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  • UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON

    Political Legitimacy, Representation and Confucian Virtue

    Kwanhu Lee

    Political Science Ph.D.

  • Political Legitimacy, Representation and Confucian Virtue Lee Kwanhu

    University College London Political Science

    1

    Abstract

    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 politicsthe representation of the peoples 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 peoples 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

  • Political Legitimacy, Representation and Confucian Virtue Lee Kwanhu

    University College London Political Science

    2

    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 peoples 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

  • Political Legitimacy, Representation and Confucian Virtue Lee Kwanhu

    University College London Political Science

    3

    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.

  • Political Legitimacy, Representation and Confucian Virtue Lee Kwanhu

    University College London Political Science

    i

    Contents

    Ch1. Introduction ...................................................................................................................... 1

    1. Problem .................................................................................................................... 1

    A. Background ........................................................................................................ 1

    B. Is it possible to borrow political legitimacy? .................................................... 2

    C. The teleological conception of democratization ................................................ 4

    2. Aim of Research ..................................................................................................... 8

    3. Methodology and Approach ................................................................................... 10

    A. Three steps of conceptual analysis .................................................................. 10

    B. Conceptual analysis: Skinner, his critics, and Confucian themes .................... 14

    C. Doing political theory in the Non West ........................................................... 19

    4. Main Sequences of Thesis ..................................................................................... 22

    Ch2. Political Legitimacy ....................................................................................................... 23

    1. Political Legitimacy ...............