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A petal shakes upon the branch

“Japan reverts to fascism”, writes Josh Gelernter in the National Review. At first sight that seems excessive, but consider this:

This week, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners won a two-thirds majority in the legislature’s upper house, to go along with their two-thirds majority in the lower house. A two-thirds majority is required in each house to begin the process of amending Japan’s constitution. And amending the constitution is one of the central planks in the LDP’s platform. The constitution was imposed on Japan by the United States after the Second World War; it has never been amended. Why should it be amended now? As Bloomberg reports, the LDP has pointed out that “several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed.”

And this:

In just the last five years, Japan’s press freedom — as ranked by Reporters without Borders — has fallen from 11th globally to 72nd. The new draft constitution adds a warning that “the people must be conscious of the fact that there are responsibilities and obligations in compensation for freedom and rights.” These “obligations” include the mandate to “uphold the [new] constitution” and “respect the national anthem” quoted above. 

In the long run I am confident that a liberal order – “liberal” in an older and better sense than that currently in use in the United States – can be adapted to most human cultures. Where it can duly make them rich and not have massive infant mortality and massacres and stuff. But it is disturbing to see the bearer of that standard in the East falter.

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43 comments to A petal shakes upon the branch

  • The Japanese have probably looked at how the western media has reported attacks on its citizens by Islamists over the past few years and heard about people being arrested for insensitive Twitter comments and thought “If they can do it, why can’t we?”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Maybe the Japanese have been inspired by the Leveson Report.

    The Japanese must ultimately bear responsibility for any falling away from standards of freedom, but I have to say it doesn’t help when the Western, “liberal” countries have been so timid in defence of free speech over recent years.

  • bob sykes

    On the other hand, the Japanese people have a substantially higher IQ and they are much better educated than anywhere in the Anglosphere. Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe your goals are wrong.

  • Yet again Bob demonstrates total incomprehension of the difference between correlation and causation.

  • PeterT

    There are few countries in the world that are better suited to fascism/communism than Japan. People don’t disobey a red light even if the road they are to cross is in the middle of nowhere, nobody is watching, and there are no cars anywhere.

    Ironically, of the three Asian peoples of which I have some experience: Japan, Korea and China, I would say that the Chinese are the most individualistic; the Japanese the least.

    The positive lesson of all of this is that a written constitution appears to have done some good, for 60 or so years at least.

  • MadRocketSci

    @bob_sykes
    “Maybe your goals are wrong.”

    ????

    This is the sort of statement I have a hard time even parsing. And yet, I see statements like these a lot. Your (final) goals are your goals. This statement could only make sense if you were criticizing contingent goals or strategies as not being effective in achieving final goals/ends.

    If freedom, including freedom of speech and thought, is a fundamental need of ours: We need it to flourish and find life worthwhile, then I don’t care if you think it’s “wrong”.

  • MadRocketSci

    On the other hand, wrt Japan: We have required them to refrain from developing their military, and their world is increasingly dangerous. They have to rebel on this point if they want to survive.

    In addition, while the historical claims of this party are counterfactual, this is the sort of reaction that you get when you force people long removed and far away from the events in question to go through the motions of feeling guilt/shame for things they aren’t personally responsible for: (not that I think America has been involved in doing so for a long time). People can only take so much of being told they’re wrong/guilty for simply being who they are before they rebel and throw it back in your face.

    The reaction here seems to echo (faintly) the original rise of fascism in Germany.

  • MadRocketSci

    Just to be clear: Not condoning the social program of this movement, or it’s claims.

  • Laird

    A nation’s constitution should reflect its broader culture, otherwise it won’t be respected or, in the long run, observed. Bob Sykes could be correct (note his careful use of the word “maybe”) with respect to Japan. Oriental cultures are very different from western ones; why shouldn’t their legal systems (of which the constitution is an integral part) also be different? And why should we think that forcing a western-style constitution on them would, in the long run, be any more successful at changing their ancient culture than it has been in the Middle East? Merely giving people the vote doesn’t automatically create a liberal democracy or widespread respect for what it pleases us to call “human rights”.

    To us it is an article of faith that “a liberal order” (Natalie’s phrase) not only leads inexorably to societal wealth, with all its attendant benefits, but is a necessary condition of same. But as I said, that is merely an article of faith; it may not be true for all societies at all times. I wouldn’t want to live under such an order, but if the Japanese do, and find that it works for them, I’m not going to criticize them for it.

    Of course, if it ultimately leads them down the same road as 1930s Germany and they start threatening others, I would remind them that it could lead to Hiroshima having to be rebuilt again.

  • Rob

    Replace “respect the national anthem” with “respect diversity” and those same press restrictions would be welcomed by Guardian readers, so not sure ‘fascism’ is the right description.

