Elemental and Existential Representation

Meeting Index

Eric Voegelin Society Meeting 2009

Elemental and Existential Representation in the Constituting of Modern Japan

Copyright 2003 Timothy Hoye

 

". . . Rome was an archaic survival in the Hellenistic civilization of the

Mediterranean and still more so with its advancing Christianization; one

might compare the situation with the role of Japan in a civilizational

environment that is dominated by Western ideas."

Eric Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 1952

        Among scholars today whose works circulate widely and in greater or lesser degree shape international discussions of political issues, few exhibit in the body of their work the philosophical depth and power of the American emigre scholar Eric Voegelin. Similarly, in the current global climate regarding the possibility of increasing clashes of civilizations, to draw on Samuel P. Huntington's popular imagery, there are few historical precedents involving well-developed, highly organized, non-Western civilizations confronted by the technological, economic, and military power of Western civilization more interesting than Japan at the dawn of the Meiji era (1868 - 1912). The purpose of this exploratory essay is to consider whether and in what sense a Voegelinian inspired study of the constituting of, or in Voegelin's terminology the "articulation" of, modern Japanese society during Meiji illuminates, if at all, a contemporary process which many scholars increasingly refer to as globalization and, also, a problem which Huntington refers to as "the west and the rest."1

        Voegelin's scholarly and philosophic development took place during the period from World War I to the mid 1980s, a development that all students of his work know went through many phases, sometimes dramatically so. Many would not disagree that his lectures at the University of Chicago in the winter of 1951 on "Truth and Representation," lectures published a year later as The New Science of Politics, represent the clearest expression of his most mature thoughts on the problems and prospects of a science of politics. Later works, particularly Volume IV of Order and History, entitled The Ecumenic Age, both cast clearer light on and, in some respects, add confusion to key points in those lectures. An essential distinction in the lectures in Chicago was that between elemental and existential representation. Elemental representation refers to outward forms by virtue of which all societies develop institutions which represent the various strata of society, such as in the mixed constitutions of the one, the few, and the many of Greek and Roman antiquity, and which attempt to provide for basic defense and, in various ways, for the legislative, administrative, and judicial functions of government. As a symbol in political reality "representative" institutions refers to popularly elected assemblies and/or chief executives. Scholars who study electoral processes, redistricting procedures, institutional checks and balances, voting behavior, party competition, and the like are examining the particular dynamics involved in elemental representation, in Voegelin's distinction. These dynamics are important in a well-ordered society. A careful study of such dynamics is necessary but insufficient to a proper understanding of politics, however. More important is existential representation. And this concept is more elusive in Voegelin's work, particularly interpreted in light of insights in the Ecumenic Age. For Voegelin, existential representation is related to articulation. Articulation is that "process in which human beings form themselves into a society for action" (Voegelin 1969, 37). The result of this process is the creation of a representative or representatives who can act for a society. One might interpret existential representation in light of Voegelin's later works as follows: it is the representation of a distant, historic beginning and, perhaps, a transcendent beyond; of a clear sense of order, disorder, and propriety in the concrete consciousness of representative persons in positions of authority in particular societies reflecting particular civilizational patterns.

Articulation, Representation, and Rebirth in the West

        In honor of this year's American Political Science Association annual convention being in Philadelphia, one might sketch by way of a preface to the consideration of modern Japan the particular character of existential representation at the American founding at the articulation of modern American society. And despite the complexity of American society's development beyond the 18th century constitutional founding, particularly as evidenced by the civil war, reconstitution (reconstruction), industrialization, urbanization, and commercialization, all concepts readily understood in the common sense understanding of participants, and educated non-participants, the assumption will be that it is meaningful to speak of the articulation of a United States in the late 18th century and that it is also meaningful to speak of a somewhat Lockean elemental representation in the constituting of modern America and a somewhat hybrid existential representation which drew on both modern and ancient experiences and symbolizations. Regarding existential representation it is not unreasonable to speak of the founding as somewhat expressive of, in J. G. A. Pocock's conceptualization, the "last great act of the renaissance."2 This is, of course, a vast topic and perhaps unreasonable in a paper on the articulation of modern Japan. Still, three points are important: first, what is presented here is but a sketch to suggest an angle of vision from within a Western civilization; second, the articulation of modern Japan is intimately bound up with the experiences of modern America; and third, the warp and woof of that relationship begs hard questions regarding existential representation in the development of modern American society.

        Polybius played a large role in the consciousness of the American founders. He also plays a large role in Voegelin's analysis of something called the "ecumenic age." In both instances the primary interest is in Polybius' analysis of the Roman constitution as in large measure the reason for Rome's success. For Voegelin, Polybius is the great analyst of the Roman ecumene which is an object rather than a subject of study. In other words, Roman expansion could in no way be regarded as the articulation of a society as a well-ordered little world or cosmion from within. In its expansion, Rome not only destroyed the order of the societies it conquered, but it also destroyed itself. The "ecumenic" experience of Rome is the penultimate expression of ecumenism for Voegelin and Polybius' analysis of the mixed form of the constitution presents a portrait only of elemental representation, a primitive balancing of the one, the few, and the many in the face of temporal decay over time. Yet, had Polybius examined the existential content of such a constitution, looked for the anthropological residue in the elemental forms he might have found the expression of courage (the one), wisdom (the few), and temperance (the many), however imperfectly realized in practice. In Plato's Republic, the city of pigs requires temperance though the quest for luxuries necessitates auxiliary precautions, i.e., a military to protect life and property. This, in turn, requires a further differentiation of those who recognize friend from foe and ultimately philospher rulers from auxiliaries. And though the differentiated consciousness of the Aristotelian spoudaios who loves wisdom should rightfully rule in the classical scheme the chances of any such happy circumstance are highly unrealistic. Thus the classical best practicable regime emerges out of the Roman experience as res publica under rule of law, wisdom shorn of its wings. The essential point for Voegelin is that none of the anthropological principle as the proper source of order that emerges in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy is to be found in Polybius' analysis of the mixed constitution of the Roman republic in Book Six of the Histories. By Voegelin's reading, Polybius's analysis shows an "almost incredible futilility" and reveals the "appalling decline of philosophy barely two hundred years after Plato and Aristotle" (Voegelin 1974, 128). The symbolic form of philosophy expressive of differentiated consciousness in the life experiences of the spoudaios is nowhere to be found in Polybius or, later, Cicero. The ecumenic age will last till the end of the Roman empire.

