Kokka no Hinkaku Chapter 3: Doubting freedom, equality, and democracy

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If you think you like democracy, freedom, and equality, listen up. This chapter is for you.

1. Freedom (自由) was used in Japan to mean “selfishness, egotism” until the American occupation, where the nuance changed to “human rights.” But it still only relates to the “promotion of selfishness” (身勝手の助長). “Thanks to this spectre called ‘freedom,’ Japan’s old morals and traditional forms cultivated by the Japanese for many years have been damaged.”

Fujiwara argues, humans do not have any freedom to begin with: there are legal, moral, ethical, and organizational limits on behavior. The only important freedom is the freedom to criticize power. All other freedoms can be curtailed. “I don’t have the freedom to take a whizz on the side of the road.” Freedom is nothing more than “fiction” created by the West. The ultimate freedom is the natural rights of Hobbes. Locke’s idea of “freedom as long as you do not infringe on other people’s freedom or rights” would excuse enjo kosai (schoolgirl prostitution). (He ends that section with this thought and no further explanation.)

2. On Calvin’s Predestination, “We (Japanese) could never understand the idea that people who are already saved — even the most heinous and inhuman people — will be saved. Because the Buddhist idea that those who do good and pray to the Buddha will be saved is a much easier-to-understand cause-and-effect rule.” Then Fujiwara goes into a discussion of Weber’s idea of Calvinism impacting capitalism.

3. Upon hearing the “Declaration of Independence,” Fujiwara can only think, “Thomas Jefferson — the 32 year-old Virginia State representative — probably would think that, right?” Also get this: Jefferson, for all his talk about freedom and equality, had slaves. Recently they did a DNA test and found that he fathered a child with one of his slaves — proven by leading science journals.

4. “Locke’s freedom and equality are nothing more than Puritan ideas that deny Divine Right, and to me, it is mostly arbitrary. There is nothing that can be called a logical base. That’s why Jefferson has to invoke God. Freedom and equality are concepts that cannot be explained properly without God.” Also, “‘Human dignity,’ ‘humanism,’ and ‘human rights’ are words that sound sweet to the ear, but if you go back to the source, they are nothing more than Calvinist beliefs.”

5. “Is democracy that great?” The big premise to “the sovereignty of the people” is that “the populace can make mature decisions.” If this was true, democracy would be the best. But in WWI, all the nations got hot and bothered and went to war. Same with WWII — democracy gave birth to Hitler. Rather than going off and doing things by himself, Hitler was able to successfully agitate the public, and used his support to pursue his plans.

Japan was also a democracy — only seven years after the UK. WWII was “actually a war of democratic countries vs. democratic countries.”

6. The press have the most power in a democracy, because they determine public opinion.

7. Right now, there is a worldwide epidimic of political correctness. “That’s why we had judicial decisions where OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson are innocent and everybody cocks their head.” PC’s punishment of the strong is also the reason why the Tokyo courts ruled in favor of the engineer who invented the blue LED when he sued Nichia for inadequate compensation.

8. But the people will never be mature… “The people — all around the world — will always be immature.” and therefore the central supposition of democracy will never be fulfilled.

9. “We need a true elite.” Democracy will just lead to war, so in order to stop that we need an elite. “These people will control/restrain the democracy that is fundamentally filled with danger of wrecklessness.” There are two conditions for this elite: They must be trained in literature, philosophy, history, arts, and science. Second is they will happily throw away their lives to serve the state and the people. This kind of elite does not currently exist in Japan, but they used to.

The bureaucrats are not the true elite. The current Todai-trained bureaucrats are “(standard) deviation elites” (a reference to entrance testing), and their skills do not benefit the nation.

France and England are developing a true elite. Many of whom serve in the UK government, which is why you never see corruption or bribes. “They do not do anything to deceive the country.” A third of Americans in WWII wanted to enslave the Japanese, but the government elites rightfully ignored this.

