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positions: east asia cultures critique 10.1 (2002) 195-218

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The Unfinished Business of Mourning:
Maruyama Masao and Postwar Japan's Struggles with the Wartime Past

Yoshikuni Igarashi

The political scientist Maruyama Masao established himself as one of the most influential intellectuals in postwar Japan through his concise analyses of the wartime Japanese regime. In his argument the impeded development of Japanese modernity explains the failure of politics to prevent the military and fascist elements from controlling Japanese society. Published within a few years of Japan's defeat, Maruyama's writings on Japanese fascism were enthusiastically accepted—to his great surprise—by those who were seeking a critical purchase on the terrain of contemporary Japanese politics.1 His work was of such seminal importance that it still commands the attention of Japanese social scientists today.

In 1995 a specialist on Japanese political thought expressed his unfailing faith in Maruyama's scholarship:

Up until now I have had the opportunity to read Maruyama's writings repeatedly and each time I have learned much. I have tried to critique [End Page 195] parts of his writings—his understanding of the intellectuals that he writes about—even then, my response to his writings is only one of deep respect and true admiration. I feel that I am deeply moved (kando) from the bottom of my heart: this is something that persists no matter what others say. I once thought, with some arrogance, that even if everything written here [in Maruyama's work] is wrong, this work is immortal (fumetsu).2

To this scholar the content of Maruyama's work hardly matters. His confession of absolute faith in Maruyama indicates that readings of Maruyama's scholarship in the postwar period were more than just intellectual exercises. Many scholars—both prewar and postwar—have similarly expressed their indebtedness to Maruyama and his work.3 Maruyama's work also appealed to readers outside traditional academia and stirred emotional responses in a nation devastated by its defeat in the Asia Pacific War. Historian Kano Masanao, for instance, talks about the generation of Japanese who returned from the war and were so impressed by his writings that they named their sons after Maruyama.4

Maruyama Masao has exerted tremendous power in the production of both intellectual paradigms and political discussions in postwar Japan. By positing the inevitability of Japan's defeat, his writing offered an intellectual strategy for coping with the devastating effects of the war. Through his “historical” analyses of the Japanese political condition, Maruyama sought to generalize the historically specific problem of Japan's war to a more transhistorical diagnosis of Japan's incomplete modernity. Modern Japan had always been destined to suffer from the impeded development of political subjectivity. Japan's ill-fated war efforts and its consequent defeat were merely symptoms of a larger Japanese problem. The effectiveness of Maruyama's strategy seems to have gradually diminished as Japan has distanced itself from the traumatic memories of the war. In the late 1960s a postwar generation of student activists seriously questioned Maruyama's authority, and various writers debunked his scholarship in subsequent decades.

Nevertheless, Maruyama's argument has surreptitiously returned to contemporary Japan through the so-called rekishi shutai ronso (the debate over historical subject), a debate that began in the 1990s over how to confront Japan's colonial past. Although the publication of Maruyama's collected [End Page 196] works (1995–1997) reignited general interest in Japanese society, this return was never explicitly acknowledged in the debate; the analytical paradigm that Maruyama articulated in the 1940s formed the unspoken premise of the new “historical subject” debate. The absence of Maruyama's name in the 1990s debate attests to the problematic status of postwar Japan in recent discussions of Japan's war legacies. In the debate the war and defeat were so privileged as originary events that it was forgotten that current discussions of the war were always mediated through the various postwar struggles. The postwar period was simply an obstacle to be transcended in an...


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