        Curiously, though there is no "logic" to the story, what Jacob Burkhardt will popularize as the renaissance or rebirth of classical learning is somewhat coincident with the demise of the last vestiges of an empire centered in Rome, or upon the idea of Rome, in the 15th century. And this rebirth will find fertile soil in an Atlantic republican tradition nurtured by the common sense philosophies of Scottish-Anglican thought on the eastern coast of what will become the United States. In the likemindedness of an emerging, somewhat egalitarian, somewhat fragment European culture energized by a vast frontier of seemingly boundless possibility the Polybian archetype, now given new birth alongside the Aristotelian original and a more civically translated Cicero, not to mention the hard experience of the commons, lords, monarch dialectic of English colonial life, came to life in a more existential sense such that, in Thomas Paine's conceptualization, all would depend on the virtue of the commons. Still, much courage would be expected of the one, the president, whose powers in war and diplomacy will rival those of Caesar, and much wisdom will be expected of judges who through judicial review will review the judgment of the many and the one by the light of a more differentiated consciousness somewhat delineated by a clear sense of a distant beginning (precedent) and a transcendent beyond (the higher law background of the American constitutional tradition). This sketch, based on a synthesis of scholarly work by historians mostly independent and unaware of Voegelin's work,3 suggests an existential representation, however imperfectly, of the anthropological truths of the Western classical tradition in the sinews of American constitutionalism, the details of which needing more time and space than is available, or appropriate, here. Two points might, however, be noted. Even a cursory look at most textbooks on American government and politics today will reveal a generally consistent presentation of constitutional democracy in America in elemental terms: Congress represents the legislative function; the president the executive; the courts the judicial. And this is certainly true, and certainly important information. But there is just beneath the surface, as with Rick in the classic and popular film Casablanca, a great deal more that defines the character of American existence on the world stage - "are my eyes really brown?" There are the faded traces, and perhaps increasingly fading traces, of an existential representation in which participants expect courage and order of their president, wisdom of their judges - "do not politicize the courts"! - and a measure of temperance in our upper and lower houses. There are wonderfully expressive passages in James Madison's Federalist 47 and 51 where he refers to "the accumulation of all powers legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, . . . (as) the very definition of tyranny " (Federalist 47) and, similarly, to "a dependence on the people" as "the primary control" on government, though "experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions," i.e., balances and checks (Federalist 51). These passages represent nice syntheses of the languages both of elemental and existential representation. And the architecture in the capital beckons participants back to the existential associations. Lincoln, the archetypal one, is also wise and sits on a throne in a Greek temple, the Lincoln Memorial, keeping an eye on Congress, house of the many. Congress may be up on a hill, popular sovereignty being what it is in a post-Newtonian, post Bodin world where it is said that sovereignty cannot be divided, but across the street the wise philosopher rulers, in another Greek temple, balance precedent with the beyond. And all of this because we are not in this national republic, this constituted democracy, all courageous, all wise, and all temperate. And the center of gravity it turns out is not popular sovereignty after all. It is nine unelected judges and their kindred on federal and state benches conscious of historiogenesis (beginnings) and higher law (the beyond). It is the tone and texture of this kind of consciousness which represents in an existential sense the deepest part of what constitutes modern American democracy. Voegelin traces much of the residual common sense in Anglo-American culture to the influence of common sense philosophers such as Thomas Reid in the late 18th century period of the Scottish Enlightenment. Perhaps the clearest expression of the thought of that period, however, may be found in Francis Hutcheson's System of Moral Philosophy published in 1755. There, with respect to civil polity, Hutcheson presents a long discourse regarding the desirability of a mixed form of polity according both to ancient and modern wisdom. And this due in no small measure to the ordering or unifying ability of the one, the wisdom, or potential wisdom of the few, and the general good, moral sense or temperance of the many, depending, of course, on the promulgation of prudent agrarian laws to preserve the property and independence of yeoman farmers and families. Out of this will come less justice, than a measure of justice, or at least a measure of good government. Much of what is in Hutcheson's teachings here, originally lectures in moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow, are the distilled and synthesized insights of Aristotle, Polybius, Zeno, Cicero, and James Harrington, to whom Hutcheson gives proper credit in the text (Hutcheson 1755, 240-266).

