Vol. 42 No. 3 (2023): The University of Queensland Law Journal
Articles (Special Issue)

The Duties that Bind Us: An Analysis of Duty-Based Constitutionalism in Confucian and Calvinian Thought

Constance Lee
University of South Australia

Published 2023-12-17


This article aims to draw out some of the key continuities between Confucian and Reformed natural law traditions, the latter represented by John Calvin (1509–64). It seeks to undermine contemporary academic definitions of Confucianism and constitutionalism, which are premised on misinterpretations. The first misinterpretation occurs where Confucian moral theory is viewed overly prescriptively, as being synonymous with legalist orthodoxy. The second misinterpretation occurs where constitutionalism is defined exclusively in terms of its dominant liberal conception. These problematic definitions of the two core concepts reduce the space of convergence between Eastern and Western constitutional frameworks, giving rise to the misleading narrative that they are fundamentally incompatible. With these issues in mind, the article adopts a dialectic interpretive method to read both traditions in light of their historical context and authorial purpose, to see whether such a reading can support some form of duty-based constitutionalism. Ultimately, the article examines Eastern and Western natural law ideas to reveal deeper themes common to both and highlight the normative continuities of two prominent, albeit culturally disparate, constitutional foundations.