Confucian Democratic Constitutionalism: Between Legal and Political

Apr 11, 2023 | 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Edmond & Lily Safra Center Seminar Room, 124 Mount Auburn Street, Suite 520N, Cambridge,


Sungmoon Kim | Professor of Political Theory, City University of Hong Kong

Organized by the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics, co-sponsored by the Harvard-Yenching Institute

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Event directions: To access the Edmond & Lily Safra Center Seminar Room, take the elevator from the lobby up to the 5th floor; the suite is to the left. 

In this talk, Sungmoon Kim presents a constitutional theory of democratic self-government that is normatively appealing and politically practicable in East Asia’s historically Confucian societies that are increasingly pluralist, multicultural, and rights sensitive—namely, Confucian democratic constitutionalism. Confucian democratic constitutionalism understands the citizenry’s democratic self-government as its core and takes the democratic legislature as its driving engine, the venue where constitutional norms, values, and rights are deliberated and vetted in accordance with the procedures guided by the Confucian ideal of egalitarian dignity. At the same time, Confucian democratic constitutionalism acknowledges both the court’s status as one of the important guardians of the political society’s core values and its role to protect individual and minority rights, the moral contents of which are deeply interwoven with Confucian values. As neither liberal-legal nor purely political, Kim’s Confucian democratic account of constitutionalism includes three key elements: (1) rejection of the categorical distinction between principle and policy, (2) endorsement of the people’s right to reconceptualize and meaningfully exercise rights, and (3) the use of Confucian public reason.

Bio: Sungmoon Kim is a professor of political theory at City University of Hong Kong, where he also serves as Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Director of the Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy. Kim specializes in Confucian political theory, East Asian political thought, and comparative political theory, and his research has appeared in journals such as American Political Science ReviewContemporary Political TheoryEuropean Journal of Political TheoryHistory of Political ThoughtJournal of Politics, and The Review of Politics, among others. As the 2016-17 Berggruen Fellow at the Safra and Lily Center for Ethics, Kim has published five books including Democracy after Virtue: Toward Pragmatic Confucian Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2018) and Public Reason Confucianism: Democratic Perfectionism and Constitutionalism in East Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2016). His new book entitled Confucian Constitutionalism: Dignity, Rights, and Democracy will be published by Oxford University Press in June.