  • Fen Tiger

    Rob – “those same press restrictions would be welcomed by Guardian readers, so not sure ‘fascism’ is the right description”

    On the contrary, Guardianists (or so it seems to me, anyway) have been soft fascists for quite some time. Deeply intolerant, aching to force their will on others. And all the economics stuff, neo-colonialism, hatred of freedom, love of the EU, environmentalist misanthropism, etc etc etc

  • shlomo maistre

    The Western countries that tend to fight Islamism effectively (Israel, India, Japan) tend to be those that are gradually shifting away from the West’s obsession with “human rights” and other Enlightenment nonsense. I’m sure this is only a coincidence.

  • MadRocketSci

    To us it is an article of faith that “a liberal order” (Natalie’s phrase) not only leads inexorably to societal wealth, with all its attendant benefits, but is a necessary condition of same. But as I said, that is merely an article of faith; it may not be true for all societies at all times. I wouldn’t want to live under such an order, but if the Japanese do, and find that it works for them, I’m not going to criticize them for it.

    I think there is a fundamental contradiction in people “choosing a less liberal order.” They can be manipulated into supporting politicians that impose a less liberal order because of tactical concerns (suppose the fasicsts are the only people among current choices that look like they can keep your country safe…), but ultimately a lack of freedom is something imposed, not something chosen. If it’s an individual choice, it isn’t a lack of freedom. If it’s a lack of freedom, it is because choice has been taken away.

    For the same reason, there is a fundamental contradiction in expecting a wealthier society to result from having choices taken away from the individuals composing it. In the asymptotic limit, having fewer choices means you are poorer. If the things you would choose freely (value more highly than other choices) (with all the usual caveats of respecting the rights of others) are denied to you, you are poorer than you would have been otherwise.

  • Alisa

    Nope, no contradiction that I can see: a person may be free and not like it, and so freely choose to become less free. Happens all the time: people get married, have children, take on debt – and these are just the mundane examples.

  • Alisa

    there is a fundamental contradiction in expecting a wealthier society to result from having choices taken away from the individuals composing it

    I do agree with that part.

  • Watchman

    shlomo,

    Interesting definition of western there – especially because Israel is still a bastion of freedom (religion and free speech are protected) and India has never been, being one of the most socialistic states on the planet…

  • shlomo maistre

    Watchman,

    Interesting definition of western yourself – especially since Israel was famously founded by self-avowed socialists and only a few decades ago has that started to change. Indeed Israel of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was one of the more socialistic states on the planet.

    In any case, you have clearly swallowed the kool-aid so let me enlighten.

    Israel uses administrative detention to jail “political prisoners” who are sometimes not (even allegedly) involved in any violent activity. Israel’s civil marriage and divorce laws are controlled by an unelected religious authority (Orthodox Rabbis). Indeed, the ultra-Orthodox are a priestly class in Israel – where the men largely don’t work, don’t serve in the military, don’t pay taxes, and receive a government stipend for studying the Law of the Creator – much as has been seen in historical religious states. There is not freedom to worship at the Temple Mount for Jews (or sometimes Muslims). There is not freedom of movement for many – especially in the Palestinian territories. Israel governs millions of people according to military law through the IDF in the West Bank. And my political party (Bayit Yehudi) is hard at work to take free speech away from MK’s who speak out against Israel’s foreign policy and to officially change Israel’s Basic Law (basically its constitution) ‘s reflect the state’s Jewish identity on par (or above) its democratic one. A majority of Israeli MKs in the current government consider Israel a Jewish state by definition.

    Most wonderfully, younger Israelis are more likely to be religious, rightwing, and hostile to universalist values like human rights and democracy. You can thank the birth rates of Modern Orthodox & Orthodox/Haredi for that, as compared to Masorti and secular. The governments of Israel have generally become more right-wing over its history and demographic trends indicate this pattern to continue well into the long-term.

    With respect to India, I consider India a broadly speaking Western nation. If you don’t then that’s fine – my point still stands, which is that the countries moving away from universalist Enlightenment principles are fighting Islamism way more effectively than most/all of the West in general (UK, France, Sweden, Germany, Italy, etc).

  • shlomo maistre

    Also it’s a bit of stretch to claim that freedom of religion is protected in a country that has a de facto state religion if not an official state religion (we’re working on that latter bit!)

  • shlomo maistre

    My main point in bringing up all the examples of ways in which Israel is not (more recently) a full-fledged Western nation with humanistic, Enlightened principles like human rights is to show that most (though not all) of those examples are things that are becoming increasingly illiberal (in the traditional not American sense) and increasingly antidemocratic. The trend in Israel throughout its history is clear – it is becoming more of a religious state and less of a democracy, gradually.

