Is Confucianism Compatible with a Laclauian Conception of Democracy?


  • Thomas MOORE University of Sheffield, United Kingdom



Confucianism, democracy, virtue, ruler, Laclau


This paper will introduce a novel perspective on Confucian democracy by connecting it with Ernesto Laclau’s (2005) conception of democracy in On Populist Reason. Specifically, I argue that the normatively ideal ruler-ruled relationship in Confucian political theory can be conceptualized as the people making a radical investment in a virtuous leader. This argument will proceed in several steps. Firstly, I will provide context surrounding Confucianism and Laclau’s (2005) novel political ontology. Secondly, I will draw on the psychoanalytic work of Jacques Lacan (2001) to explore the notion of a radical investment and how it can be appealed to by politicians, rhetoricians and philosophers through their use of empty signifiers, signifiers without a fixed conceptual signified (such as MAGA or “Take Back Control”). In Laclau’s application of Lacanian psychoanalysis these represent an unachievable full harmonious community with no conflicts between different interests. I will then argue that a core part of Confucius’ political message, his constant advocacy for a virtuous ruler modelled on the Sage-Kings of the Zhou dynasty, is essentially a Laclauian conception of politics, because the Zhou kings are playing the role of empty signifiers in Confucius’ political theory. That is, they represent an unachievable ideal of a fully harmonious community. Finally, I argue that this increases Confucianism’s potential for compatibility with democracy since these psychoanalytic dynamics could be replicable in modern democracies and would be normatively desirable should a virtuous leader utilize them.


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6. 05. 2024



Comparativity and Compatibility of Systems in Contemporary China

How to Cite

Moore, Thomas. 2024. “Is Confucianism Compatible With a Laclauian Conception of Democracy?”. Asian Studies 12 (2): 195-220.

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