In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Thought Crime: Ideology and State Power in Interwar Japan by Max M. Ward
  • Jeremy A. Yellen (bio)
Thought Crime: Ideology and State Power in Interwar Japan. By Max M. Ward. Duke University Press, Durham NC, 2019. xviii, 294 pages. $104.95, cloth; $27.95, paper; $29.95, E-book.

The Peace Preservation Law of 1925 was a watershed in the political history of interwar Japan. This antiradical law criminalized joining an organization that aimed to alter the national polity (kokutai) or to abolish the system of private property. Within a decade of its passage, it developed from a legal means to suppress communism, radical ideologies, and anti-colonial nationalism into an elaborate system that promoted nationalist political conversions—tenkō—and the "rehabilitation" of thousands of political criminals. The law led to the arrest of over seventy thousand people in Japan and many thousands more in the broader colonial empire, and by the late 1930s it had become the center of a complex thought-control apparatus that surveilled, arrested, assessed, and encouraged the conversions of political criminals into loyal imperial subjects. Yet despite its critical importance in the political and institutional history of interwar Japan, it has remained criminally understudied in English-language scholarship. Max M. Ward's important new study on the Peace Preservation Law does much to redress this.

Previous scholarship in English largely sees the Peace Preservation Law in culturalist or particularist terms. The major works argue either that the application of the law underscored a particularly Japanese mode of justice—one making use of both repression and rehabilitation—or that conversions also provided evidence of the conflict between national identity, nationalism, and Marxism in prewar Japan. Such research focuses on tenkō as an individual experience and overlooks the vast institutional apparatus that encouraged, guided, and provided the models for such conversions.

Ward's book shifts focus to the Peace Preservation Law, the vast institutional apparatus it created, and tenkō as an archive from which scholars can understand the ideological forms through which the state exerted power. Ward notes that his main focus is in what the law "reveals about imperial state ideology and how this ideology was inscribed in state apparatuses to police so-called thought crime" (p. 19). He deals with state ideology with great conceptual sophistication and reveals the logic through which the state both sought to reform political criminals into loyal imperial subjects and attempted to circulate imperial ideology to the wider community.

The story begins with the Diet deliberations that led to the 1925 Peace Preservation Law. By using an ambiguous term like kokutai, legislators [End Page 492] identified threats as ideological and foreign in nature, and posed radical political movements as existential threats to imperial sovereignty. The law later transformed from a measure to suppress threats to imperial sovereignty into a system that turned political criminals into imperial subjects.

Ward highlights this transformation through a provocative engagement with theories of modern state power. On the one hand, he draws off Michel Foucault's triad of sovereign-judicial power, disciplinary power, and governmentality to show how the law transformed from a repressive instrument of governmental power to one where ex-criminals morally governed themselves. He also employs Louis Althusser's theory of ideological state apparatuses to shed light on the institutional network that encouraged (instead of merely coercing) political criminals to accept their own subjection freely, and to do so all by themselves. In utilizing Foucauldian and Althusserian approaches, Ward reveals how power was not limited to the formal structures of the state. It involved a wide group of actors at both the national and local levels—the home and justice ministries, thought procurators (shisō kenji), ex-communists, research groups, semiofficial reform groups, Buddhist temples, employment agencies, family members, and local community groups. Many of these actors unfortunately get short shrift in the analysis. I would have been interested to read more on the role local groups, religious groups, and families played in the system. Yet scholars can only go as far as their sources take them, and Ward nonetheless is able to paint a clear picture of Japan's overall system of thought control.

This system emerged in fits and...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 492-496
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.