It is known that in Singapore the imposition of unity and conformity has been supervised closely by a leadership imbued with a strong sense of its own unique capacity to create a well-ordered political, social and economic structure resting on a high degree of harmony and consensus. In fact Singapore 's authoritarian governance has been both concealed and justified by its Confucianization of politics.
Lee Kuan Yew, who laid the foundations of a system his son now controls as Singapore's third Prime Minister, is the author of the appropriation of Confucius, seeking to defend illiberalism by grounding it in an appeal to ancient and ineffable Chinese traditions. Nonetheless, when seeking to wrest sovereignty from British colonial control, Lee had recourse to universal civil and political rights, such as the freedom to organize and to hold peaceful protests. And he aptly warned: 'repression is a habit that grows’. And so it has grown in Singapore, where the defense of universal human rights has been reversed, replaced by a questionable and politically convenient invocation of 'local' values. Elections in Singapore are tightly controlled to minimize opportunities for genuine competition. Individuals who run against People's Action Party (PAP) candidates, and electorates that actually vote them into parliament, suffer the consequences at the hands of a government with very little tolerance for such behavior. The ruling party punishes electoral districts that do not toe the line while opposition politicians are harassed and intimidated relentlessly. The Internal Security Act - with its provisions for indefinite detention without trial has sometimes been used against political opponents. But the civil law has proved just as useful, with PAP figures successfully prosecuting defamation cases and bankrupting opponents in previous years. (Francis T. Seow, The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited, 1998, p. 208).
Also aspects of public and private life are controlled through education, health, housing, employment, pensions and the regulation of associational life. Not surprisingly, the government rejects the concept of 'civil society' in the sense that this names a social space free of government regulation or surveillance. In its place we find a concept of 'civic society' emphasizing duties and obligations to the community rather than, 'individual rights'. Explanation of the differences between 'civic' and 'civil' in formal discourses in Singapore are phrased in terms of communitarian versus individualistic values and practices. Civic values are of course those depicted as communitarian in nature, emphasizing 'self-help, social responsibility and public courtesy' and working for the 'larger good of society'. Civil values, which include individual rights such as free speech, are depicted as far less worthy and representative only of 'special interests'. (“Civic or Civil Society” in Straights Times, 9 May 1998, p. 48).
Singapore 's political system has deployed culture in general, and Confucianism in particular, as a political tactic against the legitimacy of political opposition. This must be understood against the background of rapid economic change in Singapore since full independence in 1965, and the social and political consequences of such change. In the early post-independence period, modernization was vigorously promoted and 'traditional cultural values' were regarded as inhibiting the attitudes needed to create an economically robust state. After just a decade and a half, however, the PAP perceived that it could well fall victim to its own success, for modernization very often meant political liberalization as well. Attention therefore shifted to readjusting official ideology and, with it, the cultural/political orientation of the population so as to achieve modernization sans liberalization.
A major turning point came when the PAP's share of the popular vote started to decline. By the late 1970s Prime Minister Lee began to express public concern about too much 'Westernization'. This included the development of a more open, critical public political culture manifest in the electorate's growing willingness to listen to a variety of alternative ideas about politics and government, and to vote for opposition candidates. Particular attention was given to the 'problem' of the Singaporean Chinese, with Lee Kuan Yew expressing concern about the corrosive effects that Western influences were having on this population group. (Martin Lu, Confucianism: Its Relevance to Modern Society, Singapore, Federal Publications, 1983, pp. 71,85).
