Pragmatic Confucian Democracy: Rethinking
the Value of Democracy in East Asia
Sungmoon Kim, City University of Hong Kong
In contemporary Confucian political theory, there is surprisingly little effort among the theorists to illuminate the value of
democracy. When they do on rare occasions, their focus is largely on democracy’s instrumental contribution to Confucian
goods. In this paper, I argue that, given democracy’s dual aspects as a political system and as a way of life, it has both instrumental and intrinsic values, and insomuch as it is a kind of democracy, Confucian democracy, too, ought to possess both
values. Central to my argument is that, once introduced and justiﬁed instrumentally as a political system, democracy in a
Confucian society attains its noninstrumental value as it becomes consolidated as a democratic-Confucian way of life in which
democratic institutions, rights, and practices are socially mediated by and negotiated with Confucian values, civilities, and
moral sentiments. I present my overarching normative framework in terms of pragmatic Confucian democracy.
ontemporary Confucian political theory largely revolves around the compatibility between Confucianism and democracy, but quite surprisingly, theorists
in this ﬁeld rarely discuss the philosophical reasons for their
interest in democracy. Confucian political theorists tend to
take certain values of democracy for granted, which somehow
requires creative “mixing” with Confucianism, which they
ﬁnd morally attractive (hence, styling their normative political theories as “Confucian”).1 This tendency is widely found
not only among Confucian participatory democrats (Angle
2012; Hall and Ames 1999; Kim 2014; Tan 2004) but, more
interestingly, among the advocates of Confucian meritocracy
(or “Confucian meritocrats”) as well. Despite their rejection
of some core democratic principles, such as popular sovereignty, political equality, and the right to political participation, virtually all Confucian meritocrats embrace democracy’s minimum institutional apparatus, namely, regular and
competitive elections that select members of the low (or the
lowest) house in their proposed bicameral (or tricameral)
legislature, without explaining their philosophical basis for
acknowledging this limited value of democracy (Bai 2013;
Bell 2006; Fan 2010; Jiang 2013; Li 2012).
If democracy is both a distinct mode of political system in
which political power is equally shared by citizens who are at
once co-rulers and co-subjects, as well as, as will be argued, a
way of life marked by equality of social relations, then neither democratic reconstruction of ancient Confucian philosophy nor advocacy of Confucian democracy as an alternative to Western-style liberal democracy can convincingly
demonstrate the value of democracy. And without demonstrating the value of democracy, it is impossible, theoretically
speaking, to justify the normative ground for Confucian
democracy, a particular mode of democracy championed as
best suited for the Confucian societal context.
In this paper, I argue that, ﬁrst, democracy has both instrumental and intrinsic values and these dual aspects of
democracy come from the very nature of democracy both as
a political system and as a way of life. And accordingly,
second, I contend that Confucian democracy has (and ought
to have) both instrumental and intrinsic values. My central
claim is that, once introduced and justiﬁed instrumentally as
a political system, democracy in a Confucian society attains
its noninstrumental value as it becomes consolidated as a
way of life in which democratic institutions, rights, and practices are socially mediated by and negotiated with Confucian
values, habits, mores, and moral sentiments. It is through such
a complex process of social and cultural negotiations, I argue,
that democratic institutions, rights, and practices—or a democratic way of life—can be made meaningful to and further
cherished by citizens who share Confucianism as their public
Sungmoon Kim (email@example.com) is professor of political theory at City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 220.
Support for this research was provided by a National Research Foundation of Korea grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2014S1A3A2043763).
1. I adopted the term “mixing” from “Mixing Confucianism and Democracy,” the title of chapter 4 of Chan (2014).
The Journal of Politics, volume 79, number 1. Published online November 11, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/687762
q 2016 by the Southern Political Science Association. All rights reserved. 0022-3816/2017/7901-0017$10.00
238 / Pragmatic Confucian Democracy Sungmoon Kim
culture, despite their deep diversity and pervasive moral conﬂict.
TWO CONCEPTIONS OF DEMOCRACY:
SCHUMPETERIAN VERSUS DEWEYAN
One of the most distinctive features in contemporary studies
of democracy is that its two aspects—democracy as a political system and democracy as a way of life—are studied
nearly independently of each other. The result is a stark
division of labor between empirical political scientists, focused on voting and election on one side and normative
democratic theorists (especially deliberative or participatory
democratic theorists) on the other, who understand democracy primarily as a way of life characterized by communication among equals with a view to resolving their common
problems in a mutually acceptable way through law and
public policy. What is more troubling is that what originally
began as an academic division of labor seems to have given
rise to two distinctive conceptions of democracy—one that
posits that democracy is a method to arrive at political decisions and one that claims that democracy is not so much a
political system as a communicative culture that enables
The classical inspiration for the ﬁrst conception of democracy is Joseph Schumpeter, according to whom democracy is primarily a “political method,” understood as an
“institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions
in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of
a competitive struggle for the people’s vote” (Schumpeter
1987, 269). The appeal of this parsimonious deﬁnition
of democracy for political scientists is obvious; it can provide
us with “a reasonably efﬁcient criterion by which to distinguish democratic governments from others” (Schumpeter
 1987, 269). This deﬁnition of democracy is especially
useful not only in tracking the transition of a regime from
authoritarian to democratic (the presence of competitive
election can be seen as the minimum requirement to call a
regime a “democracy”) but also in proliferating various substantive conceptions of democracy in which competitive election,2 the minimum requirement of democracy, is entwined
with various forms of institutional arrangements and social
practices (Collier and Levitsky 1997).
2. Adam Przeworski (2010, 167–68) writes, “Competitive elections are
the only credible mechanism of making the people believe that their rulers
govern at their bequest and on their behalf. . . . Elections authenticate the
claim that governments govern with active consent because they repeatedly test this claim by counting heads.” For a skeptical view on using
competitive election as a litmus test for democracy, especially the transitional context, see Carothers (2002).
As a political institution pivoted around voting and
election, democracy in the Schumpeterian conception possesses no intrinsic moral value. It is preferred over other
types of political arrangements because of its institutional
ability to effectively coordinate social interactions among
political actors with diverse self-interests and resolve, albeit
temporarily, political conﬂicts by channeling them through
nonviolent competition—participation in which is expected
to advance the interests of both winners and losers in the
long run (Przeworski 1991, 19).3 In short, democracy in this
institutional understanding is only instrumentally valuable,
offering, for example, the best institutional mechanism among
existing political arrangements to reduce economic inequality
(Boix 2003) or prevent famine (Sen 1999).
