The Political Economy of Confucian Harmony: A Xunzian Vision

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A global market economy of pure instrumental rationality now poses a growing threat, jeopardizing common citizenship, the capacity for human flourishing, and harmony between humans and nature. Growing skepticism about the sustainability of market capitalism and its moral legitimacy propels us to search for a new economic model in which humans are no longer held hostage to the unbridled pursuit of self-interest and limitless possession at the expense of the well-being of others and nature and that attempts to overcome the old conflict between capitalism and socialism. We can call this alternative model “moral economy,” an economic system that reconciles private interests with the public good broadly construed. In this article I reconstruct the Confucian ideal of moral economy by paying close attention to Xunzi's ethical and political thought. Xunzi, one of the key classical Confucians, stipulates the threshold of sufficiency by extending the ruler's care to the most destitute of society as well as giving moral priority to their basic needs without dismissing the foundational importance of individual merit and contribution. Rejecting both pure economic meritocracy and dogmatic egalitarianism, Xunzian Confucianism aims to create a political economy of harmony where various distributive values (need, equality, and merit, among other things) each have their own place.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-521
Number of pages29
JournalAmerican Journal of Economics and Sociology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Mar

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
An earlier version of this article was presented at the international conference titled “Conceptions of Harmony in Chinese Thought,” held at Nanyang Technological University in December 2018. I am grateful to Elton Chan, Chenyang Li, Hui-chieh Loy, So Jeong Park, Brook Ziporyn, Ruiping Fan, and Yuan Chang for their valuable comments. This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2017S1A3A2065772).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Inc.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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