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The Periodical of Politics, Economics and Philosophy Issue VI - Summer 2008

EA S T a n d WEST The Re-Emergence of China sovereign wealth funds confucian pragmatism Consensus on human rights asia and democracy why wealth inequality is bad Chinese Art The Club of

PEP Journal


The Periodical of Politics, Economics and Philosophy

The Club of

PEP Journal

“An ignorance of the historical greatness that the modern People’s Republic emerged from will blind leaders from understanding the motivation behind the re-emergence of China in international politics today.”

ISSUE VI Summer 2008

EASt and West ESSAY China re-emerging, not rising By Dylan Kissane

Dylan Kissane on why it is important to understand China from its own eyes. (page 6). PAGE 6

sovereign wealth funds By Damilare Tanimowo


Chinese Pragmatism By Rocco Sulkin


Contemporary Chinese art By Xue Jiye and Zhou Fan


Unforced consensus on human Rights By Professor Charles Taylor


Asia and democracy By Moses Lemuel


Why inequality is bad: a Response By Christo Albor


Photo credit:, Art Scene Warehouse

vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophy



The Periodical of Politics, Economics and Philosophy


ltimately all human beings are defined by their freedom and equality. This is why the distinction be-

tween East and West is indeed arbitrary, vague and fuzzy. There is so much East in the West, as there is West in the East. Nonetheless, the binary can serve as a starting point to understand another one’s philosophy, politics, economics, history, culture, and art. In that process, we might also learn something more VOX is the Club of about ourselves. PEP’s termly journal that serves as a plattThe first article of this issue argues that China is not rising form for insight into but rather re-emerging as a superpower and explicates why it is topics relating to important for policy-makers to keep this in mind (p. 6). Next, Politics, Economics and Philosophy. The Damilare Tanimowo explains why sovereign wealth funds from essence of VOX is the East have risen to such eminence with the recent global fiits interdisciplinary nancial crisis (p. 10). Then, there are articles on the pragmatic approach to each vein in Chinese philosophy and contemporary thought (p.14) edition’s issue. __________________ and the role of democracy in Asia (p. 28). Moreover, Professor Charles Taylor outlines his thoughts on the conditions for an VOX committee: unforced human rights consensus on page 20. VOX is honoured to feature some contemporary Chinese art. Ilaf Scheikh Elard Paul Mertenskötter Thanks goes to Xue Jiye, Zhou Fan and the Art Scene Warehouse Magda Assanowicz for granting printing permission (p.18). Euan Edwards If you want to get involved or write for the next edition, which Ibrahim Said will be on the topic “Individual and Community”, then contact Corey Burrows __________________ us at Undergraduates, post-graduates and academics are all welcome to write. We are looking forward to hear from you. __________________

Issue VI - Summer 2008

Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul. Victor Hugo

In the sky, there is no distinction of East and West; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true. Buddha

No nation is fit to sit in judgement upon any other nation. Woodrow Wilson

Ilaf Scheikh Elard, Paul Mertenskötter Editors 

vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophy

Issue VI - Summer 2008

China is re-Emerging, not rising By Dylan Kissane


n late 1993 Nicholas Kristof

argued in the pages of Foreign Affairs that “the rise of China, if it continues, may be the most important trend in the world for the next century”.1 Fifteen years later two things are clear: there is no longer any reason to wonder if China’s rise will continue and the impact of this surge in the East is now clearly the most important trend in international politics this century. Indeed, it is hard to turn one’s head these days without reading about the “rise of China” somewhere. Books like James Kynge’s China Shakes the World: The Rise of a Hungry Nation and Ian Storey’s ASEAN and the Rise of China are just two of hundreds of recent titles that describe, explain and predict the place of the People’s Republic in 

the twenty-first century.2 Journalists across the globe from Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald to Germany’s Der Spiegel, the Washington Post to the SouthChina Morning Post all file stories almost daily as the realities of a new epicentre of international power emerges in Beijing. Cable television news, talk radio and hundreds of blogs report daily on the rise of China and the impacts that this has had and will continue to have for the people of the Western world. Yet ask Korean researcher Yong-Bin Lee of Seoul National University about the rise of China and he’ll immediately correct you.3 According to Lee, what the world is witnessing is not so much a rise as the re-emergence of China and, as others will attest, the difference is far from semantic.

In a 2005 address David Finklestein, the Director of Project Asia at the CNA Corporation, argued: China as an international actor is reemerging after a two-century hiatus from the international order. What kept China from being a full participant on the international order in the past? The implosion of the Qing Dynasty, Warlordism, civil war, the Japanese conquest, and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution all contributed. Now China is re-emerging and reengaging the world on all fronts. For a century and a half the world has known an isolationist and weak China. The end of that China creates dislocations and great uncertainty for the watcher.4

Finklestein adds ominously: We do not know what China will do. Rex Li, too, does not categorise the increasing significance of China in

global geopolitics as a “rise”. He writes of a re-emergence by the PRC that is “the single most important development in the post-Cold War world” and notes that some will see the re-emergence of China as “a huge challenge to international society”.5 He joins a diverse group which includes analyst Robert Kaplan, Australia’s Secretary to the Treasury Ken Henry and former HSBC Chairman Sir John Bond in recognising the evolving status of China as not so much a rise but a reemergence of a once-dominant civilisation.6 Why, then, does the world point to a rising China instead of a re-emerging China? Sir John Bond offered perhaps the most straightforward explanation when he said in a 2005 speech that “the majority of people are completely 

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Issue VI - Summer 2008

tory and that the re-emergence of the China following Mao’s revolution will – if well managed by China’s leadership – will be akin to the rise of the Han dynasty in the wake of the Qin dynasty’s collapse.

unaware of China’s illustrious past”.7 As Bond explains, It is ironic that the country with perhaps the greatest history of all, and millennia of supremacy in the sophistication of its society, should today find itself branded a developing economy by the West.

