Nobility and Civility: Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good

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Nobility and Civility: Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good

By Wm. Theodore De Bary
Harvard University Press, 2004
272 pp. $24.95
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De Bary, arguably the West's leading scholar of classical Asian thought, has written an elegant and thoughtful essay on the essence of true leadership and political virtue as expounded in the classics of Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Japanese thought. Instead of treating the classical writings of Asia as mere relics of "traditional" thought that will be replaced by more "modern" thinking, he demonstrates that the great books of Asia contain within them valuable concepts and insights for preserving civilized life in an age of materialistic globalization. By respectfully exploring what the Asian classics say about learning and leadership, virtue and civility, and nobility and the common good, de Bary clearly demonstrates that the West has no monopoly on liberal thought; Asian writers have much to say that is relevant to human rights, democracy, and civil society. In the past, de Bary has worked mainly within the context of Confucianism, but here he reaches out to include the texts of other Asian classical traditions. His revisiting of Ruth Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, for example, opens up whole new dimensions of Japanese culture. Just to follow de Bary's journeys through Asian classical texts is an intellectually broadening experience for anyone, including specialists on contemporary Asia.