First published in Papers of the Japanese Studies Centre, No. 7 (Melbourne), 1984
ONE OF THE most persistent metaphors used in the discussion of politics, whether in Britain, continental Europe, Australasia, Japan or elsewhere, is that of a Left-Right spectrum, whereby all political views, ideologies, policies and personalities can be placed somewhere along a single line starting at the extreme left, travelling via a notional centre, or middle (or 'moderate') position, and ending up at the extreme right. This metaphor is convenient and generally bears some relationship to the truth, but is rarely subjected to critical scrutiny by political scientists, who too frequently use it as a shorthand method of labelling without explaining precisely what the labels are supposed to mean. The only book known to this writer which attempts to tackle this question seriously was published in the late 1960s by the British journalist Samuel Brittan, and is entitled Left or Right: The Bogus Dilemma. Brittan believes that the Left-Right spectrum metaphor produces dangerous oversimplifications in relation to British politics, creating what he terms 'a maximisation of spurious differences with a minimum of real conflict'. 1
Our purpose in this paper is not to discover some alternative metaphor with which we might better understand the divisions within Japanese politics, for that would be much too ambitious. We have the more limited aim of attempting to elucidate the underlying assumptions about the politics of Japan which are embedded in the notion of a Left-Right spectrum. Following on from this we shall try to define the limits of the metaphor's usefulness, and elucidate the positive contributions to our understanding which the metaphor does provide assuming that we understand its limits. We hope thus to achieve some refinement of our way of perceiving the ways in which Japanese politics (especially party politics) is structured, and perhaps also the ways in which it is changing.
There are at present seven (on certain assumptions six) parties with representation in the House of Representatives. The most usual convention in political commentary is to divide the parties into three broad groups: on the right, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which has governed Japan without interruption since 1955; in the centre, four small parties: the Democratic Socialist