Significantly, the leadership of the People’s Republic and the people of China have not forgotten this long history of international success. The PRC’s 2005 White Paper China’s Peaceful Development Road was an attempt to outline the future role of China in the world yet included reference to the Ming Dynasty and China’s seafaring past where “the largest fleet in the world” visited 30 countries under navigator Zheng He.9 Roy Bin Wong points to this long historical memory in his 1997 book China Transformed where he argues that present day China continues to resonate with imagery of the past [9]. He notes that the Chinese Communist Party draws its real strength from its ability to tap into a much deeper historic

cultural memory where the cultural referents remain the same no matter whether the ideology is socialist or dynastic.10 Take this longer view of history and it becomes clear that the popularly conceived “rise of China” is nothing more than the re-emergence of a people who once dominated the globe. Professor Wang Gungwu of the National University of Singapore is even more enthusiastic calling it a ‘revival’ by a people that maintain “a determination never to be threatened again.”11

There is no longer any reason to wonder if China’s rise will continue. The impact of this surge in the East is now clearly the most important trend in international politics this century. Gungwu argues that the last century and a half of relative weakness is but an aberration in China’s long his-

Take this longer view of history and it becomes clear that the popularly conceived “rise of China” is nothing more than the re-emergence of a people who once dominated the globe. So why is it important that we distinguish between a rise and a re-emergence? Does it really make any difference? Indeed it does. The perspectives of the leaders – who will interact with, compete with and ally with and against a twenty-first century China – matter a great deal. An ignorance of the historical greatness that the modern People’s Republic emerged from will blind those leaders from understanding the motivation behind the re-emergence of China in international politics today. As well, believing that the elevation of China is a relatively recent aberration in international power politics is problematic for leaders and policymakers. Instead, those that will guide dealings with the re-emergent East must take the broader historical view that recognises that the aberration is not the twenty-first century rise but the 19th

and 20th century decline. The difference between rise and reemergence, then, is much more than semantic. Unless the West recognises China’s ‘rise’ for the re-emergence and restoration that it really is then they will find themselves struggling to comprehend the significance and direction of the East Asian colossus. The China of today is not a twentyfirst century giant being born but a millennia old giant that is being woken once again.

ENDNOTES [1] Nicholas Kristof. 1993. ‘The Rise of China.’ Foreign Affairs 72(5): 59-74, p.59. [2] James Kynge. 2006. China Shakes the World: The Rise of a Hungry Nation. London: Phoenix; Ian Storey. 2007. ASEAN and the Rise of China. London: Routledge. [3] Yong-Bin Lee. 2008. Taking Central Asia Seriously: Changing Foreign Policy of China toward the Middle East in the Post-Cold War Era. Paper presented at the 3rd Graduate Conference in Political Science in Memory of Yitzhak Rabin, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel. [4] David Finklestein. 2005. China: The Big Picture. [18 March 2008] [5] Rex Li. 2004. ‘Security Challenges of an Ascendant China: Great Power Emergence and International Stability.’ In Chinese Foreign Policy: Pragmatism and Strategic Behavior, edited by Suisheng Zhao. New York: East Gate Books, p.23; p.33. [6] Katie Bacon. 2005. Managing China. [17 March 2008]; Ken Henry. 2006. Implications of China’s re-emergence for the fiscal and economic outlook. Address to the Australian Business Economists, 16 May 2006; John Bond. 2005. China: The Re-Emergence of the Middle Kingdom. Speech to the Hong KongShanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), 19 July 2005. [7] Bond. 2005, p.1. [8] PRC. 2005. China’s Peaceful Development Road. [18 March 2008] [9]Roy Bin Wong. 1997. China Transformed: Historical Changes and the Limits of European Experience. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. [10] Wong. 1997, pp.192-193. [11] Wang Gungwu. 2002. The Emergence of China. The Radio Australia Asia-Pacific Lecture, University of Melbourne.

_____________________________ Dylan Kissane is a doctoral student at the School of International Studies at the University of South Australia. 

vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophy

Sovereign wealth funds One of the links between Eastern and Western economies during the credit crunch. By Damilare Tanimowo


ilton Friedman’s metaphor

of a “helicopter drop” in money can be aptly adapted to explain the latest buzz phrase in the international financier’s lexicon - the sovereignwealth fund. For those who have not tracked the surge of this phenomenon to the forefront of the international stage, sovereign-wealth funds (hereafter referred to as SWFs) are essentially state-owned funds that invest excess foreign exchange reserves; notably assets which have been amassed in large part due to increasing and high oil prices as well as burgeoning export volumes.This year alone these funds, collectively estimated to have more than $2 trillion at their disposal, have taken sizeable stakes in companies very much at the core of western finance. Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS, all huge players in the investment banking field, have experienced injections this year thought to be in the region of $40bn from SWFs, such as the Government 10

of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC). Some already speak of the an “invasion of the sovereign-wealth funds”. (The Economist)

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corporations. Late last year it may have been possible to analyse this trend merely as funds taking advantage of equity in influential financial companies at bargain prices due to the workings of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and ensuing credit crisis. As explanations go, this deserves a level of credence, yet the first few months of 2008 have shown SWFs are to become important mainstays in international finance and economics, demonstrated in no small part by the concern that Western policymakers have expressed regarding the transparency and objectives of these financial vehicles.

