Party politics and the role of the public-minded exemplary gentleman
The question is then what was the nature of the relationship between the state, which was ideally informed by public opinion while conforming to the ethical natural order, and society, which operated on individual moral striving; and how they were seen to be joined into a functional whole. As the opening of the Diet approached in the late 1880s, Torio began to delineate more specific ideas about party politics. He imagined that the parliamentarian system would create a fluid interaction between the benevolent state and the active populace. Whereas Kingly Law had laid out the ethical philosophy underpinning Iorio’s argument for a constitutional system, Discussions of Current Affairs emphasized that the ethical state required assistance from exemplary moral gentlemen to assist the Emperor in carrying out the affairs of the state.73 More concrete details concerning the role of exemplary gentlemen in party politics were detailed in a publication for Iorio’s political party, the Conservative Impartial Party founded in 1888. Torio’s presentation of the fusing of the mind of the people and the Emperor remains the central priority:
In regard to our Imperial Diet, the gathering of the people’s representatives, it is entirely (a process in which) the monarch takes the mind of the people as his own mind, and this is born from the great mind of the Imperial ancestry. The monarch cultivates the great morality of the Imperial ancestry and clarifies it for the current era.74
The Party’s journal, New Thesis on Conservatism, began publishing along with the establishment of the party in 1888 during a period when Torio had become a member of the Privy Council. An 1889 editorial, “On Political Parties,” begins with an invocation of the central Confucian ideals of filial piety, of good and beauty and meritocratic employment of men of talent in the state. Yet, as compelling as these truths are, they are not enough to save the nation from its weakness.75 Thus again, for Torio’s party, the establishment of an elected legislative assembly was seen by Torio and his followers as essential for the empowerment of the nation and its deliverance from debilitating internal divisions and existential external threats. Nevertheless, the pursuit of morality and the active participation of the people was required for the system to function. In the post-feudal era, claims the editorial, the Emperor saw that the country had deteriorated into chaos and decided that Japan must have constitutional government. A constitutional government requires political parties, and inevitably there will be competition and disagreement about ideas. However, the purpose of the parties should be to determine the interests of the nation and to preserve its ancient foundation by showing the right path.76 As in many of Torio’s writings, parliamentarian reforms in the modern era were clarified in contradistinction to the concept of despotism, in which the ruler chooses who is worthy of serving the state. In contrast, in a constitutional polity, representatives and policy are chosen by the majority of the people.77 Those seeking office may be exemplary gentlemen (kunshi, defined as those who put public good over private interest) whose ideas conform to morality, or may be small men driven by self-interest. Given the inherent difficulty for the average citizen to distinguish between the exemplary gentlemen and the opportunists, the parties' fundamental task is to define their philosophy and publicize them. Both the exemplary gentlemen and the small men must come forward with their platforms, and the people decide.78 This facilitates the process in which the people distinguish between the well-intentioned statesmen and the small men, thus orienting the people.79 It is assumed that the political process will expose the fraudulent opportunists telling the people what they want to hear, bringing to the fore true patriots seeking to implement ethical principles naturally shared by everyone once properly clarified.
The ultimate goal, according to Torio, is to orient and unify the thought of the people. Under the Constitution of the country, the way of the nation is determined by the majority of the people, and it is their choice which determines its prosperity or decline and fall. But he cautions that this does not mean that the people will choose the way of stability and prosperity. It is imperative that upright men of loyalty, imagined by Torio to be outside the state, give their all to analyzing and critiquing the platforms of the various parties to help identify which political parties are the parties of the exemplary gentlemen and which would bring catastrophe to the country. For Torio and his conservatives, the Great Way, the natural order of morality, was a reality whether the people chose it or not. Yet, it is important that the people come to understand the Way through persuasion and the work of righteous patriots. New Thesis on Conservativism states that even if a system is fundamentally sound and the ruler strong, the ideals of politics cannot be achieved if the minds of the people are divided.80 The importance of the people choosing their representatives is central, and yet the ideal outcome is to achieve willing consensus.
However, as New Thesis on Conservatism makes abundantly clear, this does not mean that the people are sovereign. The Emperor has granted the people the right to participate in his legislation and are to assist in the creation of laws within the limits of their power though the people’s representatives. Torio’s party flatly rejected the concept of party cabinets, which would mean depriving the Emperor of all power. The realm of the people’s rights was the legislature, and the realm of the ruler’s rights (the prerogative of the Emperor) was the cabinet.81 This conception further sought to ideologically restrict the ability of the Diet to stray from Torio and his party’s idealized views by arguing that those members of the legislative assembly elected by a majority of the people should uphold the fundamental principles of the polity, which are fixed by culture and cannot be arbitrarily changed.82 Thus, it can be gleaned from the party platform, and his career as a whole, that Torio’s vision of benevolent government simultaneously sought to empower the people to embrace an active role in the nation and ideologically enforce boundaries of acceptable thought and values to protect his own ideals for communal ethics and nationalism. Following the promulgation of the Constitution, Torio gave his thoughts on the details of the document in a writing titled Оті no Tomogaki (The Limits of the Emperor’s Servants). Barbara Teters and Janine Sawada have noted that Torio continued to vigorously seek revisions to draft constitutions sent to the newly formed Privy Council, of which he was a member, despite winning only a few concessions such as the right of the Diet to initiate legislation.83 This suggests the degree in which Torio was deeply frustrated with the nature of the emerging constitution being crafted by the ruling oligarchy. However, in Оті no Tomogaki, Torio seems enthusiastic that the Constitution, often thought to be a Prussian facade, provided actual rights and
Public opinion under imperial benevolence 95 should be regarded as the “scripture” of the nation. Torio approvingly notes that the Constitution provided an independent legislature the proof of which was the opening of elections. Torio also suggests that the Diet would have real power over the budget. Torio argues that the nation, and the liberal parties, should be satisfied with the rights codified in the Meiji Constitution and not demand more rights.84 This apparent approval of the Meiji Constitution would perhaps expose the limits of Torio’s ideas as an opposition worldview. Yet, Torio’s view of the Diet’s power with the budget presaged an argument later made by historian Banno Junji, who has shown that the power to reject a budget from the cabinet during a time when the government required ever more funding for its developmental goals, especially during the Sino-Japanese war, granted a level of negotiating leverage. Banno has shown that the popular parties, who advocated tax reduction, could exploit such opportunities to check the ruling clique, if only in consequence to force a stalemate until some in the oligarchy later relinquished opposition to reduction in the tax burden.85 Furthermore, the continuity of Torio’s opposition stance is revealed most clearly in his later writing criticizing proposals to reevaluate land values which Torio saw as a bid by landlords to evade their proper share of taxation. After denouncing the proposals for seeking to enrich landed elites, Torio fumed that “it could be said that the House of Representatives is the landlord’s Diet,” which preaches public opinion and claims the mantel of people’s rights as people’s parties, yet merely represents the will and interests of a small number of landlords.86 Torio further lamented that in “the circumstances of today, it can rather be said that the right to vote is not a human right, but a right of land, a right of property ownership.”87 This bitter disillusionment with the reality of self-serving politics set the tone for a younger generation of nationalist activists eager to rectify the betrayal of the Restoration and achieve true justice and self-realization through the intimate relationship between devoted subjects and benevolent Emperor.