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The Putative Fascism of the Kyoto School and the Political Correctness of the Modern Academy
Hakuin's Daruma

Graham Parkes
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawai'i and Visiting Scholar, Reischauser Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University
Philosophy East and West, July 1997 V.47, No.3, p. 305
© University of Hawaii Press, 1997

Abstract: Kyoto School thinkers have been labeled as fascists by a number of prominent contemporary critics, but their criticisms are not based on good scholarship. Important issues are obscured by such politically correct Japanology. Examples include an essay by Tetsuo Najita and H.D. Harootunian in the 'Cambridge History of Japan,' in which the individual positions of members of the Kyoto School are obscured by branding the entire school as fascist without considering the complex historical and political circumstances surrounding the philosophers' political pronouncements. Bernard Faure's criticisms of Nishitani Keiji are also discussed.

In the context of the flourishing of Asian and comparative philosophy in Europe and the Americas over the past few decades, the study of Japanese philosophy has remained relatively underdeveloped. There are several reasons for this (some having to do with the fields of expertise of the scholars who learned Japanese language and culture in connection with the Second World War), but a recent trend within the North American academy jeopardizes the study of the most accessible area of Japanese philosophy: twentieth-century thought--and the philosophy of the so-called "Kyoto School" in particular. And if scholarship in this area declines, the study of earlier figures and schools in the tradition may be correspondingly inhibited. I am referring to the current fashion, evident in the work of several figures in Japanese and Buddhist studies, of branding thinkers associated with the Kyoto School, such as Nishida Kitaro, Kuki Shuzo, and Nishitani Keiji, as mere fascist or imperialist ideologues, with the implication that their work is philosophically nugatory. The neo-Marxist revisionism that has been sweeping (at least a corner of) the field of Japanology threatens to suppress open discussion of some important ideas--and thereby risks falling, with sad irony, into a "fascism of the left."(1)

My project is to consider critical treatments of the Kyoto School thinkers at the hands of Tetsuo Najita and H. D. Harootunian, Bernard Faure, Karatani Kojin, and Leslie Pincus. It will turn out that the textual passages they cite, when they do cite texts, fail to support their criticisms, usually because they ignore the context (historical, intratextual, or both) of the passages they excerpt. Indeed, the scholarship behind these criticisms is, in general, poor--and in some cases even irresponsible, given how seriously accusations of fascism or ultranationalism need to be taken in the current global-political climate. And since most of the people attacking the Kyoto School thinkers are prominent in their fields, and in the relevant writings published by respectable university presses, their criticisms call all the more urgently for a response.

To criticize the critics, however, is not to condone the political writings of the Kyoto School thinkers. Some of this work is indeed problematic and raises crucial questions concerning the relations between philosophical and political discourse.(2) But rather than treat these issues here, my concern is with exposing the misconceptions generated by premature ideological critiques. And although the focus will be on criticisms of a particular school of Japanese philosophy, these reflections pertain more generally to politically correct scholarship in Asian studies--and cultural studies more generally.

A Background Sketch

The so-called "Kyoto School" of philosophy had its beginnings through the association of the two foremost Japanese thinkers of this century, Nishida Kitaro and Tanabe Hajime, who met as colleagues at Kyoto University in 1918. By the end of the thirties several other figures had become associated with them: notably Miki Kiyoshi, Hisamatsu Shin'ichi, and Nishitani Keiji. Watsuji Tetsuro and Kuki Shuzo also taught at Kyoto University, but their association with the School was looser. Perhaps one factor that conduced to the formation of a "school" concerned something that most of these thinkers did not share, and were sharply criticized by some of their colleagues (Tosaka Jun in particular) for not sharing, and that was an enthusiastic devotion to Marxism.

During the thirties, Japan's fledgling democracy was far from thriving. It was a time of militarist expansion abroad and ultranationalism and fascist-style thought control at home. But these developments, insalubrious though they were, have to be seen in the broader historical context. Part of the motivation for Japan's modernization was a feeling of vulnerability occasioned by colonial expansion on the part of the major world (Western) powers. On one hand the considerable might and bulk of the United States were pushing in from the east, eventually reaching as far as the Philippines, while on the other the European powers were advancing through India and Indo-China to China itself, and the Russians were laying claim to the islands to the north of Japan.(3)

As international tensions increased during the thirties, the national mood became peculiarly ambivalent. There was a feeling of resentment against Western imperialism and at the same time a growing sense of pride (understandable in the circumstances) in Japan's ability to defend itself and to establish itself as the leading power in a "new world order" that would extend throughout Asia as a counterbalance to the Western powers. In the late thirties and early forties, around the time of the outbreak of the Pacific War, several members of the Kyoto School--most notably Nishida, Tanabe, Watsuji, and Nishitani--began to turn their attention to political philosophy and published a number of texts that had definite right-wing and nationalistic themes and tones to them. Though these writings and discussions were actually excoriated by the rightists in the military and the government at the time (for not being rightist enough), they were just as sharply criticized by the Marxists after the war (for being too rightist). Nishitani was even relieved of his teaching position for several years by the occupation authorities because of his putative contribution to wartime propaganda.

During the fifties and sixties a greater number of Japanese ideas began to be exported to the West, thanks in large part to the work of D. T. Suzuki. It was not until the early eighties, however, when more of the relevant texts began to become available in English translation, that the ideas of the Kyoto School philosophers began to arrive in the United States in relative force.(4) But given the prevailing climate in mainstream Anglo-American philosophy (its general ethnocentrism and tendency to focus on linguistic analysis), these ideas found hospitable reception less in philosophy departments than in schools of theology and departments of religious studies. Thus most of the early enthusiasts of the Kyoto School came to be interested primarily in the religious and soteriological aspects of the philosophy, and not in its political dimensions or implications. And while interest in modern Japanese thought has remained high in the field of religion (where there has generally been a greater openness to comparative studies), it is only more recently that it has attracted the attention of a few professional philosophers.

Around the time that the ideas of the Kyoto School were beginning to gain currency, considerable changes were taking place in Japanese studies in the United States. As the winds of intellectual fashion blustered and veered, various waves of neo-Marxist, deconstructionist, and postmodern revisionism rolled across the field. In reaction against the tendency to find things Japanese interesting because different, commentators intoxicated with ideas of differance and alterite now began to accuse the Japanese of merely "constructing" themselves as different, and a veritable deconstruction industry got under way to show that they really aren't as Other as they'd like to think. The good neo-Marxists among these scholars naturally followed the Japanese Marxists in criticizing the philosophy of the Kyoto School thinkers, their mood apparently exacerbated by what they perceived as uncritical enthusiasm on the part of non-Japanologist scholars in the contemporary American academy.

The political writings of the,Kyoto School thinkers deserve to be translated and discussed, since they contain much of interest concerning the relations among philosophy and politics and culture--even if their tone is sometimes nationalistic. But instead of discussion there has been a tendency simply to denigrate the authors of these texts by means of vague generalization and innuendo. There is heavy irony in the way some of the critics deploy Foucault's ideas about knowledge and power against their opponents--yet refrain from applying them to their own cases. Knowledge of Japanese seems to empower the promotion of one's views untrammeled by considerations of responsible scholarship, potential opponents being presumed impotent with respect to the sources.

Another feature of this syndrome is the frequent attempt to establish guilt by association, especially with respect to the vexed case of Heidegger's relations with Nazism. Some critics of the Kyoto School act as if this case were crystal clear--that Heidegger's involvement with National Socialism during the thirties vitiates his philosophy as a whole--such that merely to mention the name "Heidegger" and call attention to his influence on the Kyoto School thinkers is deemed sufficient to damn their works as politically pernicious. Although the Heidegger controversy continues to generate more heat than light, with ardent enthusiasts and vehement detractors writing past each other at high volume, there are in fact some intriguing parallels between his case and that of the Kyoto School thinkers who were influenced by him. If these parallels were to be examined through reflective discussions of the problematic texts on both sides, we might learn some helpful things about the relations between philosophical ideas and political actualities.

It would be impertinent to pass general judgment on the scholarship of the critics about to be discussed: my aim is simply to evaluate their criticisms of the politics of the Kyoto School thinkers. In the interests of keeping this response to a reasonable length, the primary focus will be on Nishitani Keiji, for along with Nishida he seems to take the main brunt of the criticism. But I shall also consider the case of Kuki Shuzo, an important thinker about whom little has been written in English, since most of what has been written about him stands to discourage further discussion of his ideas.

The "Fascism" of the Kyoto Faction

In volume 6 of The Cambridge History of Japan there is a contribution titled "Japanese Revolt against the West: Political and Cultural Criticism in the Twentieth Century," by Tetsuo Najita and H. D. Harootunian. In the course of an illuminating account of the project of situating Japan's cultural identity vis-a-vis the West, the authors show how a concern with the nature of Japanese culture tended to devolve into assertions of its uniqueness--a phenomenon that is now the major industry of nihonjinron. At the beginning of a section titled "Cultural Particularism," they identify four students of Nishida's who were associated with the Kyoto School (Nishitani among them) as "the Kyoto faction" and refer to a 1941 symposium titled "The World Historical Position and Japan," the proceedings of which were published in three installments in the journal Chuokoron, and then as a book in 1943. Their characterization of the proceedings deserves to be quoted at some length.