This year alone SWFs collectively are stimated to have more than $2 trillion at their disposal, have taken sizeable stakes in companies very much at the core of Western finance. The interest and capital of SWFs has not been lavished exclusively on the finance sector, yet a pattern has seemingly emerged whereby the stateowned wealth of nations, predominantly in Asia and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and China comprise the six largest SWFs, the Government Pension Fund of Norway being the odd one out) has found its way onto the balance sheet of Western financial

It may surprise you to learn that the first registered SWF (the Kuwait Investment Board) was created in 1953, and indeed they are not a new phenomenon. This particular SWF was mandated to invest Kuwait’s oil revenues in commodities, and this contrast provides an implicit explanation of why SWFs have been such a consistent hobbyhorse of financial commentators of late.

With the havoc wreaked last summer improving the credentials of the capital that SWFs have in abundance, their ascendance to the global fore looks set to continue. The effects of the sub-prime mortgage market meltdown (house loans granted to people whose credit history means their likelihood of defaulting is higher than normal, usually reflected in higher mortgage repayment interest rates) are still working their way through the financial system. Yet this crisis undoubtedly reveals at least why a favourable climate exists for SWFs to take ownership stakes in some of the keystones of western finance, shifting the balance of global financial power as they do. Two movements represent how this changing environment have ushered SWFs to be key shareholders in Western finance. The first is a straightforward tale of large investment banks’ exposure to securities that depend on sub-prime mortgages; as the market began to dry up for the re-packaged financial instruments that often comprised these mortgages, banks found they were due to make huge losses (the aptly named ‘write-down’). Citigroup has to date experienced a sub-prime write-down to the tune of $18bn, the current loss 11

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own positions before doing business with each other, the capital injections of SWFs have provided a relatively safe way for banks to recover some of their losses and finance future activities, without the headache, or risk, of what lies within that ominous package of collateralised debt obligations.

at UBS is thought to be $13.5bn, whilst Merrill Lynch’s affliction is denominated at $14.1bn. It seems to follow that these banks would be only too pleased to accept the gracious offers of SWFs with trillions of dollars at their disposal that would otherwise be sitting in reserves. The second movement too originates in the current financial turmoil, and unfortunately requires the deployment of some jargon. As well as the writedowns, investment banks have been forced to make, due to sub-prime exposure, the ever-increasing sophistication, and complexity, of the process of securitisation (by which firms are able to convert, in this case, mortgages into marketable securities and sell them on, with the buyers able to repeat this pro12

cess), a bout of jitteriness has been unleashed whereby banks are unsure of just who bears significant sub-prime exposure in their assets, the result being an unwillingness to lend to each other. The point being that such lending is how many banks have come to finance their daily operations. SWFs are known to be unaffected, in even vestigial form, by sub-prime problems and due to the huge pool of resources they have, are able to complete deals with less leverage (leveraged deals are those where a high amount of debt has been created in order to finance the deal). In the very cautious atmosphere that has descended on financial centres on both sides of the Atlantic, with firms more concerned with shoring up their

The capital injections of SWFs have provided a relatively safe way for banks to recover some of their losses and finance future activities, without the headache, or risk, of what lies within that ominous package of collateralised debt obligations. Added to the relatively low financial risk of the capital on offer from SWFs is the thinking that the investments being made, are prudent for the long term. Many SWFs have chosen to invest such that they have bought debt instruments which only convert to shares (usually yielding higher returns) after a number of years. It would be a correct assessment to perceive that those at the centre of western finance are content with the role that their eastern counter-parts are playing. However, as alluded to earlier, western governments harbour concerns regarding the growing stakes being bought up by eastern wealth funds. Though as yet largely untouched by

the riches of eastern state investment vehicles, leading public figures in the European Union, including Nicolas Sarkozy on more than one occasion, have spoken out in pre-emptive defence of European companies, picking out how the dearth of available information regarding the purposes of SWFs (are they simply profit-seeking or do they seek to pursue goals consistent with foreign policy?), and, as a corollary, the investment strategy they will pursue. Perhaps more revealing is the U.S. Senate. The Senate Finance Committee (whose oversight extends to the interactions of large U.S. banks and SWFs) recently noted that the rapid expansion of the funds raised ‘significant questions and concerns’ about their investment in U.S. assets. Those in government, it seems, are aware of the changing face of global finance, though with the havoc wreaked last summer improving the credentials of the capital that SWFs have in abundance, their ascendance to the global fore looks set to continue.

_____________________________ Damilare Tanimowo is a second year undergraduate reading Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of York.


vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophy

Pragmatic china

Confucius’ thought as one of the main sources for the pragmatic spirit of contemporary China. By Rocco Sulkin


was reminded of the commoN Con-

ception that general Chinese thought is in keeping with the more pedestrian form of pragmatism when watching an episode of the recent BBC series A Year in Tibet. Besides, what seemed to me, a good summation of China’s pragmatic attitude to Tibet upon its invasion (or annexation) of the region, one particular incident seemed to capture the pragmatic heart of Chinese thought. (continues on the following page)


Issue VI - summer 2008

A Tibetan man who had been awarded two stars for his hotel but, against Chinese instruction, didn’t want to display the certificate for fear of making his hotel appear too expensive was visited by a Chinese delegation from the relevant hotel body. After brief discussion between the parties the respective views were outlined: The Tibetan still didn’t want to put up his certificate and the Chinese delegation felt that it was his duty to do so. What was striking was the conclusion that both factions finally agreed upon. In what the BBC narrator called ‘a typical Chinese agreement’ the Tibetan was requested to publicly display the sign only when Chinese officials were making a visit to the town; at all other times he could put the sign informing customers that his hotel had two stars anywhere he wanted. This seemed to me an excellent example of pragmatic thought in the pedestrian sense, a line of thought that dates back to the earliest Chinese thinkers. Confucius (551-479) and his teachings are generally recognised as the genesis and bedrock of much of ancient Chinese philosophical thought. Confucius, born in the state of Lu, was descended from a family of impoverished aristocrats that dated back from the Shang dynasty. He made a prosperous living in politics, instructing civil servants and concerning much of his time organising the running of provincial governments and, like Socrates, he never wrote anything down.

