- What Does It Mean to "Speak Truth to Power"?
Ever since the end of the "Great East Asian War" in Japan a debate has been smoldering over the contamination of philosophy by politics. This debate was sparked by a series of writings through which the "father of Japanese philosophy," Nishida Kitarō (1870-1945), and some thinkers affiliated with him—the so-called Kyoto School—became involved in the politics connected with the war to establish a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." The debate over Nishida and the Kyoto School has repeatedly been overshadowed by the debate over Heidegger. Aside from the strategic considerations of those engaged in the prosecution of the Kyoto School, one reason for the "Heidegger factor"1 may have something to do with the fact that philosophical parallels can indeed be drawn between Nishida and Heidegger, and that there are also direct links between Nishida and some of his disciples who studied in Germany. Questions concerning Heidegger's political engagement are still explosive, even twenty years after Farias' attempt to prove Heidegger's entanglement with National Socialism. The publication of Emmanuel Faye's book Heidegger—L'introduction du nazisme dans la philosophie has fired up the debate in French philosophical circles.2 And in the debate concerning Nishida and the Kyoto School there is also recent news: the publication of Christopher S. Goto-Jones' ambitious study Political Philosophy in Japan: Nishida, the Kyoto School, and Co Prosperity.
"Every inquiry," Heidegger says, "is a seeking [Suchen]. Every seeking gets guided beforehand by what is sought for."3 Goto-Jones' inquiry seeks to explain the nature of Nishida's political engagement in the 1930s and 1940s, and his inquiry is guided by the conviction that Nishida should be exonerated from the charges regarding his alleged complicity with a Japanese wartime regime that was at least militarist if not "fascist." However, the declared intention of Goto-Jones' study is not just another exoneration of Nishida. Goto-Jones contends that Nishida, influenced "particularly [by] Kant" (p. 7), has left behind a still relevant political philosophy that, as some other authors have argued,4 is not only not tainted by any form of narrow-minded nationalism but also provides a philosophical framework for a theory of a globalizing, multicentered, intercultural world:
Hence, for Nishida, the nation should not be a rigid institutional structure or an artificially . . . constructed culture, but rather a moral personality formed through the mutual self-determination [End Page 469] determination of its constituents and in a dynamic relationship with other nations. International relations should be characterized by the development of greater levels of unity, as nations creatively interact with each other, producing public goods and increasing the similarities in their personalities, thus decreasing the salience of their national boundaries. In this model, nationalism, like egoism, becomes a nonsense.(p. 134 n)
This political model is what Goto-Jones seeks to recover in Nishida, and this recovery is "what is really intended" (Heidegger) by his book.5
Nishida's political philosophy needs to be recovered, because it is buried under false accusations and misunderstandings, produced primarily by Nishida's detractors, whose criticism, as Goto-Jones suggests, is in most cases at best based on a rough selection of citations, torn out of the coherence of their original context. Nishida's defenders, on the other hand, have attempted to safeguard the philosopher against the arguments of his critics by simply calling him a "liberal," a seemingly agreeable but in fact rather misleading label. Furthermore, Nishida's defenders have based their arguments only on biographical material, diary entries, letters, and so on. While the apologists "are right to observe a contradiction between . . . [Nishida's] private condemnation of the regime and his apparent public complicity, this is not in itself enough to conclude that his public writings meant the opposite of what they seem to say" (p. 4).
In fact, this conclusion by Nishida's apologists does raise certain questions. Why did Nishida never give vent to his divergent opinions? Should he not rather have remained...