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‘Asian values’ and human rights

‘Asian values’ and human rights

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‘Asian values’ and human rights

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  1. ‘Asian values’ and human rights Paul Bacon SILS, Waseda University PH201

  2. Human rights and ‘Asian values’ • This lecture summarizes an article entitled ‘What's Happened to Asian Values?’, byAnthony Milner. • This article is an important contribution to the debate on ‘Asian values’. If you want to read the whole article, you can find it at: •

  3. The ‘Asian values’ argument • Mahathir bin Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew were particularly vocal advocates of Asian values. • They were prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, respectively, in the 1990s. • The main claims of the Asian values argument are as follows: • A set of values is shared by people of many different nationalities and ethnicities living in East Asia. ('Asian values' are today usually associated solely with East and Southeast Asia). • These values include: • a stress on the community rather than the individual • the privileging of order and harmony over personal freedom

  4. The ‘Asian values’ argument • refusal to compartmentalize religion away from other spheres of life • a belief that government and business need not necessarily be natural adversaries • a particular emphasis on saving and thriftiness • an insistence on hard work • a respect for political leadership • an emphasis on family loyalty

  5. Asian values and Asian economics • In seeking to understand the economic success of certain Asian societies, credit must be given to the role of these 'Asian values'. • It is not appropriate to analyze Asian economic success in culture-free economic terms. • It is not appropriate to characterize Asian economic success as a result of the adoption of specifically Western values.

  6. Asian values and Asian politics • Modern political systems in Asian societies should be grounded in the specific Asian cultures in which they are to be situated. • It is not acceptable to reform or criticize Asian societies solely on the basis of liberal-democratic forms developed in Western societies.

  7. The West: in decline and in decay? • Proponents of Asian values believe that a major international shift is underway, involving the rise of 'the East' and the fall of 'the West'. • Samuel Huntington also offers this argument in ‘The Clash of Civilizations’. • Proponents of Asian values are critical of certain Western values and behavior patterns.

  8. The West: in decline and in decay? • Western values place too much emphasis on the individual rather than the community. • Western societies lack social discipline, and there is too much tolerance of eccentricity and abnormality in social behavior. • The suggestion is sometimes made that Western countries would do well to learn from 'Asian values‘, rather than the other way around.

  9. Social Decay in the West • Proponents of Asian values have argued that the West is experiencing social decay. Evidence of this decay includes: • 1. Increases in antisocial behavior, such as crime, drug use, and general violence in society. • 2. The breakdown of family life, including increased divorce rates, increased illegitimacy, a rise in the number of teenage pregnancies, and a growth in the number of single-parent families.

  10. Social Decay in the West • 3. A decline in ‘social capital’ - a decline in membership of voluntary associations and in the levels of interpersonal and civic trust that go with such memberships. • 4. A general weakening of the ‘work ethic’. • 5. The rise of a cult of personal indulgence and hedonism. • 6. A decrease in societal commitment to learning and to intellectual activity.

  11. Criticisms of the Asian values argument • The Asian values argument is premised on the economic success of Asian countries. • The economies of a number of Southeast Asian and East Asian countries collapsed in the 1990s. • This gave a significant boost to the 'anti-Asian values' case.

  12. Criticisms of the Asian values argument • Proponents of Asian values suggest that a set of 'Asian values' operate throughout the Asian region. • Critics argue that there are long-standing religious (Islamic, Buddhist, Confucian), political and other divisions in the region. • Huntington, for example, argues that Asia contains five different civilizations. • A major social and cultural transformation has also been underway in Asia, especially in the last decade or so.

  13. Criticisms of the Asian values argument • Cultures are contingent; they are reconstructed, constructed or invented to serve the specific purposes of their inventors. • 'Asian values', it is argued, are the ideological constructs of Asian leaderships rather than the genuinely-held beliefs of their subjects. • There is disagreement within the Asian region about 'Asian values' - NGO's and some political leaders, such as President Lee of Taiwan, have been powerful advocates of 'universal', liberal values.

  14. Criticisms of the Asian values argument • The Asian values argument provides an excuse for an illiberal form of government. • Some politicians and countries cloak their autocratic strategies and methods in arguments of cultural exceptionalism. • The role in social and economic analysis of 'Asian values', 'Western values' or 'culture' in general is to be questioned: economic change may in fact be seen to be the result of other, deeper processes.

  15. Criticisms of the Asian values argument • The ideology of 'Asian values' is radically conservative. • It serves the needs of capitalism at a particular stage of its development in specific Asian societies. • It is an ideology that 'combines organic statism with market economies'. • The economic success of Singapore is an exception to the rule. It is not an example of a wider phenomenon. (Remember the table of freedom and income I distributed to you).

  16. Criticisms of the Asian values argument • Many so-called 'Asian values' are equally Western values. • In some cases these values have been deliberately inculcated in Asian societies as a consequence of the influence on Asian elites of Western models. • The role of the writings of the popular philosopher, Samuel Smiles, in developing the philosophy of 'hard work' and 'self-help' in Japan and a number of other Asian societies over the last century, is an excellent example of such influence.

  17. Criticisms of the Asian values argument • As a unifying ideological system in the Asian region, the doctrine of 'Asian values', like the idea of 'Asia' itself, has proved of little use. • ASEAN, despite the apparent growth in enthusiasm for the idea of 'Asia', is a relatively weak international association incapable of real executive action. • The East Asian Economic Caucus (which is intended to include East as well as Southeast Asian countries) has also made little headway.

  18. Paul’s 6 arguments about democracy: • Democracies have better human rights records than non-democracies. • Democracies have higher living standards than non-democracies. • Democracies are more economically productive than non-democracies. • Democracies do not fight wars against each other. • Democracies do not experience famines. • Democracies do not commit democide.