Collected Writings of J.A.A. Stockwin: The Politics and Political Environment of Japan

By J. A. A. Stockwin | Go to book overview

First published in Social Analysis, No. 5/6, December 1980


26

Understanding Japanese Politics

IN AN ARTICLE written more than a decade ago I suggested that there were five sorts of preoccupation that had tended to influence Western writing on Japanese politics from the end of World War II up to the mid-1960s. 1 They were (1) the influence of the Occupation, especially upon those writers who were directly involved, (2) subsequent problems in American policy towards Japan, (3) pessimism or optimism over the functioning of the economy, (4) preoccupation with democracy as a unique, definable and universally desirable political system, (5) preoccupation with the modernization of developing countries and the application of modernization theory to Japan.

The first two of these refer to the inevitable narrowness of perspective of those writers (mostly American) who were themselves caught up in the problems and endeavours of the Occupation and with subsequent American attempts to come to terms with an independent Japan. The third relates to some interesting differences of political interpretation during the initial period of Japan's economic 'take-off' between those who viewed Japan's long term economic prospects pessimistically and those who had already come to realise just how great Japan's economic potential really was. The differences between the fourth and fifth categories are particularly significant. A number of writers whose books came out up to the early 1960s used a frame of reference which they called 'political democracy', and rated Japanese political reality essentially in relation to that frame of reference. The 'modernization' perspective (category 5) tended to supersede the 'democracy' perspective from the early 1960s onwards, and was heavily influenced by the politico-sociological tradition of Max Weber, and also by the 'pattern variables' coined by Talcott Parsons to distinguish between 'tradition' and 'modernity'. Much of the writing in category 5 came close to equating 'modernization' with 'westernization' (much the same could be said in relation to category 4), but as early as the late 1950s Abegglen 2 and Levine 3 were seeing 'traditional' features of the employment system as functional for modernization. Ward 4 subsequently generalized this kind of perception in the phrase 'reinforcing dualism', by which he meant that Japanese tradition is not necessarily the polar opposite of modernity, but may reinforce it. It is certainly arguable that while many modernization theorists

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