Japan from the inside out

Are Japan’s DPJ really democrats?

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 2, 2010

Ni droite ni gauche
– The French fascist slogan

WHEN THE Democratic Party of Japan displaced the longtime ruling Liberal Democratic Party and formed its first government, people were naturally curious about the core beliefs of the party and its leaders, as well as those who inspired their beliefs. That’s understandable, considering that the party didn’t win on its core beliefs, tried to keep them out of sight during the campaign by literally hiding them in the back of the booklet in small print, and then claimed it had a mandate for them after taking office.

Matsushita Keiichi

People initially focused on Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s idea of an East Asian entity modeled on the EU, as well as his philosophy of yuai, or fraternalism. Interest in those subjects waned when it soon became apparent that Mr. Hatoyama was in over his head at the Kantei.

Now attention has shifted to his successor, Kan Naoto. The media have chosen to highlight statements that would seem unremarkable from a European social democrat, while some are hopeful that he is a pragmatist who is “less left-wing” than the rest of his party. That perhaps says more about the DPJ than it does about him.

The cooling of interest in Mr. Hatoyama’s philosophy and the reluctance to examine Mr. Kan’s ideas more closely are unfortunate, because there’s plenty of there there. Despite the wildly divergent views within the party itself, there are also common threads that would be familiar to those with an interest in Western political history. Weaving together those individual strands, however, creates a tapestry that might be more suited for wiping one’s feet than decorating a wall.

Hatoyama Yukio

Though people joked about Mr. Hatoyama as being the Man from Outer Space (which he encouraged), it would be a mistake to consider his beliefs as something concocted by a life form from a different solar system. Both his yuai philosophy and the idea for an East Asian entity were derived from Count Richard Nikolaus Eijiro von Coudenhove-Kalergi, a political thinker and activist who founded the Pan-Europa movement in 1923. That’s widely recognized as the forerunner of the EU.

Kalergi was an elitist, though not in the aristocratic sense. In Practical Idealism, he wrote: “The chaos of modern politics will only…find its end when a spiritual aristocracy seizes the means of power of society: (gun)powder, gold, ink, and uses them for the blessing of the general public.”

He described his philosophy as a Third Way, an expression that was quite popular in certain quarters at the time. Mr. Hatoyama used the same expression to describe yuai, and gave it the same definition—an approach that avoids the problems of capitalism and communism by adhering solely to neither.

In his book Theories of European Integration, Ben Rosamond wrote that Kalergi wanted to create a conservative society that superseded democracy with “the social aristocracy of the spirit”. Others have described him as a social democrat with aristocratic tendencies. The Count himself said that he favored government by “the best and the brightest”. He sought to reconcile the conflict between capitalism and communism through cross-fertilization rather than the victory of one over the other. He was also an advocate of large-scale governance, and thought the world should be divided into five blocs.

Last month, the DPJ government began paying a monthly stipend to families based on the number of children in the household after passing legislation based on one of the planks in their campaign platform. Mr. Hatoyama justified the family allowance by explaining that it takes all of society to raise children. The party intends that the funding source for this stipend will not only be the central government and local governments, but also private sector corporations.

All the leading members of the DPJ, including Mr. Hatoyama, support giving non-Japanese citizens with permanent resident status the right to vote in local elections. This is controversial even within the party, and a large bloc of rank-and-file MPs prevented it from becoming an official part of the party platform. Nevertheless, party leaders still wanted to push the idea through, but they were stymied, in part because of the opposition of one of their coalition partners, the People’s New Party. Party leaders still remain behind the plan, however, and the PNP won’t remain in the coalition for too much longer.

It’s commonly assumed that the idea is to provide suffrage to the small number of people born in Japan who choose to retain Korean citizenship. In addition to the understandable objections that only citizens (kokumin: koku, nation + min, people) should be allowed the vote–it’s in the Constitution, after all–and that those who chose to retain Korean citizenship could easily be naturalized if they wanted to, opponents also fear this would lead to non-citizens being elected to public office, as the Japanese-language term describing the idea is not limited to voting. And since everyone knows that once the political class and activist groups are given an inch, they’ll run with it fifty miles into the next county, those rights would eventually be extended to national elections.

