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Kanokogi Kazunobu: Pioneer of Platonic Fascism and Imperial Pan-Asianism

From: Monumenta Nipponica
Volume 68, Number 2, 2013
pp. 233-280 | 10.1353/mni.2013.0024

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In late 1946 Kanokogi Kazunobu (1884–1949), thin, frail, and looking much older than his sixty-one years of age, left Sugamo Prison, where he had been held for more than a year as a class-A war criminal. Diagnosed with terminal pulmonary tuberculosis and given no longer than three years to live, he was released on medical grounds, not because he was deemed innocent.1 He died two years later, by all accounts a broken and isolated man. It was a sad end for a onetime celebrity, the squalor of his death in stark contrast to the fame and prestige in which he had basked only a few years earlier. But perhaps such a contrast was to be expected, for Kanokogi, a former professor of philosophy at two of Japan’s imperial universities, a Ph.D., a doctor of letters, and a right-wing activist, had been a man of extremes—and extreme views. In the midst of the Great War he had campaigned to introduce sweeping totalitarian reforms in Japan; in the 1920s he had provocatively spoken of world revolution; and in the late 1930s he had even concluded his speeches with “Heil Hitler.”2

At first glance, he cuts a contradictory figure. Although at one time a Christian, he came to hold a distinctly un-Christian belief in the divine character of the Japanese imperial family. Although a Japanese fundamentalist, he showed great partiality for things German, for fascism, and for national socialism; while he insisted on Japanese authenticity, he wished to turn Japan into a latter-day version of Plato’s Republic. He was an ardent monarchist, yet frequently talked of revolution, and even though he held Japan’s national polity immutable, he pioneered totalitarianism, an ideology that, if put into effect, would have transformed this national polity beyond recognition.

These contradictions perhaps help account for the relative silence that has surrounded Kanokogi since the end of the Second World War.3 On closer look, however, the core of Kanokogi’s thought was remarkably consistent. He never deviated from his hatred of Western liberalism, materialism, individualism, parliamentary democracy, and laissez-faire economics; he never wavered in his belief that elitism, collectivism, dictatorship, and economic planning would transform Japan into a perfect totalitarian state modeled after Plato’s utopia. This dogged hostility to the values of the Enlightenment as well as predilection for dictatorship and authoritarianism pervade all of his writings.

Kanokogi openly advocated national socialist ideas and waxed enthusiastic about Nazi policies after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933. Yet even before 1933 the ideas he propounded clearly shared much with Western varieties of fascism. Significantly, Kanokogi arrived at his proto-fascist system of thought at the end of the First World War, independently of Western fascism, even if the subsequent apparent successes of fascism in Europe contributed to radicalizing his views even further. This makes Kanokogi’s case highly relevant to the question of what constitutes Japanese fascism.4 It may even add to our understanding of this complex and opaque phenomenon in a global context, for it should not be overlooked that his ideology, which he first articulated in a number of lectures in 1917, anticipated Western totalitarianism and fascism by several years.5 Kanokogi’s case thus casts doubt on Eurocentric theories of totalitarianism and fascism. It instead lends weight to the view that fascism, far from being limited to the West, arose independently also outside Europe, albeit as part of the same global reaction to the unprecedented catastrophe that was the First World War.

This is not to minimize Western influences on Kanokogi, who was educated in the West and throughout his career kept abreast of European political and intellectual trends, including the development of fascism. Nevertheless, the 1919 launch of Mussolini’s fascist movement had not yet taken place when Kanokogi, inspired by a similar combination of nationalist, militaristic, and anti-Enlightenment ideas, integrated a number of notions that had been common in Europe since at least the turn of the century, if not earlier, into his totalitarian ideology. In other words, the synthesis of a mass of inchoate ideas into what was in essence fascism avant la lettre occurred...



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