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On Korean dual civil society: Thinking through Tocqueville and Confucius

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Korean civil society is often criticized because of its dual nature, that is, the paucity of social capital in everyday life and the plethora of collective political actions in the national civil society. Although liberals view such duality as the critical impediment to Korea’s authentic (that is, liberal) democratization, which would represent a fundamental, liberal-pluralist transformation of Korean society, this article rather acknowledges its cultural (that is, Confucian) uniqueness and utilizes it as the basis on which to construct a Korean non-liberal democracy that is culturally pertinent and politically viable. First, this article critically re-examines the recent neo-Tocquevillian praise for social capital in light of Tocqueville’s original idea on the art of association, and reveals the liberal-individualistic assumption behind them, with which Confucian-Koreans are culturally unfamiliar. It presents a Korean version of Confucian civil society to promote democratic collective self-government and common citizenship, while rejecting modern Western moral individualism.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Public and Social Administration, City University of Hongkong, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong., Email:

Publication date: November 1, 2010

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