        The rebirth of the classical symbol of a mixed polity among Renaissance humanists, of the concept of a res publica, suggests something of a saving tale preservative of a classical Greek and Roman original which reflects in the manner of wisdom shorn of its wings the anthropological principle of society as man writ large or, perhaps more precisely, aspects of man writ large. For the only time historically when society may be said to have approached the state of articulation down to the individual as a representable unit, according to Voegelin, was Periclean Athens (Voegelin 1969, 71). Experience suggested auxiliary readings to the prospect of a society becoming a society of spoudaioi, much as it would suggest auxiliary precautions drawn from new cosmological truths of Newtonian origin to James Madison two millennia later. The point of all of this is that perhaps in Polybius there is a residue at least of the philosophic insight beyond both cosmological myth and ecumenic power that a republic constituted upon a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy might not only last longer but might preserve also the prospect at least of courage, love of wisdom, and degrees of temperance as admirable qualities in the concrete consciousness of those charged with running the affairs of state. This republican archetype then becomes a central element in the civic humanist paradigm at the heart of the Atlantic republican tradition's sense of the common. Though that tradition proved more resistant to ideological derailments, as Voegelin notes, it was not completely immune. With the coming of post-ecumenic, imperialist policies out of Western capitals, policies described by Voegelin as "penetrating many parts of the world under the title of Westernization'" (Voegelin 1969, 164), not least out of London in the early 19th century, and not least with respect to China, the American side of the Atlantic tradition proved equally desirous to open markets. Specifically, Washington desired to "open" Japan and so dispatched Commodore Matthew Perry to Edo Bay in the summer of 1853. This and subsequent events had an enormous impact on the cosmion illuminated from within that defined the tone and texture of traditional Japanese civilization.

Illumination from Within: Ryoubu Shinto

        The history of order in Japanese experience owes nothing to the pre-Socratics, Hellenic philosophy, Stoic derailments, ecumenic consciousness in Rome, Macedonia, Persia, or China. It owes even less to a Pauline vision or to immanentizations of Christian eschatology in ideological mass movements. There is no knowledge of an Atlantic republican tradition rooted in an anthropological principle. Simply put, any discussion of the history of order in Japan must begin with the observation that Japanese history is non-Western. This is no small beginning. In addition, if not uniquely, perhaps in a uniquely determined manner, Japan isolated itself from both Roman/Western and Chinese ecumenic expansions and so never developed in the concrete consciousness of its political, philosophical, literary, and spiritual leaders an ecumenic consciousness during the ecumenic age. Concisely put, the Japanese experience in ordering society took place within but was not part of the ecumenic age. In its confrontation with a Western civilization, however, particularly beginning in the mid 19th-century, Japanese leadership began to develop an ecumenic consciousness of its own such that it is reasonable to speak of a late to develop Japanese ecumenic drive comparable to those of Persia, Macedonia, Rome, and China chronicled in Voegelin's works. One result of this confrontation was the attempt by genro, in the name of the emperor, to reconstitute Japanese society by means of a written, Western style constitution. The new Meiji constitution, dai nippon teikoku kempou, would provide for Western institutions in an elemental sense, while retaining indigenous institutions in the more important existential sense. It is in this existential sense that Japan as a civilization became a dramatic example, somewhat in the manner of ancient Rome, of an "archaic survival" (Voegelin1969, 90). The traditional existential substance came to be symbolized as kokutai, the "absolute homogeneity of Japanese culture, characterized by the link of loyalty and love between the people and the emperor" (Pittau 1967, 2). The post World War II collapse of kokutai has created in Japan today the prospect, at least, of "open participation in the process of both history and the whole" (Voegelin 1974, 335).

        An all too concise chronicle of Japan's history of order as inspired by Voegelin's categories of analysis might run somewhat along the following lines: vis a vis a larger Chinese society to the West, Japan emerged as conscious of itself existing on the periphery of a larger "central country" (chugoku), specifically on the eastern periphery from whence the sun rises. The land of the rising sun (nihon) developed an indigenous sense of harmony and cosmos - of yamato (big harmony) - somewhat later than the societies of the Near East and Mediterranean examined in detail in Voegelin's multivolume Order and History. As recorded in the Kojiki and Nihongi of the 8th century by the Western calendar, specifically 712 and 720 respectively, Japanese social order emerged from an imperial house descended from the goddess amaterasu omikami, a social order almost classically cosmological, the foundations of which being found in a cosmogonic myth expressive of a historiogenesis unique to Japan. Out of "warring clans" in the late Heian period, late 12th century, and as recorded in the Tale of the Heike, the Minamoto clan emerged victorious establishing a shogunate or "tent government" (bakufu) at Kamakura and a new era, the Kamakura, was begun.

        Commodore Perry's visit was not Japan's first experience with outside pressure (gaiatsu) - with potential ecumenism. Twice in the 13th century, in 1274 and 1281 during Kamakura, with the help of divine winds (kami kaze), the Japanese turned back Mongolian warriors intent on the conquest of Japan. And in much the same manner as described by Voegelin in The Ecumenic Age, the pressures from such potential catastrophes energized the quest for the ground, or deepened quests in the consciousness of individuals. In the standard chronological presentation of Japanese political history the 13th century represents the first century of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), named for the residence of the shogun in the city of that name. A new warrior class, nominally headed by a shogun, developed alongside new interpretations of the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha in Mahayana Buddhism. Particularly noteworthy in the Kamakura Period were the teachings of the Zen monks Eisai and Dogen and of Nichiren. The Daibutsu, great Buddha, was erected in Kamakura during this period.