Singaporean Chinese, viewed as especially vulnerable to the insidious effects of Western culture, therefore became a priority for re-education. Since they also constituted around three quarters of the population, with Malays, Indians and other smaller groups making up the remainder, they happened to be politically the most significant. Thus traditional Confucian ethics were recruited to bring the ethnic Chinese firmly back under the ideational control of the government. In as far as Confucianism is Chinese, Singaporean Chinese could be expected to feel a 'natural' affinity with it. This project was difficult to promote, however, partly because Singaporean Chinese had never had any particular familiarity with Confucian teachings. Nonetheless, the stereotypical equation of Confucianism with Chineseness worked well, if measured by the degree of tacit acceptance with which it was met. In 1983 the Institute of East Asian Philosophies (lEAP) was founded for the purpose of advancing the understanding of Confucian philosophy so that it could be reinterpreted to meet the needs of contemporary society. (Joseph B. Tamney, 'Confucianism and Democracy' Asian Profile, 19 (5), 1991: 400).
Elements of harmony, consensus and society before self - the very essence of what was later to become the core of 'Asian values' were emphasized as culturally authentic and explicitly contrasted with the dissent and individualism said to mark Western liberal democracies. One lEAP scholar proposed to dispense with the oppositional elements of democracy altogether, arguing that 'the genuine consent of the people going through the process of selection in a one-party state is ... democratic' and that whereas Western democracy allowed debate both inside and outside government, the 'Eastern form of democracy' allowed government to reach a consensus 'through closed debate with no opposition from without'. (Wu Teh Yao, Politics East - Politics West, Singapore, Pan Pacific Book Distributors, 1979, pp. 57-58).
The PAP nonetheless wanted Singapore to be called a democracy, thus shoring up its credentials as a modern state commanding respect in the international sphere where no state could actually call itself authoritarian. Postcolonial states such as Singapore had argued for independence on the basis of self-determination and all the normative implications this principle has for democracy. But substance generally mattered less than appearances. In Singapore , as in other authoritarian states, the challenge for the PAP in the postcolonial order was to revise democracy so as to retain the formal institutions while eliminating any substantive challenges to their monopoly of power. The very civil and political liberties so passionately argued for under British colonial rule were now repudiated at the point of inconvenience to new power-holders. There is nothing new in partisanship and self-interest defeating a general principle. What is of interest here is the way in which particularistic cultural principles were harnessed to this cause.
Regardless of the actual lack of Confucian knowledge or understanding among the Singaporean Chinese, the fact that a quarter of Singapore 's population was not ethnically Chinese meant that those belonging to ethnic minority groups were alienated by the emphasis on what was seen as a purely Chinese programme. Precisely because Confucianism was equated with Chineseness, it could not neutrally embrace a population that was also Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh and so on. But the political project of creating a set of values to contrast with those of the West could not be abandoned. Confucianization therefore gave way to a 'shared national values' campaign. Again this was initiated and closely supervised by the PAP government, being formally introduced in a white paper entitled 'Shared Values' released in 1991. In addition to stressing the dangers of 'Western values', four key values were identified as common to all the major 'Asian' traditions: 'the placing of society above self; upholding the family as the basic building block of society; resolving major issues through consensus rather than contention; and stressing racial and religious harmony'. (Singapore, Parliament, Shared Values, Cmd. 1 of 1991, p. 3).
The set of Confucian values promoted earlier was therefore transformed into a set of generic' Asian values'. Packaging what was simply a very conservative set of social and political values was not only more suitable for Singapore's diverse population but more readily available elsewhere in the region, especially in neighbouring Malaysia where the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, was keen to promote Asian values as the basis for his own particular brand of anti-Westernism while shoring up the legitimacy of his own political position. Since then, the Asian values discourse has moved back and forth between a narrower focus on 'Confucian values' and the broader Asianist approach, depending on the country concerned and the audience. But Confucianism, like any relatively complex system of thought, whether embodied in religions like Islam and Christianity or ideologies like socialism and liberalism, contains ambiguities and contradictions accommodating a variety of interpretations.
