From militarism to “public opinion”-based parliamentarianism

The first records of Torio’s early thought appear in 1873 when Torio was still an active military commander and primarily focused on the immediately pressing

Public opinion under imperial benevolence 79 concerns of military preparation for national defense. In an 1873 letter to Field Marshall Saigô Takamori, the head of the military at the time, Torio describes his urgent belief that the Japanese Empire should mobilize to become a garrison state with two-thirds of tax revenue devoted to national defense against what he felt to be an inevitable Western incursion.12 Crucially, however, by 1875, Torio’s views had significantly changed in response to what Torio saw as the shocking political self-interest of the ruling oligarchy13 as well as the unpredictable popularity of Western ideals of governance and the discourse on “civilization and enlightenment.” The challenge of Western liberalism galvanized Torio to co-opt its terminology to protect and promote his view of Japanese traditional political ideals. In his 1875 On Karma and National Power, written the year he was appointed to the deliberative body the Genrô-in, Torio divided “People’s Rights theory” into high and low streams. The high theory of people’s rights, argued Torio, would recognize the value of people’s rights and eliminate the root cause of the people’s “enslavement,” a phrase he and his protégés used frequently to denounce despotic governance and religion. Valuing the people’s rights would serve as the basis of the spirit of national independence. The state would pass laws respecting the rights of the people, while the people each individually would thus be encouraged to exert their strengths through the wielding of their rights. The low theory of people’s rights, represented by the emerging movement to emulate foreign models of governance, sought rapid change and reform and was grounded in nothing more than dissatisfaction with the government. In this writing, Torio also begins to develop his answer to natural law, writing that human rights (jinken Aifi) are granted by heaven and are not arbitrary creations of men. It was the role of the monarch to defend these natural human rights.14 Further hints of his evolving view of the people can be gleaned from an 1880 memorial to the Emperor co-signed with Tani Tateki and other “National Essence” generals. Following a government corruption scandal concerning the sale of property, which was seen as the necessary outcome of overcentralized control, there was a groundswell of public anger prompting a spate of memorials to the Emperor and government. In his memorial, Torio revealingly relies on the sentiments of the "people” as justification to express his own opposition:

Since the government has lost its essential principles to an extent unprecedented in recent times at home or abroad, the three great powers, legislative, and judicial authority, are all united in the cabinet. We have the name of Imperial rule but not the reality. This has given suspicions among all the people.15

Torio had begun to more thoroughly codify his worldview in his 1878 political tract Kingly Law. This piece showed a more developed argument for the rights of the people and of social law as grounded in a human nature which could not be altered by the arbitrary power of state officials. The tract became influential and informed his general political activity throughout much of the 1880s. Torio’s Kingly Law claims that any ruler deserving the name govern according to the sentiments of the people, thus advocating for the establishment of constitutional government through the founding of a legislative assembly. Torio maintained that “the mind of the people is the great law of the state” and that its members should have the great right to carry out politics in the realm. Torio argued: “The people have the great of right of choosing wise men to become legislators. Their task is to serve the interests of the realm and provide justice.”16 Torio's argument that the state should be grounded in representative government draws on Mencius, stating: “Heaven sees according to what the people see and hears according to what the people hear. The Kingly Way comes into being when the ruler sees according to what the people see and hears what the people hear.”17 Remarkably, Torio justifies the need for a legislature by stating that a ruler may not necessarily have the ability to adhere to the will of the people and ensure their happiness and stability.18 As a result, the establishment of a legislative assembly chosen by the people could serve as a system to help ensure the implementation of these ideals. Through a parliament, contended Torio, the people would assist in carrying out the natural order which served as the premise of communal morality.

In the late 1880s and 1890s, Torio still conceded that his natural inclination was toward a benevolent despotism in which just rule was guaranteed by monarchy and not thwarted by self-interested politicians. Yet, Torio’s disillusionment with the dictatorial oligarchy led him to acknowledge that “despotic authoritarianism can be effective in solving problems, yet if power is used for self-interest and is wielded through coercion it is called tyranny.”19 What was needed was, in part, to "take the strong point of the West, the elected legislature.”20 Torio would ultimately come to the conclusion that this required a new attitude to the role of the people. Torio approvingly wrote after the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution:

Where once Japan was divided into castes, each with different occupations and the warrior class was tasked with leadership, now after the restoration of the monarchy, this monopoly is gone and replaced with a new constitutional state. All citizen-subjects are now tasked with the affairs of the state.21

A clear expression of the culminating political worldview which drove Torio’s political activism in the 1880s in the anticipation of the promulgation of the constitution can be seen in a memorial demanding the empowerment of the Genrô-in as an independent legislature which he wrote in 1887 as a member. The Genrô-in had been established by an Imperial Edict in 1875 announcing the intent to gradually transition toward a constitutional system and was to a significant degree a response to the rise of the parliamentary movement. The Senate was tasked with drafting a constitution with a second edict giving instructions to “determine the cardinal laws of Japan” through “widely consulting the laws of foreign lands.”22 Its first draft in 1876 was highly elitist and called for the gradual introduction of representative government. Further drafts in 1878 and 1880, however, incrementally accepted broader representation with a “council of representatives.”23 Nevertheless, the Senate’s recommendations were not accepted by the oligarchy.