Barring rare exceptions, Schumpeterian political scientists seldom discuss how values such as popular sovereignty,
self-government, and political equality—commonly acknowledged as core democratic values—should be understood
within the context of their institutional and instrumental
argument. The most telling example comes from Schumpeter himself, who presents his narrow deﬁnition of democracy as an alternative to what he calls the “classical doctrine of
democracy” (à la Jean-Jacques Rousseau), which emphasizes
people’s actual capacity for collective self-determination
toward the common good. Whereas the classical doctrine of
democracy is more faithful to the Aristotelian ideal of democracy understood as common citizenship (i.e., citizens as
co-rulers and co-subjects), the Schumpeterian alternative reinterprets democracy as another form of ruler-ruled relationship where the rulers are now elected by the ruled, and govern
them in their name.4
In marked contrast, at the core of our second conception
of democracy—democracy as a way of life—is a restoration
of democracy of the kind that fascinated its earlier champions, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexis de Tocqueville,
and John Stuart Mill, and in this respect it is diametrically
opposed to its Schumpeterian counterpart. The modern inspiration for this conception of democracy is John Dewey,
who urged us to “get rid of the habit of thinking of democracy as something institutional and external and to acquire
the habit of treating it as a way of personal life” (Dewey 1981,
228).5 Accordingly, Dewey’s focus is not so much on the
political institutions of democracy but on the Great Com-
3. For a similar emphasis on institutional design and coordination of
interests in democratic theory, see Hardin (1999).
4. Precisely for this reason, Manin (1997) criticizes modern representative democracy.
5. This is reprinted from Anderson (2009, 217).
munity, “a society in which the ever-expanding and intricately ramifying consequences of associated activities shall
be known in the full sense of that word, so that an organized,
articulated Public comes into being” (Dewey 1954, 184).
Central to the ﬂourishing of the Great Community is the existence of the democratic public, understood as “those who
are affected by the indirect consequences of transactions to
such an extent that it is deemed necessary to have those
consequences systematically cared for” (Dewey 1954, 15–
16).6 And it is by actively participating in social communication that citizens, who are equal to one another, can
collaborate to take care of the indirect consequences of transactions, the “problems” in Dewey’s technical language, without a quest for certainty.
What distinguishes Deweyan pragmatism from other
forms of consequentialism is that its problem-solving process is intelligent and educative. The decisions that citizens
are making are intelligent because they are products of, ﬁrst,
reﬂexive personal judgment, then reciprocal collective deliberation.7 Put differently, public decisions are outcomes of
democratic citizens’ political autonomy (Richardson 2002).
Furthermore, the intelligent decision-making process is educative in that citizens are fallible and the decisions they
collectively make are ineluctably provisional, always subject
to revision. In the absence of an independent moral and
epistemic authority that can guide them under modern
circumstances of politics, citizens can make a mistake in
their political action or decision and come to regret it. But
they are never paralyzed by their past mistakes or, more
fundamentally, their fallibility under the circumstances of
uncertainty. Instead, they learn from their mistakes and look
for a more intelligent way to tackle the problematic situation
(Barber 1984, 259). The most important thing to note is that
it is citizens themselves, not their elite leaders, who make this
whole process of reciprocal communication intelligent and
educative. Just as an autonomous personal life is intrinsically
valuable to oneself, so is the autonomous democratic life.
As essential components of democratic citizenship, in the
Deweyan conception of democracy, popular sovereignty,
6. Note that Deweyan Confucians, such as Hall, Ames, and Tan, are
particularly inspired by Dewey’s idea of Great Community.
7. Throughout this paper, I employ the term “intelligent” in the
special sense intended by Dewey, who understands it not so much as an
individual’s original or innate endowment but as the social (and socialindividual) quality attained by democratic citizens (i.e., the public) conavigating the contingent world in association and solving, however
provisionally, the problems that they are commonly concerned with
(Dewey 1954, 203–11). Epistemic democrats such as Cohen (1986),
Estlund (2008), and Landemore (2013), are largely (sometimes tacitly)
inﬂuenced by this Deweyan notion of social intelligence.
January 2017 / 239
self-government, and political equality are all cherished as
“INSTRUMENTAL VERSUS INTRINSIC” REVISITED
Understood as distinct conceptions of democracy, Schumpeterian democracy and Deweyan democracy may look incommensurable. They refer to two different things (institution vs. culture), and the value they place on democracy is
accordingly different (instrumental vs. intrinsic). Locating
democracy exclusively on either of these two aspects is deeply
misleading, however, despite each conception’s heuristic and
methodological advantages in studying democracy scientiﬁcally or philosophically. Although Dewey is thought to be
the author of the Deweyan conception of democracy, he is
not a “Deweyan” in this narrow sense, because he never
dismisses the crucial importance of political institutions,
which give democracy a signiﬁcant instrumental value. One
of Dewey’s often neglected insights is that democracy as a
way of life presupposes the political structures that undergird it institutionally. In other words, a normative ideal of
democracy requires its material conditions that can socially
actualize it. Consider the following statement by Dewey
To profess to have an aim and then neglect the means
of its execution is self-delusion of the most dangerous
sort. Education and morals will begin to ﬁnd themselves on the same road of advance that say chemical
industry and medicine have found for themselves
when they too learn fully the lesson of wholehearted
and unremitting attention to means and conditions—
that is, to what mankind so long despised as material
and mechanical. But when we take ends without regard to means we degenerate into sentimentalism. In
the name of the ideal we fall back upon mere luck and
chance and magic or exhortation and preaching; or
else upon a fanaticism that will force the realization
of preconceived ends at any cost (Dewey 1927,
Here Dewey does not make an explicit reference to democracy, but it is not difﬁcult to derive from the statement
the implication for his broader perspective of democracy—
that democracy as a regulative social ideal that concerns the
citizenry’s way of life would be merely fantastical if it were
not embodied materially in a concrete institutional form.
A familiar Deweyan reading of this passage may still
encourage us to understand the material means that help
8. This is reprinted from Knight and Johnson (2011, 35).
240 / Pragmatic Confucian Democracy Sungmoon Kim
execute the aim of democracy in terms of nonpolitical social
institutions in civil society, such as neighborhoods, schools,
workplaces, churches, and other forms of voluntary associations. However, given Dewey’s deep concern with the modern fate of the public in the emerging machine age, and his
subsequent new deﬁnition of the state, which in principle
concerns all citizens as the (democratic) public, it seems to be
more plausible to take “the means of execution” to mean
primarily an overarching scaffolding of political institutions
that coordinate complex social interactions of citizens and
help resolve social conﬂicts resulting from the diversity of
moral and material interests effectively as well as legitimately.
After all, nonpolitical social institutions can ﬂourish even
under nondemocratic political structures, and this cannot be
what Dewey intended to imply in the statement above. Without a political democracy there is no democratic civil society.