[The] group's central purpose was to construct what they called a "philosophy of world history" that could both account for Japan's current position and disclose the course of future action. But a closer examination of this "philosophy of world history" reveals a thinly disguised justification, written in the language of Hegelian metaphysics, for Japanese aggression and continuing imperialism. In prewar Japan, no group helped defend the state more consistently and enthusiastically than did the philosophers of the Kyoto faction, and none came closer than they did to defining the philosophic contours of Japanese fascism.

The Kyoto philosophers specified Nishida's ontological concept of "space" to mean the "world stage" where all human and social problems will be resolved under Japan's leadership role. History, or the world stage, consisted of the interaction of "blood" and "soil," a conclusion already reached by a number of Nazi apologists.... Thus despite their use of abstract philosophical language, the Kyoto philosophers unashamedly spoke on behalf of Japanese imperial expansion as the creative moment of a vast historical movement to a new level of human excellence.(5)

Any impression that the term "fascism" might have been used in a momentary access of hyperbole is dispelled by the subsequent claim that "the members of the Kyoto faction openly acknowledged their admiration of European fascism and its own struggle with the forces of modernity," by further references to "the fascism of the Kyoto faction," and by a characterization of "some of the members of the Kyoto faction" as "Japanese-style fascists."(6) No justification is offered for the application of this harsh label, nor any evidence beyond a brief quotation from a secondary source dating from 1958.

Although brief, the account of the symposium is flawed in several respects. For one thing, there are differences among the voices and ideas of the four participants. Kosaka Masaaki and Koyama Iwao come across as more vehement than Nishitani Keiji and Suzuki Shigetaka, whose utterances tend to be more moderate.(7) It is unhelpful to talk of "the fascism of the Kyoto faction" or the political perniciousness of "the Kyoto School" in general, in view of the wide variety of positions held by the individual members. And if such labels are then applied with similar disparagement to thinkers as different as Nishida, Tanabe, Watsuji, and Nishitani, all the interesting issues become obfuscated. What is required instead are responsible readings of the writings of each particular thinker, on the basis of which that thinker's political ideas can be evaluated.

Second, the criticism of the "Kyoto faction" for their justification of "Japanese aggression and continuing imperialism" is somewhat one-sided, in view of the larger historical context. Without meaning to extenuate the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese military during the thirties, one can observe that the opposition of the Kyoto School thinkers to British, Dutch, and American imperialist expansion in East-Asia is not simply groundless. While nationalism often has disastrous effects, in the form of resistance against imperialistic expansion it can be quite understandable--unless one insists on judging the views of academics in Japan during the early forties by the standards of American political correctness of the nineties. The point is not to condone Japanese aggression during the period in question, nor to absolve the Kyoto School philosophers who supported it, but rather to emphasize the complexity of the historical and political context and the qualified nature of the philosophers' support of their government.

Another shortcoming of the account in The Cambridge History is the omission of some relevant circumstances surrounding the symposium. An essay detailing these circumstances and their implications, based on a careful reading of the proceedings and relevant secondary literature in Japanese, is available in English.(8) It is important to know that neither the account published serially in Chuokoron nor the book The World-Historical Standpoint and Japan is a full or accurate transcript of the discussions: they were both heavily edited, "veiling statements in two or three layers of cloth," in order to avoid being suppressed by the authorities.(9) The main theme of the first session (November 1941) was originally "How to avoid war [with the United States]," but it was changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor to "How to bring the war to a favorable end as soon as possible, in a way rationally acceptable to the Army."(10) Since the Japanese army was far more bellicose and powerful than the navy, which had some lines of communication to the Kyoto School thinkers, the extensive criticisms of the army and General Tojo that were in the original transcripts had to be expurgated. This left the misleading impression of "total support for the war effort among the Kyoto school thinkers."

Furthermore, even the edited transcripts of the symposium were immediately attacked by the nationalists as being too tame, "seditious and anti-war." The reaction of the army to the 1943 publication was to order the suppression of public activities by the "Kyoto faction" and forbid any further print runs of the book or mention of their ideas in the press.(11) These circumstances make Najita's and Harootunian's claim that "in prewar Japan no group helped defend the state more consistently and enthusiastically than did the philosophers of the Kyoto faction" look rather dubious. (More appropriate candidates for this honor would be the zealous proponents of the official "Imperial Way" philosophy [kodo tetsugaku], such as Inoue Tetsujiro.) Nor is their talk of the Kyoto faction's "defining the philosophic contours of Japanese fascism" any better grounded--especially when one considers that fascism tends, by its very nature, to lack "philosophic contours."(12)

The general point, then, concerns the importance of situating the political utterances of philosophers in appropriate historical context. Appeal to nationalist sentiment in a country justifiably apprehensive in the face of continuing Western imperialism means something very different from (for example) its significance in a country just released from the domination of a superpower and eager for self-assertion in the newest world order. If we are to think about such historical issues in terms of their potential for illuminating similar, contemporary problems--and this is surely the most fruitful way to think about them--we must nevertheless try to understand the earlier phenomena in their full historical context.

What the Cambridge History article misses and a reading of the text of the discussions reveals, as Horio Tsutomu has emphasized, is that the title The World-Historical Standpoint and Japan indicates a genuine effort by the participants to articulate Japan's potential place among the leading nations from a world-historical perspective rather than one of mere nationalism and imperialism. While they do discuss Gobineau and his theory concerning "purity of blood"--which was a major source for Nazi racism--they specifically reject it in favor of Leopold Ranke's idea of "moral energy." This, as Koyama remarks, has nothing to do with "blood" but is rather "concentrated in the 'people of a country' [kokumin] culturally and politically."(13)

After linking the "Kyoto faction" to the Nazis by spurious talk of "blood and soil," Najita and Harootunian briefly consider the attempt in the second symposium to provide a moral justification for the Pacific War. While the proceedings do contain some flimsy rationalizations, there is also a sincere attempt to elaborate a philosophy for a new "pluralistic world order"--even if the idea is for Japan to occupy a position of leadership in this plurality. Horio provides an account of this attempt and shows how far removed it is from "the standpoint of Nazism and fascism" (as from the views of the "Nazi apologists" with which Najita and Harootunian want to associate it).(14) This strong pluralist and internationalist thrust in the "world-historical" thinking of the Kyoto School, which was initiated by Nishida and elaborated by Nishitani, is something their critics tend to overlook or ignore. The critical perspective needs to be broadened--beyond severely edited transcripts of symposia held on the eve and morning of a horrendous war--and to include texts the Kyoto School thinkers published around that time on similar topics.(15)

In case these criticisms of the Najita and Harootunian contribution seem excessive, I should remark on the special place it occupies in the literature. The chapter in The Cambridge History will be consulted for many years to come by people without the background to evaluate the validity of what they find there, and the eminence of the authors will discourage readers from asking whether the picture they give of the Kyoto School may be distorted through ideological bias.

The "Youthful Errors" of Nishitani Keiji

A similar posture is to be found in a work by Bernard Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights, which otherwise contains some interesting revisioning of aspects of the Buddhist tradition.(16) In the course of a brief discussion of "the postwar Kyoto School" at the end of a chapter titled "Zen Orientalism," Faure reiterates an earlier claim that "the development of the nationalist tendencies in Nishida's thought can be seen in the work of his disciples."(17) He then quotes comments by Nishitani which he says come from "the January 1942 symposium 'The Standpoint of World History and Japan'":(18)

Is it not that the political consciousness of the Germans is more advanced? I believe too that in people such as Hitler the consciousness of the necessity to restore an interior order is clearer than in Japanese rulers.... Although today the various peoples of the East have no national consciousness in the European way, this is perhaps a chance for the construction of the [Greater East Asia] Coprosperity sphere ... because it means that they are being constituted as people of the Coprosperity sphere from a Japanese point of view. [ellipses in original]

Faure's comment on this passage is: "As far as I know, Nishitani has never manifested any regret for such youthful errors, nor has this aspect of his work ever been discussed among his disciples." But it is by no means clear what these "youthful errors" consist in. After all, in January of 1942 Nishitani was forty-one years old and Japan had just entered the War on the side of Germany. Is his saying that the leader of Japan's primary ally was more clearly conscious of the need to "restore an interior order" than were the leaders of his own country really something for which he should have "manifested regret"?

What the other "youthful errors" might be is harder to ascertain, especially since the words after the first ellipsis are not to be found on the page cited in Faure's footnote to the quotation--nor within the range an ellipsis normally connotes.(19) They turn out to be not a direct quotation but rather a free paraphrase of remarks by Nishitani that appear a few pages later--the force of which can be appreciated only in the context of what follows and precedes them. Reflecting on the ills of Western imperialism, Nishitani observes that English, Dutch, and American colonialism in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have followed a strategy of guaranteeing the peoples they colonize a relatively comfortable existence--while actually pursuing policies of exploitation (a kind of "opium policy," he calls it).(20) He then emphasizes his concern that Japan not fall into this kind of role in East Asia.

