A Ku Indeed!

Reading Group: East Meets West

Posted in China, Chinese Philosophy, Ethics, Life, Mencius, philosophy, Politics by Chris on November 25, 2008

j6830Readers, lurkers and comment makers, lend me your ears: Peony, Bill Haines and I will be organizing a virtual “reading group” (which will take place both here and at Peony’s place, Tang Dynasty Times) focusing on Daniel Bell’s 2000 work East Meets West. The book deals with a very timely topic and is written in dialogue form, making the work accessible to both academics and non-academics alike. See below the fold for more information on the book and the reading group schedule. Hopefully many of the lurkers here will take up the opportunity to buy the book and read along, hopefully joining in on the online conversation. The more the merrier!

Blurb on the Book

The description of Bell’s book at Princeton University Press reads:

Is liberal democracy a universal ideal? Proponents of “Asian values” argue that it is a distinctive product of the Western experience and that Western powers shouldn’t try to push human rights and democracy onto Asian states. Liberal democrats in the West typically counter by questioning the motives of Asian critics, arguing that Asian leaders are merely trying to rationalize human-rights violations and authoritarian rule. In this book–written as a dialogue between an American democrat named Demo and three East Asian critics–Daniel A. Bell attempts to chart a middle ground between the extremes of the international debate on human rights and democracy.

Bell criticizes the use of “Asian values” to justify oppression, but also draws on East Asian cultural traditions and contributions by contemporary intellectuals in East Asia to identify some powerful challenges to Western-style liberal democracy. In the first part of the book, Bell makes use of colorful stories and examples to show that there is a need to take into account East Asian perspectives on human rights and democracy. The second part–a fictitious dialogue between Demo and Asian senior statesman Lee Kuan Yew–examines the pros and cons of implementing Western-style democracy in Singapore. The third part of the book is an argument for an as-yet-unrealized Confucian political institution that justifiably differs from Western-style liberal democracy.

This is a thought-provoking defense of distinctively East Asian challenges to Western-style liberal democracy that will stimulate interest and debate among students of political theory, Asian studies, and international human rights.

Book Review

A review of the book at Philosophy East and West offers this description:

Bell has produced a tour de force of great depth …[A] solid philosophical work, respectful but tough minded, that illuminates East Asian political perspectives and forces Americans to reexamine their own assumptions. — Lucian W. Pye Foreign Affairs Daniel Bell has produced a book that is as creative and intriguing as it is scholarly and substantial. He has created three dramatic, engaging, philosophically penetrating dialogues illuminating the ‘Asian Values’ debate… These dialogues are accessible and even entertaining, but they are also thoroughly researched and tightly argued. — Steven Wrage Millenium Bell’s East Asian interlocutors express some of the bewilderment felt by the recipients of America’s moral advice, and the offer a robust critique… American advocates of human rights tend to argue from principle: East Asians from how things currently are on the ground. — Alex de Waal London Review of Books Bell criticizes ‘West-centric perspectives,’ which assume that every society aspires to the ideal of becoming a Western-style liberal democracy. [This is an] extremely rich new book.

Virtual Group Schedule

At this point, we are planning on starting the first thread(s) the week starting Monday, December 15th (this gives people a chance to buy the book — selling used on Amazon for as low as six dollars — and start reading). The first threads will cover the first half of chapter one, “Toward a Truly International Human Rights Regime.” Look for the first post to appear at Peony’s place, and then after that for threads to appear here as well, allowing for discussion about more than one topic at a time. As things progress at that point we’ll figure out how quickly or slowly to progress through the rest of the book.

Hopefully you can join us to discuss this interesting book!

Update: my first post here at A Ku Indeed will likely go up towards the end of that week, since I need to get my finals graded. Looking forward to the conversation, if anyone is willing to join in!

8 Responses

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  1. […] blog on Daniel Bell’s new book East Meets West. Here is the link to their announcement: https://oolongiv.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/reading-group-east-meets-west/#more-943. Sounds great; I’ll have to squeeze in Bell’s book somewhere in my end of term […]

  2. Mark said, on November 28, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Is this something I might be able to benefit from? I wouldn’t venture to say that I’d be of any productive use to the reading group as an undergrad, but it might be fun to see how ideas are parsed out in a group of scholars instead of in the classroom. Panza?

  3. Chris said, on November 29, 2008 at 6:39 pm


    Sure, why not? I certainly think you’d get something out of it, if the subject interests you. Feel free to add a comment on anything if something strikes you as interesting in some way. I’d be happy to have you join in.

    I’m not sure how many “scholars” will show up, by the way. Could be a small group of people just interested in the subject (I don’t know much about it myself). Could be just me and you! 🙂

    Amazon has used copies of the book for pretty cheap, by the way — so it is affordable on the undergraduate budget. The library doesn’t have it yet, unfortunately (I should know, 50% of the Asian studies book there I personally ordered!).

  4. Chris said, on December 3, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    My copy finally arrived today — with a big huge “USED” sticker stuck to the back of the book, one that I can’t seem to be able to get off.

    Ah well, that’s what happens when you pay $4.90.

  5. […] anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, perhaps in part because A Ku Indeed and Tang Dynasty Times are starting a reading group on Daniel Bell’s East Meets West: Human […]

  6. […] Politics by Chris on December 14th, 2008 If you are not aware, we’re trying to start up a virtual “reading group” on Daniel Bell’s 2000 work, East Meets West. Virtual reading groups are a new thing to me […]

  7. […] you are not aware, we’re trying to start up a virtual “reading group” on Daniel Bell’s 2000 work, East Meets West. Virtual reading groups are a new thing to me […]

  8. […] anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, perhaps in part because A Ku Indeed and Tang Dynasty Times are starting a reading group on Daniel Bell’s East Meets West: Human […]

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