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  • Avenell’s “Citizen”
  • J. Victor Koschmann (bio)

Simon Avenell’s contribution to an intellectual and political history of the “citizen” (shimin) in postwar Japan reopens an issue that has not received much attention since the “citizens’ movements” of the 1960s and 1970s faded from public memory in the 1990s. Although problematical in some ways, when combined with another of Avenell’s recent articles, it contributes importantly to the much-needed reassessment of postwar citizenship and protest in light of neoliberal ideology.

At first reading, the essay seems to be aimed primarily at debunking the aura of democracy that surrounds postwar citizen movements by highlighting supposedly particularistic, including nationalistic, dimensions of their ideology. Avenell begins by recalling a moment around 1960, when political scientist Takabatake Michitoshi, philosopher Kuno Osamu, and others hailed the formation of a new “civic consciousness” among Japanese citizens [End Page 753] (shimin) who were showing themselves to be willing and able to stand up to the state. This new, positive concept of the citizen contrasted against the prewar, Marxist notion of the citizen as the “signifier of everything petit bourgeois and self-interested.” However, he then cautions against following Takabatake and Kuno in hailing protest in 1960 as “spontaneous,” arguing that, in fact, efforts to groom the Japanese people as “democratic” and “progressive” had been underway since the early postwar period. Those efforts had been led by philosopher Tsurumi Shunsuke and his cohort affiliated with the Institute for the Science of Thought. In the process, Avenell evokes an image of opposition between the real history of the movement to form a progressive Japanese citizenry, on the one hand, and “later mythologies” of the citizen on the other. It becomes apparent as he proceeds that Avenell is concerned to “demythologize” the “romanticized” ideal of a “spontaneous,” universalized democratic citizen in postwar Japanese politics by unveiling the actual history of the origins and activities of this political figure, and in the process making it seem considerably less spontaneous in its emergence and less democratic in its significance than its 1960s advocates would have us believe. More specifically, he attempts to show us a history in which Tsurumi and others were at least indirectly responsible for connecting the citizen ideal with particularistic reference points such as the “ethnic nation” (minzoku), and the “daily life” of the people rather than with the “universalistic metanarrative of democratization.” In his consignment of citizen democracy to the realm of “myth” and his criticism of actual behavior for “egoistically” spurning the public good, Avenell appears initially to align himself with the conservative forces (including at times the Communist Party) of the 1960s and 1970s that sought to discipline citizen activism.

The above argument raises a number of questions: Has Avenell properly understood the meaning of “spontaneous” ( jihatsuteki) as Takabatake and others used the term? Does not the effort to conceive of an active, productive Japanese citizen have other origins as well, including the wartime and early postwar “citizen-society school” (shimin shakai-ha) of Hirata Kiyoaki, Uchida Yoshihiko, and others? But perhaps the most pressing question is how we should understand the terms democracy and democratic. Avenell’s analysis suggests that true democracy implies a posture of universalism rather than particularism — he writes of a “universal liberal political subjectivity” and a [End Page 754] “deracinated and universalized democracy” — but this is questionable in the absence of a definition. Nor does he explain what the terms democracy and democratic might have meant to the postwar political analysts who applied those terms to Japanese citizens and citizen movements.

As he must realize, democracy was a contested concept in postwar Japan, and many who used the term were not primarily concerned with its universalistic aspects. Rather, they often emphasized the connotation of political activism as opposed to passivity. According to Matsushita Keiichi, who was one of the major proponents and interpreters of citizen movements in the 1960s, “democracy is rooted in the idea of continuing revolutionary activity on the part of a vigilant citizenry.”1 Matsushita notes that “the word ‘citizen’ (shimin) . . . describes the autonomous human being who, ideally, embodies the republican spirit of freedom and equality.” (Perhaps this is part of what Avenell refers to as “universalism...


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pp. 753-760
Launched on MUSE
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