For example, each of the peoples that make up Europe has reached an extremely high level. By contrast, in Greater East Asia the only one, generally speaking, to have reached the same level is Japan, while the other peoples have remained for the most part at a much lower level. This means, I think, that the task of gradually bringing those peoples to a higher level, inculcating national awareness in them, and making them be sustaining forces in the Greater East Asia sphere voluntarily and autonomously will turn out to be the unique mission of Japan in the Greater East Asia sphere. In this respect Japan's attitude toward the other peoples in the Greater East Asia sphere has to be radically different in spirit from the European attitude.(21)

What Nishitani is actually saying here hardly seems so egregious as to require subsequent repentance in public. Perhaps this kind of talk could lend itself, as critics have feared, to "appropriation by nationalist ideologies," but the fact that the ultranationalists in power at the time actually censured Nishitani for his opinions can diminish our anxiety over this point. His attitude may be elitist and condescending, but it is hardly fascistic; and the nationalistic tone is tempered by his concern that the other nations of East Asia develop a sense of national self-awareness, albeit under Japan's guidance.

Nishitani's term "high level" (takai suijun) is admittedly somewhat vague. But while it may be, from the neo-Marxist perspective of radical egalitarianism, an "error" to claim that Japan is culturally superior to its neighbors in East Asia, to those of us who believe that some cultures have reached a higher level than others Nishitani's claim may not appear obviously erroneous. The politically correct conceit that any claim of superiority or inferiority is per se suspect is exerting an especially stultifying effect on several areas in Asian studies. One can dismiss the ludicrous excesses of nihonjinron and still plausibly claim that--with the obvious exception of China--the history of Japanese culture is richer than those of its East Asian neighbors. (Put less contentiously: one could argue--on the basis of Japan's contributions in the fields of poetry and the novel, drama and theater, music and dance, painting, architecture, and film--that the country has more to offer well-informed students of culture in the West.)

Faure calls for "an ideological critique" of the thought of contemporary Kyoto School philosophers--adding that "as in the case of Heidegger, we cannot help asking to what extent the 'philosophical text' is affected in its content by the ideological and political 'context'."(22) Though it is unclear whether such a critique would be a critique of ideology or would itself be ideological, one can concur on the importance of considering philosophical texts in their political contexts. But if Faure wants to regard the edited transcription of Nishitani's remarks concerning Hitler as a "philosophical text," the relevant context would surely be any discussions of Hitler that Nishitani might have published around that time. One finds just such a discussion in the concluding essay of a book originally published in 1940, Shukyo to bunka (Religion and culture), in a brief section titled "Hittora undo no seishin" (The spirit of the Hitler movement).(23) Since this piece is the one that Nishitani's detractors most love to hate, it deserves a brief discussion before we proceed.

If one reads beyond the title of "The Spirit of the Hitler Movement," it becomes clear that Nishitani's attitude toward Hitler, as distinct from the spirit that animated the movement, is deeply ambivalent. What at first impressed him in his reading of Mein Kampf was apparently the fact that Hitler appeared to be adopting "a standpoint of 'brute nature' in order to establish a new spirit."(24) To appreciate what is going on here, one must realize the extent to which Nishitani is responding to features of the Hitler movement that appeared similar to ideas he already admired in Nietzsche.(25) In view of his enthusiasm for Nietzsche from the time of his youth, it is hardly surprising that Nishitani should find congenial Hitler's tirade against the decadence of modern Europe and the pettiness of utilitarian rationalism, as well as his call for a reconnection with brute nature and the roots of instinct. (One might recall that Nishitani wrote this essay not long after his return from Europe, where he had spent two years studying with Heidegger at the time of his famous lecture-courses on Nietzsche.) But to understand Nishitani on this issue, it is necessary in turn to avoid the common misunderstandings of Nietzsche's ideas.

Readers outraged by Nietzsche's talk of cruelty and violence, for instance, generally fail to notice that he is advocating cruelty and violence toward oneself, in the practice of self-discipline, rather than toward others.(26) And when Nietzsche distinguishes the noble type of human being from the common by its capacity for self-sacrifice, which seems motivated by passion and contrary to reason, what he admires is its disregard for calculating its own interest. Nietzsche's elitism and his praise for an aristocracy of talent make him unsentimental when it comes to supporting the decadent and succoring the weak--but this unsentimentality does not make him the advocate of barbarism that so many critics have made him out to be. What is missing in Hitler (and the entire Nazi appropriation of Nietzsche's ideas), therefore, are two key elements: Nietzsche's emphasis on the disciplining of the drives and passions for a "renaturalization" of the human being and on the reflexive turn that make possible the self-knowledge and contempt for oneself that are the sine quibus non for the difficult task of self-overcoming to which he calls his serious readers. Hitler's fanatical nationalism and rabid anti-Semitism--tendencies utterly despised by the mature Nietzsche--further distance his enterprise from the Nietzschean project that appeals to Nishitani.

The aspect of the Hitler movement that did not appeal to Nishitani was Hitler's racism and his ravings about the natural superiority of the Aryans--especially since they are accompanied by derogatory remarks about the Japanese.(27) Although those remarks were excised, for diplomatic reasons, from the Japanese translation of Mein Kampf, Nishitani read the unexpurgated German edition. In the same vein, he and his colleagues rejected, in the symposium discussed above, Gobineau's ideas about racial purity.

There is, however, one point in Nishitani's discussion of the Hitler movement on which he appears to diverge from the Nietzschean line, and that is where he talks favorably of Hitler's excoriations of egoistic self-preservation and exhortations to individuals to be prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater community of the nation.(28) In condoning the association of self-sacrifice with the idea of the nation, Nishitani exhibits a disconcerting blindness to the dangers of totalitarianism. This part of this text deserves careful examination--optimally by an inquirer who first establishes a comprehensive understanding of the ethically disconcerting pronouncements here (an understanding of them in context and in awareness of the relevant influences that may be at work) before rushing to judgment. At any rate, in this essay Nishitani refrains from developing the theme of giving one's life for the nation, nor does it appear to be elaborated in his other writings or to be part of a major theme in his thinking as a whole.(29) His approval of Hitler on the glories of the ultimate self-sacrifice is perhaps to be ascribed to a temporary access of nationalistic feeling on Nishitani's part, in the context of an unprecedented international crisis.

Nishitani's major concern in this text, however, is to attain a new standpoint that enables the individual to be connected not only to the nation but also to what he calls "world humanity."(30) And so, while he sees Hitler's attempt to combat the ills of modern Europe by the attempt to "overcome the modern spirit" and establish a new ethos as at least a step in the right direction, he points up the limitations of such an approach and criticizes it for being narrowly nationalistic.

It is clear that [Hitler's] standpoint lacks the ideals of humanity and world-citizenship as developed ... in the earlier German idea of spiritual life, which was a transformation of the concept of universal love in Christianity. Ultimately, it lacks the religious dimension.(31)

What is necessary, for Nishitani, is to go beyond the phase of brute naturalism by "superseding" it, so that spirit can reappear as "raw life."(32) In this way, reason and spirit and a cosmopolitan sense of humanity can be preserved, and a "totalitarian" view of the nation be avoided.

The essay ends by entertaining the possibility that a synthesis of the ethos of Confucianism (with its emphasis on such practical concerns as ethics, politics, and economics) and Zen (which aims to "transcend ordinary reason and spirit and manifest itself immediately as raw life") might help to resolve the current crisis in Europe--in which case the Japanese spirit would for the first time attain "world-historical significance."(33) This is a prefiguration of the position Nishitani adopts in the Chuokoron symposia, though what he is saying here, when read in politically correct circles, may be drowned out by the sound of kneejerking in reaction to his talk of "the Japanese spirit." Since the current cultural situation in Europe and America would benefit, in my opinion, from an injection of the kinds of Confucian and Zen ideas Nishitani discusses, I find whatever nationalistic elements there are in this essay to be relatively tolerable. If his enthusiasm over Japan's imminent entrance onto the stage of world history appears overly idealistic, one might recall that he had just returned from two years in Europe, where he would have experienced at first hand a range of Eurocentric prejudices in the context of a generally dismal situation, to which his enthusiasm over the Japanese spirit may have been a reaction.

The point of this excursion has not been to exonerate Nishitani but rather to emphasize the complexity of the interpretative situation. If moral judgments are to be made, they need a firmer basis than the citation out of context of an approving remark about Hitler.

