SSRC’s Committee on Comparative Politics and the struggle to construct a general theory of political modernization using the Japanese model: Scholarly endeavors of Robert E. Ward

Yutaka Sasaki

During the 1960s the scholarly paradigm that most influenced the various fields of social sciences, including political science, was modernization theory. And one of the most influential scholarly organizations that tackled the creation of modernization theory' as it relates to political aspects was the Committee on Comparative Politics of the Social Science Research Council (hereafter cited as the CCP and the SSRC, respectively). The CCP, whose activities spanned the period from 1954 through 1972, was headed by Gabriel Almond and subsequently Lucian Pye, two giants in comparative politics,1 and included as its members a relatively young, yet elite group of political scientists specializing in area studies. From the late 1950s to the 1960s the activities of the CCP were dedicated to creating and perfecting political modernization theory’ as a social scientific paradigm. As previous studies have noted, the CCP played a central role in setting and articulating an agenda and methodology for devising the theory' of political modernization as a universal, scientific approach toward political development. In doing so, the CCP adopted the sociological theory’ of structural-functionalism advanced by Talcott Persons and translated it into political terms.2

Indeed, the CCP aimed for the construction of a scientific, objective “grand theory'” that would enable political scientists to compare the political development of different societies across the boundaries of time and space. Much like Wilsonian internationalism, modernization theory’ captured the imagination of a group of elite political scientists who embraced a sense of “civilizing mission” to guide the developing world toward a single path to development in the liberal capitalist world order dominated by' the United States. In this connection, Japan was quickly incorporated into the studies of political modernization, since Japan’s case seemed to offer an ideal illustration; although it was not a newly' emerged country' in the postcolonial world in the wake of World War II, Japan was one of the very' few non-Western countries that had successfully achieved political modernization.3 Herein lies the potential for Japan’s case of a path to political modernization serving as a model of success for other late-developing countries.

Among the CCP members, the man who played a central role in conducting research, organizing research conferences and producing scholarly outputs regarding the political modernization of Japan was Robert E. Ward (1916-2009). When Ward joined the CCP in 1958, he was on the faculty of the University of Michigan as a professor of political science specializing in Japanese politics. Ward belonged to the first generation of Japan specialists with first-hand experience of war with Japan and did postwar field work in Japan.4 This chapter mainly focuses on Ward’s scholarly views of the political modernization of Japan expressed through CCP-sponsored publication programs and conferences. In doing so, it mainly pays attention to the “academic” motives of Ward and other CCP members to construct a general theory' of political modernization by using the “shining” example of the successful modernization of Japan.'"’

Methodological debate and inquiry into political modernization of Japan

The subject of political modernization has been extremely contentious since the 1960s. Indeed, modernization theory' as applied to Japan by' American academics has been severely' criticized by both Japanese and American scholars since the early 1960s.

The intellectual cleavage between American Japan experts and Japanese scholars came to fore during the Hakone conference on modern Japan held under the aegis of the Association for Asian Studies, between August 29 and September 2, 1960. The American and Japanese participants in this conference were at odds about the definitions and conceptualizations of modernization. In sum, while the Americans posited modernization theory' as an objective, value-free science by' using the method of the structural-functional scheme in their pursuit of theoretical and scientific precision, the Japanese participants, composed of “the civil society' school” members who insisted that in establishing modernization theory such value-laden questions as the existence of class struggle and the promotion of democratic values should be placed at the conception’s center; they' thereby presented a fundamental epistemological critique of the concept of modernization embraced by the Americans.6

Such was the intellectual milieu in which the CCP launched its scholarly investigation into the construction of the theory of political modernization in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. To be sure, American Japan experts wanted to create a theory that would be usefill for the U.S. government in formulating an official policy', but concurrently they strongly' wished to create a comprehensive theory of political change through an interdisciplinary approach. Indeed, the CCP’s political scientists aimed at devising a universal model of political development attuned toward modernity', stressing that such a model must take on the character of objective, value-free science.

