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Colloquim Reforming Democracy by Graham Parkes (Hawai'i)

  • Graham Parkes (Hawai'i)
Friday 2 June 2017
Reuvensplaats 3-4
2311 BE Leiden

Leiden's Institute for Philosophy is pleased to announce a talk by Graham Parkes:

Reforming Democracy (with Plato and Confucians) (and Xi Jinping)



Two obstacles have prevented the United States from exercising world leadership in slowing the rate of global warming: the enormous financial power of the fossil fuel industries and the inordinate influence of the Religious Right in Congress. And now that the Trump administration is taking ‘America First’ back to the Coal Age, these obstacles become even more formidable. If we’re to minimise the risks from continuing with business as usual, the rest of the developed world will have to secure the full cooperation of China—and swiftly—in the task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

(Then of India, Brazil, etc.)

The way not to gain China’s cooperation is to continue to browbeat the Chinese into adopting liberal democracy, a practice that has proved utterly fruitless. The corruption of politics by money and religion (in the form of incompetent lawmakers) has reached a zenith in the world’s most powerful democracy. Nor do recent achievements of other democracies (the Brexit fiasco, Rodrigo Duterte, Park Geun-hye) help to convince the Chinese of the supremacy of liberal democracy. We stand a better chance of fruitful conversation and cooperation with China if we acknowledge some beneficial features of their political regime.

Two relevant policies of the Xi Jinping regime are the drives to eradicate corruption and to strengthen political meritocracy, both of which derive from the regime’s embrace of classical Confucian political philosophy.

What’s remarkable here is that these initiatives could just as well have been inspired by a reading of Plato’s Republic. The consonances have the benefit of making the ideas more accessible to us, and our policymakers, in the West.

When it comes to global warming, our politics have failed. (After twentythree United Nations climate conferences, the nation-states of the world still can’t agree to any meaningful and binding commitments.) But just as the Chinese regime would benefit from some checks and balances, we can reform the democratic system. We can work toward ensuring that the rulers are both the most competent and the least self-interested that can be found.

If we can improve in that direction we can make some real progress on coping with climate change.

About Graham Parkes

Graham Parkes is professor of philosophy (emeritus) at the University of Hawai’i, and is a former head of the department of philosophy at University College, Cork.  His many publications include

Heidegger and Asian Thought (ed.) and Nietzsche and Asian Thought (ed), as well as Composing the Soul: Reaches of Nietzsche’s Psychology.   He has also published several translations with commentary: The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism by Nishitani Keiji (1990), Heidegger’s Hidden Sources: East-Asian Influences on His Work by Reinhard May (1996), Reading Zen in the Rocks: The Japanese Dry Landscape Garden by François Berthier (2000), and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (2005). In 2017 he is finishing up a manuscript with the working title, Applying Chinese Philosophy: How Ancient Chinese Ideas Can Help Save Humanity. He is currently a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Vienna, and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

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