10. Equality is fiction. But the media will never tell you this. “I was never popular with girls in elementary school.” I was good at study, but bad at art and soccer and would lose to my wife in a fight. Therefore, “There is no equality in people’s talents.”

A terrible murderer’s life is not worth the same as a baby. Is a consumption tax on everyone or a progressive tax more “equal”?

11. “Equality” (平等) used to mean “flat, even, level” (平坦). Buddha’s compassion was equal to all living things — there was nothing conflict-related about the word. In Japan, difference does not correspond to an axis for conflict, but compassion (惻隠) — consideration for the weaker, the defeated, and the picked on. That’s the bushido way. If you have enough compassion, difference between people will go away and you will not need the fiction of equality.

In the “equal” America, CEO’s make 300 times the salary of the average worker. Black baseballer Barry Bonds got four dead balls twelve times when he tried to beat white man Mark McGwire’s record.

12. Freedom and equality cannot coexist. “God does not commit the crime of contradiction. Saying that God gave us freedom and equality is a big red lie.” Equality and freedom clash, different people’s freedoms clash. If you set equal conditions for competition, the strong devour the meek, income disparity occurs, and you have inequality. People argue about the equality of result and the equality of opportunity, but it’s a big joke. Proof being that Tokyo University students have the most wealthy parents.

The world is drunk on democracy, freedom, and equality. And I believe this is a cause of the troubles facing the current world.

Notes:
1. Free discussion!

On to Part Four: Japan – the Nation of Sensitivity and Form

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

32 Responses

  1. marxy Says:

    Dude is totally into Confucius – and doesn’t even give the guy props once!

    Also, the bro who sat behind me in Rettig’s 3rd period Civics class kept saying the same thing about democracy and freedom.

    Democracy is like eggs, and fascism is like rotten eggs. I hate rotten eggs, so I think we should reconsider eggs in total.

  2. goemon Says:

    It’s much wiser to reconsider the chicken.

  3. ian Says:

    Not sure how many people would agree with the whole “no corruption or bribes” in the UK thing in view of the ongoing scandal over the Right Honourable Mr. Blair handing out seats in the House Of Lords to anyone with a few hundred thousand quid to drop into the Labour Party’s coffers. On the other hand, it’s the unelected upper house, a leftover of the country’s withering aristocratic elite, and the equally unelected judiciary that have been the only thing standing in the way of some of our democratically elected and scarily authoritarian government’s more lunatic schemes over the past few years (e.g. attempts to hold terrorist suspects for three months without trial based on secret evidence, imposition of house arrest – again with no evidence – on whoever the Home Secretary and Rupert Murdoch deem a threat, the absurd and frankly terrifying National Identity Register, etc.)

    What is Fujiwara actually advocating here? I guess my occidentally-orientated mind sees this as an argument for better-functioning democracy and greater transparency rather than an argument for the abolition of democracy.

  4. marxy Says:

    Strikes me as he is advocating some sort of Confucian-Democratic hybrid where a group of elites essentially govern and keep check on democratically elected officials. To be honest, this already describes the Japanese government – he just wants Angels in the bureaucratic positions. The same Angels who would be perfect Party members in the Communist ideal. We all want Angels in the government.

  5. pedanty's my gig Says:

    惻隠 is indeed an important part of the Confucian tradition. I think it gets its start in the Mencius. Legge sometimes translates it as “commiseration”:

    ‘When I say that all men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others, my meaning may be illustrated thus:– even now-a-days, if men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress (惻隱之心). They will feel so, not as a ground on which they may gain the favour of the child’s parents, nor as a ground on which they may seek the praise of their neighbours and friends, nor from a dislike to the reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing.

    “‘From this case we may perceive that the feeling of commiseration (惻隱之心) is essential to man, that the feeling of shame and dislike is essential to man, that the feeling of modesty and complaisance is essential to man, and that the feeling of approving and disapproving is essential to man.'”

    I guess that what’s important here is that it’s a basically hierarchical concept, thus the opposite of equality. Though it doesn’t seem that Fujiwara would be particularly troubled by accusations of gross paternalism.

