- One Hundred Million Philosophers: Science of Thought and the Culture of Democracy in Postwar Japan by Adam Bronson
How can historians capture the spirit of an era? The pursuit of the zeitgeist or seishin shi of postwar Japan's sociointellectual culture poses several challenges to historians. For example, chronological framing can distort our appreciation of the continuities of history that linger inconveniently into subsequent epochs. Can we understand postwar thought if we look only at the period commencing August 15, 1945? Can we identify an "end" to the postwar era that has relevance to more than a tightly defined cohort of thinkers and activists? Another troublesome consideration is identifying individuals, ideas, or movements that can be considered genuinely representative of an era, so that the portrait of the age is inclusive and comprehensive rather than broad-brush or crude. One approach that has the potential to overcome some of those difficulties is to examine postwar Japan through [End Page 509] the lens of a diverse collective, members of an intellectual organization that both moves and is shaped by its times. By combining a study of Japan's postwar democratic culture with the history of an intellectual cohort in the shape of the Science of Thought group (Shisō no Kagaku; hereafter, SnK), Adam Bronson has delivered a marvelous piece of scholarship that helps us grasp the seishin shi of postwar Japan in an entirely new way.
Bronson's work enters scholarly terrain that complements his own research achievement. Andrew Barshay's work on postwar thought examined the populist and self-critical impulses driving postwar Japanese intellectuals, affirming Maruyama Masao's depiction of postwar intellectuals as a "community of regret" in a manner similar to Bronson.1 But in doing so, Barshay did not show how these intellectual impulses were acted upon outside the intellectual sphere. Similarly, Wesley Sasaki-Uemura examined the intellectual desire to commune with citizens by "break[ing] down the sense of separation between political activism and everyday life" to realize "a general spirit of political engagement by ordinary citizens," but again his work focused on the intellectuals' perspective of the problem.2 More recently, Simon Avenell analyzed the core concept of the shimin (the citizen) in postwar Japan, delving deeply into the SnK and its leading thinker Tsurumi Shunsuke in terms very much in accord with that of Barshay, Sasaki-Uemura, and Bronson.3 This book by Bronson thus affirms the thrust of these earlier works but takes it both broader and deeper: he provides a global context for the turn to the grassroots on the part of Japan's intellectuals after 1945 and through the SnK follows their attempts to implement their mission. It is a laudably ambitious project that situates postwar Japan outside the parochial concerns of the introspective angst that pervaded the early postwar years for many of Japan's public intellectuals.
Inevitably, a postwar organization such as SnK will be interrogated for how, either self-consciously or subconsciously, its members rationalized and integrated a subjectively rendered wartime past into an imagined postwar future. Most scholars of postwar Japan will associate the SnK with the three-volume study of political apostasy, Tenkō, published between 1959 and 1962,4 which sought to identify how individual thinkers fell into collusion [End Page 510] with the authoritarian wartime state. One of the vitally important contributions Bronson makes through his book is to contextualize this controversial work in a wider intellectual setting, encompassing global postwar intellectual preoccupations concerning the masses in the postwar era with the evolving mission of the SnK. This work therefore greatly enriches our understanding of the genesis and impact of the Tenkō study, rescuing it from the morass of entrenched ideological positions that only speak of one particular perspective on Japan's postwar story.
Bronson's study of the SnK reveals this entity to represent a conscious gesture of active contrition on the part of its members, incorporating within itself a kind of self-criticism for its members' failure as...