Behind this strong ambition of American social scientists lurks the uncertain position of the social sciences after World War II. Influenced by the integration of various branches of the physical sciences that produced concrete results during World War II (most spectacularly symbolized by the detonation of atomic bombs in 1945), American social scientists in the postwar y'ears felt that their kind of sciences must justify its social usefulness by creating knowledge with practical utility and social value.7 This viewpoint was expressed by Pendleton Herring, SSRC president from 1948 to 1968, who argued that “[T]o insist upon a sharp dichotomy [between the natural and social sciences] may be misleading” and that more consideration should be given to what both sciences have in common; social scientists must make “distinctive contributions” to modern life so that the wider public understand and recognize the authority of the social scientist.8 Echoing that view, Almond, CCP chairman, indicated in his 1960 book that the new terms the CCP introduced to political science, including “political system,” “political culture,” and “political socialization,” were part of a fresh conceptual vocabulary informed by sociology and anthropology; moreover, that introducing such vocabulary “is an intimation of a major step forward in the nature of political science as science.”9

Further, note that the “objective, value-free” character of modernization theory' had a special intellectual appeal for post-World War II Japan experts. As Richard Samuels observes, Japan specialists were eager to “wean the study of Japanese politics away from national character studies” prevalent during wartime that often led to “the unremittingly negative cultural caricatures” of the Japanese and their social values. Moreover, as a “universal” social science theory', modernization theory' held the potential for Japan scholars to study Japan on the same intellectual plane as other countries, allowing them to engage in rigorous intellectual dialogue.10 One of those specialists was Robert E. Ward.

Ward belonged to the generation of Japan experts who started their scholarly' career in the post-World War II as veterans of the wartime mobilizations of Japan scholars. After graduating from Stanford, he pursued his doctorate at UC Berkeley, during which World War II intervened. He had a knack for studying difficult languages, and during the Pacific War was recruited for enrollment in the Navy Language School in Colorado, later serving as a translator on General MacArthur’s staff At the University of Michigan he was a professor of political science (1948-73) and director, the Center for Japanese Studies (1965-8, 1971-3). He then moved to Stanford University' in 1973, teaching political science until 1987. During his Stanford tenure, Ward was instrumental in setting up the Center for Research for International Studies. Ward also seived simultaneously during 1972-3 as president of the American Political Science Association and the Association for Asian Studies. In addition, he seived as chairman of the board of directors, SSRC, of the Japan-US Friendship Commission, and of the American Panel of the United States-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON).11

Like other Japan experts in his generation, Ward wanted to discard the negative, stereotypical cultural caricatures of Japan and the Japanese people. His “problem consciousness” on this score was expressed in his review essay regarding two contemporary' books dealing with Japanese politics thusly:

Such studies [focusing on “the Asian mind, Japanese national character”] have come to constitute a genre of Asian political mythology', fascinating, superficially persuasive, and occasionally' insightful and useful... . This is not to deny the validity or the value of the search for either generalizations or political differences, but only to complain that, in the process, the common foundations of politics are so often overlooked or neglected. The basic problems of the government are the same, East or West. Although attitudes, behavior patterns, and institutional forms widely vary, the political scientist is, or should be, striving to answer the same fundamental questions regardless of whether his area of concern is Japan, France or, for that matter, the United States... . The politics of Japan are fully as “complex,” as “mature,” as those of the United States.12

After Ward joined the CCP in 1958, it held a conference at Gould House (a frequent venue for CCP’s conferences), Dobbs Ferry, New York, in June 1959. This conference served as an important occasion for the CCP to formulate its research strategy' in its quest for a general theory' of political modernization.

A conference paper written by the sociologist Edward A. Shils served as an agenda paper. Shils, a specialist in the works of Max Weber and a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, collaborated with Talcott Persons to publish Toward a General Theory of Action, a classic on postwar sociology'. In this paper, Shills argued that the contemporary' history' can be conceived as both inevitable and desirable transition from a traditional society' or polity' to modern ones, and that the new states of Asia and Africa in the postcolonial era, especially their elites, aspired to be “modern,” as the West had already' become.13 During the Dobbs Ferry' sessions, participants debated over definitional issues surrounding the meaning of “modernity'” from a variety' of perspectives: Was modernization synonymous with Westernization? Should modernization be defined primarily economically as industrialization? If “modernization” can be defined politically, does it connote “democratization”?14

