In the last three decades, a number of Asian thinkers supportive of, or opposed to, authoritarian rule have developed culture-based theories of democracy that challenge, or buttress, a liberal, “Western” understanding of democratic rule. The most famous expression was the “Asian values” discourse of government-linked intellectuals in Singapore and Malaysia, but there has also been a “political Confucianist” critique of “Western democracy” in China as well as claims that only “Thai-style democracy” is appropriate in Thailand. Less well known is a pro-democratic stance in Asia rooted in the region's major religious traditions. These apparently contradictory discourses have been dialectically related in the post–Cold War era: authoritarian rulers reacted to universalist claims about democracy with assertions of cultural particularism which, in turn, triggered a reaction by Asian democrats who pointed to the liberal character of world religions practiced in the region. While the civilizational critique of “Western” democracy (the origins of which can be traced to Imperial Germany and Meiji Japan) has contributed to democratic decline in the region, there has also been push back by offering an interpretation based on East Asia's major religious traditions to show that “Asian values” are not incompatible with democracy.

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