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: My Marxist-feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard.  (marxism + feminism --> posthumanism)
Bibliographic Data: Barshay, Andrew E. The Social Sciences in Modern Japan: The Marxist and Modernist Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Main Argument: Barshay starts from the hypothesis that "the form assumed by social science in a given national setting is closely bound up with the institutional path to modernity taken by that nation" (x) and that Japan, Germany and late imperial Russia were "developmentally alienated" from the experiences of the so-called Atlantic Rim countries, who were perceived as being developmentally "advanced," and that this sense of lateness was the primary determinant of each country's social science. Barshay goes on to analyze and explicate what he sees as the two primary strands of social science in modern Japan, the Marxian tradition in various schools, and the brand of "modernism" (which despite its name was a postwar, fairly progressive phenomenon) advanced by the late great political scientist Maruyama Masao.

The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk. )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent, erudite, empathetic book. Barshay writes with a thorough understanding of and sympathy for his subjects, and with a certain profound, implicit sadness: as he told me when I remarked on that to him, it's an elegy.

This elegiac quality is particularly evident in the chapter on Maruyama, whom Barshay worked with at Tôdai and who emerges here as a titanic, solitary figure whose time slipped away from him before he knew it--but who, crucially, didn't make much of an effort to make clear to his fellow citizens the choice they faced between, to put it crudely, the red pill or the blue pill, between nationalist modernism and progressive postmodernism. Maruyama bet his money and took his chances and chose the blue pill, and ought to be admired for having the courage of his convictions, but if his time and a moment like that comes round again it will not be through people like him remaining aloof. Indeed, I think the real discovery of this book isn't the work on Maruyama but Barshay's spirited introduction and exploration of the thought of Tamanoi Yoshirô, the last member of the Uno School, who wandered far afield into a sort of globalist environmentally conscious localism and whose thought has, in my opinion, huge potential value as a potential foundation for a post-Westphalian, post-humanist future.

Further reading: Maruyama Masao; Tamanoi Yoshirô; Yasunaga Toshinobu, Andô Shôeki

Meta notes: For the purposes of the book Barshay treats the question of whether history is one of the social sciences as settled, but even from talking with people in our department it's clear that I'm not the only historian with strong reservations on that score. Personally, I tend to conceptualize my interest in history as an interest in narrative, on a fundamental level, so the idea of there being something 'scientific' about it is one I regard with a certain degree of skepticism. I don't know how, short of turning into political science and importing statistics and game theory into the marrow of the discipline, we as historians could really claim to be "scientists" in any meaningful sense of the term, though I also think the very idea of "the social sciences" is a legacy of the totalizing views of the 19thC, which thought of Science as Truth, when in reality it's an ideology and a worldview, one among many which gets productive results when you apply its methodology to the world. One of the reasons I didn't go into poli sci is in fact its heavy reliance on mathematics (not that I don't love mathematics, because I do, but I love narrative more), and one thing that's been made clear to me over the course of this semester, as if I had any doubt, is that historians have no common empirical rubric by which to judge historical phenomena and events--if we did, we would have truly equal, truly comparative histories of Asia and Euro-America, for example, and aside from a few isolated pioneering attempts, we just don't. So we have a long way to go, both in terms of developing our own empirical standards and in recognizing that "science" has no a priori, stronger claim to Truth than any other discipline.
ahorbinski: A picture of Charles Darwin captioned "very gradual change" in the style of the Obama 'Hope' poster.  (Darwin is still the man.)
In his essay "Politics and Man in the Contemporary World," Maruyama [Masao] drew on the experience of Martin Niemöller, a German pastor and eventual prisoner of the Nazi regime. Niemöller crystallized his experience--the transformation of equanimity into opposition as Nazi attacks came closer and closer to the church--into two stark injunctions. First, Principis obsta: "Resist the beginning"; second, Finem respice: "Consider the end." Niemöller's own awakening had come too late to prevent the evil that so seared his conscience. Ultimately, then, as Simone Weil thought, we may fail. Her example, however, and Niemöller's and Nanbara's, and Hasegawa's, shows us that we are bound, whatever the result, to continue our attempts to think through our condition. The alternative--to cease thinking altogether--permits no other choice.

--Andrew E. Barshay, State and Intellectual in Imperial Japan: The Public Man in Crisis (xx)
Indeed, we may fail; like Yanagita Kunio, we may begin our attempts from a Kierkegaardian stance of despair. But we must continue to make these critiques, of ourselves and our times; the foreclosure of thought and its inherent possibilities is the final victory of repression.

ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Let no one forget modernity's appalling wounds--the achievement of economies of scale in officially sanctioned slaughter, the induced hatreds and ignorance, the profligate and systematic waste (and neglect) of human skills and good faith. It is an open question whether they can be healed by modern people, using the instruments of modernity alone. Perhaps these instruments--of production in all spheres, but especially the institutions and technologies of communication and representative democracy--will someday be surpassed in a postmodern revolution that enhances "local humanities," cushions societies against the vicissitudes of the market, and discloses a new form of political community beyond the simultaneously integrative and atomizing force of the contemporary state. Perhaps, one must always hope.
The modern world, therefore, makes two contradictory promises to those who live in it. First, its fundamental processes--processes specific to itself--can be grasped via abstraction, but second, once so grasped these processes assume license to rule over those who created them. Thus the "contract" at the heart of modernity is not only between people, that is, a matter of institutional arrangements, but also between people and their own ideas. Abstraction is leviathan.

--Andrew E. Barshay, The Social Sciences in Modern Japan: The Marxian and Modernist Traditions (6, 9)
It was really nice to come across this passage while reading this book, because this is exactly the attitude I wanted in my professors at graduate school. My fellow grad students and I, however, and even my undergrad advisor and I, continue to go around about modernity and its discontents and its undeniable benefits--antibiotics and vaccines, to be precise; even as a fairly healthy kid, I can think of several occasions on which I probably would have died without modern medicine, and I suspect most other people can say the same about themselves or about a family member. This doesn't mean I don't fundamentally endorse Barshay's view of "modernity's appalling wounds," because they're all true; but it's always more complicated. And if we ever do manage to get beyond post- and modernity, we should not then forget their (limited) good along with all their manifest ill.


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

May 2016

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