Mr. Hatoyama made two statements that upset more than a few people, and to which the media chose not to apply its concentrated attention. First, he said, “I don’t understand very well what this thing called a nation is.” Second, and better known: “The Japanese archipelago is not something owned exclusively by the Japanese.”

The playwright Hirata Oriza was one of his advisors, and he was sometimes referred to as his “brain”. (That’s a common expression in Japanese and not an insult.) He was appointed to the Cabinet Secretariat and served as his speechwriter.

Here’s Mr. Hirata speaking during a February symposium:

I’ve also talked about this with Mr. Hatoyama, and it is extremely difficult for a politician to say, but the 21st century will be a one hundred-year period in which the issue will be how to dissolve the modern nation-state…My position is how to express that (in such a way that) we don’t lose elections.

In the September 2003 issue of the monthly Voice, six members of the DPJ co-signed an article that called for the acceptance of 10 million immigrants, or about 8% of the current population. One of those six is no longer in the party, but two of them now have minor Cabinet posts. Presumably those immigrants would be given the right to vote.

Kan Naoto

If Mr. Hatoyama was the intergalactic idealist, Mr. Kan is the citizen activist who likes to drink, argue politics, and “get things done”, probably in that order. One of his observations on democratic government is already attracting attention:

Democracy is a dictatorship in which the change of governments is possible.

The following exchange occurred on 16 March at a meeting at a Committee of the Cabinet in the upper house between Mr. Kan, who was then still the deputy prime minister and finance minister, and Furukawa Toshiharu of the LDP:

Furukawa: I would ask you to think about the limits of majority rule (in the legislature), and proceeding (here) to a certain extent by incorporating the opinions of many MPs, or conducting multiparty activities. I think this will provide dynamism to the deliberations of the Diet, so that’s what I think we should do. I suspect this sort of democracy might have been the original approach for the Diet and the Cabinet. What do you think?

Kan: I have to be careful so that I don’t overstate the case, but I think parliamentary democracy recognizes a certain level of time-limited dictatorship. That time limit is established (externally), however. That’s why, if a term is for four years, affairs are entrusted (to a party) for four years. If there are extraordinary circumstances, they might be forced to quit before that, but they are entrusted with affairs for four years. Then, after that, the voters decide in an election whether they want them to continue.

Those are interesting sentiments for a man who complained for years whenever the LDP “rammed a bill” through the Diet on the strength of its majority. Here’s a case in point: the Abe administration won plaudits throughout the Japanese political spectrum when it passed legislation defining the terms under which national referendums would be held to amend to the Constitution. Those ground rules had not been established, even though the Constitution had been in force for 60 years.

The LDP-led government allowed input from the DPJ for the legislation and lowered the voting age to 18 at their request. When the DPJ wanted to hijack the proposal and pack it with more items from its own wish list, the LDP ended negotiations and used its numerical strength to pass the bill.

Mr. Kan did not shrug off the vote at that time by chalking it up to the prerogative of a time-limited dictatorship.

He served for a five months as finance minister, if only to allow the ministry bureaucrats to give him a crash course in economic matters. Since becoming prime minister, he’s been promoting the idea that the economy will improve if the government raises taxes and spends the money in the right places. Even some of those favorably disposed to the DPJ government find this exasperating and immature.

He also calls this The Third Way.

Two economists who serve as his home tutors in money matters, Ono Yoshiyasu and Jinno Naohiko, openly declare that the public sector should have a leading role in directing the economy.

Sengoku Yoshito

Before the modern DPJ was created, Mr. Kan formed a policy study group in 1992 with Diet members from the Socialist Party, the Socialist Democratic Federation (Kan’s party) and associated MPs. They had a high opinion of themselves; they called the group Sirius, which is the brightest star in the night sky. One member was Sengoku Yoshito, then with the Socialists, but now in the DPJ and serving as the Chief Cabinet Secretary.