Nishitani's Incorrect Ideology--Reprise

Faure's criticisms of Nishitani could be dismissed as a merely incidental polemic if it weren't for the fact that he amplifies them in a broader treatment of the Kyoto School that he contributed to a multiauthor volume of Japanese studies.(34) In this later essay, the section formerly titled "The Postwar Kyoto School" is called "Nishitani Keiji and the Postwar Kyoto School" and begins with an inauspicious reference to "the 'philosophical' activity of the postwar Kyoto school."(35) Since the word apparently lacks an original, the quotation marks around "philosophical" must be intended as "scare" quotes. Professional philosophers will be impressed by the insouciance with which nonphilosophers in the field of Japanese or Buddhist studies are prepared to claim that the philosophy of the Kyoto School is not really philosophy. One might have thought that in this domain the dictum "It takes one to know one" would hold; but Faure--whose references to the "enchanted circle of philosophy" and to "Nishitani's 'philosophical' statements" suggest he is above it all--apparently knows better.(36)

This time around, the quotation of Nishitani's remark in the second Chuokoron symposium is at least given some context--though the statement "These symposia advocated total war as the unification of all dimensions of human life" is a misleading characterization of the proceedings.(37) Faure continues:

Admittedly, Japanese intellectuals like Nishitani did not commit any war crime and perhaps they knew little about those committed in the name of the Japanese emperor. Nishitani's political position, like Nishida's, remained very abstract, removed from actual political events. Rut it is precisely this tendency toward abstraction, which will characterize his later religious and "suprahistorical" thought--that could be seen as a withdrawal from the sphere of concrete action, a kind of trahison des clercs that leaves the field open to fascism--if it does not actively endorse and legitimize it. It is the same tendency toward abstraction or idealization that could make the imperial mystique (or the Nazi mystique for Heidegger) look so seductive, and that allowed them to regard as incidental the violence that followed (cf. Lacoue-Labarthe 1987, 21).

Here we have the same kind of association of Nishitani's ideas with fascism as we found in the more direct, though no better substantiated, assertions of Najita and Harootunian.

Insofar as the problem appears to be a "tendency toward abstraction," one has to wonder how carefully Faure has read the texts he is criticizing. In the symposia, the "political positions" expressed are remarkably concrete (especially for a discussion among four philosophers): the participants are assessing the philosophical implications of the current historical situation in response to "actual political events" that were unfolding, as it were, before their very eyes. (The outbreak of the Pacific War occurred thirteen days after the first session.) As Horio remarks, the attempts--however unsuccessful--by the Kyoto School thinkers to come to a rational understanding of the historical crisis in which Japan found itself at the end of 1941 were in that context exceptional.(38) And what distinguishes Nishitani's "later religious and 'suprahistorical' thought" is precisely his abiding concern with problems of history--especially as evidenced in the two major texts Faure goes on to discuss.(39) The contention that Nishitani's "tendency toward abstraction" made "the imperial mystique look so seductive" is equally groundless.(40) In view of the fact that Nishitani is distinguished from his colleagues by having virtually nothing to say about the emperor, and little more about the "national polity" (kokutai), one has to suppose that Faure is here confusing Nishitani with Nishida, who does talk about the emperor system.

When Faure finally gets around to posing some pertinent questions, they turn out to be merely rhetorical. One of the many horns of the hermeneutical dilemma could be expressed as follows: by what right could one put Nishitani on trial? And yet, how could one avoid doing so? As far as I know, Nishitani has never manifested any regret for such youthful errors, nor has this aspect of his work ever been discussed among his disciples.(41)

Finally we are back to the earlier text--though the antecedent of "such" is now so far away that the nature of these youthful errors is even more obscure. The prosecution imagery suggests that there is something more going on than intellectual inquiry, but the resolution of the dilemma is in any case simple. One would have the right to put Nishitani on trial if there were good grounds for supposing him guilty of a crime (whether juridical or intellectual). Since such grounds have not been provided, to avoid putting him on trial will scarcely drain our moral and intellectual energies.

Faure goes on to invoke Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe again, and specifically his criticism of Heidegger's postwar silence concerning his espousal of National Socialism, in order to conclude that

[what we should find most] disturbing is that Nishitani, like Heidegger, Eliade, or de Man, while assuming the status of a maitre a penser--and in his case even of an enlightened spiritual master--for later generations, remained silent about his past.(42)

Aside from the fact that we still haven't been told what these crimes are about which Nishitani should have spoken out, the analogy with Heidegger is misleading. Heidegger joined the Nazi party as a public figure, thereby endorsing its racism and anti-Semitism, of which he was well aware (to whatever extent he personally may not have subscribed to them). Whatever errors he committed, Nishitani refused to align himself publicly with Japanese imperialists or ultranationalists--and he specifically rejected the racism of the European fascists in order to promote a "world-historical" view of Japan's potential role in the international order.

Faure then proceeds to a new discussion, of Nishitani's 1949 text The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism. In this text, he claims: "Nishitani blames the war on Western nihilism and its influence on Japanese imperialists, and he advocates a return to the Japanese tradition, without ever realizing that the ideology of tradition was itself a cause of the war".(43) This statement would understandably deter the potential reader of Nishitani's book from even bothering to pick it up, so bizarrely naive does its author's contention sound. But Faure's statement is simply false: there is not a single mention of "the war" in The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism, far less a claim that it was occasioned by "Western nihilism." Nor does Nishitani advocate "a return to the Japanese tradition" in any simple sense; again following Nietzsche, he calls for a creative reappropriation of certain elements of the tradition: "The point is to recover the creativity that mediates the past to the future and the future to the past (but not to restore a bygone era)".(44)

In the course of a later barrage of questions, Faure again touches on an important point:

How do the ideological commitment to wartime effort and the lack of any later disavowal affect the thought of Nishitani? Are they merely accidents, temporary failures, that leave his philosophy basically intact, or do they leave an indelible stigma? ... Do they not afflict or shatter the whole system by revealing its blind spot?(45)

These are important questions, but instead of trying to answer them it Faure simply asserts:

It is important to acknowledge the possibility of a "continuity between Nishitani's wartime writings and his postwar exercises in an apolitical and thereby 'innocent' philosophy of religion."

Now we have scare quotes around "innocent"--although this time they turn out to occur in a one-sentence innuendo at the end of a one-page review of a book on Nietzsche and Asian thought.(46) This is a strange gesture indeed: to answer a series of questions by citing a pronouncement by someone who doesn't appear to have contributed to the debate about the Kyoto School or published anything relevant to it. A look at the larger context of the quotation from the review (by William Haver) is revealing:

What is most disturbing here is the aspiration to "overcome" what is perceived as a "nihilism." Not only is the entirely uncritical beatification (if not deification) of the late Nishitani Keiji as the avatar of a philosophical "new world order" extremely problematic in view of the continuity between Nishitani's wartime writings and his postwar exercises in an apolitical and thereby "innocent" philosophy of religion; it is the pronounced tendency in many of these essays ... to think of omparative philosophy's synthesis of "East" and "West" in the mode of a redemptive reintegration in the totality, which echoes wartime Japanese debates on "overcoming the modern," various expositions of the Japanese emperor system and the logic of a "Western" liberal humanism, that ultimately leave unthought what has not yet been thought, but which imperatively needs to be thought.

I leave to the reader the hermeneutical task of determining the function of these multiple sets of quote marks (of which only the first two denote quotations from the book under review), which appear to be a hallmark of writing critical of the Kyoto School. The putative beatification/ deification of Nishitani consists in the fact that several contributors to the anthology cite his works, and I myself characterize him as "a major precursor in the discipline of comparative philosophy".(47) If this is beatification or deification, then paradise and the pantheon must be bursting at the seams by now.

The reference to "the continuity between Nishitani's wartime writings and his postwar exercises in an apolitical and thereby 'innocent' philosophy of religion" seems to suggest that all readers who are au courant will simply "know" that the continuity is sinister and the wartime writings sufficiently pernicious to vitiate Nishitani's subsequent work. But if Haver is so disturbed by the problematic effects of these wartime writings, why hasn't he written about them to demonstrate just how awful they are? Better yet: translate the most heinous ones, so that they can speak their iniquity for themselves. The fact that Faure should have no qualms in adducing Haver's insinuations in support of what purports to be a scholarly discussion of Nishitani's work is indicative of the level at which criticism of the Kyoto School tends to be conducted.

Faure goes on to add "nihonjinron ideology" to the list of Nishitani's transgressions:

Although he does not subscribe to a simplistic brand of nativism, as is obvious from the following passage, he plays an active role in the nihonjinron ideology: "We Japanese have fallen heir to two completely different cultures.... This is a great privilege that Westerners do not share in . . . but at the same time this puts a heavy responsibility on our shoulders: to lay the foundations of thought for a world in the making, for a new world united beyond differences of test and West" (xxviii).(48)

These remarks of Nishitani's were published thirty years ago, long before multiculturalism came into vogue, and at a time when hardly anyone in the West was devoting serious thought to thinking across cultures. When Nishitani writes that Westerners do not share in the privilege of falling heir to two different cultures, he is making an important point. Certain strands of modern Japanese philosophy are unique in their having roots in the Indian Buddhist, Chinese Daoist, and Western philosophical traditions in addition to indigenous Japanese thinking. There are no parallels in the Western tradition, insofar as Greek, Judaic, and Arabic influences constitute a narrower range of sources, couched in languages that are far more closely related than, say, the Sanskrit and Chinese and European languages through which the sources feeding modern Japanese philosophy are channeled. To this extent one can claim that the multiple genealogy of some of the Kyoto School thinkers is without parallel--which is not to say that this unique heritage makes it necessarily superior.