        The relationship between a cosmological truth centered in the person and institution of the emperor and a more anthropological truth centered in the person and institution of the shogun suggests two representatives in the existential sense who can act for society in traditional Japan. In practice, particularly following the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in the wake of Tokugawa Ieyasu's victory at Sekigahara in 1600, it is the shogun who acts for society. But he acts on behalf of the emperor who he nominally protects. Similarly, the various samurai protect their regional daimyo, whether fudai (hereditary) or tozama (outer/distant). And in the service of their daimyo, their shogun, and their emperor, the samurai followed a code of honor called bushido. Though bushido derived from many sources, one would have to begin any summary presentation with zen Buddhism. Voegelin directs the theorist in his/her search to understand a political society to first ascertain "the human type which expresses itself in the order of this concrete society" (Voegelin 1969, 62). In the development of Japanese society it is the samurai warrior practicing bushido which expresses the order of Japanese society. And in bushido we encounter a highly developed symbolization of differentiated consciousness with a theological component. As one finds in the Platonic dike the super and subordination of the forces in the soul and the "practice of dying" which "purifies conduct" by placing it in "the longest of all long-range perspectives," (Voegelin 1969, 65) so also in bushido. In the samurai's concept of seigi (justice/rectitude), or, more concisely, in the understanding of seigi by the gishi (man of rectitude) there is the daily practice of dying poignantly symbolized by the carrying of two swords, the longer katana for defense, and the shorter wakizashi for seppuku (ritual suicide). These swords represented the soul (tamashii) of the samurai warrior. The image of the samurai warrior in popular Japanese consciousness is perhaps best illustrated by the story of the 47 ronin in Chushingura. Part myth, part history, Chushingura continues to be among the most beloved of traditional Japanese stories.

        The story begins in March, 1701. Each spring the shogun sent greetings to the emperor in Kyoto and the emperor replied by sending representatives, envoys, to Edo castle. In Edo, various daimyo took their turns with protocol, the particulars regarding which being learned from a Lord Kira, the grand master of ceremonies. In charge of the reception in the spring of 1701 was Lord Asano from Ako, an outlying region. Asano refused to bribe Kira, as it was forbidden by the kemmu code.4 Kira responded by withholding crucial information regarding proper ways to receive the imperial envoys. Kira also taunted and insulted Asano and the latter drew his sword within the castle compound and attacked and wounded Kira. To draw one's sword in the shogun's castle is punishable by seppuku, which Asano was directed to carry out. The rest of the story is that of Asano's 47 now masterless samurai (ronin) who vow to avenge the injustice done to their lord. In the winter of 1703 the 47 ronin storm Lord Kira's compound and exact their revenge for Lord Asano. As punishment, the 47 ronin were ordered to commit seppuku. Today they are much honored in Japanese popular culture and much debate continues regarding the proper interpretation of their actions. Among the reasons for their continued popularity is surely their embodiment of historic bushido. Among the more concise definitions of bushido is that offered by Ito Hirobumi in his reminiscences regarding the composition of the Meiji Constitution of 1889:

The great ideals offered by philosophy and by historical examples of the golden ages

of China and India, Japanicized in the form of a "crust of customs," developed and

sanctified by the continual usage of centuries under the comprehensive name of

bushido, offered us splendid standards of morality, rigorously enforced in the

everyday life of the educated classes. The result, as everyone who is acquainted

with Old Japan knows, was an education which aspired to the attainment of

Stoic heroism, a rustic simplicity and a self sacrificing spirit unsurpassed in

Sparta, and the aesthetic culture and intellectual refinement of Athens (Ito 1960,

672).

        A major element in this bushido tradition is zen Buddhism which, as Daisetz T. Suzuki observed in his study of Zen and Japanese Culture, "was intimately related from the beginning of its history to the life of the samurai" (Suzuki 1973, 61). The beginning of the samurai, the development of the bushido, the origins of zen Buddhism in Japan are all to be found in the beginnings of the Kamakura Period. It was particularly in the Rinzai sect of zen, in the temples at Kyoto and Kamakura, that a "creative assimilation" and a "new cultural substance" began to develop (Dumoulin 1969, 149). Noted Japanese historian Edwin O. Reischauer observed that the period "between 1156 and 1221 marked an epochal change in Japan and the start of seven centuries of rule by military men" (Reischauer 1990, 45). Interestingly, in his notes on Japan for a course at Louisiana State University in the early 1950s, Voegelin headlined the section beginning roughly with the late 12th century as "Time of Troubles," followed immediately by "Consciousness of Epoch." The rest of his notes detail the influence of the various Buddhist sects and a consciousness of "three ages" that took root. Among his notes is the following on zen: "The zen sects appeal to the military classes. Eisai to members of the feudal nobility; tho flash of enlightenment can be achieved only through ascetic spiritual self-discipline; the soldiers activity transferred from the macrocosm to the microcosm without changing its ethos" (Voegelin 1952).

        In The Ecumenic Age, Voegelin noted that there is "no consciousness of epoch unless something that can be experienced as epochal is happening indeed in the process of reality" (Voegelin 1974, 313). Clearly there is in the early Kamakura period in the Japanese experience with ordering society as a cosmion illuminated from within some kind of a consciousness of epoch related in some way to the flowering of Buddhism, particularly zen Buddhism, at that time. Over the centuries that followed, the traditional Shinto religion and the various sects of Buddhism developed into a complex syncretistic relationship called ryoubu Shinto. It was not uncommon by the late Tokugawa period to find Buddhist monks administering Shinto shrines. In Voegelinian terms, Shinto reflects a cosmological style of truth at the heart of which is the emperor descended from the sun goddess from whence all cosmic order comes. Subjects enjoy the guidance and protection of the emperor who reflects the cosmic order. Zen Buddhism, particularly as expressed in bushido, expresses a more differentiated consciousness, a more anthropological style of truth according to which social order is preserved by the virtues, such as seigi noted above, of the samurai warrior. Society is more a macroanthropos dependent on the widespread diffusion of the bushido ethic over time. According to Suzuki, the "spirit of the samurai deeply breathing Zen into itself propogated its philosophy even among the masses" (Suzuki 1973, 85). Similarly, Inazo Nitobe, in his classic study Bushido: The Soul of Japan, observed that bushido "filtered down from the social class where it originated, and acted as leaven among the masses, furnishing a moral standard for the whole people" (Nitobe 1998, 259). It might be noted here that a traditional way of writing "samurai" in kanji (Chinese characters) is with a compound of two characters. One, on the right, indicates "Buddhist temple". The other, on the left, is a man standing. The man standing by the Buddhist temple is the samurai. He is clearly protecting it.5 In March, 1868, among the first actions of the national government under new leadership and in the name of the new Meiji emperor was the order of shimbutsu bunri the separation of Shinto and Buddhism and the removal of all Buddhist images from Shinto shrines. A movement ensued called haibutsu kishaku; that is, abolish the Buddha, destroy Sakyamuni.