    One more example by the way – immigration. Israel doesn’t import foreigners by the millions (or even thousands) like most European nations do. Israel can’t afford open borders like much of Europe and the USA effectively have. Israel erects a wall both literally and figuratively via law to make sure they know who is coming in and to keep out, well, most people who would like to come in. And how many other nations on earth have an explicit religious test to fast-track certain people to the front of the line for citizenship rights.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Schlomo, what’s the point of resisting Islamist tyranny if it can only be done, as you claim, by spurning notions of individual liberty and calling for an authoritarian theocracy? I suspect most Israelis would have an issue with that. I like Israel precisely for its broadly Western character.

    Israel did indeed start off as a poster child of socialism but it has wisely moved away from that to some degree. It’s home to a strong economy these days. Middle class Fabian’s are less inclined to patronise the country. Good.

  • tomsmith

    It is strange that Israel has managed to continue to exist, where countries like South Africa and Rhodesia failed. Maybe religion is the key?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Back on the subject of Japan, it’s not clear to me what has brought on this trend towards authoritarianism. Ideas?

  • Alisa

    Other than the cultural origins already mentioned here, my guess would be the stagnant economy, combined with increasing military threat from China.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Alisa, that makes sense. Authoritarianism correlates with decline, not ascent.

  • Marcher

    It is strange that Israel has managed to continue to exist, where countries like South Africa and Rhodesia failed. Maybe religion is the key?

    At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, not being vastly out numbered by a less than happy subject population is the key, religion has zero to do with it.

  • Nico

    @Laird: that used to be an article of faith for me as well. However, the attempts at free elections in Egypt and the Gaza strip, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan and made me reconsider. My current take is that tribal societies (i.e., ones where endogamous reproduction, meaning cousin marriage, is the rule) are probably incompatible with a “liberal order” without some other rectifying factor. The reason is mostly that tribal groups evince stronger loyalty to the tribe than, say, the nation, and certainly than individualistic ideas. The tribe subsumes.. everything, especially the individual. Nowadays my view of the world starts with dividing the world into tribal and non-tribal family arrangements by country. Unsurprisingly I’m a fan of the Anglosaxon nuclear family model.

    Now, Japan isn’t tribal, unless I’m terribly mistaken. Japan may have other issues, and frankly, i wouldn’t know what those might be — please educate me! But Japan, if it could show an appreciation for what in Spanish we call the Estado de Derecho (a phrase that English sorely needs and which means something like “a State where Due Process reigns”), then i would trust and encourage it to develop nuclear weapons. We love in a world of nuclear proliferation, sadly, and also one where the American nuclear umbrella isn’t worth jack. No one -not me anyways- believes that the U.S. would nuke the norks should they nuke Tokyo or Seoul, so S. Korea and Japan just bday have to arm themselves.

    I apologize about any Swype typos.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Something was rotten once Japan seemed to wholesale abandon nuclear power overnight after being addicted to high tech for so long. You would have thought that a decades old nuclear plant hit by a tsunami and an earthquake at the same time and still no-one died was a testament to the safety of the technology, but for some reason it sparked an almost Luddite response to the idea.

    Then again, being within missile range of Mad Fatty Kim for so long, with frequent reminders of the fact, might be enough to turn anyone’s brain to mush. With the god-emperor actually considering stepping down like a mere mortal must show how far they’ve fallen.

  • John Galt III

    Jonathan,

    On authoritarianism returning to Japan.

    1) Communist China scares Japan.
    2) Japan has never apologized for its WWII atrocities in China, and Chinese leaders have said many times that the lack of apology irritates them.
    3) The nuclear umbrella has been mentioned. Anyone here think Obama would even use nukes if the Europe were nuked? I have my doubts. Even if the US were nuked I don’t trust Obama to defend this country as he detests it. Trump, however, would take 5 minutes and the missiles would be flying. The Japanese watch Obama and realize they must defend themselves.
    4) So, Japan has been talking about re-militarizing for quite some time due a) to China and b) because they don’t quite trust the nuclear umbrella as much as they used to. Being an advanced industrial nation it would not take long for them to get 40-50 nuclear weapons. That might be enough to dissuade the Chinese and the North Koreans. I would want nukes just to counteract the noodle-headed boy wonder in Pyongyang.
    5) If I were leading Japan, I would have already started to get them hence the increase in authoritarianism.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    North Korea, by itself, would be a good-enough reason to be afraid. Also, the Japanese population is not replacing itself- less workers to support an increasing number of pensioners. So distract the voters by sabre-rattling! It works for other countries.

  • Murphy

    Last year in Japan more diapers were sold for use by “adults” than were sold for use by infants. Japan as the Japanese insist on defining it, (No immigration. A third generation Korean living in Japan is still considered Korean) is disappearing. The demographic death spiral is unavoidable.

