Jane Austen Meets Confucius: On the Marriage of Individualism and Social Harmony

By Roxanne Joyce Fand.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the current global economic and environmental crises, a return to the cross-cultural moral values at the heart of most religions and secular ideologies may provide the common ground of solutions instead of the clash of civilizations. This study contributes to such a dialogue by examining how two widely different past cultures, east and west, are relevant today. That Jane Austen’s Anglican heroines practice what Confucius preaches in the Analects, reveals pragmatic common ground between western “individualism,” often perverted into narcissism, and eastern “social harmony,” often perverted into authoritarianism, to suggest that social harmony may be cultivated through respect for ethical individualism in today’s global multicultural contexts. Both Austen and Confucius advocate the promotion and worldly success of meritorious individuals, who might rise from a lower position through self-examination and testing of character. Built into their assumptions, despite the class-bound systems of both their societies, is a bias for equal opportunity. The refining process takes social propriety into account, balancing reserve with humor and passion, and accomplishment with humble perspective. Although Austen concentrates on the domestic sphere in the roles of her heroines, and Confucius casts a wider net of male endeavors in the political and economic sphere, they share an emphasis on imperfect but striving exemplars, who demonstrate the foundation of social justice, beginning with the family and interpersonal relations. In keeping with the message of America’s new president, the cultivation of individualism must be tempered by one’s solidarity with the social network and by developing skills of negotiating in ever-widening circles of interconnectivity. This cross-cultural, interdisciplinary study shows that the struggle to balance individual rights with responsibilities is the heart of a universal social contract of “one for all and all for one” at every level, from the local to the global, from the personal to the political.

Keywords: Ethical Individualism, Jane Austen, Confucius, Social Contract, Cross-Cultural Dialogue

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 10, pp.1-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.247MB).

Dr. Roxanne Joyce Fand

Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Roxanne J. Fand is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She holds graduate degrees in Education, English as a Second Language, and a Ph.D. in English Literature. Fand is the author of the book, The Dialogic Self: Reconstructing Subjectivity in Woolf, Lessing, and Atwood, articles on second language acquisition, and the article, Margaret Atwood’s Robber Bride: The Dialogic Moral of a Nietzschean Fairy Tale in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. Her article, Reading The Fountainhead: The Missing Self in Ayn Rand’s Ethical Individualism will appear in College English, May 2009. Fand’s professional interests center on identity and culture theory, feminist-dialogic criticism, women writers, and cross-cultural dialogue.

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