Another member, Kobayashi Tadashi, a Socialist member of the upper house, remembers those days:

At that time, Mr. Sengoku frequently used the word “postmodern”. What he meant was that the pre-modern period of monarchies had given way to the modern period of sovereign states. In the future, the nation-state would collapse, and we would then be in the postmodern period. Mr. Sengoku thought that the nation-state would be integrated internationally with international groupings, and that sovereignty within the country would shift to the regional areas. Therefore, his belief was the dissolution of the nation-state. The nation-state as the core unit of responsibility would disappear, but leaders were still necessary. I argued against that, saying that in the end it would result in a dictatorship.

Matsushita Keiichi

Now a professor emeritus at Hosei University, Matsushita Keiichi was an advisor to the Sirius group and delivered lectures to the members.

During his first speech to the Diet as prime minister on 11 June, Mr. Kan said:

My fundamental political conviction is to achieve true popular sovereignty in which the people participate in the political process. The source of this conviction is the concept of “civic autonomy” that I learnt from Professor Keiichi Matsushita, the political scientist.

He added:

My basic stance as an unworthy student of Prof. Matsushita is implementing the Matsushita Theory in the real world of politics.

From the Asahi Shimbun on 8 June:

Kan’s commitment to returning authority to the people’s representatives was partly shaped by a book by the political scientist Keiichi Matsushita, titled Shimin Jichi no Kenpo Riron (Constitutional theory of citizen self-governance), which he read as a university student.

From the same newspaper on 26 June:

Kan expressed his commitment to the reform by referring to Keiichi Matsushita, a political scientist who was an early champion of decentralization.

Sengoku Yoshito also liked the book. As quoted in The Politicians’ Bookshelf:

“I placed it by my pillow and read it throughout the year.”

The book argues for the switch from a Constitutional theory of nation-state sovereignty to a Constitutional theory of citizen self-rule. (「国家統治」の憲法理論から「市民自治」の憲法理論への転換である。)

“What is necessary when establishing the meaning of government…is the departure from the specific political problems of the shimin (citizen) and replacing the state as the core unit with the shimin.”

As we’ve seen, the word ordinarily used for citizen in Japanese is kokumin (koku, nation + min, people). The DPJ prefers to use the word shimin (shi, city + min, people). The reason should now be apparent.

Prof. Matsushita thinks there are three levels of government: the local, the national, and the international. He also thinks international trends are working concurrently in the direction of decentralization and internationalization, and that the nation-state will/should be obsolete.

“Since the Meiji period and into the postwar period, we have continued to be excessively bound by the spell of the nation-state concept. In the midst of today’s mighty wave of decentralization and internationalization, this Meiji nation-state must be dismantled and reorganized.”

Here’s an excerpt from an academic paper by Yamada Ryusaku of Nihon University (who should have shown it to a native speaker before publishing it):

“There are several reasons why Matsushita’s theory of mass society is worth being known to English-speaking world today. First, his theory was of highly Marxian kind. While he himself was not a Marxist and was very critical of Stalinist Marxism, he regarded theories by Marx and Lenin as social theories of industrial society and repeatedly identified their significance in theorizing about “contemporary society” in the twentieth century. While many Western theorists of mass society tended to describe mass society as an amorphous “classless society”, Matsushita did not deny the capitalistic class relationship but built Marxian class theory in his mass society theory.”

Another Japanese commentator approvingly noted that the theory contains “structural Marxism”.

More from Prof. Yamada’s paper:

“Second, Matsushita’s theoretical insight into the relation between socialism and democracy in his mass society theory seems significant. He advocated a kind of socialism that could cope with the reality of mass society, neither a form of communism that totally denied democracy, nor a social democracy that compromised with capitalism. For him, contemporary society faced a “double alienation”: “capitalistic alienation” and “alienation of mass society”; and the role of both political theorists and socialists was to find a way to overcome this double alienation.”

