ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Barshay, Andrew E. State and Intellectual in Imperial Japan: The Public Man in Crisis. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988.

Main Argument: In fascist Japan, with no space left in which to be separate from the state, "public men" by and large turned to the state as the only avenue through which to perform the public service to which they felt called.

Historiographical Engagement: Barshay performs a close reading on the work of these intellectuals, but he also has a very deep command of the discourse of Western philosophy, particularly German philosophy, and of many other intellectual disciplines besides.

Preface: Argument, Sources, Examples In this brief preface, Barshay says that he attempts "to show how, for public men in imperial Japan, the intellectual content of public work and the mutually defining status positions of insider and outsider were interrelated" (xiv). He goes on to describe his reason for choosing Hasegawa Nyozekan and Nanbara Shigeru--both were strong intellectual influences on the young Maruyama Masao, whose presence in these pages is pervasive. The next section is a brief discussion of the life and import of Simone Weil, whom Camus described as "the only great spirit of our times," and who for Barshay is a "limit case" in "the price of national identity in the twentieth century" and in the truth that "modern human intelligence cannot do otherwise than believe in its strivings and accept its inevitable failures" (xvi). (Like Barshay, Weil was a Jewish convert to Catholicism.) According to Barshay, "the specter that haunted Simone Weil was the combined force of the bureaucratic state and the national, collective 'we': power and its enabling ideology" (xvii). Barshay goes on to briefly describe Nyozekan and Nanbara, saying that "both of these cases illustrate the daunting task of critical allegiance: to keep the comforting sanctuary that is one's nation from becoming a prison house, for oneself, for others. In this sense, this study may be read as a cautionary tale, whose focus on Japan is 'accidental'" (xx). Maruyama himself quoted Martin Niemöller, whose resistance to the Nazi state came too late but who crystallized his awakening "into two stark injunctions. First, Principis obsta: 'Resist the beginning'; second, Finem respice: 'Consider the end'" (ibid).

The problem of allegiance )

Critical assessment: This is a typically dense, excellent, and resolutely moral Barshay book. I said in a class discussion that in some ways it reminds one of doing the stations of the Cross, in which one follows along and suffers through what the intellectuals profiled in this book lived. Metaphors aside, however, I am impressed and gratified at Barshay's insistence on the fact of Japanese fascism after 1931, and highly impressed by his discussion of Nyozekan's analysis of it. This material is of much general relevance.

I have to disagree about the irrelevance of thinkers like Simone Weill to Barshay's project - I think that we as historians of Asia self-ghettoize our work at our peril, and in any case, Weill faced the exact same conditions as did intellectuals in Japan and Germany, and for that reason alone her response to them would be germane. She's the limit case, but Barshay is right when he points out that the vast majority of cases, such as those of Nanbaru and Hasegawa, don't lie that far out. For this reason, I find Barshay's study intensely worthwhile.

I'm glad to be able to see the threads of Barshay's proposed future study of Maruyama and the Marxist/Modernist paradigm that would unite in his second book, which I think offers a much more nuanced and valuable interpretation of Maruyama than a study of him alone would have done. If anything, I think Maruyama gets off too lightly here - one would have thought that Barshay's perceptive insider/outsider paradigm would have allowed him to see, in the context of the postwar, its very real limitations, which others in my cohort have alluded to: Maruyama was caught between the Enlightener role of the public man and the bitter irony that "public" men didn't really have much to do with the public, particularly not the public as it was reconstituted after the war. To be blunt: we should condemn Maruyama for his being content to merely proclaim the need to make citizens from on high without actually doing much more than publishing in academic journals and talking in academic fora about it. Had he and others like him been more activist, 1960 might have gone differently. I'm surprised, having quite clearly delineated the limits of that role in this book, that Barshay didn't go into more detail on that in Social Sciences - but I'm also not surprised, knowing how important Maruyama was to Barshay personally.

Overall, the feeling I had upon finishing State and Intellectual was something along the lines of Han Solo's "Didn't we just leave this party?" It's depressing to read a book written at the height of the Reaganite years and realize just how little has changed since then, just how much the neoliberal consensus elaborated then has altered the terms of public debate worldwide. But, reading the conclusion, it's also salutary to realize that things did change, have changed, in Japan - the power of the LDP was broken, and in the person of people like Amamiya Karin and even in his own peculiar way Azuma Hiroki we can see both the vindication and the vitiation of the "public man" tradition that Barshay describes here so well. The democratic glitter and spectacle of the Japanese cityscape, I would argue, is the place where real alternatives are being produced nowadays.

Finally, I think the insider/outsider typology is valuable not least because it manages to capture the stark reality that everyone in imperial Japan was defined by their relationship to the state. This is hard for us - what percentage of Americans don't vote? - to grasp, I think, because in some sense the ability to be apathetic is the real indication of the width of the gap between government and the private realm that we have been pleased to call the public sphere. It's not possible to be apathetic in a state that's in crisis; in imperial Japan it was not impossible to escape the state. That was the true crux of the dilemma - and I suspect Barshay would appreciate that particular Latin word in this context - that intellectuals faced, and overall I think Barshay succeeds at describing their passion with compassion but also with remarkably clear-eyed evaluation and, ultimately, judgment.

Further reading:  Frank Miller, Minobe Tatsukichi, Interpreter of Constitutionalism in Japan; Tetsuo Najita, Hara Kei in the Politics of Compromise; Jung-sun Han, An Imperial Path to Modernity; Kyu Hyun Kim, The Age of Visions and Arguments

Meta notes: Principis obsta. Finem respice.


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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