This paper aims to connect the issues of pluralism, Confucianism, and democracy in East Asia. Through engaging with empirical evidence, I will argue that although Confucianism still has a strong yet shallow moral and cultural hold on East Asian societies, it no longer has dominance over how citizens in East Asian societies envision their political future. Then, I will examine the idea of pluralism and argue that neither the Confucian classicists nor the liberal-minded Confucian political theorists take pluralism truly seriously, because both sides ultimately adopt the same internal view of pluralism that contains and addresses pluralism from within Confucianism. In contrast, an external view of pluralism is needed to treat Confucianism as one of many comprehensive doctrines coexisting with one another in East Asia. Finally, I will conclude by proposing a two-track strategy that takes advantage of two distinct approaches toward a better understanding of pluralism, Confucianism, and democracy.
Moderate Confucian perfectionism aims to take advantage of both the capacity of liberalism to accommodate reasonable pluralism and the richness of Confucianism to endorse shared values without much controversy. Drawing from John Rawls’s proviso, Franz Mang offers an internal critique of moderate Confucian perfectionism by constructing a “wide view of moderate perfectionism” according to which active promotion of Confucianism or Confucian values violates the liberal condition to accommodate reasonable pluralism. In this article, I will argue that Mang’s internal critique not only reveals the weakness of moderate Confucian perfectionism but also pushes moderate perfectionism closer to neutrality, which can be demonstrated by adopting a pluralistic understanding of liberal neutrality. Furthermore, the pluralistic understanding of liberal neutrality leads to a convergent view of the relationship between political liberalism and moderate perfectionism, on the basis of which a modified proviso can be constructed to take advantage of both freestanding political reasons and freestanding perfectionist reasons. This modified proviso not only meets the liberal condition to accommodate reasonable pluralism but also strengthens the case for political liberalism.