I had not seen this before (hat tip: Western Confucian) but here is an intelligent and thoughtful consideration of Confucius from a Western, Catholic, Conservative point of view. Jim Kalb, the author, gets at many of the issues in regard to the contemporary relevance and use of Confucianism. I would, however, offer the following comments:
- It is harder to reconcile "Confucianism" with "small government conservatism" when Mencius is included in the discussion. While The Analects has little to say about the positive obligations of political leaders toward those whom they govern, Mencius suggests a broader array of social welfare functions for the state. The duty to secure a basic living standard for all people, so that they can carry out the Duty and Ritual necessary for Humanity, implies a state more regulatory and intrusive the most "small government conservatives" would accept.
- in discussing the possible parallels between Confucius and Christianity, it really is necessary to point out that Confucianism, in virtually all of its historical guises, does not require the invocation of a singular, transcendent God-like figure. To put it most starkly: Humanity, and thus morality, is possible without reference to God.
- arguing that modern liberalism depends upon "...the existence of powerful elites selected and educated to secure their collective commitment...," in a manner similar to the Confucian notion that the virtuous should rule, seems a bit of a stretch to me. Liberalism requires a set of constitutional rules to protect minority rights. To maintain those rules what is needed is a general consensus regarding their existence. If that consensus breaks down, it is unlikely that a social elite could save liberalism from itself. Again, to be stark about it: liberalism relies on institutions, Confucianism on moral individuals. Think of Madison here; he did not assume that the virtuous would rule, and advocated for interest group politics to balance out contending political forces.
But whatever my criticisms or reservations, it is a good piece that raises key issues. Worth a read for those interested in the possibilities of Confucianism in modern American life.