Confucius’ philosophy is a collection of political instructions, just as he was, in essence, a statesman, a traditionalist and a civil servant. The concerns of his contemporaries in ancient Greece about what we can know and how we can know it would have seemed alien to him. Confucius’ teachings were more appropriated to the efficient running of government and effective means of taxation.

Pragmatism refers to an approach of thought that evaluates beliefs and theories in terms of the success of their application. This down-to-earth pragmatism is something that has stayed with Chinese philosophy through millennia. As Robert E Allinson puts it, ‘we could demarcate the Chinese mind in terms of its greater emphasis upon, and consequent development of, the practical as against the theoretical mind’. It is worth another sideways look at ancient Greek philosophy to highlight how pragmatic Confucius was. While Plato, Confucius’s junior by two-hundred years or so, was searching in his Republic for an over-arching and perfect definition of Justice, Confucius’ instructions to his disciples often bore no relation to a single, consistent philosophy but would alter from instance to instance. For example, when asked by one disciple what to do when the 15

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disciple’s province was confronted by an invading army Confucius instructed him to forge a language of communication between the invading and defending force, so that discussion between the two could bring peace. On another occasion, however, when asked by a different disciple how to successfully repel an aggressive force Confucius answered that the best thing to do would be to spare no mercy and to slaughter every enemy. Adaptive and pragmatic as Confucianism may have been there is no doubt that the movement had an immensely far reaching influence on subsequent movements of Chinese philosophy, which were often products, in one way or another, of different parts of Confucius’ pragmatic teachings.

Pragmatism, in its formal sense, was the long desired solution to the problem of finding a naturalistic philosophy of life. Daoism teaches that because all things are, like running water, constantly shifting in value from opposite to opposite we cannot prioritise one belief over another. Therefore, without any consistent idea of what good or bad might really be, we must act to emulate ‘Ziran’ (acting spontaneously). The emulation of Ziran, Daoists believe, leads to a way of living that gets things achieved in the most effective 16

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and efficient way possible – a pragmatic goal that would not have been a priority had Confucius not set it as such centuries earlier.

Without a rigid idea of what good or bad might really be, we must act to emulate ‘Ziran’, that is acting spontaneously. Further evidence of the influence of Confucianism can be seen seven hundred years after Confucius’ death in the writings of the philosopher and poet Tao Qian. In his Utopia Account of Peach Blossom Spring Tao Qian describes a community isolated from the rest of the world whose members are happy and content because they have decided to live ‘naturally’. This strong pull towards nature is an important topic in ancient Chinese philosophy, yet I believe it is symptomatic of an even greater theme of simplicity. Both nature and simplicity, however, owe their origins to Confucius’ pragmatism. When are things most effectively, easily and efficiently achieved? When their environment is kept simple. How is an environment best kept simple? When it is natural and uncomplicated by human designs. Again, all thought appears to be traceable to Confucius. Until 1912 and the collapse of the dynastic system in China this influence was openly promoted either under the name Confucianism or Neo-Confu-

cianism. However, the leaders of the ‘New Culture’ movement in China during the 1920s, enthused by Western traditions such as democracy and modern science rejected traditional Confucianism and turned their attention to Pragmatism in the late 19th Century sense. One leader, Hu Shih was particularly vocal in expressing the attitudes of the ‘New Culture’ movement. Hu thought that Pragmatism, in its formal sense, was the long desired solution to the problem of finding a naturalistic philosophy of life. Indeed, members of the opposition National People’s Party appear to also have had Pragmatic tendencies as Sun Yan-Sen (one of the founders of the Kuomintang NPP) wrote,

‘We cannot decide whether an idea is good or not without seeing it in practice.’ In rejecting Confucianism on the grounds that it was not Pragmatic enough in the 19th Century sense, members of the Communist and Nationalist parties failed to recognise that Confucius was responsible for almost all pragmatism present in Chinese thought. Not only this but, due to the influence of his fundamental pragmatism, a strong case can be made that Confucius himself has been responsible, directly or indirectly, for almost all strands of Chinese thought. _____________________________ Rocco Sulkin is a second year undergraduate reading English and Philosophy at the University of York. 17

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Zhou Fan Untitled #1

Art is the supreme expression of a people’s spirit. For this reason VOX features two contemporary Chinese artists, Xue Jiye and Zhou Fan. Their work is currently on exhibition in the Shanghai-based “Art Scene Warehouse”. For more, please visit

Zhou Fan Untitled #2


Xue Jiye “Square Stone” Oil on canvas 2004


vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophy

Issue VI - summer 2008

Conditions of an unforced consensus on human rights By Professor Charles Taylor


hat would it mean to

come to a genuine, unforced international consensus on human rights? I suppose it would be something like what Rawls describes in his Political Liberalism as an “overlapping consensus.”1 That is, different groups, countries, religious communities, civilizations, while holding incompatible fundamental views on theology, metaphysics, human nature, etc., would come to an agreement on certain norms that ought to govern human behaviour. Each would have its own way of justifying this from out of its profound background conception. We would agree on the norms, while disagreeing on why they were the right norms. And we would be content to live in this consensus, undisturbed by the differences of profound underlying belief. The idea was already expressed in 1949 by Jacques Maritain. “I am quite 20

