belief-systems, rather than formal institutions. Third, this thesis proposes that there is a need to find and use more neutral concepts for comparative study, such as representation, which is common in both modern western democracy and Confucian traditional thought. In such neutral categories, an interactive understanding is conceivable in any political system. First, this thesis argues that comparative research of political theory, particularly of different cultures, should start from an understanding of the nature of political legitimacy. This suggests that there should be relative conceptions in political theory and that they should be distinguished from others. For example, while the framework of legitimacy as a belief-system may be common to every government, the contents of the belief-systems are varied, insofar as the way of life is different in different societies. In the same way, though democracy is the only legitimate system of politics, there are varied forms of electoral systems, party systems, and government systems. Second, this thesis suggests that if politics are to be understood in the relationship between legitimacy and culture at a radical level, the practice and custom of the people in each belief-system must also be examined, since legitimacy cannot directly or automatically be established through institutions, nor can it be borrowed from institutions. Although institutions can be established by cultural aliens, a procedure of legitimation created through the practices of the people themselves is necessary. Without practice, the institution cannot be a foundation of political legitimacy. If we focus on institutional aspects, especially those based on the standards of modern values, the comparison may become an unfair one since modern values must be conceptualized in the West first. For this reason, it is necessary to examine the contextual understanding of practice and custom within the belief-system. Third, existing research on different systems of political thought frequently seem to compare different theories on the basis of certain values and ideologies, such as democracy, liberal democracy, or human rights. Based on these standards, theories were compared by statistical indexes in empirical studies, or by institutional or conceptual differences in normative research. Some theorists have tried to clarify whether there is a common idea of equality, liberty, or rights. Some have been interested in institutional similarity and differences. However, since much of the concepts are conceptualized in the context of the modern West, such research easily succumbs to misunderstanding or misjudging non-western theories. Even though we must also be conscious of the prejudice of non-western concepts or ideas, the continued use of western originated standards can lead to unfair comparisons. For this reason, neutral concepts are useful for fair comparison. Along this vein, this thesis offers the concept of representation, a necessary element for legitimate government in both the West and Confucian East. In this case, the main task is to examine the ways in which each tradition is compatible with modern standards of political legitimacy, such as democracy.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available