chapter  1
10 Pages

Why governance for harmony?

Governance for Harmony in Asia and Beyond is a collection of essays derived from a collaborative research project involving 16 scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds from Asia and other regions who came together to engage in theoretical and practical discussions on how to govern for harmony in the contemporary world. It is a unique and path-breaking collection of empirical and theoretical contributions from both Eastern and Western perspectives, at a time when academic dialogue and public discourse are reaching for common understandings across cultures. Harmony has become a major challenge for modern governance in the twenty-­first­ century­ because­ of­ the­ multireligious,­ multiracial­ and­ multiethnic­ character of our increasingly globalized society. Governments all over the world are facing growing pressure to weave the myriad subcultures and the diverse components that constitute their modern pluralistic communities into harmony to ensure­ peaceful­ coexistence­ and­ to­ promote­ human­ flourishing.­ Ironically,­ harmony as a concept has been given much less importance and emphasis than conflict­or­disharmony­in­conventional­political­and­social­theories,­particularly­ in the West, where politics is seen to be primarily concerned with resolving social­conflicts.­The­foundation­of­Western­democracy­is­built­upon­the­notion­ of a social contract derived from the consent of the people, who want to escape from the state of nature and the state of war, which are detrimental to the individual. In a similar vein, Western political theory has developed so as to protect the rights of individuals and minority groups in the larger community. It is not surprising that disharmony seems a much more natural state of affairs than harmony to many Western political scientists who study and write about politics. Such a tradition in Western political theory obscures the fact that some of the most important patterns of communal interaction and cultural formation are not matters­of­will­and­consent.­There­is­increasing­recognition­that­individuals­are­ defined­not­only­or­mainly­by­their­will­and­consent,­but­rather­by­their­family­ and ethnic cultures, by traditions and webs of relationships that connect them by interest, lifestyle and social habit which stand at the heart of the subcultures that constitute modern pluralistic communities. Often, these ethnic ties and cultural connections go well beyond national and regional borders. An emphasis on rights­or­the­rule­of­law­alone­has­proved­inadequate­for­resolving­conflicts­and­

sustaining harmony when clashes arise. It is in this sense that the work and agency of governments in the modern world need to be reconceived in a way such that serious attention is paid to sustaining the many dimensions of a community’s harmony. Harmony, or he, has been a profound theme in Chinese thought since earliest times – profound in ontological, ethical and religious senses. At the same time, issues of harmony and disharmony are also central themes in philosophic and political discussion in East Asia. Current leaders of a number of East Asian governments, including the Chinese government, have explicitly declared realizing a harmonious society to be the aim of government. But unfortunately, given its significance,­ harmony­ is­ arguably­ much­ neglected­ and­ the­ most­ understudied­ concept­in­politics­and­governance.­The­current­volume­fills­this­gap­in­the­literature.­The­main­objectives­of­ this­book­are­ to­build­bridges­between­ the­ traditions of liberalism in the West and Confucianism in the East and to create exchanges on the theoretical and practical issues in governance for harmony from the perspective of different cultural, social and political contexts in Asia and beyond. ­ The­development­and­achievement­of­communal­harmony­pose­a­grave­threat­ of totalitarianism, if they are not underpinned by a genuine commitment to the values of diversity and difference. How does one weigh obligations to each subculture against the obligation to a culture of cultures? How does one balance legitimate governmental concern for achieving communal harmony with a parallel concern for upholding the good of individuals and diverse cultures for their own sake? What does harmony mean, and which conception of harmony is to be realized? A minimal conception of harmony might simply be the absence of open­ armed­ conflict.­ A­ robust­ conception­ however­ implies­ a­ thick­ ideal­ of­ mutual­concern­and­flourishing.­Who­can­legitimately­advocate­and­engender­a­ conception of harmony among the citizens of a given country? What kind of strategies­and­policies­can­the­government­pursue­toward­this­end?­These­are­the­ highly contentious issues addressed by the contributors to this volume. One set of essays explores and analyses the meanings, components, dimensions and methodologies of harmony as a normative ideal in politics and government­in­different­philosophical­traditions.­This­set­is­complemented­by­another­ set which assesses how harmony is pursued, jeopardized or deformed in the real world of governance, based upon empirical analysis of a variety of different cultural, social and political contexts in both the East and the West, including China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Denmark, Latin America and the Scandinavian countries. In sum, the volume addresses key issues and debates such as the following.