chapter  2
Communitarian philosophy and East Asian politics
Pages 21

Modern-day communitarianism began in the upper reaches of AngloAmerican academia in the form of a critical reaction to John Rawls’s landmark 1971 book A Theory of Justice. Drawing primarily upon the insights of Aristotle and Hegel, political philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor and Michael Walzer disputed Rawls’ assumption that the principal task of government is to secure and distribute fairly the liberties and economic resources individuals need to lead freely chosen lives. These critics of liberal theory never did identify themselves with the ‘communitarian movement’ (the ‘communitarian’ label was pinned on them by others, usually critics),1 much less offer a grand communitarian theory as a systematic alternative to liberalism. None the less, certain core arguments meant to contrast with liberalism’s devaluation of community recur in the works of the four theorists named above,2 and for purposes of clarity one can distinguish between claims of three sorts: ‘ontological’ or ‘metaphysical’ claims about the social nature of the self, methodological claims about the importance of tradition and social context for moral and political reasoning, and normative claims about the value of community.3 Each strand of the debate has largely evolved from fairly abstract philosophical disputes to more concrete political concerns that may have motivated much of the communitarian critique in the first place. As a result, the debate from the self has almost entirely faded from view and it will not be discussed in this essay.4 The other two strands of the debate, however, have been shaped in important ways by political discourse in and about East Asian politics. This essay is divided into two parts and for each part I present the main communitarian claims, followed by an argument (in each part) that philosophical concerns in the 1980s have largely given way to political disputes with an East Asian component.