Interpreting Confucius 'Confucianism' names a complex set of ideas almost universally assumed to have originated with a historical figure known in English as Confucius, otherwise rendered as Kongzi, Kung Ch'iu, Kung Tzu or K'ung Fu-tzu. A native of Shandong province, Confucius is thought to have lived during the transition from the Spring to Autumn period of the Zhou Dynasty from around 551 to 479 Be, when chaos and disorder attended the breakdown of political and social order. The original teachings attributed to Confucius - contained largely in the collection of sayings known as The Analects or Lunyu - reflect a concern with establishing lasting peace and harmony in social and political life. It was a formula for what we might now call 'good governance' incorporating a strict set of rules, rituals and relationships supporting a moral order based on virtue. It resembled a feudal order in which the emperor or 'son of Heaven' stood firmly at the helm. Although authoritarian, it placed an unequivocal emphasis on benevolence and leadership by moral example rather than force or coercion, and enjoined the ruler to govern not in his own interests, but in the interests of those under his care. This approach was deemed likely to engage widespread acquiescence and contentment among the populace at large, and was therefore much more rational and efficacious than blunt instruments of coercion.
Rulers were regarded as successful to the extent that their conscientious duty of care attracted uncoerced deference, loyalty and obedience, producing widespread peace and harmony. While maintaining the need for hierarchy as a vital principle of this order, meritocracy was introduced as a means of nurturing moral qualities and making the best use of available talent. This system further implied duties and obligations according to one's place in the system. Family relations were rigidly defined according to gender and birth order. These relations were projected onto the wider sphere of society and state, with the emperor standing as the ultimate father figure. Society and state were conceived as a single organic entity with no distinction between the political and social realms. Despite usually being categorized in religious terms - possibly because of references to the 'way of heaven' and to the emperor as the 'son of heaven', and due to a metaphysical conception of heaven more generally as a source of virtue - Confucianism is an essentially secular tradition of thought.34 It also displays a thoroughgoing humanism with clear universalist assumptions that matches anything produced in European philosophy. (Ray Billington, Understanding Eastern Philosophy, London, Routledge, 1997, p. 119).
Confucian thought was developed by generations of scholars with figures as diverse as the mystical Mencius (Mengzi or Meng Ke) to the rationalist His in Tzu contributing highly influential interpretations. The contrast can be illustrated by reference to their views of human nature. While Mencius championed the inherent goodness of the human (equating goodness with what was natural), His in Tzu regarded it as essentially evil, and believed that only training and education could overcome it. Different Chinese emperors adopted and developed aspects of the tradition in ways that added to its complex evolution. Confucianism as a tradition of social and political thought, then, has not maintained a single, consistent and uncontested body of doctrine no tradition does. It owes much to successive thinkers and their attempts to maintain its practical relevance at different times and according to different demands. It is not a 'neatly packaged organic whole in which the constitutive parts fall naturally into their places' but has rather displayed the usual ruptures of cultural constructions, 'being forged and re-forged, configured and re-configured'. ( Kai-Wing Chow, On-Cho Ng and John B. Henderson (eds), Imagining Boundaries: Changing Confucian Doctrines,Texts and Hermeneutics, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1999, p. 3).
Nor was Confucianism the only body of thought to develop in China. Scholars of Chinese political philosophy can point to the existence of anarchists, humanitarian socialists, legalists, ceremonialists, absolutists, cooperativists, imperialists and constitutional monarchists. And there are more distinct philosophical traditions associated with Taoism and Buddhism, each of which has had a significant impact. It would therefore be a serious mistake to simply conflate Chineseness with Confucianism - a mistake parallel to conflating European social and political thought with liberalism while ignoring conservatism, socialism and other systems of ideas. (Leonard Shih lien Hsii, The Political Philosophy of Confucianism, London, Curzon Press, 1975, p. xviii).
Fact is however also that 'Confucianism', as a word and doctrine, may have a relatively recent origin, emerging in the sixteenth century when Jesuits who travelled to China sought to encapsulate a particular complex of ideas encountered there. (Xinzhong Yao, An Introduction to Confucianism, Cambridge (MA), Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 16-17).
And the historical figure of Confucius that emerged in the twentieth century is more likely a product fashioned over just a few centuries, rather than millennia, and performed 'by many hands, ecclesiastical and lay, Western and Chinese'. (Lionel M. Jensen, Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions and Universal Civilization, Durham NC, Duke University Press, 1997, pp. 4-5).