As Elizabeth Anderson rightly puts it, “[democracy’s] noninstrumental value is conditional on its instrumental value”
(Anderson 2009, 213).
That democracy’s intrinsic value is conditional on its instrumental value becomes much clearer if we shift our attention from advanced Western democracies, in which most
Deweyan theorists struggle with the increasing attrition of
democracy’s civic foundations, to non-Western and nonliberal
countries that have recently undergone or are still experiencing
democratic transitions. Consider the cases of South Korea
(hereafter, Korea) and Taiwan, arguably the most Confucian
countries in East Asia. Despite somewhat different modes of
transition, democratization in both countries was galvanized
by bottom-up citizen protests, aimed to break down authoritarian regimes; it then was mediated by a series of negotiations
between political elites of the incumbent and opposition
parties. In comparison with similar mass-ascendant democratic transitions taking place almost simultaneously in Eastern and Central Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, one
of the distinctive features of the democratization in both
countries is that it took place when the economies in these
countries were highly advanced, enabling the social conditions
under which citizens, hitherto preoccupied with economic
survival as a nation, could pursue diverse individual and/or
group moral and material interests. Put differently, the social
demand for democracy in both countries was at its peak when
the incumbent regimes fatally failed to respond to diversiﬁed
social, moral, and economic interests arising from civil society.
Accordingly, the impending collective task for the citizens of
these countries was to search for an alternative political system
that could better process their diverse, often conﬂicting, interests effectively and legitimately. The resulting democratic
regimes were to meet this challenge of institutional coordination.
There is nothing regrettable or problematic in the fact
that citizens in Korea and Taiwan initially pursued democracy mainly for instrumental reasons. In fact, other than the
few activist intellectuals versed in democratic theory, most
nonliberal people struggling for democracy do the same:
they do not sacriﬁce their precious time or even risk their
lives for the abstract ideal of democracy or its intrinsic values
such as political autonomy, equality of interests, or reciprocity.9 During the transitional period, democracy is sought
because it is believed to “remedy evils experienced in consequences of prior political institutions” (Dewey 1954, 84).
Although it may sound ironic, in some sense, nonliberal
people, whose cultural and political tradition is completely
foreign to democracy, pursue democracy without fully understanding what democracy practically entails both as a
value system and, more fundamentally, as a way of life.10 At
a minimum, it remains ambiguous whether a democratic
way of life, with all attending rights (so-called “democratic
rights”), is what they actually aspire to have, given its deep
embeddedness in Western historical experience and societal
culture. Then, to put this puzzle more generally, how does
the negative and instrumental project of democratization
(“removing the current evil” and “searching for an alternative set of institutions”) jump to validation of the positive
ambition of the hard-won democracy (“redeﬁning the polity’s
collective way of living”)?
It can be objected that democratization of a nonliberal
country is not purely an instrumental project, even when it is
primarily oriented negatively. Nonliberal people, one may
argue, already know the value of democracy through their
observation of, or interaction with, democratic peoples, and
it is the ideological motivation that drives the people to ﬁght
for democracy. There is some truth in this objection if the
people in question are limited to the educated few, including
democratic activists. But we should be careful in calling the
value recognized at this predemocratic or democratizing
stage democracy’s intrinsic value. At this stage, the value of
democracy is still largely extrinsic to the nonliberal people,
including its most ardent advocates, because it is an ideal,
merely known to them but never experienced, thus abstract.
They have yet to understand why democratic institutions are
normatively preferred over their nondemocratic alternatives
and why democratic rights, undergirding the process of
democratic decision making as well as delineating the sub-
9. Brettschneider (2007) presents these three values as the core values
that make democracy intrinsically valuable.
10. Political theorists are surprisingly silent about this instrumental
motivation behind democratic movement, widely observed in the third
wave of democratization. One important exception is Shapiro (1999).
stance of democratic law and public policy, should guide
their public interactions and interpersonal relationships.
The answers for these sorts of normative questions concerning the intrinsic value of democracy can only be offered
once citizens have been fully immersed in democratic institutions and related social practices in their everyday
Our brief excursion to a nonliberal country’s democratic
transition reveals that the Schumpeterian model and the
Deweyan model should not be understood as two distinct,
mutually exclusive conceptions of democracy, but rather as
illuminating different features of democracy, each salient
(comparatively speaking) at a different stage. In the transition
stage—whether from early modern absolutism or modern
forms of authoritarianism—the Schumpeterian model looms
large because the instrumental value is the key motivating
force of regime transition on which this model of democracy is
undergirded. It is absolutely important that the Schumpeterian
model be paramount at this stage because, as noted, the social
institutions valorized in the Deweyan model are practically
compatible with nondemocratic regimes.
The Deweyan model gains its salient normative signiﬁcance
during the period of democratic consolidation in which democracy becomes “the only game in town,” attitudinally, behaviorally, and constitutionally (Linz and Stepan 1996, 5–6), as
well as perennially beyond. The Deweyan model tells us (or the
citizens of a new democracy) that the establishment of democratic institutions neither provides answers for the problems
we all face nor removes contingency, uncertainty, and unpredictability that characterize our social and political life.
Democratic institutions only offer us an institutional framework that enables us to resolve the problem at hand more
effectively and legitimately. How we resolve the problem is up
to our common judgment, which concerns both institutional
design (the procedural aspect of democracy) and speciﬁc law
and public policy (the substantive aspect of democracy). It is by
immersing themselves in the process of public problem solving
in formal decision-making institutions as well as in various
public forums in civil society that citizens can grow in dem11. This does not mean that democracy’s intrinsic values are completely
foreign to ordinary people under the authoritarian regime. After all, in predemocratic Korea and Taiwan, what was most troubling for the ordinary citizenry was the regime’s arbitrary and frequent violations of the democratic
principles to which it is constitutionally, albeit only nominally, committed. To
the extent that people were conscious of this chasm between democratic ideals
and actual political practices, they can be said to have been aware of
democracy’s intrinsic values. My point is that democracy’s intrinsic values
cherished at this point have yet to be lived experiences embodied in the
citizenry’s daily social life because they still remain abstract in terms of moral
principles. I am grateful to the editor for pressing me to think about this issue
January 2017 / 241
ocratic skills and public judgment. Only at this stage can democracy, originally pursued for sheer instrumental reasons,
attain its intrinsic value, becoming our democracy. Only then
will citizens neither look back to their authoritarian past with
nostalgia for a perpetual life of being ruled and provided for
nor be tempted to trade the values of political autonomy and
common citizenship (i.e., their sovereign status) with the
goods (largely economic) that some nondemocracies claim to
CONFUCIAN MERITOCRACY AND
THE VALUE OF DEMOCRACY
Since democracy’s instrumental and intrinsic values are complexly afﬁliated with different stages of democracy, and since
democracies in East Asia are either new or have yet to be
consolidated, lack of attention to actual democratic contexts
makes it extremely difﬁcult to understand on what value basis
Confucian democracy should be pursued. Let me start with
Confucian meritocrats who embrace democracy only partially.
