🦋 How do we translate the meaning of democracy across cultural divides?

Critical translation

How does Jean-Paul Gagnon’s proposal to build a ‘data mountain’ to understand democracy stand up to the challenge of translation?

The social contract

The contemporary term for democracy in Chinese is 民主: people are the master / owner / host of themselves. There is no immediate parallel in Confucianism to the rights of nature, equality at birth, and the social contract. Given this, the first usages in 左 傳 (roughly 200–400 BC) of 民主 consistently referred to princes. The idea was that princes were ‘the people’s master,’ as opposed to the people being their own master.

The natural contract

A useful metaphor is the natural or heavenly contract, which analogises an agreement between the prince and Heaven. The notion of heaven is reified through the people’s perceptions of the prince. Such reification creates a cosmological order that subjugates the prince to the people. Here, the distinction between the ‘people’s master’ and the ‘people being the master’ becomes blurred.

An epistemological tour in another cosmology

A ‘critical translation’ of liberal democracy and Confucianism 民主, by revealing their contrasting relational preparations, effectively embodies an epistemological tour in each other’s cosmologies:

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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”