  6. Mike Says:

    Sounds like Plato’s Philosopher-Kings to me.

    Alas, I do not think any fruitful debate of this subject matter can occur, since every single item contains severe factual and logical errors.

    Am I correct in remembering you said he was mathematically trained? I cannot fathom a mathematician maintaining these trains of thought, they are abjectly irrational. Perhaps that’s why he starts his book with an attack on logic?

    I remember reading an email from the Japanese translator of Freakonomics to Steven Levitt, talking about the wide dismissal of the book fostered by either refusal to acknowledge data, or merely waving it by as old stuff.

    As you said before, this will not change anyone’s mind, nothing seems to really do that in Japan (from my far-removed viewpoint of course, please enlighten further). But the wide dissemination of this utter nonsense is highly disturbing.

    I guess all I can do for now is make sure I am always ready to flee to the country-side and live off the land for a little bit when the shit hits the fan. Or maybe move to New Zealand? (Until they invade Tazmania or something)

  7. Brown Says:

    A bargain basement (Don Quixote?) Leo Strauss. For better or for worse, actually existing liberal democracies contain many such checks on the passions of the people, but I guess that’s not enough for Fujiwara. I also wonder why he doesn’t name-check Confucius? Any Japanese person who was paying attention in high school should recognize that’s where many of his arguments are coming from, they do study this stuff. Does he think it’s unnecessary, or is it possible that he himself does not even realize that he’s a (neo-)Confucian?

    PS: Just noticed that both neoconservative and neo-Confucian could be abbreviated as neocon. Surely this is no accident, comrades!

    PPS: I’m not saying this to defend TJ’s hypocrisy, but I seem to recall that old Hirohito had slaves too- 100 million of them.

  8. Abiola Lapite Says:

    “As you said before, this will not change anyone’s mind, nothing seems to really do that in Japan”

    And in which countries do such marvellous things happen? I don’t see how refusing to concede defeat in argument is a peculiarly Japanese trait.

  9. marxy Says:

    I guess that what’s important here is that it’s a basically hierarchical concept, thus the opposite of equality. Though it doesn’t seem that Fujiwara would be particularly troubled by accusations of gross paternalism.

    Interesting linkage to Mencius and Co. Only if Fujiwara would take-in Mencius’ claim that all men are inherently good – then compassion would be for all of us, not just the Japanese.

    In Chapter 5, he gets into a bit more with bushido and finally name-checks Confucianism. He does not, however, admit that most of his philosophical leanings as inherently Confucian. Being against democracy as “wreckless children” is not fascist or totalitarian as much as Confucian.

    As many of us know, there is no perfect governmental system. The question becomes, is a flawed elitist-paternalist government better than a flawed democracy? And which one can heal itself faster?

    I remember reading an email from the Japanese translator of Freakonomics to Steven Levitt, talking about the wide dismissal of the book fostered by either refusal to acknowledge data, or merely waving it by as old stuff.

    Can you post a link or explain this more.

    But the wide dissemination of this utter nonsense is highly disturbing.

    I think most of the arguments are either weak, misguided, misleading, or a bit “high-school.” I am no expert on Western philosophical traditions, but I am not sure it is the most accurate thing to describe the democratic tradition as an offshoot of Calvinism. Political ideas are related to religious underpinnings and justifications, but democracy can and has existed without the guidance of reformed Christianity. So the worry for me is less “what if people believe his conclusions!” and more “what if people believe the statements that build up his arguments!”

    Ironically, the “true elite” which Fujiwara hopes to descend from heaven would tear apart his historical readings with a sharp sword. While still respecting his right to opinion, I cannot deny that he has not written an academically “sound” work.

  10. nate Says:

    whats funny is that in his extended critique of the principles of the enlightenment, he sounds a lot like “critique of the enlightenment” (curiously, with straussian overtones, as brown implies). He’s just short on tools… tragically limited by his lack of verstehen of western culture, he’s bound to critique the exotic western cultures from a japanese mindset.