Of Confucian meritocrats, Joseph Chan is clearest in articulating the value of democracy in his proposed meritocratic
political system. What differentiates Chan from other Confucian meritocrats, such as Daniel Bell, who acknowledges
democracy’s (limited) instrumental values alone (Bell 2006,
185), is that he ﬁnds democracy valuable both instrumentally
and noninstrumentally. According to Chan, democracy’s instrumental value lies in its ability to “bring about certain effects
that are desirable in the view of Confucian thought” (Chan
2014, 85). This is a reasonable stance for a Confucian perfectionist to take. For just as it is comprehensive ethical promotion of some core liberal values, such as autonomy, that
imparts to liberal perfectionism a distinctive normative edge,
to which democracy is more or less an auxiliary (in the sense
of preventing the theory from being elitist; Sher 1997; Wall
1998), so it is Confucian values that do the most important
normative weightlifting in Confucian perfectionism, to which
democracy is instrumentally serviceable. Roughly put, Chan’s
reasoning—let us call this instrumental value reasoning—
proceeds in the following steps:
1. According to classical Confucianism, the kernel of
political authority lies in serving the well-being of
2. Therefore, “any institutional arrangement of political authority is to be assessed [i.e., justiﬁed] by
its contribution to the well-being of the people”
(Chan 2014, 102).12
12. In the similarly worded sentence (Chan 2014, 85), Chan employs
the term “justiﬁed” instead of “assessed.”
242 / Pragmatic Confucian Democracy Sungmoon Kim
3. Classical Confucians believed that “positions of
authority should be taken by the virtuous and able”
(Chan 2014, 93).
4. Democratic institutions—the election in particular—offer the best means, among those practicably
available in our nonideal political situation, to select good leaders by means of the sanction function of elections (Chan 2014, 86).
5. From 2, 3, and 4, it is concluded that democracy is
instrumentally valuable for fulﬁlling the Confucian
conception of authority (and good government)
under nonideal circumstances of modern society.
There can be a reasonable question as to whether transition from 1 to 2, which interprets (classical) Confucianism
as one of justiﬁcatory philosophy, is tenable. If we can put
aside this otherwise important interpretative question,
however, Chan’s reasoning looks cogent. That said, Chan has
an additional noninstrumental reason to embrace democracy, which can be likewise recapitulated as the following:
1. The Confucian ideal of political relationship is
“marked by mutual commitment and trust—the
rulers are committed to governing the people in a
trustworthy and caring manner, and the ruled, in
return, express their willing endorsement and
support for their rulers” (Chan 2014, 85).
2. “The point of democratic elections is to select
those who are public-spirited and trustworthy and
to make explicit the public’s endorsement and
support of those who are elected” (Chan 2014, 85).
3. The so-called “selection model” of election enables
the people to be intrinsically motivated to submit
themselves to a reciprocal and mutual edifying
relationship between the ruler and the ruled (Chan
4. From 1, 2, and 3, it can be concluded that democratic election has a noninstrumental value for
Confucian (meritocratic) perfectionism.
Chan calls democracy’s noninstrumental value, as he
understands it, the expressive value of democracy, and so we
can call Chan’s reasoning here, to distinguish it from his
earlier reasoning on democracy’s instrumental value, expressive value reasoning. Now the question is how we can
make sense of Chan’s idea of instrumental and noninstrumental expressive values of democracy against the backdrop
13. For the expression of “intrinsically motivated,” see Chan (2014,
of the present “instrumental versus intrinsic” framework and
the two competing conceptions of democracy.
First of all, it is worth noting that, throughout his discussion
of both instrumental and noninstrumental values of democracy, Chan consistently means by democracy one particular
democratic institution, namely, the election. This is rather
counterintuitive, in that even though it is in the Schumpeterian
model of democracy that election is treated as nearly equivalent to democracy itself, this model acknowledges no noninstrumental or intrinsic value of democracy. Moreover, democracy’s instrumental value itself is understood differently by
Chan and the Schumpeterian model: while the Schumpeterian model presents it in terms of an institutional coordination of social interactions and temporary resolution
of political conﬂict (often deeply implicated with moral
conﬂict in a pluralist society), Chan understands it as democracy’s ability to serve what classical Confucianism considers the
central purpose of good authority or government, namely, the
well-being of the people. Here, Chan glosses over the Schumpeterian interpretation of democracy’s instrumental value (or
institutional value in the pragmatic sense).
Does this mean that Chan has an alternative conception
of democracy that subscribes neither to the Schumpeterian
model nor to the Deweyan model? Quite the contrary, Chan
adheres to one of the most conventional understandings of
democracy à la Dewey that stresses popular sovereignty as
collective self-determination, when he, following David
Beetham, deﬁnes democracy as “a mode of decision making
about collective binding rules and policies over which the
people exercise control” (Chan 2014, 83).14 However, having
deﬁned democracy in Deweyan terms, Chan quickly reverts
back to the Schumpeterian model by saying,
No doubt democracy as a political system gives power
to the people and distributes votes equally. But such a
system need not be justiﬁed, or be seen to express,
popular sovereignty or political equality as a moral
principle or ideal. . . . I suggest that the institution of
democracy can be disconnected from such moral
principles (Chan 2014, 85).
As such, Chan’s conceptual oscillation between the Schumpeterian model, which he actually supports, and the Deweyan
14. Here Chan cites Beetham (1993, 55). Note that Beetham is well
known for his ideal of democracy that stresses active political participation
as well as basic rights, which makes him closer to Deweyan democrats
such as Elizabeth Anderson, Amy Gutmann, and Joshua Cohen than to
Schumpeterian democrats. For a fuller account of Beetham’s democratic
ideal, see Beetham (1999).
model, on which his formal deﬁnition of democracy is premised, makes it extremely difﬁcult to understand exactly what
he means by “democracy.” On the one hand, it is deﬁned as
collective self-government that (re)deﬁnes our way of living
as relationships among equals, and yet it is a mere political
system or simply election on the other, completely decoupled
from the very moral ideal of democracy.
Would Chan’s expressive value reasoning be able to relieve his democratic theory of this theoretical predicament?