Faure ends the section on Nishitani with an even stranger gesture, but one eloquent enough to speak for itself:

In the title of the translation of his book on European nihilism, The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism, the bold initials form an acronym that reads: SOON. Is this subliminal message appropriate in a "philosophical" work? The eschatological tone of this book, originally written several years after the war, is disturbingly close to that of Nishitani's wartime writings.(49)

The next section reveals another ground for Faure's antipathy in the shape of the recently founded "New Kyoto School," which is indeed the source of many ideas in the chauvinistic nihonjinron vein. One wonders whether it isn't in fact the contemporary spokesmen for the unique magnificence of Japanese culture that are the major cause of the indignation of the critics of the original Kyoto School.(50) But if that is so, then let their thought be criticized as distinct from that of the Kyoto School proper, against which in any case these epigones tend reactively to define themselves.

Faure's discourse culminates in its penultimate paragraph with a remarkable piece of auto-deconstruction:

The recent increase of interest in the philosophy of the Kyoto School in the West makes this ideological critique more urgent. However, rather than accusing or excusing individual authors, we should shift the focus to ourselves, and realize that our accusing or excusing, excluding or including, is never neutral; that our reading these texts, our reception, is always verging on deception.

Well said, indeed. But what is remarkable about this candid remark is the way it unwittingly echoes the theme of an essay of Nishitani's from 1949, which, though it was directed at earlier critics, applies perfectly to the contemporary ones:

Unless the critique recognizes the possibility of fascism within itself and purifies its terms from within, it only targets others and misses the real danger.... To look at fascism as a matter of the past, as other people's affairs, is to create a condition for its [re]emergence.(51)

Kuki Shuzo and Japanese Imperialism

It is a pity that one of the few English commentaries on the philosopher Kuki Shuzo should be as biased against its subject as the essay by Leslie Pincus titled "In a Labyrinth of Western Desire."(52) Since it begins by adducing a discussion by Karatani Kojin of Kuki's best known work, "Iki" no kozo (The structure of "iki") (1930), the relevant section of Karatani's essay is a good place to start--even though space doesn't permit a consideration of Karatani's overall view of Kuki (as exemplified in other, untranslated texts).

Karatani introduces Kuki by way of Heidegger's mention of iki in his "Conversation on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer" (1954), and he is surely right in saying that Heidegger remained "in total ignorance of what iki is."(53) But he then goes on to claim that, even though Kuki was different from "those who preached anti-Western Japanocentrism or the superiority of the 'Japanese spirit'," he was nevertheless "a willing participant in the 'overcoming the modern' movement of the prewar fascist period."(54) This oblique association of Kuki with fascism is somewhat facile. It may be true that certain participants in the movement to "overcome modernity" were fascists, but to apply this label to Kuki requires evidence and argument. One can surely claim that many features of modernity are insalubrious, and call for resistance against them, without thereby associating oneself with the fascists among us.

Karatani then suggests that the continuity between Kuki's early analysis of the components of iki and his later analogy between these and the "Three Divine Regalia" of the imperial throne shows that Kuki was "transforming himself into a typical ideologue of nineteenth-century imperialism."(55) But the passage Karatani quotes in this context appears quite innocuous and contains nothing that supports his claim--unless the "sword [as a symbol] of sovereignty over the world" is supposed to be problematic.(56) Kuki's essay draws the analogy dispassionately and explicates the symbolism with no chauvinistic enthusiasm for the empire.

If we look at the larger context of Kuki's analogy, Karatani's claim appears even more one-sided. There is nothing imperialistic about this essay of Kuki's, and in the section following his discussion of the symbolism, he projects a vision of Japan's place in the world that is radically non-imperialistic. It is true that he talks of "Japanism" (nihonshugi), but he does so in the context of "worldism" (sekaishugi) and "internationalism" (kokusaishugi), saying that Japanese character and culture can define and fulfill themselves only in relation to others.(57) In line with the internationalist strains in Nishida's and Nishitani's thinking, Kuki asserts that the main point is not to dogmatically make the values of one's own culture the standard, but to recognize the unique strengths of other cultures and respect their legitimate rights and aim for the coexistence of all human beings. In that sense worldism is internationalism.

Far from being objectionable, these sentiments seem quite appropriate to the "multicultural" situation of the world today. Kuki does not deny the obvious fact that every culture, including Japan's, is unique; indeed he understands this as the precondition for the advancement of world culture.

Each country's culture is a unit with respect to the world as a whole. Cultural units have their own unique ways of perceiving.... The cultural unit is determined historically and geographically, such that world culture is something given in the integration of cultural units. Thus world culture as a whole will advance through the exercise of each country's uniqueness.(58)

This hardly sounds like the "typical ideologue of nineteenth-century imperialism."

Having applied this label to Kuki, Karatani continues:

The same may be said of Heidegger, who, during the same period, declared: "Spirit is neither sagacity operating in a vacuum, nor is it the irresponsible play of wit; it does not consist in endless intellectual dissection, and even less is it universal reason. Spirit is, as disposed by origin and fully conscious, the definite opening to the Being [Wesen] of the individual." Following this declaration, Heidegger speaks of "the historical mission of the German people, situated at the center of the West." It is in this context that Kuki's iki and Heidegger's spirit resonate with each other. And each in its own way arrives, respectively, at the "Great East Asian Coprosperity Sphere" and the "Third Reich."(59)

It is difficult to know what to make of this passage, in part because of the mistranslations of the excerpts from Heidegger's text,(60) but mainly because the relation between Heidegger's talk of spirit and his talk of the historical mission of the German people is left unspecified--as are the occasions for the resonance Karatani hears between Geist and iki. The final transition to the "Great East Asian Coprosperity Sphere" and the "Third Reich," which could be justified only by a great deal of judicious filling in, is breathtakingly glib. But there is no attempt at justification--it is perhaps assumed that readers will have already seen the light--and Karatani promptly switches the topic to Descartes.(61)

Pincus follows Karatani in bringing Heidegger into the discussion, though her grasp of his ideas seems no firmer than her guide's.(62) She adverts to Heidegger's "Conversation" in considering the appropriateness of Kuki's use in "Iki" no kozo of methods derived from Western philosophy, and then asks: "Had Kuki not in fact already succumbed to the temptation of the West when he spoke of iki as 'sensuous radiance through whose lively delight there breaks the radiance of something suprasensuous'?"(63) The question is otiose because Kuki could never have spoken of iki in anything like those Heideggerian terms--nor did Tezuka Tomio (Heidegger's interlocutor in the original conversation) "amend Kuki's definition of iki" in the straight Heideggerese that Pincus cites in her next footnote.(64) If she had read Tezuka's account of his talk with Heidegger, Pincus would have learned that what the latter presents as a dialogue "occasioned by the visit of Professor Tezuka" is in fact a freely composed fantasy with only a few tenuous points of contact with the actual conversation.(65) Indeed, recent research on Heidegger's "Conversation" has shown that much of the characterization of iki that Heidegger puts in the mouth of his "Japanese" interlocutor in fact derives from a German monograph on Noh drama that appeared the year before Tezuka's visit (and which Heidegger mentions in the "Conversation").(66)

Pincus then appends the following remark, the psychodynamic allusions of which are baffling: "Interestingly, Heidegger failed to touch on another temptation to which Kuki doubtless yielded--the temptation to invest his description of iki with Heidegger's own desire for the ineffable beyond of Western metaphysics." The remark becomes somewhat less puzzling in the light of Pincus' next footnote (no. 23), in which she refers to "Peter Dale's unsparing critique of [the] encounter [between Kuki and Heidegger]"--a treatment that assumes not just that Kuki spoke fluent German in his conversations with Heidegger (which is true) but also that he spoke fluent Heideggerese (which isn't). Dale's "critique" is unsparing mostly in the area of metaphor.

Kuki's book ... subtly clothes a spirit of reaction in the idiom of racial uniqueness. We remind ourselves of the intimate conjunction between Heidegger's boldly obscurantist philosophy and the brash jargon of Nazi rhetoric. The cosy affinity of this perplexing philosophy with volkisch thought suggests hints as to the character of Kuki's own brand of aesthetic nationalism.(67)

These are more allusions to the insalubrious character of Kuki's thought by way of association with Heidegger's. Not being up to the challenging task of articulating what is going on philosophically between Kuki and Heidegger, Dale's treatment of their "encounter" never rises above the level of circumstantial anecdote and generalized disparagement.

Kuki's attempt to impress his maitre a penser with his own inimitable "sophistication" (iki), his staunch grasping for that nebulously equivocal phrasing beloved by the master, succeeded in giving exotic confirmation for Heidegger's own linguistic mysticism.(68)

Even on the level of anecdote this fails. Not only was Kuki older than Heidegger and every bit his intellectual equal, but as a cosmopolitan aristocrat it would never have occurred to him to try to "impress" such a parochial advocate of Bodenstandigkeit as Heidegger was.(69) Again, the account of the encounter would have benefited from an attempt to distinguish the voices and ideas of Heidegger, Kuki, and Tezuka in the text of the "Conversation."