certain that my way of justifying belief in the rights of man and the ideal of liberty, equality, fraternity is the only way with a firm foundation in truth. This does not prevent me from being in agreement on these practical convictions with people who are certain that their way of justifying them, entirely different from mine or opposed to mine, (…) is equally the only way founded upon truth.” 2 Is this kind of consensus possible? Perhaps because of my optimistic nature, I believe that it is. But we have to confess at the outset that it is not entirely clear around what the consensus would form, and we are only beginning to discern the obstacles we would have to overcome on the way there. I want to talk a little about both these issues here. First, what would the consensus be on? One might have thought this was obvious: on human rights. That’s what our original question was about. But there is right away a first obstacle,

which has been very often pointed out. Rights talk is something that has roots in Western culture. There are certain features of this talk which have roots in Western history, and there only. This is not to say that something very like the underlying norms expressed in schedules of rights don’t turn up elsewhere. But they are not expressed in this language. We can’t assume straight off, without further examination, that a future unforced world consensus could be formulated to the satisfaction of everyone in the language of rights. Maybe yes, maybe no. Or maybe: partially yes, partially no, as we come to discriminate some of the things which have been associated in the Western package.

This is not to say that we already have some adequate term for whatever universals we think we may discern between different cultures. Jack Donnelly speaks of “human dignity” as a universal value.3 Yasuaki Onuma criticizes this term, pointing out that “dignity” has been itself a favourite term in the same Western philosophical stream that has elaborated human rights. He prefers to speak of the “pursuit of spiritual as well as material well-being” as the universal.4 While “dignity” might be too precise and culture-bound a term, “well-being” might be too vague and general. Perhaps we are incapable of this stage of formulating the universal values in play here. Perhaps we shall always be incapable of this. This wouldn’t matter, because what we need to formulate for an overlapping consensus is certain norms of conduct. The deep underlying values supporting these will, in the nature of the case, belong to the alternative, mutually incompatible justifications.

Rights talk is something that has roots in Western culture. There are certain features of this talk which have roots in Western history, and there only. I have been distinguishing in the above between norms of conduct and their underlying justification. The Western rights tradition in fact exists at both these levels. On one hand, it 21

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is a legal tradition, legitimating certain kinds of legal moves, and empowering certain kinds of people to make them. We could, and people sometimes do, consider this legal culture as the proper candidate for universalization, arguing that its adoption can be justified in more than one way. Then a legal culture entrenching rights would define the norms around which world consensus would supposedly crystallize. Now some people already have trouble with this; e.g., Lee Kwan Yew, and those in South Asia who sympathize with him. They see something dangerously individualistic, fragmenting, dissolvent of community, in this western legal culture. (Of course, they have particularly in mind – or in their sights – the United States.) But in their 22

criticism of Western procedures, they also seem to be attacking the underlying philosophy of the West, which allegedly gives primacy to the individual, where supposedly a “Confucian” outlook would have a larger place for the community, and the complex web of human relations in which each person stands. For the Western rights tradition also vehicles certain views on human nature, society and the human good. In other words, it also carries some elements of an underlying justification. It might help the discussion to distinguish these two levels, at least analytically, so that we can develop a more fine-grained picture of what our options are here. Perhaps in fact, the legal culture could “travel” better, if it

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could be separated from some of its underlying justifications. Or perhaps the reverse is true, that the underlying picture of human life might look less frightening, if it could find expression in a different legal culture. Or maybe, neither of these simple solutions will work (this is my hunch), but modifications need to be made in both; however, distinguishing the levels still helps, because the modifications are different on each level. In any case, I think a good place to start the discussion would be to give a rapid portrait of the language of rights which has developed in the West, and of the surrounding notions of human agency and the good. We could then proceed to identify certain centres of disagreement across cultures, and we might then see what if anything could be done to bridge these differences. II First, let’s get at the peculiarities of the language of rights. As has often been pointed out, there is something rather special here. Many societies have held that it is good to ensure certain immunities or liberties to their members – or sometimes even to outsiders (think of the stringent laws of hospitality that hold in many traditional cultures). Everywhere it is wrong to take human life, at least under certain circumstances

and for certain categories of persons. Wrong is the opposite of right, and so this is in some sense in play here. But a quite different sense of the word is invoked when we start to use the definite or indefinite articles, or to put it in the plural, the speak of “a right” or “rights”: or when we start to attribute these to persons, and speak of your rights or my rights. This is to introduce what has been called “subjective rights.”

A good place to start the discussion would be to give a portrait of the language of rights which has developed in the West, and of the surrounding notions of human agency and the good. Instead of saying that it is wrong to kill me, we begin to say that I have a right to life. The two formulations are not equivalent in all respects. Because in the latter case the immunity or liberty is considered as it were the property of someone. It is no longer just an element of the law that stands over and between all of us equally. That I have a right to life says more than that you shouldn’t kill me. It gives me some control over this immunity. A right is something which in principle I can waive.5 It is also something which I have a role in enforcing. Some element of subjective right 23

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exists perhaps in all legal systems. The peculiarity of the West was, first, that it played a bigger role in European mediaeval societies than elsewhere in history, and, second, that it was the basis of the rewriting of Natural Law theory which marked the 17th Century. The older notion that human society stands under a Law of Nature, whose origin was the creator, and which was thus beyond human will, was now transposed. The fundamental law was reconceived as consisting of natural rights, attributed to individual prior to society. At the origin of society stands a Contract, which takes people out of a State of Nature, and puts them under political authority, as a result of an act of consent on their part. So subjective rights are not only crucial to the western tradition, because they have been an important part of its jurisprudence since the Middle Ages. Even more significant is the fact that they were projected onto Nature, and formed the basis of a philosophical view of humans and their society, one which greatly privileges individuals’ freedom and their right to consent to the arrangements under which they live. This view becomes an important strand in Western democratic theory of the last three centuries. We can see how the notion of (subjective) right both serves to define certain legal powers, and also provides the master image for a philosophy of human nature, of individuals and their societies. It operates both as legal 24

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norm, and as underlying justification. Moreover, these two levels are not unconnected. The force of the underlying philosophy has brought about a steady promotion of the legal norm in our politico-legal systems; so that it now occupies place of pride in a number of contemporary polities.

