John PersonMay 20, 2021
Arbiters of Patriotism
Right-Wing Scholars in Imperial Japan
University of Hawaii Press 2020
John Person’s Arbiters of Patriotism: Right-Wing Scholars in Imperial Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 2020) narrates the struggle for ownership of the moral high ground of “patriotism” in the Japanese empire through a political biography of Mitsui Kōshi and Minoda Muneki, two of the most important Japanists of the empire, and the nationalist Genri Nippon Society to which they belonged. Though Person admits that “Mitsui’s reputation as a dangerous thinker is well warranted,” and that of all the nationalist polemicists of the early twentieth century “there is perhaps no single person with as sordid a reputation as Minoda,” he urges us to reconsider facile dismissal of either man not just as “irrational fanatics” or even as “rightists.” Instead, Arbiters shows that while the Genri Nippon Society thinkers advocated an antisocialist, anti-Marxist, fascist-adjacent political program, both men were well-educated, eclectic, often cosmopolitan thinkers. Moreover, Genri Nippon wielded real power―Minoda in particular was behind the infamous academic repression of Minobe Tatsukichi for his “imperial organ theory,” for example―and for that reason must be taken seriously. At the same time, Person demonstrates the exquisite irony that with socialism outlawed in 1925, the state began to see the raucous hardline nationalists as the next potential threat. Who, in the end, would define genuine patriotism? And who would be surveilled as a threat rather than hailed as a hero? Arbiters of Patriotism is centered around intellectual history, but it is very much engaged with the realpolitik of the tensions between states and radical nationalists, which, as we discuss, is painfully relevant today.
Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese and East Asian history in the Graduate School of Humanities, Nagoya University.