To return to Pincus: pace her picture of Kuki as a philosophical Saint Anthony beset by seductive temptations from all sides, anyone familiar with Heidegger's thought will find the reference to "Heidegger's own desire for the ineffable beyond of Western metaphysics" absurd, such a desire being completely alien to his philosophical project. Heidegger emphasizes that the analysis of Dasein in Being and Time (published the year he met Kuki) is utterly "this-worldly," stressing the finitude of Dasein and the radical historicality of Being. One may question his claim to have overcome the tradition of metaphysics--but not his unremitting drive to do so.

In explicating Kuki's idea of iki, Pincus writes that certain "discursive resources" encouraged him to "subordinate that mode of being [designated by 'iki'] to an absolute logic of ethnic identity and cultural closure."(70) She declines to explain what "an absolute logic of ethnic identity" might be, but one senses that Kuki ought to have shunned it. Pincus elaborates by quoting the last line of "Iki" no kozo, where Kuki's statement that a full understanding of iki can be gained only if we take it as "the self-expression of the being of our ethnos [minzoku sonzai]" is supposed to be nationalistic in some negative sense:(71)

Ultimately, Kuki reenlisted the passion that the style of iki had disavowed, this time in the service of national culture. "There is nothing for us," he wrote, "but to persevere in our impassioned eros for our culture of bushido idealism and Buddhist rejection of reality." (KSZ, 1:81)

The context of this quote is important. It is true that Kuki is maintaining, as he maintains throughout the book, that iki represents an idea that is peculiar to Japanese culture. But it is incontrovertible that certain ideas are peculiar to the cultures in which they developed and the languages in which they are expressed. What Kuki is arguing against, as a reading of the entire last paragraph of the book shows, is the universalism of Platonic metaphysics--or at least its appropriateness for the investigation of culture. He wants to resist the degeneration of iki into an "abstract and ideational void," where it becomes lost in an empty exchange of "ready-made generic concepts."(72) Calling for a radical overturning of Platonic epistemology, he wants to transform the practice of anamnesis (soki) into a recollection of concrete and vital features of the tradition. Rather than "burying [their] spiritual culture in oblivion," the Japanese are to cultivate "passionate eros for [their] idealistic and anti-realistic culture."

In a situation where the importation of Western ideas was threatening to eclipse Japan's cultural heritage and sever people's connections to their historical roots, Kuki is advocating--just as Nietzsche and Heidegger did, and perhaps under their influence--a reappropriation of certain traits from the tradition. There is nothing objectionable in this, unless accompanied by the assertion that one's culture is superior to all others and ought to dominate the world. Kuki was too cosmopolitan a character for such chauvinism (before publishing "Iki" no kozo, he spent eight years in Europe studying European philosophies and literatures), as evidenced by his discussion of Japanese culture and world culture in the essay "Nihonteki seikaku," discussed earlier.

Pincus follows Karatani's lead on this essay and concludes that it shows Kuki's "ultranationalism." Bringing Heidegger back into the discussion, she cites Karatani again, who has apparently been able to "implicate the German along with Kuki in a peculiarly modern conspiracy":

Both philosophers, Karatani charges, imposed a "despotic system" on the cultural or spiritual disposition they hoped to rescue from the ravages of modernity. In both cases, that "despotic system" harbored ideological potential for imperialism and nationalistic fanaticism.(73)

One must again protest this practice of condemning a Japanese thinker, even at second hand, on the basis of his association with Heidegger. When evaluating philosophical ideas or the integrity of philosophers, assigning "guilt by association" is as questionable a tactic as it is in the real world of law.

While Pincus declines to say what the "despotic system" of Karatani's charge consists in, the statement with which she introduces her paraphrase of Kuki's discussion of the kokutai and the "Divine Regalia" (as previously cited by Karatani) is unequivocal: "By the late 1930s, Kuki had enlisted the tripartite structure of iki in the service of an ultranationalist imperial state."(74) In view of the singularly unfanatical tone of Kuki's discussion, and given his subsequent explicit exhortations to "recognize the uniqueness and strengths of other cultures and respect their legitimate rights," the charge that Kuki is writing "in the service of an ultranationalist imperial state" is as unsubstantiated as Karatani's characterization of him as "a typical ideologue of nineteenth-century imperialism." It is as if the critics, hypersensitized by their ideological agenda, scan suspect texts for key words like "uniqueness," "kokutai," and "Japanese spirit," whereupon the discovery of any occurrence triggers a burst of remonstrance in terms of "nationalism," "nihonjinron," and so forth.

Having brought in the kokutai, Pincus then asks: "Why did "Iki" no kozo lend itself so easily to appropriation by an ultranationalist ideology?"(75) (There is a shift here from the claim that Kuki "enlisted the structure of iki in the service of an ultranationalist imperial state" to the much weaker assertion that his book "lent itself" to appropriation.) She proposes that the culprit in this case is "a logic of organicism placed at the disposal of the state," which Kuki purportedly discovered while in Europe. This "logic" is supposedly articulated "in the opening lines of "iki" no kozo," which Pincus quotes. Kuki writes that the relation between a people (minzoku) and its language together with the meanings embodied in it is "an organic [yukiteki] one in which the whole determines the parts."(76) An unexceptionable idea, surely, which Kuki entertains through his late writings, where he talks of the ways in which the history and geography of a culture become embodied in its language. But by dropping a quick series of politically proper names (Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Walter Benjamin), Pincus has Kuki employing a logic that implies an "aestheticization of the political" that is "the distinguishing mark of fascism."

This misses the point. A number of writers have drawn instructive attention to the dangers of conceiving the relation between the individual and the state on the analogy of cells and an organism. But Kuki is not concerned with the state and is not talking about this relation at all: he uses the organic metaphor to emphasize that we are only going to be able to understand cultural practices of the kind connoted by iki in the context of the self-awareness of the people whose practices they are.

Having conjured up the spirit of fascism, Pincus administers the coup de grace by citing a passage from an essay Kuki wrote in the late 1930s, "when Japan was deeply mired in imperialist aggression on the Chinese mainland":

By vanquishing China, we Japanese must teach them in a decisive manner the spirit of Japanese philosophy. It is our cultural-historical mission to lend spiritual succor to the renewal of their mother-country by imprinting our idealistic philosophy in the form of bushido in the innermost recesses of their bodies.(77)

Finally we arrive at what appears to be a clear expression of nationalist and imperialist sentiment on Kuki's part, even though the passage has been spiced up a lime for the anglophone reader. Where Kuki talks about teaching "clearly" (meikaku ni), Pincus has "in a decisive manner"; and by translating an idiom meaning "deeply impressing upon them" literally (as "imprinting in the innermost recesses of their bodies"), she gives his exhortation a bizarrely sadistic tone that is not in the original.

This statement of Kuki's again needs to be understood in its context. In view of what was happening in China at the time he wrote the four-page essay in which the passage appears (and he must have been aware of the general situation, if not the details), some of the ideas in it do appear ethnocentric and chauvinistic--perhaps reprehensibly so. But before pointing the finger of moral blame, one should take into account the fact that Kuki was a great admirer of Chinese culture and was distressed, as were many of his colleagues, at the low level to which it had degenerated by the time he was writing. His avowed concern is with the "cultural-historical meaning" of the war in China rather than with matters of empire. Earlier in the essay he writes that "the Japanese have to become more aware of how close they are in blood to the Chinese" and urges his readers to "cooperate with the Chinese to construct an Asian culture" on the basis of "the many things [the Japanese] have learned from the Chinese in the past."(78) He emphasizes the need to "protect the Chinese against the West" and to "provide a realistic foundation for future cooperation between Japanese and Chinese."(79) And immediately following the passage quoted by Pincus is the admonition: "We must not be stingy in contributing to the spiritual resuscitation of the Chinese people." In his conclusion Kuki writes: "I cannot help hoping that the time for hating the Chinese will pass and the time for loving them from the bottom of our hearts will soon come."(80)

One can accuse him, then, of being naive in political matters and somewhat chauvinistic (at least by comparison with enlightened American academics of the nineties), bet this outspoken venture into commentary on current political affairs seems flimsy grounds for the accusation of imperialism and ultranationalism.

In Conclusion

We have seen a series of unsubstantiated (or poorly substantiated) accusations of political incorrectness leveled at members of the Kyoto School in several recent contributions to Japanese and Buddhist studies. It would not have been necessary to discuss this syndrome at such length if it were not for the fact that some of the authors in question are major figures in the field, holding positions at prestigious institutions and publishing with respected university presses. They thus have considerable power to influence students, or potential students, of Japanese philosophy, and to discourage them from studying the work of certain figures. By employing the rhetoric they do, they are likely--even if this is not their conscious intention--to shut down discussion of important issues prematurely.

This is not, for the last time, to deny that some of the utterances of members of the Kyoto School are highly problematic. Nor that much of the writing in the field of nihonjinron is plainly silly and potentially pernicious. Nor that contemporary Japanese politicians evidence an alarming tendency to "forget" aspects of recent Japanese history as it suits them and--what is worse--to attempt to induce a kind of national amnesia on that basis.(81) But these are areas in which careful distinctions are in order; and since such labels as "fascist," "imperialist," and "ultranationalist" denote traits that deserve (in my opinion) to be combated with the utmost vehemence, it is irresponsible to apply them indiscriminately.