As Chan rightly notes, the constitutive or ethical relationship between the ruler and the ruled is in itself good from
the perspective of Confucianism, and thus is justiﬁed noninstrumentally by Confucianism. Contrary to Chan’s intention, though, this implies that expressive value reasoning is
another form of instrumental value reasoning, according to
which democracy ought to serve the moral end of Confucianism. It makes perfect sense in the context of Confucian
perfectionism. Its philosophical force is signiﬁcantly reduced,
however, when Chan’s moderate Confucian perfectionism is
presented as a kind of Confucian democracy. What democracy
as a political system and as a social practice expresses is equal
citizens’ collective self-determination. The reciprocal relationship between the (elected temporary) ruler and the ruled (i.e.,
citizens) is one of democracy’s positive byproducts, which
makes democracy even more attractive, but it is not democracy’s intrinsic value.15
THE VALUE OF DEMOCRACY IN
In this section, let me point to two problems Confucian
participatory democrats can hardly escape within the pres-
15. What if, one may wonder, the problem that I am pointing out here
is only internal to Chan’s political theory? What if Chan revises his position by formulating the expressive goods that democracy brings about as
instrumental to Confucian values? Would there still be any independent
reason that we should prefer pragmatic Confucian democracy to Chan’s
Confucian perfectionist meritocracy? I offer two reasons. First, while
pragmatic Confucian democracy takes what Waldron (1999) calls the
modern circumstances of politics seriously, which are marked by value
pluralism and moral conﬂict (hence, the importance of democracy’s
second-order, instrumental value for effective and legitimate social coordination), Confucian meritocracy is premised on the assumption of
virtue monism, which stipulates that (i) there is a singular and morally
uncontroversial standard of “merit” and (ii) political rights (including the
right to vote) are covariant with one’s merit or virtue understood as the
“contribution to the well-being of others” (Chan 2014, 32). Second, while
pragmatic Confucian democracy presents its normative—both instrumental and intrinsic—value from the perspective of ordinary citizens who
are subject to its political order, Confucian meritocracy derives its normative value mainly from classical Confucian philosophy without a serious
concern about its justiﬁability to citizens, especially non-Confucians. For my
January 2017 / 243
ent “instrumental versus intrinsic” framework. First, Confucian participatory democrats seldom distinguish between
democracy and Confucianism, which makes it difﬁcult to
understand what they take to be the value of democracy. For
instance, Deweyan Confucian communitarian democrats
understand democracy exclusively in terms of a way of life
(i.e., an organic participatory community), but their methodological blurring of the lines between the philosophical
interpretation of ancient Confucian texts—how best to reinterpret classical Confucianism—and normative political
theory—what is the most attractive normative vision of
democracy in contemporary East Asia—stands in the way of
making clear sense of whether the way of life that they valorize is a Confucian communal life or that which attends to a
particular mode of organized power, with which democracy
is commonly associated as a political rule. For Deweyan
Confucian communitarians, the greatest attraction of democracy lies in what Dewey identiﬁes as democracy’s intrinsic value, but by making such value integral to their own
reconstructed Confucianism, they leave ambiguous what the
unique value of democracy is, independent of (classical)
Confucianism’s democratic potentials.
While the ﬁrst problem stems from Confucian participatory democrats’ (particularly Deweyan Confucians’) failure to make an analytical distinction between democracy
and (their reconstructed) Confucianism, the second problem
has to do with their dismissal of the important distinction
between formal democratic institutions and democratic
community. It is hardly surprising that Deweyan Confucian
democrats understand democracy as a way of life and ﬁnd it
intrinsically valuable. What is surprising is that they dismiss
the different contexts in which Dewey and they uphold
democracy’s intrinsic value.
As is well known, Dewey’s central concern was to reinvigorate an already exiting democracy (i.e., American democracy) in the face of the emerging machine age, in which
democracy, a self-rule of equal citizens, was being helplessly
relegated to rule by technocrats and professional administrators. He did so by reconceiving both the public and
democratic community in a dramatically altered societal
context while paying renewed attention to the “art of association,” which de Tocqueville had previously singled out as
the locomotive of American democracy. In stark contrast,
Deweyan Confucian democrats rarely situate their democratic theory in the actual social and political context of East
Asia, in which democratic transitions have either been remore comprehensive engagement with Chan’s idea of Confucian meritocratic perfectionism, see Kim (2016, 43–66). I am grateful to an anonymous
reviewer for pressing me with this important question.
244 / Pragmatic Confucian Democracy Sungmoon Kim
cently completed or have yet to happen. This political deﬁcit
in the existing versions of Deweyan Confucian democratic
theory reasonably leads one who has yet to (fully) experience
the intelligent and educative process of a democratic way of
living, or to develop a faith in democracy, to ask why democratization is necessary in the ﬁrst place. Deweyan Confucian democrats have very little (almost nothing) to say
about formal democratic institutions and their crucial instrumental role in resolving, however provisionally, political
This political deﬁcit has signiﬁcant philosophical implications. By paying exclusive attention to democracy’s intrinsic value in the context in which democracy is either
premature or nonexistent, Deweyan Confucian democrats
obfuscate the politically important distinction between
democracy’s ﬁrst-order value (democracy is good in itself )
and democracy’s second-order value (democracy has a
crucial institutional-cum-instrumental value in coordinating complex social interactions under the circumstances of
modern politics),17 thereby risking democratic dogmatism.
Furthermore, they have also forgone an important opportunity to remind East Asian citizens of how time-consuming
the learning process of democratic education is and thus why
patience is a necessary virtue in making democracy intrinsically valuable to a given population in the long run, though
initially pursued on instrumental grounds.
Compared with his Deweyan counterparts, Stephen Angle, another advocate of Confucian participatory democracy,
pays far more attention to formal democratic institutions,
and the value he ascribes to such “objective political structures” is an instrumental one, in the sense of serving the end
of classical Confucian ethical perfectionism, namely, personal moral growth. Angle further claims that democracy
offers the best political structures under which we can advance progressive public policies toward, for example, gender equality and nondiscrimination (Angle 2012, 116–27).
Understanding democracy as more than a political method
to elect political leaders and embracing some of democracy’s
constitutive values, such as political equality, Angle is clearly
distinguished not only from Confucian meritocrats but more
generally from Schumpeterian democrats. Yet his overall
silence about democracy as a way of life and his lack of
emphasis on collective will formation and democratic selfgovernment distances his conception of democracy from the
Deweyan model as well. What further prevents a clear un-
16. Instead, Deweyan Confucian democrats tend to emphasize a tacit
resolution of social conﬂict by means of rituals (Hall and Ames 1999, 182).