The Lunyu most likely is a composite work compiled by different authors over time rather than by a single figure and significant portions of the 'Five Classics' are also of doubtful historicity. (Hsii, Political Philosophy of Confucianism, pp. xiii-xv).
One scholar argues that the Jesuitical re-creation of the 'native hero', Kongzi, was taken up by Chinese intellectuals, becoming part of the inventive myth-making vital to engineering 'a new Chinese nation through historical reconstruction', a project itself inspired by 'the imported nineteenth-century Western conceptual vernacular of nationalism, evolution, and ethos [which] lent dimension to the nativist imaginings of twentieth-century Chinese, who reinvented Kongzi as a historical religious figure.' (Jensen, Manufacturing Confucianism, p. 5).
The complexity of Confucianism is further illustrated by its treatment of political criticism. On one reading, it posits coterminous political and social realms. Harmony - the basic principle for the right ordering of these realms - depends ultimately on individuals acting correctly in their given roles and accords with an organic conception of the state and an uncompromisingly moralistic view of political power together with the idea of rule by moral example. Thus political power is not obtained through competitive adversarial processes but bestowed on certain individuals in accordance with the fundamental principles of a static, passive, paternalistic and hierarchical order. The stress on harmony and consensus can, on this reading, be interpreted as incompatible with criticism of those who hold political power for it threatens the integrity of the state, bringing disorder and confusion. Such an interpretation is anathema to the give-and-take of competitive politics. It is antithetic as well as to the idea that people within a society have different outlooks, values and interests and are entitled to give them political _expression. On this composite reading, it seems reasonable to infer an antipathy to the contemporary democratic process which takes open dispute, lively contestation and compromise as normal. Confucianism, however, is sufficiently complex and fluid to lend itself to varying interpretations. While the principles set out above describe an ideal order, it does not assume that political leaders have perfect knowledge or always conduct themselves in accordance with the highest principles. Elements of the tradition assign a valid place to criticism and modify the idea that the 'mandate of heaven' is completely unassailable from below. Criticism is permitted if based on moral concerns, although it cannot legitimately be political as it is in a system where competition for power is regarded as normal. (Peter R. Moody, Political Opposition in Post-Confucian Society, New York, Praeger, 1988, p. 3).
And although the enforcement of laws and morals usually requires unquestioning obedience, there are textual exceptions for resistance on moral grounds. A leading contemporary Confucian scholar notes that in the case of a morally responsible minister, 'where the ruler has departed from tao, it is quite proper for the minister to follow tao rather than his ruler', and notes that: 'If the ruler is dogmatic and authoritarian, the subject can revolt and choose a better one. The Book of Mencius considers revolution to be the right of the people. (Tu Wei-Ming, Confucian Ethics Today, Singapore, Federal Publications, 1984, p.24).
On another interpretation, Confucianism can actually support civil liberties, including freedom of _expression, which is basic to the role of constitutional opposition, although the grounds on which this can be done differs from the standard liberal justification: 'Whereas Western liberals justify freedom of speech on the ground of personal autonomy, Confucians see this as a means for society to correct wrong ethical beliefs, to ensure that rulers would not indulge in wrongdoing.' (Joseph Chan, 'A Confucian Perspective on Human Rights for Contemporary China' in Joanne R. Bauer and Daniel A. Bell (eds), Fhe East Asian Challenge for Human Rights, Cambridge, Cambridge University 'Press, 1999, p. 237).
Others emphasize that Confucianism 'is too rich and complex to be presumed ignorant of the value of individuality' and see openings in it that are hospitable to republican ideas, at least in so far as the value of individual self-development and' the cultivation of virtue is concerned. One scholar has produced a detailed study attempting to identify underlying liberal ideas in Chf1tese political philosophy. (See Wm. Theodore de Bary, The Liberal Tradition in China , New York , Columbia University Press, 1983. See also David Kelly, 'The Chinese Search for Freedom as a Universal Value' in David Kelly and Anthony Reid (eds), Asian Freedoms: The Idea of Freedom in East and Southeast Asia, Cambridge , Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 93-119).
