Confucian elitism : rituals, elites, and governance

儒學精英主義 : 禮, 精英與管治

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Su Hui Kris TEO


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Feb 2007


This thesis explores the nature of Confucian governance. It argues that Confucian governance is a type of elitismcharacteristic of Confucian rituals (li ). While in modern society elitism is often taken negatively due to its apparent clashes with the liberal social-democratic ideas of liberty, equality, and rights, this author testifies to the merits of Confucian elitism as well as to its feasibility for application. Drawing on rich Confucian moral and intellectual resources concerning ritual as well as a distinction made between the inner and outer aspects of ritual, the author sets out to demonstrate the scope and probity of relevant Confucian thoughts and practices in comparison with anti-elitist, democratic ideologies and activities. Chapter I introduces the various concepts of elitism and draws several important distinctions of elitism, including functional-nonfunctional, monistic-pluralistic, and moral-political-governance. Confucian elitism is compared with its counterpart in the west as represented by Aristotle’s aristocracy. In Chapter II, the concept of Confucian elitism is further explicated by appropriately understanding rituals. Confucian elitism is characterized by an orderly society based on rituals, with elites setting exemplary examples for others through their own self-cultivation and hard work in ritual performance. The inner-outer distinction of rituals is drawn to present an account of the unity of moral, political and governance elitism in Confucianism. In Chapter III, the concept of equality is examined with the help of the concept of Confucian ritual, in which natural-evaluative equality is distinguished. The inner ritual aspects of sincerity, respect and understanding throw new light on the study of equality. Chapter IV deals with the idea of liberty. MacCallum’s triadic relational view of liberty is introduced in ways in which the Confucian elitist integration of the external and internal features of liberty is defended. Chapter V rounds up the liberal’s concern with rights. The view of rights as claims is compared with Confucian elitist account of virtues. Related questions of whether a virtuous society without rights is desirable and if a secondary concept of rights is needed are answered. The question of how to select the best people for governance is explicated in Chapter VI with Singapore as an example to illustrate a proposal for a revised method of civil service examinations. The thesis concludes that Confucianism is still applicable to modern life in general and in the area of governance in particular. Confucian elitism offers a better option for people to consider than the popular liberal democracy.

    Research areas

  • Rituals, Confucianism and state, Elite (Social sciences), Confucianism