In his memorial, Torio denounces the relegation of the Senate, or Genrô-in, to a powerless bureaucracy. He argues that “the creation of laws is in fact the central basis of the state” and must be carried out by an independent legislature. However, the cabinet dominated by the oligarchy had despotically monopolized this power and had ignored the will of the people. Such unjust despotism was opposed even by Eastern ideals of governance based on monarchy. Legislation carried out by the state must follow two essential principles: the mind of the people, which is ordained by heaven, and the laws of heaven, thus restricting the powers of the state. “From ancient times,” wrote Torio,

the leader of a new initiative would reflect on the heavenly ordained mind of the people, and determine laws through the laws of the ancient holy sages as his constitutional principles. Descendants would maintain the ancestral laws, and the realm would be governed by obediently conforming to the heavenly ordained mind of the people.24

The limits of power applied even to the Emperor, who must obediently follow his ancestral laws, and as a result, the people gratefully and respectfully accept his rule.

However, following the Restoration, it was no longer possible to maintain the old system as it was. Now was the time to determine the nature of legislative power and place the Empire on a firm basis, establishing a constitution through broadly consulting domestic and foreign political knowledge. To settle the issue of legislative power was to the settle the existential crisis of the Japanese state.25 It was deeply regrettable that the Genrô-in, which should be endowed with legislative powers, was entirely powerless. All of the power was relinquished to the cabinet ministers.26 The oligarchy was dangerously governing without relying on the ancestral law of the Imperial Household, not reflecting on the popular will (min ’i jinshin A'Ij) or even adopting Western regulations.27 Here it should be emphasized that for Torio, not only were the ancestral law of the Imperial House and the popular will mutually reinforcing, but his ideal of governance was also potentially compatible with Western political thought if suited for his agenda of checking the power of the oligarchy. Torio continued his critique by arguing that cabinet ministers were acting on short-term interest according to what was convenient for themselves, which may prove inconvenient for later cabinets. Yet, the arbitrary nature of relying on their own ideologies and opinions did not allow for decision-making through public opinion. The main problem with the government was that both the powers of administration and legislation were held by the cabinet. These powers should be separated, and officials of state tasked with implementing legislations should have a nonbiased, nonpartisan stance. The cabinet should only follow the law of the Emperor. Crucially, Torio declares that “[i]t is truly the great virtue of the Emperor that he freely, willingly abstains from being a despot and vows to decide (his policies) through public opinion.”28 The cabinet ministers, however, toyed with the Emperor and silenced his logical arguments.29

Building on an argument he began making as his disillusionment with the government grew, Torio drew on what Winston Davis refers to as the “latent populism” in the thought of Mencius to argue that a just ruler reflects the thoughts and needs of the people in his governance.30 Torio emphasized “public opinion” as one core tenet of the state to critique the Cabinet’s abuse of power and justify the expanded role of the Genro-in as the government's primary creator of laws and representative of the people. Mencius' ideal was equated with the legitimizing quality of this newly prominent concept of “public opinion” and, in turn, the channeling of “public opinion” is equated with ideal of the benevolent “Kingly Way” to be facilitated through an independent legislature. According to Torio, the role of the Cabinet - the cabinet system having been established in 1885 to cement the oligarchy’s centralized control - was simply to implement the policy of the legislature in consultation with the Emperor.31

Despite being a religious and political conservative seen as standing at the extreme end of the political spectrum, Torio’s critique of the puppet status of the Genro-in (Senate) and greater need to integrate public opinion to address the popular will struck a chord with several of the Genro-in's prominent members during this juncture in history. Among them, the memorial won signatures of support from two prominent “enlightenment” figures in the Genro-in who had been members of the Meiroku-sha, Tsuda Mamichi, and Kato Hiroyuki, as well as cultural conservatives who would become members of Torio’s future political party, the Conservative Impartial Party.32 These discursive strategies promoting a degree of inclusion for the people were no doubt partly adopted in the pursuit of their own advancement out of resentment at exclusion from the inner sanctum power. However, at the very least, the adoption of “public opinion” reveals the conceptual adaptations and innovations that allowed effective communication in public ideological debates with political actors of different backgrounds. It further-shows that a critique of the oligarchy conceived through a culmrally domesticated form of parliamentary thought could underpin a broad, if fleeting, consensus among often conflicting ideological factions.

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