    The following is ironically intended: Look out world, if Japan is catching up to American/Continental philosophy of the 50’s and 60’s, it won’t be long before they’ve made contemporary philosophy smaller and cheaper. Then they’ll leverage their unfair labor practices and government collusion to drive the American socio-philosophers out of business. If we don’t stand up against this, it won’t be long before we’re all trading in our deweys and rortys for koans and the compact kyoto school Z series.

  11. Carl Says:

    The letter from the translator of Yabai Keizaigaku.

  12. alin Says:

    I also wonder why he doesn’t name-check Confucius?

    pakkuri ?

  13. P P Says:

    I think that explains why Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth.

  14. marxy Says:

    pakkuri ?

    I think there is a more widespread tendency for the Japanese to not realize a lot of their most sacred philosophical/religious concepts are Confucian in origin.

    M/A/D – where is the outrage this round? We are all waiting!

  15. Momus Says:

    I’m enjoying this summarization a lot, carry on! (Sorry, no outrage: I find reasonable stuff in what Fujiwara is saying, and reasonable stuff in your comments on what he’s saying too.)

  16. Brown Says:

    Similar perhaps to the widespread tendency for Western leftists to not realize a lot of their most sacred political/philosophical concepts are Christian in origin (this is not a dis- see Zizek’s “The Puppet and the Dwarf” and “The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?”).

  17. nate Says:

    brown, are you a deus ex machina? you’ve been a shady, almost always super-informed and spot-on presence since back in your “guest” days.

  18. marxy Says:

    The difference being that Western leftists do not associate their concepts with a pride in their race or nation. Not everyone knows the philosophical precursors to their own views, but I bring up Confucianism as a backbone for bushido/Shinto because there is a common Japanese view that this morality/ethical code is unique to Japan or has a “pure” Japanese origin.

    We will deal with how Fujiwara thinks of bushido’s origin in Ch. 5.

  19. marxy Says:

    I find reasonable stuff in what Fujiwara is saying, and reasonable stuff in your comments on what he’s saying too.

    Do you think there is a difference in the reasoning of how you come to similar conclusions?

  20. Adamu at Narita Says:

    Picked up my own copy of this book during my 3 hour layover in Narita. Marxy, you convinced me to give this guy more money! You might be playing right into his hands!

    Anyway, I want to reserve further comment until I’ve finished this thing, except to say that this book is unfortunately so garbled that it’s almost beyond rebuttal/discussion. Unfortunately, I think Fujiwara is right about one thing – it doesn’t *take* a well-reasoned argument to convince people of things they already think to be true. So the result of this book’s popularity is going to be like those asshole college Republicans who argue with everyone they meet about abortion – he’ll end up reinforcing the beliefs of people already on his side, annoy most others, and bring some fence-leaners over to his point of view. Ick.

  21. Duffy Says:

    More than anything else, I just want to know what this cat Fujiwara looks like. Google ain’t yielding nothing.

    As much as I hope he’s repellent, he’s probably got raffish good looks and dark, flashing eyes.

    But I bet he throws like a girl (no offense M/A/D) and wears his cell phone on his belt. Loser.

    Pontificate, rant and philosophize all you want, mofo, I can still take you. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Fujiwara. I’ll bust some warrior ethics on your Barry Bonds-anecdote-abusing ass.

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    Me: 1
    Fujiwara: 0

    Face.

  22. marxy Says:

    He’s this guy.

  23. Duffy Says:

    Damn.

    In that case, I feel obliged to show the dude some compassion — That’s the bushido way!

