What is most interesting in referring to the mood of the time when the Bungeishunju article titled Nihon no jisatsu (“Japan’s Suicide”) was released in February 1975 is the fact that it was followed by the release of numerous books analyzing the rise of Japan as an economic power. Bunmei to shite no ieshakai [House society as a culture] (Murakami Yasusuke, Kumon Shunpei, Sato Seizaburo, 1979) and Japan as Number One (Ezra Vogel, 1979) are two such examples. “Japan’s Suicide” was a sort of prophecy indicated in the era of Japan’s rise, but has reading value in the era of recession, such as we have today. People living in the current age should reread this Cassandra’s prophecy of an article with the following two points in mind.
One is the spread of the mindset of depending on and becoming parasitic to the government. Achieving peace and prosperity for society is the foremost goal expected of all governing actions, no matter the time or place. So the peace and prosperity that Japan had achieved after World War II were, in themselves, grand accomplishments. But such peace and prosperity should essentially be the result of effort based on people’s independence and self-respect. As “Japan’s Suicide” indicated, the nation’s inclination toward a welfare nation that underscored the rise of post-war Japan quietly yet firmly spread the mindset of depending on and being parasitic to the government throughout Japanese society. At the other end, the ebbing of the public mindset of independence and self-respect prompted various meltdowns of social standards, as mentioned in “Japan’s Suicide.” In this sense, Fukuzawa Yukichi was right when he said, “He who has no will to be independent may rely on others to do malice.” While the issue of raising the consumption tax remains a topic of political debate, no one seems to question the fact that it is aimed at secure welfare expenditures such as pension and medical and nursing care. What lies ahead on this road toward being a welfare nation is the rise of people who cannot survive without depending on and being parasitic to the government. If welfare measures under the government framework are temporary and emergency-support-types of measures for those who have fallen into such a state of need, then they may be meaningful, but when they become permanent measures they become cradles for this sort of government dependence. Recent criticism of disparity also fuels such a trend. The reality of financial debt, which is already about to reach one quadrillion yen, is merely a natural result of falling into this type of “spell” of achieving a welfare nation. Considering the fact that Japan had financially started its “drug” of issuing deficit-covering bonds in 1975 when “Japan’s Suicide” was released, we can only marvel at the article’s foresight.
The second point is the spread of misunderstanding that considers the meaning of democracy from the perspective of egalitalianism. Democracy is defined as a political system in which the ruled are also the rulers, but the very act of ruling demands the people involved in it to acquire various “manners.” Since the early 1990s, Japanese politics began a search for various reforms, aiming to develop a political culture capable of regime turnovers and to break out of the long-held reputation that Japanese politics were third-rate. Whether it be the enactment of an electoral system focused on a single-seat constituency that aimed to develop a bipartisan system, forming a shadow cabinet in the opposition, starting a heads-of-parties debate in the Diet, or an election method of releasing a so-called manifesto (policy statements), these actions reflected the search for reform. People described the regime turnover in the summer of 2009 as the result of such a search that lasted some 20 years, but what it actually revealed – as implied in how the two generations of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) presidents in Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto had strayed in its leadership – was the lack of a ruling class that possesses a definitive ruling manner, and Japan’s reality of having neglected the development of such a ruling class. While a series of reforms established numerous rules, the ruling class that would get those rules to function lacked the awareness and insight. As the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) framework in post-war France symbolically indicated, the work of developing a ruling class requires the understanding that special people would receive special education and benefits. But such an understanding did not come to be in post-war Japan because of the spell of egalitalianism. The ideals of egalitalianism connected with the emotion of jealousy to prevent such understanding from taking root. And what the recent instances of criticism against disparity and bureaucrats present are the resulting state of egalitalianism left uncontrolled, about which “Japan’s Suicide” warned.
“Japan’s Suicide” offers a narrative of Japan 30 years after the war in relation to the history of ancient Rome. Polybius, who lived in the ancient Roman Republic and through the rise of Rome, denounced ochlocracy (mob rule) as “the most terrible system,” which is defined as the negative side of democracy. Polybius preached that the factor that leads a society to fall for ochlocracy is the people’s nature, which he describes in terms such as greed, vanity, violence, and arrogance. It seems that welfare and egalitalianism have made significant contributions to pushing Japan’s postwar democracy toward a fall in the direction of ochlocracy; although with the social trend after the Great East Japan Earthquake that re-acknowledges the value of personal ties, there is hope that such a fall is not yet critical. That is why it is truly meaningful for us to come in contact with Japan’s post-war footprints of Polybius’ thinking through “Japan’s Suicide.”
Translated from “Jitai wa sarani warukunatteiru (The Situation Is Growing Worse)”,’Bungeishunju, March 2012, pp. 120-121. (Courtesy of Bungeishunju Ltd.)