What makes the frequent appearance of this syndrome all the more lamentable is that it obfuscates some genuinely interesting issues that have significant bearing on contemporary questions concerning nationalism, neofascism, racism, and cross-cultural understanding. These issues are pressing enough to deserve responsible attention at the hands of contemporary scholars--something very different from the ideologically biased and self-indulgent treatment they so often receive. One can only hope that the trends of politically correct Japanology will not succeed in closing down a potentially enlightening series of conversations before they have a chance to get properly under way.


I am grateful to Yoko Arisaka, Jan Van Bragt, James Heisig, William LaFleur, and, Michiko Yusa for helpful comments on an earlier, less moderate version of this essay, as well as to the Japan Studies Endowment at the University of Hawai'i for a research grant that supported some of its writing.

(1) I want to distinguish here between the work of the original proponents--French, mostly--of poststructuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism, and their unphilosophical devotees and emulators in the United States. There is much in the former that is valuable, insofar as it comes out of a deep understanding of the Western philosophical and intellectual traditions.

(2) Some of these questions have at last been broached in English by several of the contributors to James W. Heisig and John Maraldo, eds., Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1995). This collection of fifteen essays by contributors from America and Japan offers a good variety of perspectives on the issues, only a few of which are ideologically strident.

(3) Instructive in this area are Akira Iriye, Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1941-1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), and John Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon, 1986), both of which show the extent to which the war was a war of cultures. A fascinating comparison of the ways the Second World War is remembered--and not remembered--in Japan and Germany is lan Buruma, The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994).

(4) A major factor has been the fine series of translations and commentaries published as the Nanzan Studies in Religion and Culture under the general editorship of James Heisig.

(5) Tetsuo Najita and H. D. Harootunian, "Japanese Revolt against the West: Political and Cultural Criticism in the Twentieth Century," in Peter Duus, ed., The Cambridge History of Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 6:711-774, at pp. 741-742. For a chapter in such a prestigious work of reference the text contains some surprising instances of careless scholarship and/or editing. Between pages 743 and 749 alone one notes the following: Watsuji's "graduate thesis" (p. 743) was on Schopenhauer not Nietzsche; Nietzsche did not try to "restore some of the great monuments of Greece" (p. 744)--"monumental history" is only one of three kinds of history he distinguishes, and that he treats with considerable skepticism; Watsuji did not derive the ideas of "spiritual community" or "personalism" from Nietzsche (p. 745), since the latter failed to entertain such ideas; the date of Heidegger's Being and Time is not 1926 (p. 746) but 1927; "human intentionality" (p. 748) is not a Heideggerian concept (perhaps they're thinking of his mentor Husserl?)--his emphasis on "exsistere," or rather Existenz, aims precisely to subvert talk in terms of intentionality or consciousness; and macrons are missing from "Koyama" and "koron."

(6) Najita and Harootunian, "Japanese Revolt," pp. 742-743. It is true that many members of the Kyoto School were as ambivalent as many fascists in Europe were about the forces of modernity, but that is hardly sufficient grounds for the assertion that they admired European fascism.

(7) For some judicious criticism of Nishitani's contribution to the symposium, see John Maraldo, "Questioning Nationalism Now and Then," in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, pp. 333-362, at pp. 352-355.

(8) Horio Tsutomu, "The Chuokoron Discussions: Their Background and Meaning," in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, pp. 289-315.

(9) Horio (quoting Oshima Yasumasa), "The Chuokoron Discussions," p. 290.

(10) Ibid., pp. 301-302.

(11) Ibid., pp. 291, 303.

(12) See the opening argument of the chapter "Fascism and Nationalism," in George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, 4th ed. (Hinsdale: Dryden Press, 1973), pp. 799-849.

(13) Kosaka Masaaki et al., Sekaishiteki tachiba to Nihon (The world-historical standpoint and Japan) (Tokyo: Chuokoron, 1943), p. 107; cited by Horio, "The Chuokoron Discussions," p. 306.

(14) Horio, "The Chuokoron Discussions," pp. 308-309. For an incisive discussion of the views of Kosaka and Koyama as expressed in this symposium, see Naoki Sakai, "Modernity and Its Critique: The Problem of Universalism and Particularism," in South Atlantic Quarterly 87 (3) (1988): 475-504, esp. pp. 487-496; reprinted in Masao Miyoshi and H. D. Harootunian, eds., Postmodernism and Japan (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989), pp. 93122, et pp. 105-114.

(15) Apparently the commentaries in Japanese have not paid attention to the context of other texts, insofar as they tend to focus on ideological issues at the expense of philosophical ideas, and the situation wish respect to the criticisms in English has been no better. See Horio, "The Chuokoron Discussions," p. 291, and also John Maraldo's discussion in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, pp. 351-356.

(16) Bernard Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).

(17) Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights, p. 85.

(18) The passages Faure cites actually come from the symposium held in March 1942 under the title "Daitoakyoeiken no rinrisei to rekishisei" (The moral and historical nature of the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere). "Sekaishiteki tachiba to Nihon" (The world-historical standpoint and Japan) was the title given to the first symposium (November 1941) and later to the publication of the proceedings of all three sessions.

(19) Faure cites "Kosaka, et al. 1942, 201 " but is apparently referring to the 1943 book publication, on p. 201 of which the first two sentences of his quotation are to be found.

(20) Kosaka et al., Sekaishiteki tachiba to Nihon, p. 204.

(21) Ibid., p. 205. John Maraldo has taken Nishitani's summation of these ideas and shown how marvelously similar they are to recent American government policy (Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, pp. 354-355). Not that that recommends them, of course. Maraldo's conclusion sums it up well: "I suggest that in the 1940s [Nishitani] did not set himself up as an advocate of state or ethnic nationalism, but of a globalism that seriously mistook his nation's capacity to negate itself and overcome self-centeredness."

(22) Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights, p. 87.

(23) Nishitani Keiji, "Kinsei Yoroppa bunmei to Nihon" (Modern European civilization and Japan), in Shukyo to bunka (Tokyo: Kokusai Nihon Kenkyujo, 1969), pp. 149-190.

(24) Nishitani, "Kinsei Yoroppa bunmei," in Shukyo to bunka, p. 183.

(25) It is significant that Nishitani's first extended treatment of Nietzsche, in the essay "Niichie no Tsuaratsusutora to Maisuta Ekkuharuto" (Nietzsche's Zarathustra and Meister Eckhart), appears earlier in Shukyo to bunka, pp. 3-38.

(26) For a discussion of this issue, see "Interlude 1: Art-Works against Nature," in Graham Parkes, Composing the Soul: Reaches of Nietzsche's Psychology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 157-169. On the task of disciplining the natural drives, see the section in chap. 9 titled "Ordering the Psyche Polytic."

(27) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) (Munich: Franz Eher Nachfolger, 1933), pp. 318-319. The further paranoid rantings against the Japanese (pp. 720-724) make fascinating reading. There is a fine irony, in retrospect, in Hitler's dismissal of the Japanese as mere "bearers of culture" in contrast to the "culture-founding" Aryans. He says that while it may look as if the Japanese are adopting Western technology, all that is really happening is that "European science and technology are being embellished with Japanese features." If the Aryan influence on Japan were to be cut off, he continues, Japan's rise in science and technology would cease immediately. "Within a few years the wellsprings would dry up," and Japanese culture would "sink back again into the somnolence from which it was awakened by the onslaught of Aryan culture seven decades earlier."

(28) Nishitani, "Kinsei Yoroppa bunmei," p. 184. Hitler writes that the forces that genuinely form and preserve the state are "the individual's capacity and will to sacrifice himself for the whole" (Mein Kampf, p. 167). In discussing Hitler's promotion of this kind of Idealismus, the willingness to lay down one's life for the sake of an ideal, Nishitani also refers to a later passage concerning self-sacrifice: "The crowning glory of all sense of sacrifice lies in the giving of one's own life for the sake of the community" (Mein Kampf, p. 327).

(29) The most important text to consider in this context would be Sekaikan to kokkan (View of the world and view of the nation) from 1941. A severely critical account, the selectivity of which betrays an extreme ideological bias, is given in Ruth Kambartel, "Religion als Hilfsmittel fur die Rechtfertigung einer totalitaren Staatsideologie in Nishitani Keijis Sekaikan to kokkakan." Japanstudien 1 (1989): 71-88. For more balanced views, see the discussions in Mori Tetsuro, "Nishitani Keiji and the Question of Nationalism," in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, pp. 316-322, and John Maraldo, "Questioning Nationalism Now and Then," ibid., pp. 347-351.

(30) Nishitani, "Kinsei Yoroppa bunmei," p. 179.

(31) Ibid., p. 185.

(32) Ibid., p. 186. Nishitani uses shiyo here, the term used to translate Hegel's Aufheben,

(33) Ibid., pp. 187 ff.

(34) Bernard Faure, "The Kyoto School and Reverse Orientalism," in Charles Wei-Hsun Fu and Steven Heine, eds., Japan in Traditional and Postmodern Perspectives (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), pp. 245-281.

(35) Faure, "The Kyoto School," p. 256.

(36) Ibid., pp. 258, 263.