17. For the distinction between democracy’s ﬁrst-order and secondorder value, see Knight and Johnson (2011).
derstanding of Angle’s idea of democracy is that he does not
elaborate on how the progressive values that he espouses are
related to his conception of democracy. Are they democracy’s intrinsic values or normative ideals justiﬁed independently of democracy? If the latter is the case, how—
intrinsically or instrumentally—are such ideals connected
with Confucianism? In short, how does Angle construct a
philosophical connection between state perfectionism, which
he endorses cautiously, and his vision of “progressive Confucianism” within the democratic framework?
His largely institutionalist account of democracy notwithstanding, like Deweyan Confucians, Angle tends to
subsume his democratic theory under his ethical vision of
Confucianism, obliterating the important analytical distinction between democracy and Confucianism. For him,
democracy is not so much a political regime whose political
institutions and the social practices that undergird them
comprehensively form a way of life but rather merely one,
however important, element of modern progressive Confucianism. As Angle puts it, in modern East Asia, democracy is
“required” by (the ethical demand of ) Confucianism (Angle
2012, 29), but he stops there without further articulating
precisely what mode of democracy modern Confucianism
requires and what additional value(s) the democracy required would provide for citizens in East Asia besides its
instrumental contribution to personal moral growth, which
is possible even under nondemocratic regimes and by means
of nonpolitical social participation.
Although Angle shows a rare interest (at least among
Confucian participatory democrats) in democratic political
structures, in the end, he fails to relate this insight to democracy’s second-order, or institutional, value, especially under
the circumstances of modern politics. He thereby misses the
important opportunity to elucidate the interesting process
in which democracy, initially deemed as instrumentally
valuable, gains new meaning and noninstrumental value as
a way of life as its institutions and social practices are actively appropriated and intelligently experienced (or experimented) by citizens who govern themselves in the absence
of any antecedent moral principle or authority.
THE VALUE OF CONFUCIAN DEMOCRACY
Echoing Dewey’s own more nuanced account of democracy,
the Confucian democracy I propose in this paper—let us call
it pragmatic Confucian democracy—mediates between the
Schumpeterian model and the Deweyan model of democracy, without falling prey to either model’s one-sidedness.
While the communitarian Deweyan democracy pays exclusive attention to the idea of democracy as a way of life,
pragmatic Confucian democracy derives its value initially
from its institutional and instrumental ability to effectively
and legitimately coordinate complex social interactions among
citizens with diverse moral and material interests and places
its further, more important, justiﬁcation in values accrued
in the course of living the democratic way of life, which
make democracy intrinsically valuable.
On the other hand, while both pragmatic Confucian democracy and Confucian meritocracy primarily pay attention
to democracy’s instrumental value as a political system, they
set different ends for which that value ought to be pursued.
For Confucian meritocrats, that end is certain Confucian
goods (or values or virtues), including the mutually constitutive relationship between the ruler (political elites) and
the ruled (ordinary citizens). Confucian meritocrats are
Confucian perfectionists in this very sense. The pragmatic
Confucian democrat’s guiding ambition is meaningfully
different. Her primary concern is how to organize political
institutions in a way that can best coordinate social interactions under the circumstances of modern politics marked
by pervasive value pluralism and resulting moral conﬂicts.
Democracy’s primary (but not central) value lies in this
second-order value, and it is primarily on this instrumental
ground that she advocates the democratic transition from an
authoritarian regime, a regime that miserably fails in this
task of legitimate and effective institutional coordination of
diverse social interests and instead meets citizens’ political
contestation from civil society by violent means.18
Thus understood, a pragmatic Confucian democrat is a
moderate political consequentialist. Her political support for
democracy is not primarily to best realize certain moral ends
cherished by ancient Confucianism; nor is it her most supreme aim to invent modern Confucianism, of which democracy is merely one constituting element among other
“Western values” such as human rights and personal autonomy. For a pragmatic Confucian democrat, democracy
is an overarching and authoritative political institutional
framework under which coercive political power is exercised
legitimately, in the people’s name. Selecting good leaders is
just as important to her as it is to Confucian meritocrats,
because democratic government cannot fulﬁll its political
mandate in the absence of public-spirited and capable political leaders (Keohane 2010). In fact, democratic institu18. Recently Gilley (2014) has forcefully shown that democratization
in Asia was largely motivated by internal governance concerns when the
traditional modes of accountability mechanisms that had undergirded the
authoritarian regimes in the region became no longer effective in meeting
the social contestations from below. In this view, the authoritarian regime
is tempted to resort to violence when it refuses to opt for democratic
transition despite the fact that the existing accountability mechanism (or
the regime’s attempt at its nondemocratic renewal) has completely failed.
January 2017 / 245
tions can be sustained only if there are such leaders as well as
equally public-spirited citizens who can identify and elect
them to leadership positions. However, unlike Confucian
meritocrats who place good leadership outside democratic
institutions (and constraints) and justify it on undemocratic
grounds and for antidemocratic reasons, a pragmatic Confucian democrat seeks good leadership within the very democratic institutional framework and according to democratic
procedures that embody such core democratic values as popular sovereignty, political equality, and the right to political
As a political theory, the greatest strength of pragmatic
Confucian democracy lies in its direct political relevance to
existing democratic or nondemocratic countries of East
Asia. Its emphasis on democracy’s second-order value gives
a powerful account of both what motivated democratization
in some of the countries and why democracy (or democratization) is necessary in those that are still under authoritarian forces. After all, neither Korea nor Taiwan initiated regime transition in order to better attain certain
Confucian goods, nor did citizens in those countries take to
the streets because they believed in democracy’s ﬁrst-order
value (that democracy is a good in itself ). Indeed, very few
people in China who currently long for democracy do so in
order to attain a perfect congruence between its political
system and its Confucian philosophical tradition. It would
be equally unfruitful to encourage or expect citizens and
political leaders in China to embark upon democratization
on the assumption of democracy’s ﬁrst-order value. At the
same time, despite strong tendency among contemporary
Confucian political theorists to construct the theory in a
heavily abstract philosophical fashion mainly with reference
to ancient Confucian texts, it is utterly unrealistic to advance
a Confucian democratic theory without any concern with
the existing (early) democratic or nondemocratic political
situations in East Asia. By paying primary attention to democracy’s institutional-instrumental value, pragmatic Confucian democracy gains signiﬁcant explanatory power with
regard to the democratization that actually took place in
Confucian East Asia at an institutional level. It also gives a
more realistic account of the motivation that is currently
propelling citizens in nondemocratic regimes to seek democracy.