  24. M. Says:

    His comb-over is almost as egregious as Momus’s…

  25. Brown Says:

    One of the key concepts that Western leftists (used to) hold dear is precisely that of universalism, so naturally it’s kind of counter-intuitive to associate it with a particular people or culture, though Zizek suggests that we should “accept that universalism is a Eurocentrist notion.”

    http://bad.eserver.org/issues/2002/59/zizek.html

    Christianity certainly has its Confucian variants (think of the complex history of the role of Christianity in the subjugation and emancipation of slaves in America), but Zizek identifies the following core idea as worth saving:

    “Against the pagan notion of destiny, Christianity offered the possibility of a radical opening, that we can find a zero point and clear the table. It introduced a new kind of ethics: not that each of us should do our duty according to our place in society — a good King should be a good King, a good servant a good servant — but instead that irrespective of who I am, I have direct access to universality. This is explosive.”

    Small wonder that the Japanese ruling class has always had it in for devout Christians- and “devout” Marxists.

    Particularists, on the other hand, aren’t so interested in spreading “the good news,” because they don’t really think it applies to anyone else, though they’ll be sure to let you know what you’re supposed to do for them once you fall under their yoke. One of the most fascinating things about the ideology, policy, and reality of Manchukuo and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was precisely this tension between universalism and particularism. This is present in other forms of imperialist ideology as well. Recall Taft’s “little brown brothers” in the Philippines- though he did say that even they could become full equals with about a century of benevolent honky tutelage.

    This stuff is, I think, highly applicable to our current (post-)modern predicament (pick your political hotspot of choice). This comment is getting overly long, but let me just say that there are important things being written now by the likes of Amartya Sen and Kwame Anthony Appiah about fundamentalism as a twisted form of universalism. Sen and Appiah would probably both disagree with Zizek about the Eurocentrism of univeralism in ways that would be very enlightening (no pun intended). Also check Balibar “Racism as Universalism,” etc- crucial!

    I’m looking forward to hearing Fujiwara’s take on bushido. It might be interesting to compare it to Akashi Yusashi’s『サムライと英語』

    http://www.kadokawa.co.jp/book/bk_search.php?pcd=200401000440

    …and to recall that that most famous popularizer of bushido and「英語が使える日本人」par excellence, Nitobe Inazo, was, of all things, a Quaker:

    http://www.japanecho.co.jp/sum/2003/300612.html

    Nate, thanks for your kind words, and I’m flattered that you remembered my previous name! But I can’t claim any special knowledge of future plot developments on this blog, I’m just a lowly agent of historical necessity. Lord knows there are enough whips of the counter-revolution posting on here already! But it’s all good- it takes two to dance the dialectic. Which, I think, is a B-52s song. Or should be.

  26. Momus Says:

    Do you think there is a difference in the reasoning of how you come to similar conclusions?

    I’m only with him on about 40% of his conclusions. No doubt this can be explained by Brown’s comment that Western leftist concepts map to Christian concepts, Quaker concepts map to Bushido, and Bushido concepts map to Confucianism. You see, in the big picture, it all connects! Almost like… well, an enormous conspiracy!

  27. Momus Says:

    By the way, I’m glad Brown raised Zizek and Balibar’s comments on the situatedness of universalism, because this is a crucial point I don’t think Marxy has yet taken on board. It has huge consequences for a lot of his arguments, although in Marxy’s perspective the universal is framed more in consumer-capitalist terms than in terms of human rights, ethnicity, and so on. Nevertheless, he clings resolutely to the idea that there is a neutral structure which transcends nationhood. Unfortunately, Israel sending guided missiles into UN positions has become the symbol of how, today, this neutral structure is being blasted away, one institution at a time.

  28. Momus Says:

    (The collapse of the Doha round is another symbol of the same thing.)

  29. Chris_B Says:

    Momus: you do realize that the 10% I’ve agreed with may overlap into your 40%. How do you feel about that? You might actually be in agreement with a “conservative”. That would be a classic case of Prenaritism if there ever was one.

  30. Momus Says:

    “Your search – prenaritism – did not match any documents.”

  31. Chris_B Says:

    Momus: You only use Wikipedia as a supportive tool then?

  32. Momus Says:

    Having only one eye makes me well aware of the importance of using more than one research tool. I wouldn’t want wool pulled over it, now, would I?