Historiogenesis and Go-isshin

        An important concept in Voegelin's later works, particularly in The Ecumenic Age, is historiogenesis. Historiogenesis refers to a "a speculation on the origins and cause of social order." It is a "rather complex symbolism" and it includes "historiography, mythopoesis, and noetic speculation" as "components" (Voegelin 1974, 59, 60). In the Kojiki, noted above, one encounters Japan's oldest myths and the narration of the emperor's descent from the sun goddess amaterasu omikami. There exists in these myths a rich tapestry out of which could be extrapolated a speculation on the ground of existence and on the origin and cause of social order within the medium of myth; i. e., mytho-speculation. The primary experience of the cosmos reflected in traditional Japanese mythology is one of deep and profound beauty. Speculations on the origin and cause of order in society converge on the emperor and the imperial house as the representative in society of cosmic order and aesthetic experience. A concise way of expressing the connections in traditional Japanese culture between and among myth, historiography, and noetic speculation, that is, of expressing historiogenetic speculation in the Japanese experience, is to observe the role of a particularly poignant archetype in that culture. This is the archetype of the shining princess, sensitivity to which being essential to an understanding of the Japanese literary tradition. The classic expression is found in the taketori monogatari, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which dates from around the 9th century.6 An old man, a bamboo cutter, and his wife live in the mountains. They have no children. One day the man cuts into a stalk and sees a bright light coming from the base. Upon closer inspection he sees that there is a tiny girl child within the light. He takes the child to his wife and they swear secrecy as they raise her as their own. The young girl matures quickly and word spreads of the beautiful, intelligent young lady who lives with the old couple in the mountains. Suitors come. She gives them challenges they cannot meet to prove their love. They all lie, cheat, connive, and fail. The emperor himself hears of the young lady, the shining princess, who lives in the country and goes to seek her out. He proposes marriage but the shining princess cannot marry. She is not of this world. Her home is the moon from which she was temporarily banished for some minor offense. But soon an army of the moon will come to bring her home. The emperor positions his very best warriors to resist and to protect the princess. But they are no match. Before she leaves, the shining princess leaves a letter and a magic potion promising immortality to the emperor. In his grief, he has the items burned from the highest mountain in Suruga. And to this day one can still see the smoke rising from that mountain. It is called Fuji, which means immortal.

        All folk tales are, of course, subject to many and varied interpretations. But the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter takes the listener deeply into the Japanese interior both physically and spiritually. Kaguyahime, the shining princess, is clearly an incarnation of the spirit of the sun goddess. Old and young, high and low are drawn to her but only to their grief. She is not of this world; yet, she illuminates it. The story is centered in the experience of beauty and sadness, of aesthetic appreciation and consciousness of how ephemeral earthly beauty is. And there is something of a faded mythology echoing these sensibilities in key concepts in the Japanese language. The kanji (Chinese character) for "beauty" is bi. This character is a compound of two characters signifying "sheep" and "large." 7 Bi combined with gaku, bigaku, is "beauty" and "learning", or "aesthetics." Bi combined with jutsu (arts), bijutsu, is "fine arts." Bijutsukan is a place to view and study the fine arts, or "art museum." A concept basic to the bushido, above noted, is seigi (justice/rectitude). The gi in seigi is written in kanji by combining bi "beauty" with ga, or waga, meaning "self", or "egotism." 8 The overtones in the character suggest the ego submitting to beauty. This character, gi, is found in giri (obligation), giron (discussion), and gikai (national assembly/Diet), as well as seigi, among many other concepts. Without overstating the continuing force either of ancient connections, or associations between and among component parts in Japanese script, one can at least note with interest the central importance of aesthetic sensibility in traditional Japanese culture. And this rich and complex world is most dramatically symbolized in traditional Japanese political history by the emperor and the imperial house. In the late Tokugawa or Edo Period (1600-1868), when all of Japan was "thrown into turmoil by the sudden collapse of the policy of isolation" and a growing sense of "national humiliation" spread throughout the country (Reischauer, 1990, 98, 99), the emperor once again became the focus of restoring some measure of social order. Sonno joi, "honor the emperor; expell the barbarian" became the chorus of the moment. This led, in 1868, to the Meiji "restoration" (go-isshin). Go-isshin literally means to make new again the emperor.

Gaiatsu and the Drafting of the Meiji Constitution

        Albert Craig, in writing of the restoration movement in the Choshu area during early Meiji, warns of oversimplifying references to samurai during this period in Japan's history (Craig 1959). Still, it is reasonable to speak of a samurai "class" and of the samurai as a dominant type in Japanese society from the Kamakura to the early Meiji period. It is also important to note that the restoration was principally the work of samurai, and most notably from the outlying tozama daimyo of Choshu and Satsuma. Japanese government had always been somewhat authoritative and monarchical, though the historical particulars are complex indeed. Representative institutions, or assemblies, were foreign, Western, and somewhat confusing. Even Fukuzawa Yukichi, certainly among the most westernized of Meiji intellectuals, regarded representative government as "perplexing." Things like "election law" and "parliament" were "things most difficult for him to understand." Public discussion of such perplexing things, however, was widespread during early Meiji (Akita 1967, 7).