At this point, the following questions may be raised:
While it may be true that to be politically relevant Confucian
political theory has to engage with the actual political conditions in contemporary East Asia, as far as it is constructed
as a “Confucian” democratic theory, should it not be the case
that its democratic part be accommodated to the moral,
cultural, or philosophical demands of Confucianism? In
246 / Pragmatic Confucian Democracy Sungmoon Kim
other words, where is the “Confucian” part in the argument
about pragmatic Confucian democracy thus far? Should not
a Confucian political theorist think about the value of democracy from the standpoint of Confucianism? These are
reasonable questions, most likely to be expected from scholars
such as Joseph Chan who justify democracy’s instrumental
and noninstrumental values based on classical Confucianism.
Recall, however, that the kind of argument advanced by
Chan (and company) confounds the instrumental and noninstrumental values of Confucian democracy with those of
moderate Confucian perfectionism, a mode of philosophical
Confucianism speciﬁcally tailored in the modern pluralist
world, leaving the question of democracy’s value unanswered.
Pragmatic Confucian democracy approaches the relation between Confucianism and democracy and the value of Confucian democracy quite differently.
First, pragmatic Confucian democracy aims to address its
political theory to East Asian citizens and takes its value to
consist of the goods—instrumental and noninstrumental—
experienced by the citizens themselves. For East Asian citizens, the instrumental value of pragmatic Confucian democracy is primarily its institutional ability to coordinate
their complex social interactions in a way justiﬁable to all of
them, despite their manifold differences as private individuals in terms of value, faith, and interest. Confucian democracy becomes intrinsically valuable for them when its political institutions and social practices come to be integral to
their way of living, and deep immersion in such a life, accompanied by intelligent social inquiry and civic education,
helps them appreciate the value of common citizenship, at
the heart of which lies equal participation in public decisionmaking processes.
Second, without regarding the ethical ambition of classical Confucianism as the moral end to which democracy
should be instrumental, pragmatic Confucian democracy
does not aim to achieve a congruence between modern Confucian democracy and classical Confucianism as a philosophical system or doctrine, even if it is partially inspired by it. As a
political theory, its purpose is not so much to faithfully serve
what classical Confucianism requires ethically by means of
state perfectionism as to theorize a principled way in which
democracy both as a political system and as a way of life can
acquire its instrumental and intrinsic values in a way intelligible
to citizens of East Asia who no longer subscribe to fully comprehensive Confucian philosophies and/or moral doctrines
but nonetheless live by a certain aspect of Confucianism,
which is partially comprehensive, as a crucial part of their
shared civic culture.
These two points combine to establish the key proposition of pragmatic Confucian democracy: the value of Con-
fucian democracy is independent of the moral doctrines
formulated by any version of traditional Confucianism and
is assessed by how it contributes, instrumentally and noninstrumentally, to the citizenry’s collective self-government,
a value unrecognized by both classical and Neo-Confucians.
From my argument about the primacy of democracy’s secondorder value, it should now be clear what is meant by Confucian
democracy’s pragmatic instrumental contribution to this effect. To repeat, this instrumental value of Confucian democracy is neither philosophically derived from, nor normatively
justiﬁed by, traditional Confucianism. It is a political value
attached to democratic institutions that are required under the
circumstances of pluralism and moral conﬂict. What requires
further explanation is how the Confucian democracy of my
pragmatic understanding acquires an intrinsic value. Unravelling this question will also explicate the complex relationship between Confucianism and democracy in the idea
of pragmatic Confucian democracy.
CONFUCIANISM OF DEMOCRACY
From the viewpoint of philosophical methodology, the
most signiﬁcant difference between pragmatic Confucian democracy and the existing ideas of Confucian democracy—
participatory or meritocratic—is that it understands “Confucianism,” which is to be connected with democracy,
not as (classical) Confucian philosophy but as the public
culture that undergirds the civic foundation of the democratic and/or nondemocratic regimes in contemporary East
As a civic culture, Confucianism is not necessarily democratic in itself, and it is compatible with a wide range of political systems; nor is it afﬁliated with a particular doctrine
or a philosophical school of traditional, fully comprehensive, Confucianism that once penetrated both the public and
private lives of East Asians during the pre-modern era. Confucian civic/public culture consists mainly of various sorts of
rituals, social habits, civilities, mores, and moral sentiments,
which together constitute a characteristically Confucian
way of life. It is a particular life form (as well as a mode of
public reasoning) that, despite its internal evolution, is culturally intelligible and socially attractive to the people who
share its semiotic meaning and have long participated in its
meaning-making processes over generations.
During the regime transition, people ﬁghting for democracy naturally concentrate on removing the current evil
and thus are prevented from entering into serious public
deliberation on what kind of democracy they want to
eventually live under. As noted earlier, at this stage it is even
ambiguous whether people really aspire to live a democratic
way of life, which necessarily requires a drastic change in
their political constitution, social behavior with other citizens, and personal attitude toward the new democratic
political institutions and social practices. For non-Western
people, democracy is not only new as a political system but,
more fundamentally, as a way of life, and therefore democratic consolidation is doubly challenging. First, it has to be a
social process in which the initial instrumental value of democracy is slowly superseded, but never wholly replaced, by
the values that accrue in the course of citizens’ intelligent
collective inquiry into social problems and problem solving.
Failure in this process means that democracy has not become
a value to citizens in its own right and is thus likely to be
sidelined for the sake of goods, economic or otherwise, to
which its political institutions, decoupled from their underlying moral principles and social meaning, are conducive
Democratic consolidation does not take place in a social
vacuum, however. The fact that the process in which the
intrinsic value of democracy as a way of life is incrementally
recognized, then fully cherished, by citizens co-participating
in collective self-government, is a social and communicative
process informs us that it involves negotiation between the
new democratic way of life, politically initiated and based on
formal institutions of Western provenance, and the ongoing
cultural way of living that has hitherto provided a semiotic
web of social meaning for, and communication among, the
people who have now been transformed, at least legally, into
democratic citizens. The second task of democratic consolidation, then, is to bridge the gap between cultural and
democratic ways of life, especially when the cultural way of
life, like the Confucian culture, is signiﬁcantly at odds with
newly introduced democratic values and practices (including
One way to “bridge” the gap between the indigenous
cultural way of living and the democratic way of life is simply
to replace the former by the latter in the public arena by
highlighting their mutual incommensurability. Here the
assumption is that, in its most authentic form, democracy is
a liberal democracy, and that in order to be sustainable,
democracy ought to be predicated on the corresponding
liberal civic culture, at the core of which lies rights-based
individualism. Since Confucian civic culture is neither democratic nor liberal, the argument goes, it must be replaced
by, or transformed into, a liberal-democratic civic culture
so that there can be a perfect congruence between the
democratic constitutional structure and the background
culture of civil society. However, there is a critical problem
in this liberal congruence thesis, even though it rightly assumes that, in the most profound sense, democracy, however important the second-order value of its formal in-
January 2017 / 247
stitutions is, is a way of life, and the citizens’ collective
way of life is inextricably imbedded in their civic culture.
