I have a number of thoughts and feelings about contemporary domestic and foreign events. However, I believe I should not precipitately engage in political discussions since my scholarship is still shallow and my practical experience is not yet extensive. I prefer rather to stroll in the free world of thought, to sit at ease in the midst of a profusion of books and to converse with gentlemen from all the ages. This book is completely scholarly and includes no political discussion whatever.

Thus Professor Maruyama quotes from the 1903 preface to a textbook of political science by the founding father of that discipline in Japanese universities. He goes on (see the essay, ‘Politics as a science in Japan’) to show how and why it opitomized the divorce between politics and political science in pre-war Japan.footnote1 The profusion of books among which the scholar sat at his ease were Western (especially German) books; the thoughts were Western thoughts. But the political philosophies which had been born out of and inspired the political struggles of the West were more often absorbed with undiscriminating appetite than with discriminating commitment; they were described historically, analysed for mutual influences and contradictions, commented on with scholarly erudition. They night even, by bolder spirits, be proclaimed as eternal truths, but they were rarely, if ever, taken further by independent criticism and rarely illuminated by reference to the contemporary Japanese political scene. And it was a rare political scientist who attempted to analyse or criticize the contemporary scene by reference to Western theories or ideals. The Japanese national polity was both unique and sacred; it could not be treated as just one more system of power or examined for processes common to many societies. It was dangerous to use Western concepts and values as a yardstick for judging Japanese society unless—by, for instance, judicious reinterpretations of Hegel—one could use them to show its superlative superiority.

This was the academic tradition in which Maruyama grew up. The essays translated in this volume show how brilliantly he has transcended it. Today political science is a rather different discipline in Japan and Maruyama himself has had a great deal to do with its transformation. His early training has not been wasted; he is immensely well read in the history of Europe and of Western political ideas. But he marries to this an equally penetrating knowledge of the political and ideological history of his own country and can use the one to illuminate the other. He is as much at home with doctrines and ideologies as were his academic ancestors, but he knows that it is neither these on the one hand, nor the equally rational pursuit of economic interest on the other, which alone determine political behaviour, and some of his suggestions about the political consequences of modes of personal interaction in family and neighbourhood show a methodological versatility and a capacity for empathy of a high order.

These qualities are especially well displayed in the first half of the book, devoted to an analysis of Japanese nationalism and the structure of the pre-war Japanese state. This section alone would make the book important for there is nothing else in English written with the same detailed historical knowledge and theoretical sophistication from inside the one modern industrial society which lies outside the Christian tradition. This may seem an oddly perverse way of characterizing Japan, but Maruyama shows its relevance in the first essay which introduces this section. He points out how the conflict between Church and State, the assumption that some things are and some things are not Caesar’s, epitomizes some of the major antitheses which have animated Western political philosophy. The opposition between state and society, between the state and individual conscience, between the public and the private sphere, are varied reformulations of the attempt to delimit the political sphere and to leave free, as outside the purview of political authority, the inner values of private belief and morality. This history Japan (and China) lacked. When the new Meiji state was founded in the 1870s it claimed a total competence. The Emperor’s rescripts prescribed both the structure of the constitution and the personal morality of the good Japanese citizen; loyalty and filial piety were one and indivisible; all private life had public significance, for the state ‘being a moral entity, monopolized the right to determine values’.

This is the key to Maruyama’s elucidation of Japanese ultra-nationalism. It enables us to understand, and not simply boggle at, the assassin of statesmen who could explain his wish ‘to punish evil ministers’ on the grounds that ‘once the great moral cause is clarified and the hearts of the people rectified, the Imperial Way cannot fail to be promoted’. It enables us to understand and the self-righteousness of Japanese politicians, their acceptance of faits accomplis created by runaway generals in China and Manchuria, and most puzzling of all, the absence among them of anyone who seemed to be master of his own or anyone else’s fate. As symbol of the state, the Emperor, a non-entity, was the source of all value and of all power. Whatever was done in the Emperor’s name was automatically right; there was no transcendant legality. The closer one was to the Emperor the greater one’s prestige and potential power, but even at the highest state levels the statesman and the general were only the transmitters of power from above. There was ‘no subjective awareness of free individual responsibility’.