Again others argue that none of this should be taken to imply that there is anything like a liberal tradition implicit in Confucian thought, claiming the latter lacks such inherently liberal notions as individual and human rights, evidence for which might be taken to lie in the absence of any institutional protection for dissenters.( James Cotton, “The Limits to Liberalization in Industrializing Asia: Three Views of the State”, Pacific Affairs, 64 (3), 1991: 320). The same, however, applies to the Athenian polis where democratic ideas were developed and institutionalized in the absence of liberal norms upholding individual rights and the protection of dissidents or critics.
In summary, Confucianism may be interpreted as both allowing and disallowing criticism, depending on the circumstances. Even assuming that only a conservative reading was obtainable, it does follow that societies with a Confucian legacy are incapable of tolerating a form of oppositional politics compatible with democratic government. A 'culture' that exists at any given point of time does not forever determine how people think and behave, at least not if culture is understood as a dynamic set of practices that are created and recreated in response to changing circumstances rather than as a straitjacket that forever binds communities within its grasp to a fixed set of beliefs and values. And even if we suppose that Confucianism and liberalism represent completely antagonistic value systems, we still cannot conclude that 'Western thought' and 'Asian thought' are polar opposites on a cultural/ideological spectrum. Neither liberalism nor Confucianism exhaust the varieties of accessible thought in either category, If we compare key aspects of Confucianism not with liberalism, but with Western/European conservative ideology and nationalist thought, it is relatively easy to find points of convergence. The nineteenth-century philosopher and nationalist, Ernest Renan, took the view that free speech should not enjoy institutional protection, albeit for different reasons than conservative Confucianism. (See Preston King, Toleration, London, Frank Cass, 1996, p. 107).
Closer to the latter tradition is a strand of classical European conservatism founded on organic principles of harmony, consensus and the notion that people have allotted roles and functions, duties and obligations.( Robert Eccleshall, Vincent Geoghegan, Richard Jay and Rick Wilford, Political Ideologies: An Introduction, London, Unwin Hyman, 1984, pp. 79-114).
This also accords with contemporary communitarian thinking which has its champions in both the Asian region and the West. Communitarianism itself comes in both conservative and socialist varieties, the shared point of departure being their opposition to liberal individualism and the repudiation of a range of community ties and obligations that is thought to be implied by it. Modern representative institutions reflect a certain ethic of political rule expressed by the word 'democracy' itself, a form of rule meaning 'rule or power of the people'. In its indirect, representative form, this means that people choose their rulers, but do not themselves rule directly. Beyond the descriptive meaning of democracy, there is also a distinct normative dimension. It provides democracy with its most basic justification: that it is right that people exercise ultimate political authority. This does not mean that political rule is always directed to the welfare or best interests of the people at large. For although this may be assumed to be part of the package, it does not distinguish the primary normative principle of a benevolent dictatorship from a democracy.