        Early proposals for something like a national, written Constitution were largely inspired by the Iwakura Mission to the West in 1871-73. Kido Takayoshi and Okubo Toshimichi were among early advocates and the idea was much discussed among members of study groups composed of government bureaucrats. Though English parliamentary ideas dominated these discussions, Prussian ideas were powerfully represented by Inoue Kowashi, translator of the Prussian Constitution of 1875. Along with Ito Hirobumi and the German scholar Carl Friedrich Hermann Roessler, Inoue became one of the principal architects of the Meiji Constitution of 1889. A first draft of a constitution for Japan was completed in 1876 on directions from the emperor. This draft went through many revisions and was subjected to intensive and sometimes rancorous debate, particularly between Ito Hirobumi and Okuma Shigenobu during the "crisis of 81". Theoretical legitimacy was enhanced by Ito and others taking a thirteen month journey to Europe where they studied constitutional law under the German scholars Rudolf von Gneist and Lorenz von Stein. Other landmark steps included the promulgation of a Peerage Law in 1884 to provide the basis for a House of Peers in a bicameral national legislature, and the creation of a Cabinet in 1885. With respect to the Peerage Law, a new hierarchy was created to replace the old shi-no-kou-shou of the Tokugawa Period (1600 1868). According to the earlier hierarchy, those related to the royal family and samurai held the highest rank in society, followed by farmers, artisans, then merchants. The new ranks created by the Peerage Law drew on Chinese and European models. According to the new scheme, there would be five ranks as follows: prince (koushaku), marquis (also koushaku, different kanji for kou), count (hakushaku), viscount (shishaku), and baron (danshaku). These ranks were conferred by the emperor and were added to other "peers" created by an earlier law in 1869. These kazoku (nobles/peers/aristocrats) would be represented in the new Diet in the "upper house" or kazokuin. The somewhat artificial character of this scheme is explored in Dazai Osamu's post World War II novel Setting Sun. The new Meiji Constitution was promulgated on February 11, 1889. According to Matsunami Niichiro, the reason chosen for this particular date was that it marked the 2,549th anniversary of the ascension to the throne of Japan's first emperor Jimmu Tenno (Matsunami 1940, 9). But what of the long term legitimacy of these efforts?

Hirota's Dream in Sanshiro

        In "What is Political Reality?" Voegelin observed that to understand "thinking about order in Germany" one would be "well advised" to read "literary works" by authors such as Robert Musil, Hermann Broch, Thomas Mann, Heimito von Doderer, and others (Voegelin 2002, 389).9 Similarly, among the best sources for analyzing the consciousness of order in Meiji Japan are the works of Natsume Soseki, regarded by many as Japan's leading modern literary artist. Recent Nobel Laureate Oe Kenzaburo refers to Soseki as Japan's "national writer" (Oe 1995, 44). Among Soseki's novels is Sanshiro, published in 1907. The title refers to the name of a young male protagonist who has traveled from the countryside to Tokyo to study at Tokyo University. Among other characters is a sensei by the name of Hirota, who teaches at another area college. Toward the end of the story, Sanshiro goes to visit Hirota only to find him sleeping. Upon awaking, Hirota tells his young friend of the dream he was just having. He was walking in the woods reflecting on the mysteries of life when all of a sudden he encountered a young lady who looked strangely familiar. He came to realize that he had seen the young lady only once before and that he had, in fact, never spoken to her. And the once before was almost twenty years earlier. It was the year of the issuance of the Meiji Constitution, 1889. He had been in the militia while a student at that time in Tokyo and was asked to assist at the funeral of the Minister of Education, Mori Arinori, who had been assassinated. He was posted at the takebashiuchi area and as the funeral procession passed he noticed the young lady sitting in a horse drawn carriage that passed in front of him. The meeting in the dream, then, was the second time Hirota saw her. The lady in the dream spoke to Hirota and said "you have changed." It should be noted here that Soseki characterizes Hirota in the novel as something of a dark presence with an atmosphere somewhat like that of a Shinto priest. Hirota says to the young lady in the dream "you have not changed at all." After hearing of the dream, Sanshiro, the young friend, jokes with Hirota that maybe he should have married the young lady twenty years ago. Hirota laughs off the comment (Natsume 1977, 192, 193).

        In Soseki's narration of the dream, he is careful to refer to the earlier funeral as taking place in the year of the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution. The funeral for Mori is emotionally charged with overtones regarding the larger Meiji state. There is something funereal about the so-called "new" Japan. Mori could be said to represent the Meiji state in an elemental sense. It is in that sense, a lifeless thing. But an existential substance continues to live, if only in the dreams of the eccentric Hirota. As representative of the shining princess archetype, the young lady in the woods embodies in Hirota's subconscious a cosmic connection to a larger harmony still alive in Japanese society if not in its new institutions. These connections are reinforced by Hirota's duty post at takebashiuchi. A literal translation of the place name would be "inside the bamboo bridge." It is from this location that he saw the young lady and she has not changed. Hirota "sensei", however, has changed somewhat. The young Sanshiro, representative of a late Meiji generation, makes none of these connections. To him, the young lady is simply an individual who Hirota cannot seem to forget. A more powerful exploration of the estrangement between the learned, the sensei, and an existential substance characteristic of traditional Japan may be found in Soseki's Kokoro, among his last and certainly greatest works. For Fukuchi Isamu, Kokoro expresses the "spirit of Meiji" (Fukuchi 1993).

