Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Catholic Critiques of Statism in Interwar Japan: Minoda Muneki, Suehiro Izutaro, and Tanaka Kotaro

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Catholic Critiques of Statism in Interwar Japan: Minoda Muneki, Suehiro Izutaro, and Tanaka Kotaro

Article excerpt

I. The Raised Stakes of Political Philosophy: Kokutai Discourse in Interwar Japan

IN THE EARLY 1920s, Suehiro Izutaro, a University of Tokyo law professor and legal historian heavily influenced by American Pragmatism and the theories of Austrian thinker Eugen Ehrlich, attempted to find a new modus vivendi between state and society in Japan. The interwar state loomed large in everyday Japanese life, but was, at the same time, unresponsive to nearly all citizens due to disenfranchisement by earlier constitutional provision, as well as to interference by political parties. Therefore, Suehiro wanted to find a way to incorporate Ehrlichian and American pragmatic sociological jurisprudence as means to effect gradual, bottom-up, court-centered social change in the absence of political avenues for wide-scale reform. Privileging society over state, Suehiro hoped, would enhance the ability of the courts to render strict justice for the poor who needed it most.

In 1921, Suehiro returned from a lengthy period of study in Europe and the United States and set about using case law as a way to bring equity to the vast majority of Japanese left disenfranchised by Meiji-era (1868-1912) legal and constitutional reforms. In pursuit of an Ehrlichian "living law" (lebendesrecht) approach that foregrounded customary law over the statecentric, Germanic positivism then dominant in jurisprudence and legal philosophy worldwide, Suehiro hoped to circumvent the state and appurtenant party politics by using the court system to effect real, equitable solutions to individuals' essentially apolitical personal struggles, while also changing Japanese jurisprudence from the bottom up, one case at a time.

The Japanese state--preoccupied with responding to rice riots following the economic turmoil at the close of World War I, the after math of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, and with securing its empire in Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and beyond--for the time being was content to leave Suehiro and his social project largely unmolested. The interaction among law, society, and state, choreographed in places by elite lawyers like Suehiro but also sympathetic to the needs of the disenfranchised proletariat, seemed to be enjoying a heartening success. Suehiro attained national prominence, and his writings on the fledgling law-and-society movement began to appear in major publications, such as national newspapers, trade magazines, and the left-leaning highbrow intellectual journal Kaizo (Reform). In 1929, Suehiro founded his own journal, Horitsu Jiho (Legal Times), which featured writings by Suehiro's group of scholars as well as articles by prominent public intellectuals and translations of leading European and American legal thinkers like Eugen Ehrlich and Roscoe Pound. Thanks to Suehiro, the ostensibly anti-programmatic pragmatism of American democratic jurisprudence, and the state-indifferent lebendesrecht of Ehrlich, were having halcyon days in Taisho-era Japan (1912-1926).

And yet, all was not well with Suehiro's pragmatic/Ehrlichian charge toward legal reform. Many in Japan began to see sociological jurisprudence, according to which negotiations between law and society carved out special spheres of semi-autonomy for the proletariat outside of the realm of statecentric politics, as a threat to the very existence of Japan and the Japanese Empire. Beset by encroaching European colonialism, transnational Bolshevism, anarchism, liberal capitalism, Marxism, and neo-mercantilism, Japan's imperial structure was under multipronged attack. Suehiro's short-circuiting of the governmental and political institutions seen by the state and state-aligned neo-traditionalists as inculcating deference to the national and imperial interest--strengthening Japan in a hostile world and thereby increasing security for all Japanese--was viewed with deep suspicion by an emerging coterie of hardline supporters of the Japanese imperial house. Increasingly, statists began to see these non-state solutions, such as Suehiro's Ehrlichian living law, as untenable within the absolutist conception of the imperial state. …

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