A pluralist position supports the notion that a variety of institutional forms can accommodate the primary norm of democratic rule, and these may reflect a variety of cultural (or other) factors. In addition, and again without losing the connection with the primary normative principles of democracy, such as liberty, equality and community. This does not imply that equality, for example, may legitimately be crushed in the name of freedom - or vice versa. It does not resolve such vexed questions as whether social and economic equality are a 'democratic right', or at least a prerequisite for meaningful political equality. And it does not offer a resolution of the apparent tensions between communitarian and individualistic approaches to social, economic and political life. Issues such as freedom and equality, or political and civil rights as distinct from social and economic rights, and individualistic versus communal approaches are often posited in a dichotomous, oppositional either/or form. This oppositional construction is misleading in the sense that equality does not preclude freedom (and vice-versa), that the enjoyment of political and civil rights does not entail the suppression of social and economic rights (and vice-versa), and that individualistic and communitarian approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Rather, it acknowledges that different political communities can legitimately pursue different modes of democratic _expression according to cultural or other contextual differences. In other words, democracy can accommodate a significant measure of cultural and political pluralism. This general pluralist position acknowledges both the fallibility of human constructions as well as the diversity that is characteristic of human communities - within as well as between them. But it stops well short of an 'anything goes' relativism by limiting interpretive possibilities and allowing that some forms of democracy may be better than others. In this sense, it is neither universalist in endorsing a single authoritative standard or interpretation of 'democracy', nor relativist in endorsing any and all interpretations as equally valid. This pluralist approach also places limits on the kinds of regimes which may legitimately call themselves democratic. The leaders of regimes of course, can call their preferred style of rule anything, they like, but this does not mean that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is actually democratic. Pluralism therefore allows for a certain degree of flexibility in both theorizing second order norms, principles and political practice, but maintains certain conceptual standards and limitations beyond which a regime cannot be regarded as democratic. This provides a minimal but nonetheless necessary and sufficient basis for comparative political scientists to go about the business of comparing.
This contrasts with a dogmatic relativism that allows an unlimited range of interpretive possibilities - whether these are linked to a cultural framework or not. Although this seems, on the face of it, to be a more 'democratic' epistemological position to adopt than one prescribing conceptual standards and limitations, the rigid relativist position can (and does) in fact provide a protective cloak for authoritarianism, as illustrated in the discussion of 'Asian democracy'. The pluralist position described here also rejects a dogmatic universalism endorsing a single authoritative standard of 'correctness' for democracy, for this works to silence alternative views and leaves little space for the legitimate diversity that characterizes democratic politics. But the pluralist position is not entirely unassailable either. Indeed, given the fallibilism inherent in an open model, it must remain receptive to criticism. So whereas the relativist and universalist positions described here both entail a certain closure of discourse - and for that reason are dogmatic - the pluralist position always remains open. Simply setting up a pluralist model, however, leaves unanswered certain problems in world politics, including accusations that some elites in 'the West' have attempted, in the name of ethical universalism, to assume moral authority in areas such as democracy and human rights so as to pursue hegemony by other means.(Ann Kent, 'The Limits of Ethics in International Politics: The International Human Rights Regime, Asian Studies Review, 16 (1), 1992: 32).
Much the same has sometimes been said about democracy promotion projects implying that the political systems of 'non-Western' countries must be remade in the image of 'the West' in order to achieve 'true' democracy. A recent critique of the enterprise of comparative politics suggests that the 'culture of the modern West', because it presents itself as the framework for understanding 'the other', continues to assume that less developed non-Western others are simply at an earlier stage in the 'evolution of the self'. This further implies that commonality between Western selves and non-Western others, assumed by this implicit evolutionist framework, still needs to be nurtured: 'Those to whom difference is attributed must be taught, and, if unwilling, they must be forced to recognize that assimilating to the "sameness" of Europeans is good for them. This remains the white man's pedagogical burden - a burden carried by the politics of a particular type of comparison.' Another commentator criticizes 'Western governments who support democracy in Africa as the process through which the universalizing of the Western model of society can take place.'(Claude Ake, 'The Unique Case of African Democracy', InternationaL Affairs, 69 (2), 1993: 239).
Since culturalist responses to universalist theories and methodologies, treat 'other cultures' on their own terms, we may well ask whether this ' idea' can be applied to other 'cultures' who do not necessarily possess such a notion of 'culture'. Or, if the cultural concept as formulated does have resonance 'other' places, this then, demonstrates, the fallacy of origins, and the problems of methodological contextualism.