During the course of the discussion on “tradition” versus “modernity',” Ward argued that while “[I]n Asia there are few societies that have achieved modernity, [except for] Japan,” Japan’s modernization had not been accompanied by' “democratization” because the political leadership of Japan wanted to keep a “docile people” that served as an asset for the Japanese government to pursue its modernization course. Ward also indicated that he had doubts about the “prototypical character of Japanese experience” of modernization because many' different factors of importance were involved in the process, including the non-existence of major ethnic minorities, the lack of colonial experience and anti-imperialist revolution, and the presence of effective national leadership. Additionally, Ward stated that while some sectors of city' life in Japan contained “traditional elements,” in some villages equal relationships were common and “democratic elements of a modern system” could be built on them, thereby suggesting that the traditional-modern dichotomy can be overemphasized and that “some important political values do emerge from traditional societies.”15

Although participants at the Dobbs Ferry conference failed to produce a consensus on the definition of “modernity'” or “political modernization,” the CCP was able to establish specific lines for research. As a result of this conference, Pye summarized, it had become clear that in investigating different types of political systems some form of functional analysis must be adopted for the CCP to understand total political processes of varied political systems as wholes and that such functional analysis “marked a new stage in the intellectual history of the committee.”16 Also, in the meeting held after the conference, the CCP specified a new set of concrete research agenda for the next phase of its activities. Taking note of the fact that economists were able to specify conditions necessary’ to move from premodern to modern economies, the CCP argued that little was known about the process of political modernization and therefore that it had emerged as the most significant subject for future research in the field of comparative politics. Indeed, the CCP declared that “a process of political modernization, analogous to the process of economic growth, was capable of being discerned in the underdeveloped countries of the world.” The CCP also stated that while it “did not propose to adopt a normative model for purpose of research,” it did consider that the study of political modernization would have “policy implications” both for the modernizing governments themselves and for other governments that were attempting to assist in the process. Now the main concern of the CCP was “the gathering of the relevant data and the development of theory’ that would enhance the understanding of political modernization.”17

In this connection, Ward wrote a post-conference memo in which he defined “political modernization” as a “working definition” for the CCP. While suggesting that the concept of “modernity” is “open-ended and continuously' evolving” and that “political modernization is a continuing process, not a fixed state,” Ward pinned down the terminal characteristics of “a politically ‘modern’ group or society'” in the following way:

a.[T]he allocation of political roles in accordance with standards of achievement rather than ascription, b. A predominant emphasis upon rational, scientific, and secular techniques of political decision making, c. Widespread popular interest and involvement in the political system, though not necessarily' in the decision-making aspects of thereof, d. The predominance of functionally' specific rather than generalized political roles organized in an elaborate and professionalized bureaucracy, e. A broad and increasing ambit of explicit governmental involvement in, responsibility' for, and regulation of the economic and social aspects of individual and group life. f. An increasing emphasis upon the centralization of responsibility' and authority for the performance of governmental functions regarded as critical, g. Regulatory', control, and judicial techniques based upon a predominantly' impersonal system of law. h. A population which is in major part literate, urban, educated, socially' mobile, and favorably oriented towards at least the concept of social change.18

In the same memo, he also indicated that this working definition would be useful in evaluating the process of political change in modern Japan.

With this common framework and set of categories in hand, the CCP set out in the first few years of the 1960s to initiate comparative studies of foreign political

Scholarly endeavors of Robert E. Ward 145 systems to analyze the directions of political change towards political modernization. According to a memo prepared by Almond, the CCP was scheduled to hold five or six seminars in the course of the period between 1961 and 1963 with two major purposes in mind. The first was to “to formulate a coherent conception of the political problems confronting the newly emerging states of the non-Western world, and the relative effectiveness of different approaches to their solution.” The second was “to encourage political scientists to engage in research on the various phases and aspects of political development” in the underdeveloped and developing areas which affect the prospect of democratic modernization.19 Among the proposed seminars scheduled to be held in the early 1960s was a comparative study of the modernization experience of Turkey and Japan.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >