The Moral and Political Naturalism of Baron Kato Hiroyuki

The Moral and Political Naturalism of Baron Kato Hiroyuki

The Moral and Political Naturalism of Baron Kato Hiroyuki

The Moral and Political Naturalism of Baron Kato Hiroyuki

Excerpt

This monograph is a philosophical study of the later writings of the leading Social Darwinist of Meiji Japan, Baron Katō Hiroyuki (1836-1916). Most treatments of his thought in English take us up to his New Theory of Human Rights ("Jinken shinsetsu"), published in 1882. Because most of the secondary literature (with the exception of Abosch's unpublished dissertation) are surveys of Meiji thought, they dwell on the conclusions of the thought of "the great men of Meiji," not on the arguments that led to those conclusions. One is left with the impression that these "great men" had opinions (and prejudices) but no reasons to back them up. This situation, combined with the fact that much of their thought was merely a translation of various European doctrines into Japanese, inclines the Western critic to dismiss Meiji intellectuals as superficial spin doctors, doctrinaire preachers, or the symbol and myth makers of the new Meiji regime. We do to them what Diogenes Laertius did to some of the most brilliant minds of ancient Greece. We turn them into talking heads delivering fragmentary, and often contradictory, oracles of interest only to the antiquarian.

Much in Katō Hiroyuki's writings justifies this kind of treatment. Like other intellectuals of the Meiji period, he was a net importer of foreign -- mostly German -- ideas. Like most of the other figures in the Japanese "Enlightenment," he was a scholar in the employ of the state. This situation suited him well because he had an uncanny ability to sense the direction in which the winds of "political correctness" were blowing. In the late Tokugawa . . .

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