For example critics of democracy promotion in Iraq today might be right when they urge 'sensitivity to context' and highlight the fact that democracy simply cannot be imposed by force. Even so, attempts to apply sensitivity to context often run the risk of simply reinforcing the power of oppressive local elites, sometimes at the expense of local pro-democracy movements. In these instances, a normative commitment to cultural contextualism (which is perhaps no less ethnocentric than a commitment to democracy, human rights and a cosmopolitan ethic) has often been adopted rather naively and without due regard to all that it entails, either philosophically or politically. Ideas of culture and context are important, but adopting a rigid methodological contextualism or culturalism is just as problematic as a rigid methodological universalism.
The apparent allegiance to these ideas and institutions which emerges from 'the West's shared history and culture' therefore needs to be placed alongside a more complete picture of the West which includes histories and 'cultures' of authoritarianism in both communist and fascist forms in addition to other products of 'Western culture' which of course include genocide, slavery, torture, fascism, militarism, colonialism, imperialism, the inquisition, religious fundamentalism, nationalism and romanticism as well as secularism, humanism, pacifism, communism and so on. Clearly, not all these have been exclusive products of 'Western culture' and most have appeared in other part of the world at one time or another. But to the extent that at one time or another they have indeed all emerged in the West, they illustrate beyond question the irreducible diversity of its political experiences and legacies. When something is attributed to the 'West's shared history and culture' we must always ask: which history and which culture?
Plus democracy has only recently come to be regarded as the cornerstone of 'the good' in world politics, achieving a moral prestige unknown in any previous period and claimed as the basis for virtually all the world's regimes, regardless of actual practices. Democracy owes its currency to two primary, inter-related factors. The first was the experience of the Second World War. Disgust with the fascist ideologies that had motivated the Axis powers, and the revulsion that attended realization of their ultimate consequences in the Holocaust, served to bolster democracy's credentials as the most desirable and morally creditable form of government. It was linked to standards for basic human rights so grossly abused in the death camps, and to the interests and well-being of the masses of ordinary men and women whose political and moral status had been transformed since the French Revolution. 'The people' now embodied the ultimate source of political legitimacy and authority. They were those whose interests the political system was meant to serve and, just as importantly, who were considered most competent to judge those interests by deciding who was to govern them.
The second factor was the decolonization movement which gained momentum in the aftermath of the Second World War with Harold Macmillan's 'winds of change'. Now all 'peoples', not just Europeans, or their descendants in other parts of the globe, were entitled to exercise the right to self-determination. So whereas the principle of national self determination in the form of sovereign statehood was promoted only within Europe following the First World War, it was now extended world-wide. This set the scene for the European state system and its foundational principles of sovereignty to become established as the global organizing norm for political community. The sovereignty principle of course has two dimensions, the first concerning the status and integrity of any given state vis-a-vis other states, and decreeing nonintervention in its internal affairs while the second concerns the location of sovereignty within the state. Given the ascendance of democratic ideas, sovereignty was now formally vested in 'the people'. The ideology of nationalism sought to define this entity more precisely in terms of 'a people' delineated by common cultural characteristics.
Or as we have seen in our above, case study about Singapore , ideas do not belong to specific places. They 'belong' wherever they happen to take root. Culturalist ideas developed in the human sciences clearly have a resonance well beyond Europe or North America . Indeed they provide many of the intellectual resources for the construction of the Asia/West dichotomy on which the cultural politics of in this case Confucian/Asian democracy rests. There is also a case for regarding the cluster of concepts that underpin 'Asian values' and 'Asian identity' as assembled very largely on the edifice of the ' Asia ' studied by Western scholars. This is so not just in terms of the geographic conceptualization of Asia , but also those studies based broadly on the concept of 'Asian political culture'. The subject point produced through this paradigm is at least partly a product of reconstituted images of cultural heritage or tradition derived substantially from Western studies of the Orient. This by no means implies a 'Western' hegemony or monopoly of ideas. Rather, it shows that the political elites most closely involved in promoting culturalist projects have found those intellectual resources most suitable for the task, and used them in what amounts to a self-Orientalizing discourse that works precisely because it confirms many of the old, but eminently serviceable cliches about 'East is East'.
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