Confucian Humanitarian Intervention? Toward Democratic Theory

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It is widely claimed that Mencius's account of punitive expedition can be understood as a Confucian justification of humanitarian intervention and thus has the potential to play the role of constraining China's imperial ventures abroad. This paper challenges this optimism, by drawing attention to internal and external obstacles - the problem of virtue's self-indulgence and the problem of justification to non-Confucians - that prevent Mencius's virtue-based political theory of punitive expedition from developing into a modern theory of humanitarian intervention. It argues that for the Mencian theory to be relevant in the modern world marked most notably by moral pluralism, it must be transformed into a democratic theory, at the center of which is the stipulation that humanitarian intervention be morally justified internally, that is, to the people of the intervening state, as well as externally, first to the people to be intervened state, and second to international society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-213
Number of pages27
JournalReview of Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 2017.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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