The Beginnings of Political Democracy in Japan

The Beginnings of Political Democracy in Japan

The Beginnings of Political Democracy in Japan

The Beginnings of Political Democracy in Japan

Excerpt

The conception of Japan as a tightly knit and well integrated totalitarian state became well fixed in the American mind. during the war and was carried over into the post war era. It was widely anticipated that the Japanese people would be politically apathetic and that a long interval of tutelage would be required to implant in them a desire for democratic government. Yet hardly had the military government removed the restrictive laws that had been acting as a political straitjacket than there emerged a popular movement, the vigor and scope of which surprised the occupation authorities.

Such a development, however, need not have occasioned surprise, for it was not exactly without precedent. There were occasions in earlier years when liberal sentiment seemed to eclipse the authoritarian tendencies which characterized Japanese history as a whole. One of the most noteworthy of such liberal periods was the several decades preceding the promulgation of the Meiji constitution in 1889. Although it is not generally known, at that time the Japanese endeavored to attain democratic institutions much in the same manner as they are doing today. Unlike the current experiment in democracy, which in the main was initiated and encouraged from above by the occupation, the earlier attempt was essentially an indigenous movement. As such it deserves the serious attention of students of Japanese politics.

The main purpose of the present study is to trace and to explain the origins, growth, and decline of this liberal movement. In the Japanese literature on the subject, it is known as the Jiyu minken undo or the "Movement for liberty and popular rights," but throughout this work it has been described as the democratic movement.

Because the word democracy often implies different things to different people, it is perhaps well to attempt at the outset a brief definition. The author understands democracy to refer to a form of government in which the governing minority is more or less accountable to the majority in the conduct of public affairs. This . . .

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