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Just HierarchyWhy Social Hierarchies Matter in China and the Rest of the World$
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Daniel Bell and Wang Pei

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691200897

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691200897.001.0001

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Just Hierarchy between Citizens

Just Hierarchy between Citizens

On the Importance of Service

(p.66) 2 Just Hierarchy between Citizens
Just Hierarchy

Daniel A. Bell

Wang Pei

Princeton University Press

This chapter turns to just hierarchies between citizens—mainly strangers to one another—in modern large-scale political communities. It argues that hierarchies between rulers and ruled in such communities are justified if the political system selects and promotes public officials with above-average ability and a willingness to serve the political community over and above their own private and family interests. The chapter demonstrates that this kind of ideal—the “political meritocracy”—helped to inspire the imperial political system in China's past and Chinese political reformers in the early twentieth century, and may help to justify the political system in China today. However, the meritocratic system needs to be accompanied by democratic mechanisms short of competitive elections at the top that allow citizens to show that they trust their rulers and provide a measure of accountability at different levels of government. In the Chinese context, however, there is a large gap between the ideal and the reality. Thus, this chapter recommends that a judicious mixture of Confucian-style “soft power” combined with democratic openness, Maoist-style mass line, and Daoist-style skepticism about the whole political system can help to reinvigorate political meritocracy in China.

Keywords:   just hierarchy, stranger-to-stranger relations, political meritocracy, Chinese imperial political system, Chinese political reformers, Confucianism, Maoism, Daoism, citizens

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