People in the East see something dangerously individualistic, fragmenting, dissolvent of community, in this western legal culture. Charters of rights are now entrenched in the constitutions of a number of countries, and also of the European Union. These are the basis for judicial review, whereby the ordinary legislation of different levels of government can be invalidated on the grounds of conflict with these fundamental rights. That (subjective) rights thus operate today as trumps is the convergence of two different if intertwined lines of promotion. On one hand, there is the old conception of the fundamental law of our polity, which the decrees or decisions of the authority of the day cannot override. This played a role in pre-modern European societies, even as it did frequently elsewhere. The entrenchment of Charters means that the language of rights has become a privileged idiom for a good part of

this fundamental law. This is one line of advance. At the same time, European thought also had a place for a Law of Nature, a body of norms with even more fundamental status, because they are universal and hold across, all societies. Again, analogous concepts can be found elsewhere. The place of rights in our political discourse today shows that it has also become the favoured idiom for this kind of law. We speak of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is the second line of advance. The rights we now entrench in Charters benefit from both these promotions. These rights occupy the niche which already existed in many legal systems, whereby laws were subject to judicial review. While at the same time, their great force in modern opinion comes from the sense that they are not just features of our legal tradition, that they are not part of what is culturally conditioned, one option among others which human societies can adopt, but fundamental, essential, belonging to human beings as such – in short inviolable.

So the Western discourse of rights involves, on one hand, a set of legal forms by which immunities and liberties are inscribed as rights, with certain consequences for the possibility of waiver, and for the ways in which they can be secured; whether these immunities and liberties are among those from time to time granted by duly constituted authority, or among those which are entrenched in fundamental law.

The criticism of Western procedures seems to be attacking the underlying philosophy of the West, which allegedly gives primacy to the individual, where supposedly a ‘Confucian’ outlook would have a larger place for the community. And it involves, on the other hand, a philosophy of the person and of society, attributing great importance to the individual, and making significant matters turn on his or her power of consent. 25

vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophy

When people protest against the western rights model, they seem to have this whole package in their sights. Taking it as a whole is not simply wrong, of course, because the philosophy is plainly part of what has motivated the great promotion enjoyed by this legal form. Nevertheless, it will help to distinguish them, because we can easily imagine situations in which, for all their interconnections, the package could be untied and either the forms or the philosophy could be adopted alone, without the other. Of course, this might involve some adjustment in what was borrowed, but this inevitably happens whenever ideas and institutions developed in one area are taken up elsewhere. It might help to understand a little better just what exactly we might want ultimately to converge onto in the world society of the future, as well as to measure our chances of getting there, if we imagine variations separately on two levels.

[5] Which is why Locke had to introduce a restrictive adjective to block this option of waiver, when he spoke of “inalienable rights.” The notion of inalienability had no place in earlier natural right discourse, because this had no option of waiver.

© 2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. All rights reserved. “PricewaterhouseCoopers” refers to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP or, as the context requires, the PricewaterhouseCoopers global network or other member firms of the network, each of which is a separate and independent legal entity.

_____________________________ The essay was first presented at ‘‘The Bangkok Workshop’. Thanks goes to Professor Taylor for granting VOX printing permission.


Charles Taylor is professor emeritus of philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He previously served as the Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at the University of Oxford.


[1] John Rawls, Political Liberalism [2] From the Introduction to UNESCO, Human Rights: Comments and Interpretations, London: Allan Wingate 1949, pp. 10-11; cited in Addullahi A. An-Na’im, “Towards a Cross-Cultural Approach,” 28-9. [3] Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, Ithaca/London: Cornell: U.P., 1989, pp. 28-37. [4] Yasuaki Onuma, “In Quest of Intercivilizational Human Rights,” p. 1, n. 4. 26

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Democracy not an ‘Asian Value’? Some notes on the debate between East and West. By Moses Lemuel






democracy is a battlefield of opposing views. On one side, we have the Western belief in liberal democracy and the rights of the individual as necessary ingredients for successful nation-building; on the other, we have an Eastern perspective that disagrees and maintains that traditional ‘Asian values’, such as discipline and national cooperation, must be respected as the most important elements in the development of an Asian country. Both these views have their own virtues. However, we need to find a way to arbitrate amongst them. Which view is closest to reality? How can we apply it to the question of nation-building, or what is the right way to build a viable state? Democracy and Regional Trends Proponents of authoritarian rule, such as Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, use the notion of ‘Asian values’ to support an Asian exceptionalist movement that resists the influence of Western liberal democratic thinking. Of course, the discerning 28

observer can see the political motives underneath such claims. Amartya Sen is one strong critic of the ‘Asian values’, arguing that there is nothing implicit in Asian philosophy that favours authoritarianism over democracy and individualism. Indeed, within the diversity of both Eastern and Western philosophical thoughts, one can find evidence to support both democracy and authoritarianism. For example, Indian Vedic philosophy and Confucianist teaching do in fact raise the importance of tolerance between individuals (versus conformism), as well as the need to do what is right regardless of the views of the authority. On the other hand, as an Asian, it is not difficult to see why the Asian way of thinking might lead to an emphasis on obedience and discipline over individual liberties. Confucianist filial piety, for example, dictates that people must respect and obey their elders almost without exception. This familial practice carries easily over to civil society and state institutions. East Asian elites have little trouble converting this concept into a form of legitimization,

Issue VI - summer 2008

presenting themselves as the elders of the state. And such a concept places the bounds of duty on a deeply individual level, having more hold on the Asian citizen than the Western concept of the divine right of distant kings had on the average peasant.

