Politics East and West: A Comparison of Japanese and British Political Culture

Politics East and West: A Comparison of Japanese and British Political Culture

Politics East and West: A Comparison of Japanese and British Political Culture

Politics East and West: A Comparison of Japanese and British Political Culture

Excerpt

Britain and Japan have both been considered as paradigms--Britain, the successful democratic polity; Japan, the successful postindustrial economy. While Britain by many accounts has been suffering long-term economic decline, at least in a comparative sense, Japan has enjoyed and continues to enjoy relatively strong growth and, more recently, an expansion of influence. Yet Britain's management of economic and imperial decline can be viewed as evidence of its political "success," the maintenance, by and large, of a stable and legitimate political order. In contrast, there is much that can be viewed as "unsuccessful" about Japan's apparent inability, amidst prosperity and a remarkable degree of national homogeneity, to forge strong links of legitimacy between national political institutions and the citizenry. The present work is not a study of economic policies or growth, but it is very much concerned with the political dimension of the comparison. How true is it that the British polity, in which many generations have become habituated to democratic institutions and rules, can count on a greater degree of legitimacy and support than the Japanese, where democracy is such a recent arrival?

Culture is about the transmission of central social values, and it is accordingly a conservative force (Eckstein 1988: 792-93). Values may not always be successfully transmitted from one generation to the next, and they may undergo alteration as successive generations reinterpret values, but inertia remains a powerful force for continuity in the political culture (Girvin 1989: 31; Inglehart 1990: 19). We can read Lafcadio Hearn on Japan or Walter Bagehot on Britain and recognize some contemporary political values, if in different manifestations and proportions than in the last century. In both countries, values and attitudes have changed. Traditional deference has waned, as have the materialist aspirations of the prewar generations. In their place, "postmaterialist" values such as environmentalism appear to have sprung forth. For both Britain and Japan, the prewar and war generations have retired from or are approaching retirement from politics. The material and psychological effects of victory or defeat in . . .

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