  • Josh B

    Maybe Japan is indeed revisiting their Fascist past: they are (thanks to the sage advice of Bernanke) about to engage in a Helicopter Money monetary experiment that was last seen in Japan during the 1930’s and, ultimately, lead to the funding and ascendency of the Military in the late 40’s.

  • Josh B

    oops … late 30’s, I mean.

  • Mr Ed

    ascendency of the US Military in the late 40’s.

    🙂

  • Anat T.

    Alisa: “a person may be free and not like it, and so freely choose to become less free. Happens all the time: people get married, have children, take on debt – and these are just the mundane examples.”

    I think there is a problem here with the definition of freedom. Freedom does not mean no restrictions but rather self-imposed restrictions, whether directly (marriage etc.) or by electing your legislators.

    Shlomo’s list of complaints are those I used to list myself when I was still left-wing. I’m in the process of rethinking them.
    On marriage, for instance, I now think that the notion of “civilian marriage” represents State substitution for Church, which is not true secularism.
    Marriage should be no business of the State. It no longer has any significant legal aspects, not even the prevention of sexual abuse and the protection of children, which are covered by independent laws regardless of marital status. The only other legal aspects of marriage are inheritance and taxation, which can also be covered by other laws.
    What remains is a cultural statement, to each according to their own beliefs and traditions, and in this sense equally for all with the single restriction of being consenting adults. This is in fact the current situation in Israel even if not by design.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    If marriage is a contract, then the state might be involved in the enforcement of the contract.

  • If marriage is a contract, then the state might be involved in the enforcement of the contract.

    So what? Most contracts are private agreements between two parties and do not involve the state unless there is a dispute that ends up in court. However marriage involves the state from the start if you are required to register it with them.

  • Kevin

    The Japanese are the most authority-loving people on the planet. Western individualism is almost unknown to them. They will follow strong leadership whatever – because that’s what their xenophobic culture dictates – as they did in the 1930s and 40s. On one level, we should pity them. On another level, be afraid.

  • Alisa

    Anat, I see no problem with the definition.

    Freedom does not mean no restrictions but rather self-imposed restrictions, whether directly (marriage etc.) or by electing your legislators.

    Indeed. So a person who values freedom over something else (X) offered to him in exchange for his freedom, will say ‘thank you, but no, thank you’ and reject the offer – the point being that the person was free to choose whether to trade part of his freedom for X. Once he chose to so trade, he became less free (because such deals tend to be of the one-way-street variety, or at least those are the situations I had in mind). All of us make such deals all the time – the differences are only in degrees and in value scales of preference.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    On a different note, one thing that really impressed me was how, in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake/tsunami in Japan, I did not read reports of things such as lootings, etc. There is a stoicism in Japanese culture that is, possibly, the flipside of the “authortarianism” people describe; it may also be that Japanese society on the whole is a grown-up, mature one, and behaving badly is something that is frowned upon. (I have Japanese relations on my wife’s side of the family, so I have a bit of understanding about this.)

  • Alisa

    Jonathan, what you have just described very much strikes me as an authoritarian-minded population, for whatever reasons (you may be correct and age may well be part of that). There is a reason why so many people find authoritarianism and even fascism appealing.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Alisa, I am not sure why stoicism has to be part of authortarianism; one could, I suggest, say that a society grounded on rugged individualism (like the Old West) was one that correlated with a certain robust attitude towards life. So it does not necessarily mean that the “good” qualities (as we might say) are part and parcel of bad ones (excess deference to authority).

    So it is not all that clear to me whether Japanese culture is more “authortarian” than ours; I get the impression that conformity, outward respectability, etc, is very important. The Japanese are, or have been, very family-oriented. One recent change, however, has been a collapse in birthrates, which hardly suggests a culture focused on marrying young to have lots of children. There is a lot here that doesn’t fit with any neat theories.

  • Alisa

    I am not sure why stoicism has to be part of authortarianism

    I don’t think it has, and I didn’t mean to imply that. I think stoicism is unrelated to the thrust of the article Natalie linked in her post, as you noted, and may appear in both individualist and collectivist cultures.

    Other than that, I really do not know enough about the Japanese culture to add anything more informative to the discussion – I was just making some half-educated guesses. FWIW, my general impression over the years has been that Asian cultures on the whole tend to be more collectivist than Western ones, and as such may lend themselves more to authoritarian politics. But as I said, this is just a general (and grossly generalized) impression – I’m sure things are much more complex than that.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    The Japanese country was rich but the people didn’t feel rich. Maybe there was little or no looting because there was little to loot? I suppose Japan does have some rich suburbs, and if they ever suffered from an earthquake, those suburbs might be looted.