Amartya Sen is one strong critic of the notion of ‘Asian values’, arguing that there is nothing implicit in Asian philosophy that favours authoritarianism over democracy and individualism. In this light, the attitudes of a people under certain cultural and social conditions, even if they are influenced by interest groups, matter more than the actual philosophy that influenced the development of their culture and society. Amartya Sen is right in saying that Eastern philosophy does not oppose individualism, but philosophical questions do not directly affect the political attitudes of the people. In this context, we can see that it is more of a question of Western versus Eastern trends. The development of individualism and liberal democracy in the West can be traced back to the revolutionary changes brought about by the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Asia has not experienced such a paradigmatic shift. What average individuals have known and lived with for centuries is the caste

system in India or political piety in East Asia, and this is bound to colour their views in favour of the traditional systems for a long time to come. Democracy and Development The different views in the East-West debate are often used to lend support to theories of nation-building. Proauthoritarian figures in Asia present ‘Asian values’ as the correct guide for the development of a politically and economically viable Asian state. Indeed, examples abound in Asia where strong states that work for good of all rather than the individual are successful, such as South Korea under Park Chung Hee and Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew. In contrast, one struggles to find even a single example where liberal democracy is the direct contributor to the development of a successful state, and this includes the Western world. Even the USA, which takes pride in having the oldest existing Constitution in the world, cannot attribute its success to liberal democracy itself. Rather, it was due to the lack of a landowning class and the resultant (as Alexis de Tocqueville calls it) “middling” values of hard work and the pursuit of wealth, coupled with territorial expansion and industrialisation. However, critics point out that politically motivated post-colonial rhetoric tends to borrow such an argument because of its resistance towards Western values, leading to many dictators adopting similar lines to justify their 29

vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophy

regimes, thus severely affecting its respectability. Yet this does not mean that we can simply dismiss it. Consider the issues of international aid and state development in Africa and the Middle East. Developed Western countries continually insist on liberal democracy, with its inherent dogmatism towards individual liberties, as a prerequisite for the construction of a viable state. They often attach conditions pertaining to it in granting aid to, or in determining relations with, developing countries.

Asia has not experienced a paradigmatic shift such as the Reformation. This is a bold maxim that even some of the most influential Western liberal thinkers clearly did not agree with. John Stuart Mill and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, stated their scepticism about imposing democracy on people that are ‘not ready’ for it. And there are historical precedents in the West itself that point to the serious consequences of the failure of democracy under difficult conditions, namely the rise of Fascism and Nazism. If it was the case in Europe that weak democracies could fail and produce something worse than simply the lack of democracy, what says it could not happen in Asia, Africa or the Middle East? And, ultimately, Western nations have to ask themselves whether their insistence on 30

democratic reforms has been productive in the developing world. Conclusion The conclusion we can draw from the concept of Western versus Eastern trends dovetails with this idea of being ‘ready’ or ‘not ready’ for democracy. When we discuss democratic reforms in developing countries, we need to look at local trends for indicators on whether the institution of liberal democracy is supported by historical and cultural conditions, or whether the people are ‘ready’ for it. Imposing democracy on an unsuitable sociopolitical terrain would only generate resentment and cause a backlash that might render the situation worse. Of course, this line of thinking does entail implications that are difficult to stomach; it might seem too consequentialist or even ruthless. But if the aim is to build viable states in fragile regions in the world, political actors have to make difficult decisions. Unfortunately, the trouble in many countries is they are all too happy to do so, leading to the other extreme of the political spectrum. Therefore, in the spirit of Eastern philosophy, the right way is the middle way – not a dictatorship, but a strong and enlightened leadership. _____________________________ Moses Lemuel is a first year undergraduate reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of York.

Issue VI - summer 2008



eading a couple of vox

back-issues, I came across a quite provocative article entitled ‘Inequality Is Good’. Christian Wigstrom, the author, argued that having a wealthy class in society serves as a point of reference for the rest to aspire to – a positive ‘carrot’ for society’s progression. To the author’s credit, his rationale goes as such, “if equality of opportunity is granted, inequality of wealth is a truly desirable state”. (VOX Vol. 1, Issue 1, Feb. 2006) However, as pointed out by Philip Pärnamets who responded in a subsequent issue of VOX, ‘opportunity’ is far too often determined by wealth. In this article I do not aim to explain what leads to inequality in opportunity or wealth, but merely to display the irrefutable link between socioeconomic inequality and negative effects towards society, hopefully in a way that leaves a resonating message that inequality is most certainly not good. To the right, there are two charts showing the progression of countries’ income per person and life expectan-

cy. From them you can see that, for poorer countries, a country’s GDP per capita is quite strongly related to life expectancy. The charts show that as economic development progresses, this trend gets weaker where eventually a plateau is reached (chart on top, the ‘Millennium Preston Curve’).1 What does this tell us? In short, material differences are more closely associated with the differences in life expectancy of the poorer countries. Once countries reach the top, the health effects of economic development are exhausted.2 Something else mediates the









vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophy

ation by aspiring to the West, in this specific collection of countries how did the haphazard adoption of market principles affect their societies? Undoubtedly transition can lower living conditions, but what happens when we compare the rate at which inequality increased to the rate at which life expectancy changed in these countries? differences in life expectancy between these countries that have settled high on the plateau. Above-left is a chart showing the 21 richest countries.3 Again you are looking at the differences in their life expectancies, but this time they are arranged not by wealth, but by a measure of income inequality within each country (Gini-coefficient). So the ‘something else’ that mediates life expectancy in these richer countries has to do with inequality: as the nations get more unequal, their populations live shorter lives on average. It turns out that this inequality effect is not restricted to life expectancy and rich countries. The graph aboveright shows the differences in the rate at which infants die (infant mortality). Poorer countries are included in this study, and like the Millennium Preston Curve, death is influenced by the level of wealth, especially in the poorest countries. However, when you split the countries into three groups of different inequality levels, you can clearly see stratification: highest mortality with 32

the most unequal and vice-versa. Now going back closer to home, UNICEF released a report on the child well-being in rich countries. Britain along with the USA came bottom. What are we doing wrong? Well, when a statistical analysis was done to find what national measures associated with child well-being, average income was not a significant factor, but income inequality certainly was.4 On another level, the extreme cases of inequality made vivid by certain national borders offer a depressing new manifestation of the externalities of inequality. These come in the form of emerging infectious diseases such as those saddling the US-Mexican border with ever-greater prominence: multidrug resistant tuberculosis, rabies, dengue and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV.5 Up to this point I have illustrated the state of affairs as observed from single time-points—freeze-frames of societies. Alluding to Mr Wigstrom’s assertion that Central and Eastern European countries improved their situ-

Looking at the chart above, states that changed to becoming more unequal quickest (from when the communist regimes fell in 1989 to 1995) tended to lower life expectancy most.6 What else happened in these countries? There were increases in tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, syphilis and male deaths from accidents and homicide.7 So how does this all happen? I should hopefully have helped to clarify that there is no contention as to whether inequality has negative societal effects, although there is argument as to what pathways link inequality to all of its effects that I have described above. The central hypotheses try to unravel the 33

vox -the periodical of Politics, economics and philosophyo

nuances of the relative involvement of trust, social cohesion and status comparison. Although many factors lie tangled with this knot, stress seems to be intertwined throughout. The manifestation of social factors into psychological distress, which in turn translates into physiological pathologies, concerns a complex pathway that today is investigated through an emerging inter-disciplinary academic community. What about the planet’s emerging economies? Nations can learn from the experience of others. Sweden manages its relatively equal society and good health through tax policies that promote redistribution. Japan does the same through better job prospects and benefits. The UK’s social security benefits for the unemployed is low for EU poverty standards. 10% of the UK’s poorest take 3% of the nation’s income. 10% of its richest take over a quarter. If you look at wealth (savings, assets, house ownership, etc.) in 2000, 10% of the country’s richest owned 54%, whilst the 1% richest amongst us owned 23%.8 Inequality in the UK began its climb in the 1970s. It has since never dropped to levels lower than during the Thatcher era. So who is most affected by inequality? A study last year9 looking at death rates found that 25-39 year-olds are the most affected by inequality worldwide. In the OECD countries (mainly rich market economies including the UK) the most affected age group is that of the 15-29 year-olds. I believe most of 34

this publication’s readers are within this age-group. What is your say? ‘A society which nurtures people’s skills and abilities throughout the population, which provides economic opportunities for all, and fosters a cohesive and integrated social environment, would do more for health than curative medical services are able to.’10


The Periodical of Politics, Economics and Philosophy

_____________________________ Christo Albor is a doctoral student at the Department of Health Sciences of the University of York.

Write for the next issue on INDIVIDUAL and COMMUNITY. Possible topics include, among others:

Endnotes: 1. Dye C. Is wealth good for your health? Gresham College. 2. Deaton A. Health in an age of Globalization. Bookings Trade Forum 2004:83-130. 3. Wilkinson RG. The impact of inequality : how to make sick societies healthier. London: Routledge, 2005. 4. Pickett KE, Wilkinson RG. Child wellbeing and income inequality in rich societies: ecological cross sectional study. BMJ 2007. 5. Farmer P. Infections and inequalities : the modern plagues. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. 6. Marmot M, Bobak M. International comparators and poverty and health in Europe. BMJ 2000;321(7269):1124-8. 7. Shaw M, Dorling D, Smith GD. Povery, social exclusion, and minorities. In: Wilkinson RG, Marmot MG, editors. Social determinants of health. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. 8. Shaw M, Davey Smith G, Dorling D. Health inequalities and New Labour: how the promises compare with real progress. BMJ 2005;330(7498):1016-21. 9. Dorling D, Mitchell R, Pearce J. The global impact of income inequality on health by age: an observational study. BMJ 2007;335(7625):873. 10. Stansfeld SA. Social support and social cohesion. In: Wilkinson RG, Marmot MG, editors. Social determinants of health. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.; Quote from: Blane 1996:10.

Take part in the debate.

Vol. IV Games

Vol. VI East and West

Vol. V Law

Vol. VII Individual and Community

Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? Is there an insoluble tension between the individual and the community? Liberalism vs communitarianism. Individual and community responsibilities. Micro- vs. macroeconomics – an artificial distinction? The aggregation problem in economics. The Robinson Crusoe economy. International community vs. sovereign states. Individual and social identity: cultures, civilizations and violence. Sartre and The Other. __________ suggest your own topic.

Just write an email to Undergraduates, post-graduates and academics are all welcome. For back issues, and more, visit

© 2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. All rights reserved. “PricewaterhouseCoopers” refers to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP or, as the context requires, the PricewaterhouseCoopers global network or other member firms of the network, each of which is a separate and independent legal entity.

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East and West  
East and West  

In this issue of VOX, we have articles relating to the supposed East/West divide, in terms of philosophical, political and economic division...