The problem arises when the thesis posits that nonliberal
democratic citizens can only be “introduced” to the intrinsic value of democracy if the intrinsic value of living
according to their cultural way of life is replaced by, or
transformed into, a new public mode of life (i.e., a liberaldemocratic life) that is extrinsic to their lifestyle and selfunderstanding.
Pragmatic Confucian democracy rejects the liberal congruence thesis and instead upholds what I call the mutual
accommodation thesis, according to which a newly introduced democratic way of life should dialectically interact
with the local Confucian civic culture, thereby generating
the Confucian democratic culture, a new civic culture distinct from both liberal civic culture and traditional undemocratic Confucian civic culture. In Confucian democratic
culture, participatory and educative processes of social communication and problem solving (or decision making) are
mediated through Confucian rituals, habits, civilities, mores,
and moral sentiments, which together form the existing semiotics of social communication. It is through this cultural
mediation that a new democratic way of life not only becomes
socially meaningful but further enables intelligent social interactions among equal citizens à la Dewey. When democratic
culture is made intelligible in this way, citizens can ﬁnd it
valuable in its own right. Put differently, Confucian democratic culture is a democratic civic culture that is intrinsically
valuable to citizens in a socially Confucian and politically
Furthermore, the interaction between democratic culture
and Confucian culture is not simply a one-way transformation, from Confucian culture to democratic culture.
While Confucian culture renders democratic culture socially
intelligible and intrinsically valuable by transforming it into
Confucian democratic culture, new democratic institutions
and social practices simultaneously inﬂuence the way that
certain values and/or ideas have been understood and practiced traditionally. Consider gender equality. Admittedly,
traditional Confucian societies in East Asia, albeit in varying degrees, have been androcentric, patrimonial, and
patriarchal—tenets that have long been rationalized by
the cultural authority of Confucian rituals. However, in
the post-democratic constitutional and societal context in
which the value of gender equality is publicly recognized,
all sorts of gender inequalities that have severely injured
the equal public standing of women as mothers, wives,
daughters, and daughters-in-law are to be rectiﬁed in ways
that can elevate them as equal members within their families (including clans) and as equal citizens who can actively
248 / Pragmatic Confucian Democracy Sungmoon Kim
participate in public decision-making processes without
What is important is that this rectiﬁcation process,
stimulated by democratic-constitutional principles and values,
is itself circumscribed by Confucian moral reasoning—ﬁrst
among citizens in civil society and then among their political
and legal representatives in more formal public forums,
such as the parliament and the court—hence, mutual accommodation or dialectical interaction.20 More speciﬁcally,
citizens and their representatives are encouraged to participate in the public deliberation as to what would be the most
Confucian-humane (ren 仁) way to rethink the relationship
between men and women in the modern societal context,
who are nevertheless socially imagined to exist as sons and
daughters, husbands and wives, and fathers and mothers,
not as rights-bearing individuals, and whose democratic
citizenship is envisioned broadly in terms of (extended)
Seen in this way, Confucian culture and democratic culture are mutually constraining as much as mutually enhancing, resulting in a Confucian democratic culture, a sort
of cultural amalgam, which makes democracy (i.e., Confucian democracy) the citizens’ new public way of life and civil
society the home of democracy. This mutual accommodation thesis not only enables us to engage with various forms
of local Confucianism that actually exist in modern East Asia
with continuing social evolution, but, more importantly in
the present context, helps us make sense of the signiﬁcance
of Confucianism as a civic culture in the process of democratic consolidation and further maturation of the democracy afterward. Equally important, the thesis enables us to
understand democracy’s instrumental and intrinsic values
without blurring the analytical distinction between Confucianism and democracy and thus without rendering the
value of democracy dependent on traditional philosophical
Confucianism’s perfectionist moral ends.
then revamped the conventional “instrumental versus intrinsic” framework against the political background of democratic transition and consolidation in contemporary East
Asia, whose societal culture remains characteristically Confucian to this day. I argued that the semi-disciplinary distinction between the Schumpeterian conception of democracy
and its Deweyan counterpart is useful as long as it is an
analytical distinction with a view to illuminating the distinct value—instrumental or intrinsic—that democracy’s two
inseparable dimensions each possess. My alternative view was
that, given the inseparability of democracy’s dual aspects as a
political system and as a way of life, its instrumental and intrinsic values should be understood as equally inseparable,
although, in practice, the latter, accruing in the course of living
a democratic life, is conditional on the former, which works
through the entrenchment of democratic institutions. Then I
reexamined the core arguments of Confucian meritocrats and
Confucian participatory democrats with regard to the value
of democracy from the perspective of the “from instrumental to intrinsic” framework and revealed how one dimensional each position’s understanding of democracy is,
making it difﬁcult for each group to articulate the value of
democracy adequately in its respective Confucian political
theory. After noting that Confucian political theorists often
present the value of democracy as structurally dependent
on the value of (philosophical) Confucianism, I ﬁnally offered pragmatic Confucian democracy as an alternative
normative framework that can best help us to make sense of
the value of Confucianism, understood as civic culture, in
relation to the intrinsic value of democracy without confounding the two analytically. My central claim was that
pragmatic Confucian democracy, supported by the mutual
accommodation thesis, can address the methodological conundrum surrounding the value of Confucianism, the value
of democracy, and the value of Confucian democracy in a
philosophically principled and politically relevant way.
In this paper, I demonstrated the normative value of pragmatic Confucian democracy in East Asia by revisiting the
value of Confucian democracy both as a political system
and as a way of life (or culture). In order to do so, ﬁrst, I
examined democracy’s instrumental and intrinsic values,
I would like to thank Joseph Chan, Tom Christiano, P. J.
Ivanhoe, Jung In Kang, Hsin-wen Lee, Alan Patten, Henry
Richardson, and Rogers Smith for their valuable advice and
comments on my ideas presented in this work. I also thank
the journal’s editor in political theory and anonymous
reviewers for their feedback. A previous version of this
manuscript was presented in the Department of Political
Science at Sogang University, South Korea.
19. Korean Constitutional and Supreme Courts’ decisions in the 2000s
to abolish the family-head system and to ban discrimination between men
and women in terms of membership and property rights within clan
organizations powerfully demonstrate this reverse accommodation process (Kim 2016, 107–67).
20. Therefore, my understanding of democratic representation is
more expansive than the conventional view in democratic theory, which is
focused on the legislature. My view is indebted to several works, including
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