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6 - Is Popular Sovereignty a Useful Myth?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 March 2020

Melissa S. Williams
Affiliation:
University of Toronto
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Summary

Joseph Chan and Franz Mang deploy analytic methods to elucidate Confucian political philosophy and ethics for the twenty-first century, arguing that Confucian ideals offer a pathway toward overcoming modern thought’s neglect of the cultivation of ethical character as constitutive of the life well lived – an idea common to ancient thought in both Western and East Asian contexts. In this chapter, they accept a key challenge of deparochializing political theory: that it forces us out of our intellectual comfort zones to engage with traditions that are new to us. In this spirit, they construct a conversation between Western political thought, Confucianism, and Islam on the idea of popular sovereignty. They develop reconstructive-analytic accounts of mainstream Confucian and Islamic political thought and argue that neither tradition can be reconciled at a philosophical level with the idea of the people as the ultimate source of legitimate political authority. Even though strands of both Confucianism and Islam are compatible with democracy, popular sovereignty cannot serve as a “useful myth” in Confucian- or Islamic-heritage societies, for different reasons. These societies can benefit from projects of democratization and civil liberties but can dispense with the doctrine of popular sovereignty as the foundation for such projects.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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