Ribatarianizumu: Amerika wo yurugasu jiyūshijōshugi (Libertarianism: The Ultrafreedomism Shaking Up America, published only in Japanese)
Ribatarianizumu: Amerika wo yurugasu jiyūshijōshugi
(Libertarianism: The Ultrafreedomism Shaking Up America, published only in Japanese)
Tokyo: Chuokoron-Shinsha, 2019
Jason Morgan ([email protected]) is associate professor at Reitaku University in Chiba, Japan.
Libertarianism never really caught on in Japan. That is strange when you stop and think about it. For a country that was ruled by a military dictatorship for six hundred years, it might seem that “Freedom!” would be on the lips of every man, woman, and child whose ancestors suffered for centuries under the yoke of martial law.
And yet that’s not at all how things stand here. “Military dictatorship” and “martial law” probably conjure up images of Suharto, Robert Mugabe, and Michael Bloomberg, but the rule of the samurai was not the typical reign of ideological terror. It is a cliché but still true to observe that Japanese society has traditionally placed a premium on wa, variously translated as “harmony,” “concord,” and “getting along well with the neighbors.” Wa is a very nice thing, and as a longtime resident of Japan I have come to value it highly. There is not much need for a tinpot dictator when folks tend to prioritize good order and mutual friendliness on their own. There are just as many opportunities here as anywhere to think of one’s fellowmen in a less-than-charitable way (translation: Japan, too, has dolts and ingrates), but people in Japan are usually very good about putting the long-term wa of the community above the fleeting satisfaction of insisting on having things all one’s own way. Freedom is just not a big factor in the day-to-day social equation.
In fact, “freedom” has traditionally had a somewhat negative connotation in Japan. The word jiyū, which is used to translate “freedom” was coined only as the military dictatorship was crumbling in the latter third of the nineteenth century and Western tracts on liberalism and liberty were beginning to be widely studied in Japan. Jiyū is a very common word today, but if one squints and looks at it with a pinch of historically grounded skepticism it begins to seem quite odd. “Doing whatever you want” is a rough literal transla
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