Read that second sentence carefully and see if the subtext of a “Third Way” doesn’t emerge. This particular version presents a thinner option, however, because it slices from just the left side of the loaf. The choice avoided is not between communism and capitalism, but between undemocratic communism and a social democracy that “compromised with capitalism”.

Here’s an excerpt from Nihon no Jichi – Bunken (Self-Government and Decentralization in Japan) that Prof. Matsushita wrote in 1996:

“Citizen self-government differs from the god-like context of vertical politics in the nation-state by having the context of a commonwealth with horizontal solidarity and symbiosis to create the ‘public’. This is the idea of creating a commonwealth type of politics through the mutual self-rule of the citizens; in other words, self-help and cooperative assistance.”

He notes that “commonwealth” is to be taken literally; i.e., common wealth.

Prof. Matsushita is also known for developing the concept of the “civil minimum”, described here by Laura Elizabeth Hein of Northwestern University in Reasonable Men, Powerful Words:

“All citizens have the right to a specified set of conditions to ensure healthy, comfortable lives….It also incorporated the idea that citizens should work in cooperation with experts to develop their own recommendations for improving their quality of life…the civil minimum vision took the form of an intricately graded, intensely detailed map of urban life…the concept involved setting a floor in every area of social welfare, including education, day care, health care, housing, and pensions, below which citizens could not fall. It also involved an elaborate set of rules…”

This concept was adopted by Minobe Ryokichi, the Socialist governor of the Tokyo Metro District from 1967 to 1979. He was supported in his first election campaign by both the Communists and the Socialists, and subsequently by Komeito, a party that’s always had a strong social welfare element.

Prof. Hein continues:

“As Minobe enthusiastically noted, the civil minimum ‘won’t be met just by getting enough daycare centers. We must try to figure out the best scale of operation, their ideal distribution, the best method of building them, and plan that all out.'”

One of his plans for this concept:

“It calculated the minimum water requirements for the Tokyo population (e.g., it estimated the number of baths per capita per week) and promised to supply the amount needed.”

It also included an element of “progressive taxation” for income redistribution, in which those who used the most water, such as hotels, had to pay more for its supply and for the sewer hookups. Leave it to the Left to congratulate themselves for charging higher prices for cleaning, bathing, and drinking just because the services are provided by the private sector to people in transit.

As this brief reference to him in a biographical sketch of his successor, Suzuki Shun’ichi, suggests, Minobe was perhaps not the ideal steward of the public trust:

“After repairing the financial damage to the municipal coffers left by his popular predecessor, Ryokichi Minobe of the former Japan Socialist Party…”

Back to the present

Thus, Japan today is ruled by a party whose leaders are enamored with several “Third Way” schemes, and in which affairs are directed by an elite (a spiritual aristocracy). The Third Way promises both the benefits of individualism and Marxian socialism. The party’s charter when founded included references to decentralization, a “society of symbiosis”, and international relations based on the yuai spirit of independence and symbiosis.

They want to overcome “the chaos of modern politics” to get things done. They believe—and act—as if winning an election is a mandate to behave as dictators. The center of political activity is the community, and each individual is cared for by a government that guarantees a civil minimum. It takes a community to raise a child, which is to be done through an extensive network of meticulously planned daycare centers, with families paid through a public/private arrangement that smacks of corporatism, in which the government makes the companies cough up their share of the funds.

The party’s leaders think the nation-state is an anachronism, and are actively working to find ways to eliminate it. One of them is by admitting 10 million immigrants and allowing them to vote—all to prevent the extinction of “Japan”.

This has more than a passing similarity with some the concepts of fascisto-progressivism so popular in the West in the early 20th century. (One of them was a family subsidy from the government in Mussolini’s Italy, which only succeeded in reducing the birthrate.)

One key difference is that the older philosophy was centered on the nation-state, while the DPJ anticipates its extinction in the postmodern age. Their principal theorist predicts it, and holds that contemporary trends are moving both toward decentralization and internationalism.

