Egalitarian communalism and the agency of moral autonomy

Kingly Law became widely read and admired by such influential opinion makers as the publicist Kuga Katsunan, who admired a progressive quality in Torio’s argument. Kuga wrote:

(Torio) Sensei already had as his fundamental belief the equality heaven and earth, there being, from the beginning, no difference between high and low, self and others, and in this respect, his views almost resembled those expressed by Rousseau in Le discours sur l’origine de l’inégalité parmi les hommes in which he regarded equality as the original state (...)

This school believed constitutional government was right and proper; it recognized the well-understood truth of the liberal system, and did not cling at all to the customs of the past. Therefore, even though its members call themselves conservative, I must say that the truth is that they are instead radically progressive. However, in urging the truth of liberty and independence, they bitterly attack Europeanization and call themselves the Conservative School. Since they usually expound Confucianism and Buddhism and do not talk carelessly about the academic theories of the West, people misunderstand them and believe they resemble the name they bear, the “Conservative School”. This is indeed a case in which name and fact do not agree. An indiscriminating school borrows some of the beliefs of old Western scholars, patches them together and constructs an antiquated political theory, and calls itself the Liberal or the Reform School. Such people should be greatly ashamed when they face this Conservative School.52

Yet, despite Kuga’s astonishing characterization of the highly conservative views of Torio as parallel to Rousseau, Kingly Law was in fact a concerted effort to stem the tide of liberalism. By reorienting the perceived strengths of liberal concepts, namely, equality, freedom, and autonomy, and grounding them on a base of Buddhist and Confucian thought, Torio sought to conceptualize a parliamentarian system regulated by a concept of natural law compatible with his ideal of com-munalist commitment to ethics. Whereas Kuga was especially enthusiastic about Torio’s embrace of “equality,” Torio uses the word in the Buddhist sense that all things in the universe are intertwined, and that equality is in fact also a reflection of differentiation. Torio’s argument that equality must come through differentiation was designed to protect differentiated roles within society and through it, the five Confucian relations. Torio emphasized that the social order and meaning depended on validating normative human relations undergirding the Confucian ideal of “rectifying names.” Torio states that human society must have “a morality for people as people,” in other words, that must be built around the communal cooperative bonds most conducive to the flourishing of a fixed human nature. Most of all, the purpose of this argument appears to protect the transcendent status of the Emperor against republican ideas being introduced into Japan.

As Manabe Masayuki has pointed out, it appears that Kuga misunderstood that Torio was clearly seeking to counteract liberal individualism and the perceived shirking of moral obligations inherent in liberal freedom. Yet, there was something akin to a seductively liberating and egalitarian quality within the confines of a nationalist ideology which sought to harness the commitment of the people through devotion to the Emperor and nation all determined by the natural law of morality. This egalitarian element further clarifies his metaphysical natural law and the allure of his worldview. An understanding of this element can be gleaned from the opposition of his concept of liberty versus his use of “slavery” applied to both Christian creationism and repressive political systems. Stemming from his interpretation of Zen Buddhism and neo-Confucianism, which stressed that the world was a reflection of mind and its karmic effects, the cornerstone of Torio’s worldview was self-powered moral cultivation. One article in the periodical of the Society of the Great Way states that "if we Japanese master the Way, correct our mind, accumulate virtue and work for the benefit of the world, we (Japanese citizen-subjects) can become even a god (kami f'l1), even a Buddha, even a wise ruling-class gentleman.”53

There was a striking emphasis in both his writings on Buddhism and politics on individual will and the importance of self-driven striving for morality and knowledge which would serve as the base of moral order. Yet, there would appear

