- Reasonable Men, Powerful Words: Political Culture and Expertise in Twentieth Century Japan
In 1940, shortly after the economist Arisawa Hiromi was released from prison where he had been held for his radical, Marxist views, the Imperial Army hired him to study whether a war against the British and Americans could be won. Arisawa led a year-long study which concluded in March 1941 that a war could not be won. The army thanked him for his work but told him that its conclusions contravened official policy and promptly ordered the study burned. Arisawa would nonetheless have continued to serve the government which had jailed him and ignored his writing, but discovery of the Sorge spy ring led Tōjō Hideki to fear communist infiltration and he ordered the army to sever relations with Arisawa. Was Arisawa a "reasonable man"? Were his words "powerful"? In the face of such odd happenings, one wonders.
Laura Hein has written an engaging and accessible account of six economists, including Arisawa, and their careers as public intellectuals. By and large, the above incident to the contrary notwithstanding, she convinces us that these men were both reasonable and powerful in their writings.
The six economists constituted a tight-knit group. The lead man was Ouchi Hyōe, the mentor of the other five. They all came to the fore at a critical time for Japan and for the study of its economy. In 1919 the Economics Department was formed as a unit separate from the Law Department at Tokyo Imperial University. The newly expanded economy was unstable and was the source of growing social tension. The massive rice riots were fresh in the public mind. Marxism was spreading through the academy and the Communist Party was soon formed. Ouchi, a young professor in the department, helped his colleague Morito Tatsuo publish a piece by the anarchist Peter Kropotkin and was suspended from his post.
Three years later, Ouchi was reinstated and attracted about him a group of bright young students who became leading lights in the relatively new field of professional economics. In addition to Arisawa, the most influential of them, there was the Rōnō theorist Ō mori Yoshitarō, the business economist [End Page 433] Wakimura Yoshitarō, the Keynesian expert Takahashi Masao, and, the youngest, Minobe Ryōkichi, a specialist on inflation and foreign trade whose father was at the time an eminent professor of constitutional law at the university.
Besides being economists, they were part of a new group of academic specialists whom we now identify as social scientists that formed in the interwar years. The medium for their self-conscious emergence was Marxism, an all-embracing social science, explaining not only economic phenomena but also social, political, even psychological matters. They had read Kawakami Hajime; they had attended the lectures of Yoshino Sakuzō; but it was their study in Germany that solidified their learning and formed their lifelong outlook. They never became ideologues but rather used their Marxist theory to explain the world in which they lived.
Their social science knowledge and methodology soon became valuable to a government struggling to master economic turmoil. An essential theme of this well-written and meticulously researched book is that these men were willing to lend their technical expertise to government officials whose politics they often opposed. They often assumed a role as technocrats, willing to put their knowledge in the service of whatever government was installed in Tokyo.
Their relation to power was "complex and not easy to summarize." They were "simultaneously insiders and outsiders," Laura Hein writes, "and the tensions that emerged from that balancing act are a central aspect of this study" (p. 5). They wrote prolifically in the 1930s for left-wing journals, as well as Chūōkōron and Kaizō, advocating radical economic and political reforms. All of them were jailed in 1937 and 1938 for the views expressed in their writings. After they were released from jail in 1939, five of them were recruited to work for the military. Despite...