OpEd: Is Cultural Relativism Bad?

David Vilder | Contributor

I’ve noticed there’s been a rising movement of cultural relativism from people who object to the United States’ opposite stance: cultural imperialism. While in the 1990s it was all about the democratic transition of the Third World, Lee Kwan Yew, the founder of Singapore, started to advocate the so-called “Asian values”, which in his mind were incompatible with democracy. As a result, the idea that there exists some cultural predispositions for democracy (and by extrapolation, the concept of human rights) took roots.

To this, Kim Dae Jong (2000 Nobel peace prize recipient and previous President of South Korea) provided a fantastic answer in his essay “Is Culture Destiny?”. He argues that there are inherent democratic concepts in Confucianism (which is often summarized as ‘respect for authority’), which actually predate liberal democracy itself.

Culture, indeed, has often been brought as something almost organic, like a leviathan, blocking the long road to democratic transition. Islam, for example, is widely seen by many renowned western academics as opposed to democratic values in its ideological crux.

In Kim Dae Jung’s view, however, “culture is not necessarily our destiny, democracy is”.

“Is Culture Destiny? The Myth of Asia’s Anti-democratic Values”: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/50557/kim-dae-jung/is-culture-destiny-the-myth-of-asias-anti-democratic-values


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