Rather than the nation-state, Prof. Matsushita and his DPJ acolytes intend to make what seems to be a city-state the primary political entity. Therefore, their postmodern fascismo would be centered on the polis rather than the nation. Mussolini claimed his objective was to have everything inside the state and nothing outside the state. That objective could just as easily be applied to a city-state; indeed that was the case centuries ago, even during the early colonial period in the United States.

The problems, however, are obvious. As Jonah Goldberg has noted:

“Communism was reactionary because it tried to make a tribe of the working class, Italian Fascism tried to make a tribe of the nation, and Nazism tried to make a tribe of the German race. Multicultural identity politics is reactionary because it sees life as a contest between different racial or sexual tribes.”

It is not an unreasonable concern that the basic unit of government as envisioned by Prof. Matsushita and the DPJ would make a postmodern tribe of the Metropolis. That sounds oddly like Italy and Germany before national unification, or like much of Europe in the pre-modern age, with elected officials comprising a “spiritual” rather than a heredity aristocracy exercising dictatorial powers, albeit time-limited.

The shining city on a hill would shortly devolve into tribalism, with all that entails. For example, Gov. Minobe’s project supplied Tokyo with water from the Tone River. Here’s Prof. Hein again:

“Less appealing, the plan also incorporated their urban bias in its blithe disregard for potential or actual water users in Gunma.”

Does anything conjure up the image of tribalism more than a dispute between competing groups over water rights?

This arrangement also has the potential to degenerate into a second Warring States period:

(F)or all practical purposes, Japan by 1467 was in fact 260 separate countries, for each daimyo was independent and maintained separate armies. The political and territorial picture in Japan, then, was highly volatile. With no powerful central administration to adjudicate disputes, individual daimyo were frequently in armed conflict with other daimyo all through the Ashikaga period. With the Onin War (1467-1477), this volatile situation exploded, and within a few years after the start of this war, practically every province in Japan was wracked by warfare, thus beginning what the Japanese call sengoku jidai, meaning “the age of the country at war,” or Warring States Japan. This period was a long protracted struggle for domination by individual daimyo and would result in a powerful struggle between various houses to dominate the whole of Japan.

Note also that the governor wanted the citizens of his polis to work with “experts” to create an “intricately graded, intensely detailed map of urban life”. That would provide plenty of employment opportunities for the Albert Speers of the postmodern age.

While those who favor small, non-intrusive government, such as American federalists, also encourage localism and decentralization, the envisioned ideals of the DPJ are quite different. Here’s another passage from their charter:

Converting to an adaptable, citizen (shimin)-centered society
“The most important task for our party is to promote the vitality of citizen activism, recognize the freedom of citizen enterprises, and work to establish a non-profit organization law ensuring those activities…we support such NGO activities as people-to-people diplomacy through citizen activities, and grassroots ODA activities. We will further (the concept of) ‘citizens that transcend national borders’ and a global citizen politics that contributes to the world. We will work to establish the right of permanent residents to participate in politics.”

If you like the idea of political rule by the type of people who would form horizontal associations of NPOs/NGOs, then the DPJ seems to be just the ticket for you.

Matsui Koji, the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Hatoyama Cabinet and another of the former prime minister’s speechwriters, defined “the people” (min) as “NPOs, the community, corporations, individuals, and government” in that order.

Prof. Matsushita says the nation-state will dissolve into international bodies and these local and regional groupings will be the primary governmental unit of responsibility. Is the reason for Mr. Hatoyama’s advocacy of an East Asian entity making more sense now?

If not uno mundo, perhaps what they have in mind would be a globe governed by five blocs, as Kalergi suggested. Kalergi’s brainchild was the EU, whose new president, Herman Van Rompuy, proclaimed 2009 as the “first year of global governance”. Going back to the beginning and rewinding the count of years from Year Zero was another trait shared by the fascisto-progressives a century ago. Welcome to Year Two.