Public opinion under imperial benevolence 89 to be a tension between the subjectivity or agency in the autonomy of exerting individual will on the one hand and the absoluteness of the law of the universe on the other, which is a truth that “cannot be changed by the hands of men,” and is true regardless of whether the people recognize it or not. I suggest that the meaning and purpose of self-powered striving for self-cultivation was made secure by law believed to be universal truth. Law based on Confucianism and Buddhism also served to manage the unity of the thought of the people not through coercion but through willing commitment, enticing all members of the nation to be striving toward the same goals and driven by the same values. Torio idealized unity of thought, in which the whole nation would come to a consensus on politics, which would transcend the partisan divisions he saw weakening the nation. The goal of politics, he argued, cannot be achieved if the minds of people are divided. Torio wrote that "if each individual will is divided into different interpretations we cannot come to a non-partisan view. The peoples’ thought will be torn apart and will not be mended.” Each individual, family, village, and region had its own subjective interests, but individuals must abandon their understandings of self-interest as delusions of the mind and work for the interest of the public.54

Bob Wakabayashi has argued that Confucian thought during the Meiji period was designed to protect the status quo and entrench hierarchy.55 In reality, parallel to “enlightenment” figures within the Meiroku-sha, Torio’s cultural nationalist political worldview was constructed in part as opposition to the oppressive despotism and arbitrary class-based hierarchy of the Tokugawa regime, and his campaign against the Meiji oligarchy was highly colored by this critique. In fact, as suggested above, a trenchant attack on unjust government was the central thrust in his articulation of political ideals, for despotism leads to misery and economic inequality, and ultimately to national weakness. Underpinning his political ideals was a clearly defined set of communal ethics which was not strictly top-down and instrumentalist. It was this communalist view which propelled his opposition to liberal individualism, value-pluralism, and economic thought he associated with selfish greed and exploitation. Along these lines, Torio characteristically stated:

Determining superior and inferior, and competition, is not the truth of nature. If trying to maintain human morality and the equality of happiness, the (liberal) theory of the strong defeating the weak is absolutely not the way to follow the truth of the universe.56

Further evidence of Torio’s more inclusive role for the people comes from his vision for the people outside of the state. Torio makes clear that the parliamentarian system in which the needs of the people are recognized by the state itself is not complete. The constitutional state must operate within a broader moral system in which the people play an essential role, thus valuing the ethical agency of the people. As Torio states: “A country’s civilization, its rightful path... even if it can be said that it is potentially facilitated by the wisdom of politicians, is entirely based on the nature of a nation, which emerges from the manners and customs of the people.”57 These customs and manners guided the people in their self-cultivation and their ethical interactions with their peers. Torio believed that each individual must reflect on one’s own actions and determine what is mutually beneficial for self and others.58 Self-reflection to gauge the impact on others was possible because “all heart-minds are the same” and this equality of self and others (jita byodo jlli:'FW) allows the empathy essential for self-reflection.59

Moral action was further facilitated by the fact that all people are naturally equipped with an innate understanding of morality, but devices, such as religiously informed manners. are needed to act on this innate awareness. Torio believed that “tire separation of religion and politics was the result of Western public discussion.” But ethics must be rooted in social customs, and in Japan, religious ethics and politics were united. Social behavior was guided by Shinto, Confucianism, and Buddhism.60 The contest over the nature of the Japanese Constitution was for Torio a question of what values should orient the hearts and minds of the people and form the social manners necessary for civilization, the cornerstone of which was morality. Torio explains:

In the West, having the God of Heaven as an object of worship provides the social manners which allow the people to seek to improve the world and is the source of equality, and is the reason behind the popular demand for liberalism and egalitarianism.61

However, in Japanese civilization, manners emerged from loyalty and filial piety to the Emperor, the laws of the Imperial Household being equated and intertwined with the laws of Confucianism and Buddhism.

In sum, Torio’s conception of a moral constitutional order required both a national assembly channeling public opinion and the moral agency of the people for just governance to conform to the ethical natural order. The central thrust of Torio’s ideal of ethical natural order, which conformity to natural law was to bring about, was defined by the striving to support the public good over private self-interest. To not live in accordance with this public ideal would bring suffering upon self and society. This prioritization of the public over private and consequent belief in the necessity of the active participation of all members of the nation in the maintenance of benevolent rule led to important political implications.

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