Kokoro: "I Always Called him Sensei"

        The narrator in Kokoro is, like Sanshiro, a young man. The opening line in this novel, published in 1914, is "I always called him sensei." And like Hirota, sensei is something of a dark, mysterious character with some kind of secret in his past. The opening scene takes place on the beach at Kamakura. The reader is introduced to sensei there. Sensei is "accompanied by a Westerner." The Japanese term sensei is usually translated "teacher," though the meaning is much wider. Sensei is written in kanji using two characters, sen, and sei. The sei character means "to live." The sen character, however, can have different meanings depending on the context. Sen can mean "before," in which the suggestion in the term sensei is one who is as if he has lived before. The suggestion is as one who has so absorbed the culture that he could have lived before and, further, is in a position to teach what he has learned to others. There is an exchange early in Kokoro, in fact, where the young narrator says that he felt he had met sensei "somewhere before" but "could not remember where or when." Sensei, for his part, thought that the young man was mistaken (Natsume 1999, 7). But the character "sen" can also mean the future, or destination.10 In ordinary discourse, for example, if one leaves a group ahead of the rest one ordinarily says "o saki ni." Saki is written with the same sen character. Senko means ancient times and senrei means precedent. Sakimono, on the other hand, means "futures," and sakigake means to charge ahead of others. A recent political party, one of the numerous "new" parties in Japanese politics today, is called the Sakigake Party. It is, of course, a reform party. Sensei, in other words, contains an interesting tension within it suggestive of one sensitive both to precedent, or the previous, and to cutting edge developments. In Voegelinian terms, there are shades of meaning highly suggestive of the Greek metaxy, of a life in tension between the beginning and the beyond. But in Soseki's art, the character sensei in Kokoro becomes a one-dimensional, highly tragic character, tragic in the sense of blind to his biggest weakness.

        There is a scene in the last section of Kokoro, a section entitled Sensei's Testament. The young protagonist, and the reader, is given an autobiographical letter in which details of the young sensei are shared. In the scene in question, sensei, then a student in Tokyo, is looking for a new place to live. He takes a room in a house owned by a widow and her daughter. The widow is okusan and the daughter is ojosan. These terms refer to roles, not personal names. And they are highly suggestive as larger symbols. Okusan literally means deep inside (oku) person, though a common translation would be housewife. Ojosan means honorable young lady. The "o" in ojosan is an honorific and, as was common in Soseki's time, is written as a formal character. The character is also the character for the emperor. It is the go, for example, in go-isshin, meaning the restoration of the emperor at the dawn of the Meiji Era. And sensei writes the following regarding ojosan in his testament:

It seemed that reason was powerless in her presence. My love for her was close to piety.

You may think it strange that I should use this word, with its religious connotations, to

describe my feelings towards a woman. But even now I believe - and I believe it very

strongly - that true love is not so far removed from religious faith. Whenever I saw

ojosan's face, I felt that I had myself become beautiful. Whenever I thought of her, I

felt a new sense of dignity welling up inside me. It this incomprehensible thing that we

call love can either bring out the sacred in man or, in its lowest form, merely excite one's

bodily passions, then surely my love was of the highest kind. I am not saying that I was

not like other men. I am made of flesh too. But my eyes which gazed at her, and my

mind which held thoughts of her, were innocent of bodily desire (Natsume 1999, 154,

155).

        In the course of sensei's life, he will marry ojosan who will become simply Shizuko (quiet child). Shizuko will be the only personal name in the novel. In the testament, the reader learns that sensei's secret is that he won ojosan from his best friend, K, through deceit. It is not possible to chronicle here all the subtle associations between and among the young protagonist, sensei, sensei's wife (ojosan/Shizuko), and K. But K's character is highly symbolic of the role of the Buddhist tradition, and a more differentiated consciousness in general, in the Japanese experience. K was "born in a temple" and was "more like a samurai than a priest" (Natsume 1999, 171). Sensei and K were best friends, lived together in the rooming house in Tokyo upon sensei's invitation, each representing dynamic aspects of a modernizing, Westering Japan, sensei more as aesthete, out of the Shinto past, and K more as a transcendental spirit. K "had more will-power" and "studied twice as much as I did." They were "in the same class" but K was "always ahead of me" (Natsume 1999, 176). K commits suicide in the rooming house shortly after he learns of sensei's deceit regarding their relationships with ojosan. This dark chapter in the young sensei's life frames the testament which the young protagonist reads on his way to Tokyo at the end of the novel. But he will not arrive in time. Sensei, like General Nogi on the death of the Meiji Emperor, will commit suicide. Symbolically, K could not live in a Japanese world returning to its Shinto roots as a response to modernization and Westernizing pressures. Similarly, without K, sensei's spirit whithers, hardens, and dies. He is conscious of his failure as sensei, of his betrayal of K. The character sensei, in Soseki's art, becomes the virtual incarnation of what Voegelin in The Ecumenic Age refers to as egophany (Voegelin 1974, 260).

Japan as "Archaic Survival"

        In his book on The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel P. Huntington writes that "the futures of both peace and Civilization depend upon understanding and cooperation among the political, spiritual, and intellectual leaders of the world's major civilizations" (Huntington 1997, 321). Among these major civilizations is the Japanese, the only civilization that is "also a state" (Huntington 1997, 44). This exploratory study of Japan, loosely applying concepts suggested by American emigre scholar Eric Voegelin, and picking up on a suggestion in the New Science of Politics that Japan, like ancient Rome, represents an "archaic survival," suggests another dimension to Japan's uniqueness. It is to be read as but a sketch. The modern Japanese state represents an archaic survival of what Voegelin calls the "ecumenic age." The Japanese leadership, the genro, midwifed in the late 19th century by the Western calendar a new Japan and a new constitution in the name of the emperor. Ito Hirobumi, one of the principal architects of the new constitution, at a conference of leaders of prefectural assemblies in February, 1889, stressed the importance of the imperial dimension by reminding his listeners that the term "imperial grant" meant that the constitution was "initiated by the sovereign himself and that it was sanctioned and granted to his subjects by the sovereign." The Meiji Constitution, he continued, was "the gift of a benevolent and charitable emperor to the people of his country." Regarding this point, Ito counseled his audience to "inscribe it in your hearts" (Tsunoda 1965, II, 159). The particularly "archaic" nature of the "imperial grant" is revealed in the language of the Preamble:

We, the successor to the prosperousThrone of our predecessors, do humbly and solemnly swear to the Imperial founder of Our House and to Our other Imperial Ancestors that, in pursuance of a great policy co-extensive with the Heavens and with the Earth, we shall maintain and secure from decline the ancient form of government.11

        Though the language and the law here is clearly archaic, reflecting a cosmological style of truth, the Meiji Constitution's establishment of a bicameral Diet, a modern Cabinet system, a civil service system based on a German model, and regular, if limited, elections were not without existential substance. Although representatives in these newly formed institutions were not intended to "act for society" in any global or historic sense, they nonetheless were deeply involved in the articulation of a "new" Japan neither entirely a product of Western pressure nor of "archaic" response. Many of the representatives in these institutions were former samurai nurtured in the aesthetic and bushido traditions above noted. But the preponderance of thought among the genro was to gain a measure of respect from Western powers without compromising the "sacred and inviolable" origins associated with the Imperial House.

        There is no immanentization of Christian eschatology or stop history movements in the Japanese experience of order in history. There is, however, the rejection by national policy of zen Buddhist traditions explored above. A life in tension toward the ground of existence became discredited by virtue of a concept of the beyond as gaiatsu, outside pressure, understood as geographic, cultural, and Western. And there was tension toward this new ground with alternations between admiration for things Western and contempt. In the mid-19th century Japan opened both to trade and cultural interaction with the West. Toward the end of the century, Japanese leadership accepted the challenge of constituting a modern Japanese state without losing its indigenous religious, linguistic, artistic, and historic sensibilities. In this they were only partially successful. Religion came to mean state Shinto and the rich traditions represented by zen Buddhism and bushido were all but lost. In today's Japan it is the memory of state Shinto and kokutai that is discredited and elected officials represent Japan in an existential sense. Under the present Constitution, however, the emperor remains as a symbol of the state and the unity of the people. In November, l990, Akihito, the present emperor, participated in the daijosai, the traditional Shinto ritual practiced upon the ascension of a new emperor. For the first time, it was a private ceremony. The 1947 Constitution requires the separation of church and state. As archaic "survivors" of the ecumenic age Japanese leadership has proved particularly resistant to outside pressures in any existential sense, even as it continues to be somewhat haunted by a consciousness of "beyond" as "West." This is nowhere more evident than in the current debates over whether and how to amend Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which prohibits war, the threat of force to settle international disputes, and land, sea, and air forces.

        The constituting of modern Japan is a work in progress. In Voegelin's conceptualization, the articulation of modern Japan is incomplete. In the debates over Article 9 regarding whether and in what sense to aid in United Nations and other international peace keeping operations there is nothing less at stake than questions regarding "who can act for the society" such that their actions "are not imputed to their own persons but to the society as a whole. . . ." (Voegelin 1969, 37). Article 9, in this sense, is more than a constitutional provision. It is a symbol largely opaque due to its origin in defeat and occupation, though potentially transparent. And in its potential transparency it may well communicate both the tragic tale of Japanese soldiers overseas in an ecumenic quest in the name of a sacred emperor, and just the barest hints of zen and bushido traditions firmly woven into the texture of the Japanese experience with order in history. In Huntington's work the scholar is challenged by the global scope of civilizations in potential conflict. Eric Voegelin's work encourages the scholar to probe deep inside the spiritual, as well as the material, core of civilizations, as best one can, from the inside out. In Japanese civilization, at the heart of things (kokoro), is Natsume Soseki's sensei on the beach at Kamakura "accompanied" by a Westerner. Henceforward, sensei will always be accompanied by a Westerner. There will be little consciousness of epoch. The living spirit of Eric Voegelin's work, especially as reflected in volume four of Order and History, The Ecumenic Age, is to see and appreciate the mirror image. The Westerner on the beach is also accompanied by sensei. And henceforward this, too, will always be so.

 

Notes

1The "West and the Rest" refers to intercivilizational issues between a Western civilization that "alone among civilizations" has had "a major and at times devastating impact on every other civilization" and non-Western civilizations, among which Huntington includes a "Japanese civilization." See (Huntington 1997, 183 - 206). Regarding globalization, see (Robertson 1987).

2The quotation is from (Pocock 1972, 120). For a thorough analysis of this point of view see (Pocock 2003).

3For a good review of this literature, see (Kramnick 1982).

4The Kemmu Code refers to an early codification of rules for the warrior dating from the early Muromachi Period (1333-1573).

5This kanji is also the root for haberu and jusuru each meaning to "wait upon, " or "serve." See (Nelson 1994, 148, Character 427). A samurai is literally one who serves. The strong suggestion in the character is to "serve" the purposes of the temple.

6For a complete account of the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter and the story of Kaguyahime, the shining princess, see (Rimer 1978).

7For this kanji see (Nelson 1994, 721, Character 3658).

8See (Nelson 1994, 724, Character 3668).

9On the literary artist as among the "spiritually energetic people" who preserve "intact experiences and symbolizations of reality" and "reservoirs of reality," see also (Voegelin 1989, 94 -96).

10For the "sen" kanji, see (Nelson 1994, 166, Character 571). Nelson gives the following meanings for this character: "the future; priority, precedence. . . . precede; forestall, anticipate." Also, among others, "before, earlier than; ahead, beyond, away; previously; recently . . . ."

11For the full text of the Meiji Constitution see ("Meiji Constitution" 1983).

 

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