The paper deals with social-cultural aspects of catching up modernisation in the newly industrialising countries (NICs) of East and South-East Asia in the 1960s-90s. The author treats this modernisation as a kind of conservative modernisation because it combined the local traditions and several elements of modernity, the “family-centred” attitudes of the East with the “self-centred” individualism of the West. In this connection, the author considers the role of Confucianism in East Asian modernisation and discusses the problem of compatibility of the Confucian doctrine with “the spirit of capitalism”. As it is known, Max Weber wrote about their incompatibility with each other but the practice of the last third of the XX Century disapproved the conception of Weber. This apparent paradox has been explained by the profound changes in capitalism since the times when Weber elaborated his conception. When the countries under scrutiny approached to their modernisation, they borrowed and implemented the model of managerial capitalism with the developmental state and economic bureaucracy. The state and its officialdom played the leading role in development of these countries, being much more important for modernisation than “the spirit of capitalism” with private initiatives. Meanwhile, the developmental state’s activity corresponded to some principles of the Confucian doctrine, so Confucianism that glorified the harmony and strong order appeared as well compatible with fast modernisation, particularly in Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.
However, the Confucian heritage and the relics of communalism became the obstacles to transition towards a knowledge-based economy. A focus on learning instead of studying in education according to the old Confucian traditions restrains the students’ creativity and oppresses an endeavour to express individuality. Thus, the practice of conservative modernisation, which was very effective at the stage of imitative, catching up industrial development, succeeds in a blind alley because does not enable to begin implementing a knowledge-based, innovative model of development that presupposes a free creative activity of individuals.
At the same time, liberalisation of economy, particularly after the Asian financial-economic crisis of 1997-1998, leads to deepening social differentiation and erodes the base of the previous developmental state. In the changing conditions, a set of the so-called “Asian values” has been used not for further modernisation but for justifying the conservative, authoritarian tendencies in politics and ideology.
The main conclusion the author makes from his consideration concerns the debates about the global shift of the world economy’s core to the East (including China): in the nearest decades neither China nor East Asia as a whole will become the world economic hegemon. The West with the US domination will remain the global scientific-technological and, therefore, economic leader in the world.