(37) Ibid., p. 257. The term "total war" (zentaisen) is not introduced until the third meeting of the symposium, where the primary focus is not on "total war" but on what the participants term "all-out war" (soryokusen). Horio characterizes the distinction as being "between the idea of 'total war' (totale Krieg) centered on military might alone, and the war going on in Europe and the Pacific, what was rather an "all-out" war (Generalmobilisierungskrieg) that entailed a state ideology as well as a view of the world" ("The Chuokoron Discussions," p. 311).

(38) Horio, "The Chuokoron Discussions," p. 295.

(39) See Nishitani's discussions of history in the first chapter of The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism, trans. Graham Parkes with Setsuko Aihara (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), which sets the tone for the rest of the text, and the final chapter of Religion and Nothingness, trans. Jan Van Bragt (Berkeley, 1982), the main topic of which is the relation between history and emptiness.

(40) Faure's invocation of Lacoue-Labarthe here (Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, Art and Politics [Oxford: Blackwell, 1990], p. 21) is uninstructive as long as he declines to say which of the latter's criticisms of Heidegger, some of which are incisive, apply to Nishitani, and in what sense--since the situations of Heidegger in 1933 and Nishitani in 1942 are in many ways quite different.

(41) Faure, "The Kyoto School," p. 260.

(42) Ibid., p. 262.

(43) Ibid., p. 261.

(44) Nishitani, The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism, p. 179. The italicized "not" appears in Nishitani's original text.

(45) Faure, "The Kyoto School," p. 262.

(46) William Haver, review of Nietzsche and Asian Thought, in Journal of Asian Studies 51 (3) (1992): 629-630.

(47) Graham Parkes, "The Orientation of the Nietzschean Text," in Graham Parkes, ed., Nietzsche and Asian Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 13.

(48) Faure, "The Kyoto School," p. 265. The passage in question is quoted by Jan Van Bragt in the introduction to his translation of Religion and Nothingness, and is not from Nishitani's book on Nishida, as Faure's reference has it.

(49) Faure, "The Kyoto School," p. 265. The esotericism here is baffling, especially since there are no "bold initials" in Faure's text. But the insinuation that Nishitani's The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism (which contains philosophical discussions of such figures as Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, and Stirner) is not really a philosophical work is simply jejune.

(50) Faure criticizes the "New Kyoto school" and the "nativist thinking" of Umehara Takeshi in a section of his "The Kyoto School" (pp. 265 ff).

(51) Nishitani, "Hihan no ninmu to fuashizumu no mondai" (The duty to criticize and the problem of fascism), as paraphrased by John Maraldo in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, p. 357.

(52) Leslie Pincus, "In a Labyrinth of Western Desire: Kuki Shuzo and the Discovery of Japanese Being," boundary 2, vol. 18 (3) (1991): 142-156; reprinted in Masao Miyoshi and H. D. Harootunian, eds., Japan in the World (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993), pp. 222-236. References will be to the page numbers of this later, more easily accessible edition.

(53) Karatani Kojin, "One Spirit, Two Nineteenth Centuries," South Atlantic Quarterly 87 (3) (1988): 615-628, at p. 621; reprinted in Miyoshi and Harootunian, Postmodernism and Japan, pp. 259-272 (references, again, to this later edition). For an illuminating discussion of Heidegger's "Conversation," see chap. 2 of Reinhard May, Heidegger's Hidden Sources: East-Asian Influences on His Work, trans. Graham Parkes (London: Routledge, 1996).

(54) Karatani, "One Spirit," p. 266. For careful discussions of the kindai no Chokoku movement, see Ohashi Ryosuke, Nihonteki na mono to Yoroppateki na mono (On things Japanese and things European) (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1992), pp. 143-163, and Minamoto Ryoen, "The Symposium on 'Overcoming Modernity,'" in Heisig and Maraldo, Rude Awakenings, pp. 197-229. See also the discussion of neo-Marxist criticisms of the movement in William R. LaFleur, "A Half-Dressed Emperor: Societal Self-Deception and Recent 'Japanokritik' in America," in Roger T. Ames and Wimal Dissanayake, eds., Self and Deception: A Cross-Cultural Philosophical Enquiry (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996), pp. 263-285.

(55) Karatani, "One Spirit," pp. 266-267. Karatani is referring to the discussion in the essay "Nihonteki seikaku" (Japanese character) in Kuki Shuzo zenshu, 3:287-289.

(56) Karatani, "One Spirit," p. 267, referring to Kuki, "Nihonteki seikaku," p. 287.

(57) Kuki, "Nihonteki seikaku," p. 290.

(58) Ibid., pp. 290-291.

(59) Karatani, "One Spirit," p. 267. The author gives no reference for the citations from Heidegger. The passages are to be found in lectures from 1935, subsequently published as Einfuhrung in die Metaphysik (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1953), pp. 37-38 (where Heidegger is actually quoting himself from the Rectoral Address of 1933); but the translator of Karatani's essay has apparently not used either the English translation by Ralph Manheim, Introduction to Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 49-50, or the rendition in (what is probably Karatani's source) Jacques Derrida, De l'esprit (Paris: Editions Galilee, 1987).

(60) The most egregious error is the translation of zum Wesen des Seins, to the essence of Being," as "to the Being [Wesen] of the individual." Heidegger then speaks of "our people in the occidental middle" (unseres Volkes der abendlandischen Mitte) rather than the German people, situated at the center of the West."

(61) For a philosophically illuminating treatment of Kuki's thought, see Sakabe Megumi, Fuzai no uta (Songs of absence) (Tokyo: 1990).

(62) One particular misunderstanding deserves mention here because it makes Heidegger seem more nationalistic and chauvinistic than he is, and thereby serves the strategy of framing Kuki as an accomplice of Japanese ultranationalism. Pincus writes that "The apparent universality of Dasein ... was belied by Heidegger's insistence that the problematic of Dasein enjoyed an exclusive relation with the German language and its linguistic-philosophical past" ("In a Labyrinth," p. 226). Heidegger never insisted on exclusivity with respect to "the problematic of Dasein": to do so would have vitiated the entire project of Being and Time, the aims of which were far more ambitious than a parochial analysis of German Dasein alone.

(63) Pincus, "In a Labyrinth," p. 233.

(64) Ibid., p. 223 n. 22.

(65) See Tezuka Tomio, "Haidegga to no ichijikan," in Kotoba ni tsuite no taiwa, Haidegga zenshu (Tokyo: Risosha, 1968), 21:159-166. The Japanese text is reproduced with a German translation in Reinhard May, Ex oriente lux: Heideggers Werk unter ostasiatischem Einfluss (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 1989), pp. 82-99. Another German translation, by Elmar Weinmayr from the original edition of Tezuka's essay (Rive 264 [1955]: 54-58), is to be found in Hartmut Buchner, ea., Japan und Heidegger (Sigmaringen: Thorbecke Verlag, 1989), pp. 173-180. My English translation is available in Reinhard May, Heidegger's Hidden Sources, pp. 59-64.

(66) See Reinhard May, Heidegger's Hidden Sources, chap. 2. The work Heidegger mentions, and draws from, in the "Conversation" is Oscar Benl, Seami Motokiyo und der Geist des No-Schauspiels (Wiesbaden: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, 1953).

(67) Peter N. Dale, The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness (London: Croom Helm, 1986), p. 72. Much of this book is interesting and informative, though the florid style and frequently shrill tone make it difficult to read.

(68) Dale, The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness, p. 73.

(69) For an interesting brief discussion of their relationship, see Ohashi Ryosuke, "Heidegger und Graf Kuki: Zu Sprache und Kunst in Japan als Problem der Moderne," in H.-H. Gander, ea., Von Heidegger her: Messkircher Vortrage 1989 (Frankfurt, 1991), pp. 93-104. In writing that Kuki "studied under Martin Heidegger" (p. 68), Dale perpetuates the myth that the Japanese who studied with him during the twenties were on the level of graduate students at the feet of the master. On this issue, see my essay, "Rising Sun over Black Forest: Heidegger's Japanese Connections," in May, Heidegger's Hidden Sources, 79-117.

(70) Pincus, "In a Labyrinth," p. 228.

(71) "Self-expression" is a poor translation of jikokaiji. The term is used to translate Heidegger's Erschlossenheit and would best be rendered as "self-disclosure."

(72) Kuki, "Iki" no kazo, in Kuki Shazo zenshu, 1:1-85, at pp. 80-81. The term translated by "ideational," keisoteki, refers to the Platonic eidos or idea (keiso).

(73) Pincus, "In a Labyrinth," p. 234.

(74) Ibid.

(75) Ibid., p. 235.

(76) Kuki, "Iki" no kozo, p. 8.

(77) Pincus, "In a Labyrinth," p. 236, citing Kuki, "Jikyoku no kanso" (Thoughts on the current situation), in Kuki Shuzo zenshu, 5: 36-39, at p. 38.

(78) Kuki, "Jikyoku no kanso," p.

(79) Ibid., p. 38.

(80) Ibid., p. 39.

(81) lan Buruma's treatment of this issue in The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994) makes disquieting reading.