The EU already rules by fiat. While they do allow for national referendums, they keep staging elections until the spiritual aristocats get the result they want (such as in Ireland). Prof. Matsushita holds that elections are the means to systematize protest and revolution, but we’ve seen how the EU governs its swatch of the globe when it comes to election results the dictators don’t care for. Now combine that superstructure with tens of thousands of mini-Obama administrations in principalities worldwide steamrolling programs disliked by the public through the Citizens’ Councils–to provide a civic minimum for the good of all shimin, of course–each one suspicious of all the rest.

There might even be a World Council, modeled after the United Nations, where all the world’s tribes have a vote. How will the wisdom of the tribes become manifest? At a gathering of the tribes two months ago, Libya, Angola, Malaysia, Qatar, and Uganda were elected to the UN Human Rights Council, with Libya winning the votes of 155 countries, or 80% of the UN members. At the same time, the Islamic fundamentalist state of Iran won a seat on the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.

I should also point out that the DPJ aren’t the only ones susceptible to these ideas, as the exchange between Mr. Kan and Furukawa Toshiharu of the LDP above demonstrates. Mr. Furukawa’s talk of transcending political parties to overcome the limitations of parliamentary democracy has more than a whiff of the fascistos in Europe and of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association during wartime Japan. (Mr. Kan seems to prefer temporary one-party rule.) Also, Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP has argued for mass immigration.

Of course Mr. Kan and the DPJ will not achieve a global order of international organizations linking city-states worldwide during their time-limited dictatorship. But because these ideas are their political lodestar, which they think is the brightest in the night sky—because they have passionately believed in this since their university days—it will color everything they do. Mr. Kan has vowed to “implement the Matsushita Theory in the real world of politics”, after all.

Whatever he winds up accomplishing, we will also get the baggage that goes along with it. That should freeze the blood of everyone who prefers to live in a liberal democracy led by people who do not believe in accelerating the destruction of the nation-state. Winning elections does not confer a political 007 License to Kill Opposition, Mr. Kan’s warped conception of democracy notwithstanding. The leaders of a state of any size who consider themselves to have a mandate that extreme will always find some justification for going to extremes.

Even the Socialist Kobayashi Tadashi told them all that in Sirius nearly 20 years ago. But then Friedrich Hayek made the same point very clearly in 1944.

Japan is now in the hands of a leader and a party who have a perverse view of the democratic process, who have no sense of how an economic society should function, and who apparently envision a day when Japan disappears.

Any good that comes from their time in office will to be incidental to the damage they cause.


Tsujimoto Kiyomi, the poster girl of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, who once palled around with the Japanese Red Army, and had a minor position in the Cabinet until her party left the ruling coalition, spoke informally at a party some years ago to a person she didn’t realize was a reporter:

They say a Diet member should protect the lives and property of the citizens, but that is not my intention. My role is as a ‘national destroyer’ MP who will try somehow to destroy the framework of the state.

Ms. Tsujimoto was making a pun in Japanese. The word for Diet member is 国会議員 (kokkai gi-in). She replaced the first two characters with the homonym 国壊 (kokkai), which means “national destruction”.

Her offhand comment takes on a new dimension now that the influence of Prof. Matsushita has come to light.

Incidentally, her position in the Cabinet was Deputy Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation, the ministry responsible for creating and maintaining the physical backbone of the nation.

Somebody, somewhere, has a rather childish sense of humor.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

3 Responses to “Are Japan’s DPJ really democrats?”

  1. Aceface said

    I have a lot to say on this.But I’d like to start by pointing out that the playwright Hirata Oriza was not one of Hatoyama’s informal advisor but an official one,and Hirata is a man.
    A.: Thanks for that. I fixed it. I couldn’t tell from his name, so I looked at his picture and decided he was a woman. (True!) I guess I can’t tell them apart any more!

    – A.

  2. Quasi said

    This really appears to be a resurgence of social marxism as manifested in the cultural framework of Japanese society. That or modern fuedalism.

  3. Saidani said

    Extremely informative article that puts Japan’s economic (and social) decline in a different light.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: