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November 18, 2008

The Sovereign Nation State was formed to conduct wars

Today it stirs up unnecessary confrontation.

Looking at the world, it becomes evident that the two factors which have dominated the world since the 19th century—namely, the sovereign nation state and industrialization—have reached their limits. This paper focuses just on the sovereign nation state, reviewing its rise in Western European history and considering the three main points:

(1) Are the objectives that stimulated the creation of the sovereign nation state still valid today?
(2) What kind of issues face the nation state regime which exists in the world of today?
(3) What kind of changes will be the most appropriate for the world’s nation state regimes?

Let us first of all summarize the whole paper.

○ The “sovereign nation state” was formed in Western Europe from the 17th century to the 19th century.

It was first formed in Great Britain. It was characterized by considerable military power and bureaucracy supported by the country’s strong tax-levying abilities, and the existence of a parliament and prime minister who wielded supreme power rather than the monarch.

The Great Britain of the time was described in terms of “politics = military state.” Its framework enabled the intensive deployment of national wealth, which was needed to fight with France and other countries, and to expand its colonies.

○ Such a “nation state,” much like a war machine, is an anachronism in the developed world of today. “Ethnic sentiment” created artificially for the formation of the nation state is, in the absence of things to confront, causing unnecessary friction.

○ The present age is a period of dramatic redistribution of wealth on a global scale, as can be seen in the major shakeup in North-South terms of trade, symbolized by the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRICs) and the surge in the prices of crude oil and raw materials.

The romantic liberalism of the 1960s, which advocated the liberation and freedom of the individual, must for the moment be left out of the immediate prospects. Freedom is a kind of the privilege enjoyed only by the stronger members of societies.

○ Can the three issues set out above seek their solutions in the nation state model of the past or of the present?

It is unlikely to find a model of the nation state in the past that could serve as a panacea. The only way is to solve the present issues one by one (yet comprehensively). The ideal model of the nation state has never existed at any time in history. What we can do is to extract some positive elements from historical examples, see if they can be used in the service of today’s society, and introduce them one by one organically and comprehensively with other elements.

○ If the right of defense, which comprises a part of the sovereignty of the nation state, is entrusted elsewhere, leaving the nation states with only national language and culture as unifying principles, then it is likely that artificially created ethnic sentiment, even if it remains, will no longer reach the point of triggering armed conflict with one another.

The destination of national defense can be broadly categorized into two: the US military and regional arrangements. If world law and order is to depend on the US military, it is essential that the world secure greater rights to voice opinions regarding US domestic policies. Given the US is coming to resemble a microcosm of the world, it seems odd for there to be a difference in the rights of persons within its territories and those outside.

If security is to be entrusted to regional arrangements, then the situation of East Asia is likely to become unstable unless the participation of the United States in the region is secured.

○ The reorganization of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is essential for the economy. Ever since the United States left the gold standard, financial trade has become rampant, dwarfing the volume of trade in goods around the world. The IMF, which was created to redress deficits in trade balances, has become an anachronism.

○ We need to seek the way to continue the system of free trade, which has continued for the past 60 years since WWII. This is because as long as free trade is secured, it will be difficult for armed conflict to break out. Which economy possesses the scale and constant vitality sufficient to complement the US economy, which has slipped relative to other countries, and support free trade at the same time? This is not an easy question to answer.

○ The European Union (EU) is today much vaunted as a substitute for the nation state. However, the major Western European countries have been reluctant to grant their rights to the EU, and retain practical rights of veto over the decisions of the European Commission. Praising the EU excessively and thus giving it authority exceeding its actual capabilities is something that should be prudently avoided. That being said, should the EU member states act together as one in the international arena, the EU would be a formidable force given the large number of votes. That kind of potential should be justly evaluated.

○ The internet and computers are entirely new means of communication between public and policy makers. One leader alone cannot read emails from 100 million people each day, but a breakthrough software that aggregates and analyzes emails from the public may be developed in the near future, for proposing policy options to the leader.

○ Through the internet, people can dream of “direct democracy.” Since the industrial revolution, people’s standard of living has risen and regular elections have become reality with the rise in political consciousness. However, with the expansion of the electoral base, the time for dialogue between policy-makers and individual voters has diminished, resulting in a general resort to populist methods through television. Surely now is the time for democracy to rise to a new stage using the internet. In Scandinavian countries, both citizens’ political consciousness and the voting rate are constantly high. I believe that a similar thing can happen in Japan through the use of the internet.

○ Because Japan lacks proficient foreign language skills, it is extremely difficult to move outside the framework of the nation state. Perhaps the only practicable means to internationalize Japan is to allow more foreign participation in the Japanese economy so as to let Japan gradually move outside the nation state’s framework, and adapt the legal system to these changes.

(Main discussion)

Currently, Asia and many other countries are putting forth efforts to create a “modern nation state.” However, looking at the history of Western Europe where the first of the nation states emerged, it can be judged that they were created as a tool for expanding their territories and colonies. In other words, the “nation state” was an artificial device created for levying oppressive taxes on its citizens and recruiting soldiers.

In the word of today, countries can become wealthier through free trade without the extension of their territories. A “modern nation state” in possession of strong military forces and a large government is no longer modern. As such a state becomes an anachronism, it requires proper reexamination, including the question of what armies should be like. What should be reviewed, and how should we review it? In order to identify these matters, let us take a look at how the world’s first “nation state” was formed in the United Kingdom.

A triad of colonialism, nation state, industrial revolution—the essence of Western European civilization

(1) Formation of the “nation state” in the United Kingdom

It has been said that the splitting up of the Frankish Empire in the Middle Ages soon resulted in the formation of Spain, France, Italy, and Germany. In fact, however, it is not that countries were formed, but rather that the empire was divided up into monarchies. Their territories intersected each other in complicated ways, with large numbers of enclaves within their territories.

In other words, the countries of Western Europe in the Middle Ages were not nation states but “kingdoms” administered by the kings as their patrimonies, and it appears that the kings frequently patrolled their dominions to confirm that the feudal lords were under their subjugation. This differed from the age of absolute monarchy characterized by the courts set up in the capital where the feudal lords attended the king as aristocrats.

After the England staged the Hundred Years War with the Kingdom of France over enclaves in France, it then plunged into civil war called Wars of the Roses from 1455. The accession of Henry VII in 1485 upon the end of the civil war saw the dawning of the Tudor dynasty.

Henry VIII set out to break with the Roman Catholic Church, declaring the independence of the Church of England in 1534, which was followed by the confiscation of the property of the Catholic Church. It cannot be said for certain whether it was due to the fact that peace within the country had helped to draw out the authority of the monarch, or that there was an intention to reward the feudal lords who had performed well during the civil war. The confiscated property were sold off to the wealthy, who were later to become the class known as the gentry, and some of them invested in colonial expansion and the industrial revolution, thus pushing England toward becoming a modern nation state.

The Roman Catholic Church survived the Roman Empire as a skeleton of the interregional government. Many of the Roman aristocracy obtained religious and bureaucratic positions in the churches and later in the courts of the Western European dynasties. Against this backdrop, England’s independence from the Catholic Church, which could well be described as a shadow of the Roman Empire, under Henry VIII laid the foundations for independence in the form of the nation state.

(2) The Puritan Revolution, deregulation, and trade

The next milestone in the history of England was probably the Puritan Revolution in 1642.

Although the French Revolution has been discussed far more than the Puritan Revolution in Western European history, the latter should be seen as having at least the same significance, as it destroyed absolute monarchy and set up a republican system, and about 150 years earlier. There was a difference, however, in that the Puritan Revolution stressed the right of parliament against the monarch, while the French Revolution stressed individual rights and equality. France lagged behind England in the establishment of a taxation system and of the nation state regime, which meant that it was ultimately unable to bear the burden of the war with England, which continued until the end of the 18th century, a paradox which was to trigger revolution.

The Puritan Revolution did not result in the bloodshed or the shift of assets and property rights seen in the French Revolution, but it did away with many of the rights and privileges of the age of absolutism. The word “trade” became popular at this time, and the zeitgeist of the age began to be replete with the spirit of entrepreneurship, where anything whatsoever became a matter for business.

This spirit of entrepreneurship is without a doubt related to England’s fight against its maritime rivals of the time such as Spain and Holland and the emergence of the “triangular trade” in the second half of the 17th century as a mechanism for generating added value. This was a scheme in which soap and other everyday articles manufactured in England were sold to African rulers in exchange for slaves, who were then sold in the Americas; in exchange for these, cotton and sugar would be bought and taken back to the home country, processed and once again exported to Africa. It is estimated that 12 million black slaves were abducted in Africa and taken to the New World during this time, of which 3.75 million were taken by England. Other Western European countries such as France did the same, to a lesser extent.

Through this, light industries manufacturing everyday goods developed rapidly in England, and the standard of living rose. The people consumed in large quantities what to them were entirely new products such as Indian cotton textiles and tea, procured by the East India Trading Company, transforming their lifestyles in what might be called the “lifestyle revolution.” Later on, as part of the new lifestyle, the custom of drinking tea in particular spread to include the working classes, and the volume of tea imports rose rapidly, becoming a factor behind the Opium Wars.

In 1648, the Thirty Years War came to an end and the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, giving birth to the “sovereign nation state.” However, this did not go as far as the modern nation state: all it meant was that state became the only established unit of government in Western Europe, and such players as the Catholic Church and monarchies faded into the background.

The modern nation state with a legalistic characteristic, in which the right of national representation is held by the parliament or prime minister rather than the monarch, was formed first of all in the England at that time.

(3) Rise of “the nation state as war machine”
In the second half of the 17th century, England was steadily advancing toward “the nation state as war machine.” During this period, the struggle for maritime supremacy with Holland was more or less concluded, and the contest with France over overseas colonies emerged as the biggest political issue.

I have no detailed knowledge of the policy making and debates, nor of the role played by the gentry in the deployment of capital. However, it can be said for certain that what happened in the 17th century was the establishment of the unparalleled financial and taxation framework.

Huge volumes of capital from Holland, which had waged war for independence against France, poured into England, which had invited the Dutch Prince of Orange in as its new king in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In 1694, the Bank of England was established and a system set up to issue a national debt; in 1698, the London Stock Exchange was opened, enabling the gathering of internal and external capital mainly from Holland. In 1717, the value of the pound was pegged to gold, raising the country’s external credibility.

The British economy was heavily dependent on trade; however, a difference between Great Britain on the one hand, and the United States in the 19th century and Russia of today on the other, is that it was not as heavily dependent for its revenue on import taxes as it was on transaction taxes. It is estimated that the tax burden represented 3-4% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Stuart period, but that in the Hanoverian period which followed the Glorious Revolution, this figure reached 9%, the highest tax burden level in Western Europe at the time.

In the first half of the 18th century, Great Britain was engaged in a contest with France over colonies a number of times, and gradually won a large market. Against a background of wealthy finances and ballooning administrative demands, the number of civil servants also ballooned. A spiral pattern emerged, where the financial strength of Great Britain bolstered its military powers, and led to the expansion of its colonies, which, as they became markets, further enriched the homeland; in other words, a triad of nation state, colonialism and industrial revolution. However, the conscription system had not been adopted in the Great Britain of this period. Conscription was first adopted by Napoleon.

(4) The loss of the United States market and the dependence on India: The start of mass production (= industrial revolution)
In the 18th century, the population of Great Britain grew, and agricultural production likewise expanded, but the so-called industrial revolution (mass production of textiles) had yet to begin. Its principal export market in the 18th century was North America. There was almost no tax revenue coming from the North American colonies, but 20% of Great Britain’s exports and 30% of its imports had the North American colonies as the trading partner. For reference, the taxation rate in North America was one-twentieth that of Great Britain itself.

Great Britain lost its trade with the United States due to the American War of Independence. The damage of this was no doubt colossal. As a result, the conscious changeover took place, this time centered around India. The multifaceted trade with the United Kingdom, India and China grew in size.

India was different from the North America colonies in that the “home charge” tax corresponding to 40% of the United Kingdom’s total import volume was levied. What is more, although India was a long-established producer of cotton textiles, it was forced to buy large quantities of poor quality cotton textiles manufactured in the United Kingdom. The industrial revolution was “inaugurated” at this time. (It appears that the United Kingdom initially tried to sell woolen textiles, without success.)

Although it is likely that the shift took place because there were capitalists trying to raise their profits through manufacturing large volumes of cotton textiles cheaply, I have not yet seen sufficient research outputs on the situation of the time surrounding this shift in targets from the North American continent to India and the construction of cotton mills. However, whatever the case, the picture drawn at that time was that capitalists who had amassed wealth through the slave trade at the trading port city of Liverpool constructed cotton mills in the hinterland of Manchester, linked the two cities with the world’s first railways, and exported good by steam ship to sell them throughout India.

Half of the increase in industrial production in the United Kingdom between 1697 and 1815 was destined for export. The export-driven economic growth seen in post-war Japan and later China has been a target of criticism by the United States and Europe, but the same development model was in fact adopted by the United Kingdom itself at an earlier date.

During this time, the Cabinet system was established in England, with the creation of the post of prime minister in 1715, and the beginning of party politics from the 18th century. Party politics soon invited corruption, but a movement to clean up corruption began in the United Kingdom as early as the beginning of the 19th century. The United Kingdom won the recognition of the intellectuals of countries on the European continent as a vigorously democratic country. Furthermore, the different regional laws of the United Kingdom, which had emerged spontaneously in history, were unified into one “common law.”

In this way, the first modern nation state with a single legal space, strong financial and military powers, police force and diplomatic institutions, where the highest authority lay not with a monarch but with a parliament, was established in the United Kingdom. To a greater or lesser extent, modern nation states consciously or unconsciously follow this model.

(5) The construction of modern nation states by the Ottoman Turks and in France
Traditionally, France has always been thought of as the model for the construction of a nation state and civil society, but in fact, France was much slower to do this than the United Kingdom. The French Revolution happened this way in France ultimately because the establishment of a taxation system had lagged behind, spearheaded by the Estates-General (parliament) which eventually met in 1789 after a long period of inactivity in an attempt by the monarch to pay for the war waged against England. France was not behind the United Kingdom in terms of industrialization, but was greatly behind in terms of its nation state regime. It is said that the French Revolution and the period preceding it saw the establishment of the rights of the individual in relation to the state, epitomized in Rousseau’s social contract theory and the “petition of right”; however, the establishment of the nation state did not take place before Napoleon.

Napoleon heavy-handedly established the trappings of the nation state in order to catch up with the United Kingdom. He created the Napoleonic Code based on Roman Law, thus forming the tradition of statutory law in the European continent. Roman Law forms the basis for most of the principles governing modern Western European societies. For example, the strong protection of the right to private property, characteristic of European and US society, originates in Roman Law.

Like the United Kingdom’s common law, Roman Law in fact did not take the form of a legal code until 529 when it was compiled in the form of Corpus Juris Civilis by Emperor Justinian I. The commentary of this was rediscovered in the 12th century, which triggered the spread of Roman Law in Western Europe. The law could not actually have been used without the commentary.

Let us return to the topic of Napoleon. Napoleon brought in the first conscription system in Western Europe. This system had not existed even in the United Kingdom (conscription was only introduced in the United Kingdom shortly before WWI). Then, the implantation of revolutionary consciousness (liberty, equality, fraternity) and patriotism in its citizens more or less completed the formation of the modern nation state. A nation state became a device for spreading a common language among the people in a given territory, teaching them national ideology, levying taxes and recruiting soldiers, devices which were manipulated by an elite minority (many of them being member of the new bourgeoisie).

In the East in this period, the Ottoman Empire was gradually declining. The Ottoman Turks had been a powerful force until the early 17th century, presenting a real threat to Western Europe. The Turkish sultans saw Western Europe as a potential territory, and crowned themselves rulers of it. In the Ottoman Turkish empire, military and government affairs were consigned to the janissary selected by the sultan himself, and vice-regents were installed in the regions. In other words, with the aristocracy excluded from the governing institutions, the country fitted the model of absolutism from the perspective of the monarchs of Western Europe.

Later, Western Europe crushed the East using the power of blood (soldiers) and sweat (taxes) mobilized by the nation state acting as a war machine. The United Kingdom reached the pinnacle of its strength, making possible the era of free trade between 1846 and 1932.

By contrast, Bismarck who realized the unification of Germany brought the new concept of social security into the nation state. The social security system started by Bismarck was limited, consisting only of medical insurance for high-income workers (full-fledged social security was realized later in the form of the Beveridge Report in 1942). The social security system begun by Bismarck was intended to eliminate the power of socialist parties, which was gradually making inroads among the skilled workers of the time. Furthermore, although this was called security, the public cost burden was minimal. Nevertheless, the concept of social security had been brought into the nation state, whose essential mission was to milk the blood and sweat of its citizens, to bring benefits to its citizens.

In the modern age, the nation state as a mechanism for milking the blood and sweat of its citizens for the waging of war has faded into the background, and attention is overwhelmingly paid only to the part of bringing benefits to people; that is, social security. This is because the power base of nations has broadened to include the common people. On the other hand, countries everywhere are encountering a problem of a limit to their ability to bear the burden of social welfare.

The nation state regime of China: A federalism of multiple ethnic groups under the Qing dynasty

The encroachment of Europe, the United States and Japan since the Opium War is a source of trauma for the China of today. At the Summer Palace in Beijing, the words “Revived from the destruction caused by the Franco-British Alliance” are written above the entrance where tickets are purchased. Since China attributes this humiliation to the failure to establish a proper nation state regime, it has expended continuous efforts to build a strong “modern nation state” modeled after Europe and the United States.

But in an Asia where both the age of colonialism and the Cold War have come to an end, there is no power to change present circumstances through military force. Most countries will be happy as long as the general principles of free trade are adhered to. Are these efforts for building a “modern nation state” driven by the trauma of humiliation—repeating the process that was originally intended to create a tool for building up strength for encroaching on the outside world—suitable in the international situation of today?

Throughout its history, China has been maintained by an original principle different from that of the nation states of Western Europe. Furthermore, China is a nation which from ancient times has been built not only by the Han Chinese, but jointly with a number of ethnic groups from the west, and the nomadic tribes.

Being a single continent, traveling across Eurasia did not take an excessive amount of time on horseback. Considering that the Bronze Age and Iron Age occurred in about the same time in Egypt, Mesopotamia and China, it would be natural to assume that nomadic tribes and merchants such as the Scythae spanning the continents acted as the intermediaries for these ancient civilizations. In the case of Chinese civilization, too, a theory of Oriental genesis has been proposed by some quarters.

Records state that the first emperor of the unified China Qin Shi Huang was born to the family of a nomadic tribe in the west. The establishment of the Qin dynasty took place 340 years after the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. Many have pointed out the resemblance between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and the framework of the Qin Empire. When the Muslims overthrew the Sassanid Persian Empire in 642, it was communicated that the prince was exiled to Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Empire of China. This indicates how much traffic existed between China and Persia in those days.

The relations between China and the Orient remained close throughout history. The family of Lee Yun, the founder of the Tang dynasty, were warriors entrusted with the defense of the border regions, and for many years linked themselves through marriage with the Seounbi ethnic group living nearby. The warrior families who were to become the aristocracy of the Tang dynasty under Lee followed a similar pattern. An Lushang who led the insurgency during the mid-Tang period was born from a Tujue mother and a Sogd father. The excavation of burial mounds in the environs of Xi’an in recent years has revealed that Sogd people (who originated from the area around Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) were installed in high-ranking economic positions in the Tang imperial court.

In the Yuan dynasty, the links with the western regions were even clearer, with economic and trading policy entrusted to Persians and Sogd people. Zhang He, who commanded a great fleet totaling 20,000 people which sailed to Africa in the Ming Period, was a descendant of the se me ren (Muslims) who lived in southern China.

Multi-ethnicity in China reached its pinnacle in the Qing Period. “Qing” was the nation built through an alliance of the Jurchen people of the Manchu region with Mongols and Tibet. These ethnic groups worked together to pacify the Han Chinese. What they used in the process was the concept of the federal nation state.

The concept is sounded in the Da yi jue mi lu record tracking the exchange between Emperor Yongzheng and a Han Chinese follower of the Chu Hsi school of Confucianism, Chaoyuan, who was summoned to the Forbidden Palace for having criticized the Qing as a conquering dynasty. We find the following statements in defense of the Qing dynasty: (1) China did not belong only to the Han Chinese; (2) Sovereignty was not a monopoly of the Han Chinese, but can be assumed by any ethnic group; (3) The legendary Emperor Shun and King Zhou Wenwang, revered as saints by the Han Chinese, were of nomadic origin. This was a magnificent multi-ethnicism which at the time was communicated all over the country (however, when Emperor Qianlong burned all books containing discriminatory language, the said record was also put on the bonfire).

The Qing dynasty went beyond merely being a multi-ethnic nation state; it styled itself as a confederation of Jurchens, Hans, Mongolians and Tibetans. The Qing emperors were also given the title of the Khans of the Mongolians; therefore, soon after entering Beijing, Emperor Shunzhi built a white Tibetan-style Buddhist pagoda in the island at the back of the Forbidden City, and the 5th Dalai Lama was laid to rest next to Sakyamuni Buddha in the Buddhist sanctum built within the pagoda. Tibet was up until this time a powerful country, and it brought in the Xinjiang region with it: the entire region of Xinjiang became part of Chinese territory for the first time in the period of the Qing dynasty.

The Confucians, who had originally opposed the conquering Qing dynasty, re-evaluated the dynasty during the mid-Qing period, and began to think of the Qing territory as their own. It is said that the concept of China emerged for the first time in response to the Western encroachment. In other words, the current territory of China was established relatively recently, and the name of China is also quite new. Up until this time, for the Han Chinese tianxia (land below heaven) was the only word equivalent to China, and the name of the ruling dynasty was used when being more specific.

Both of the two great countries of Eurasia (China and Russia) are a particular kind of territorial state in that each was established by overturning a great empire founded by its nomadic conquerors. The nomadic people possessing military mobility expanded the trading sphere without limit, and created a framework of control different to that of the agricultural peoples, who clung grimly onto their own particular land. The states which grew on the basis of agricultural societies can easily convert to modern nation states with strong ethnic and cultural unity, but those which grew on the basis of domains conquered by nomadic people have problems with governance to this day.

(1) The state architecture of China

What is the state system of China like? Western Europe has dramatically improved its agricultural productivity since 1100, and went through the age of feudalism and then absolutism. China, however, had already established a strong government system with an absolutist character by the year 900, some 300 years earlier than Western Europe.

Until the end of the Tang period, China was ruled through vice-regents (or jie du shi) installed throughout the regions, who later proved to be divisive because they acted like provincial lords. However, it appears that the power of these vice-regents ebbed during the widespread conflict in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period which continued for 70 years following the Tang breakup. The Emperor Song who came to the throne in 979 enhanced the imperial examination which had already existed in the Tang period. From then on, all high-level government positions were to be filled not by aristocrats but by any people who passed the exam, appointed by the emperor himself. This probably gave much stronger control to the emperor.

Although Song Dynasty was weak in military terms, its rule marked one of the economic and cultural peaks of Chinese history. Japan learned much from Song’s intellectual culture in the Kamakura and Muromachi Periods, which was brought in to form the basis for Muromachi culture.

In China, the power of the center was always strong whatever dynasty was in power, and in this respect its government structure could be said to resemble that of absolute monarchies of Western Europe. However, China differed from Western Europe in that the Chinese emperor in many case was elevated from below, and real power was held by the high-level government officials. It may be said that this structure of government, which might be called “bureaucratic absolutism,” has been carried out in Japan since the Edo Period.

(2) Advantages and disadvantages of state initiative

In China, industrialization too was carried out through state initiative. Factories were constructed in the coastal areas of China in the end of the 19th century, but the initiative was mostly taken by regional bureaucrats. It is likely that the excessive state control over the economy weakened China, because it readily engendered wasteful spending and corruption.

In Japan, too, the government invested in building factories to supply the demands of war during this period, but the railways were built through mobilizing private sector capital, and consumer goods production was also consigned to the private sector. Magosaburo Ohara, a financier of the Meiji Period, took the welfare of female workers into consideration when building a factory, and created a large-scale art museum in Kurashiki; there were many other Japanese financiers of the like mindset, who had a great deal of public spiritedness.

(3) Sentiment towards the “state,” and the “political party state” as an extension of “bureaucratic absolutism”
China is a state that has faced threats, and as such, feelings and debate about the nature of the “state” tend to be fierce. China and Russia are the only states where intellectuals played the role of antagonists against the government of the time in the process of modernization. In pre-war Japan, the interests of the government and the people were unified with the exception of Marxists; as a saying of this era goes, “in the future, be sure to become a doctor or a cabinet minister.”

When the Qing dynasty collapsed, Sun Yat-sen, who spearheaded the Republic of China, proposed his concept of how “the political party state” should be. The influence of the Soviet Union can be seen in the concept, which was brought by Joffe, who at that time was giving enthusiastic support for the Kuomintang. For Sun Yat-sen, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union must have seemed enormously effective, since it single-handedly and permanently held legislative, governmental and judicial authority and, furthermore, controlled ideology. For him, enhancing the power of the state in order to defend China from Europe, the United States and Japan was a far more important issue than democracy.

Later, this concept of the “political party state” was steadily implemented not only by the Chinese Communist Party but also by the Kuomintang after moving to Taiwan. The Kuomintang government of Taiwan possessed strong police forces, and suppressed its opponents and increased involvement in the economy through national companies. Thus the privatization of companies promoted by the Democratic Progressive Party which seized power in 1999 had the political meaning of stripping the Kuomintang of these vested interests.

Thus, looking at the “political party state” which exists in China even today, we notice one thing: that the tradition of “bureaucratic absolutism” which has existed since the Song period has persisted to a remarkable extent. Carefully selected high-level (party) government officials dictate all, including the three branches of government and ideology. In large privatized firms, too, the influence of the party is strong. This is both a strength (particularly in diplomacy) and also a problem for modern China.

(4) Little-known aspects of Japan-China relations from ancient times

One gets the impression that the Japanese, since the Meiji Period and particularly after WWII, have forgotten the magnitude of the fellowship that has existed from ancient times with China. Japanese intellectuals have focused solely on how to catch up with Western civilizations.

However, going forward Japan needs to put forth its strength together with China in many matters, and in order to do this, we need to “bring China back to mind.” From ancient times, Japan has lived amidst the international environment and pressures created by China, and even Japanese culture, which has been thought of “possessing a unique aesthetic which only the Japanese can understand,” originated in China to a great extent. There is no need for Japan to feel inferior to China, but we need to thoroughly acknowledge China’s greatness, its record of achievements, and the impact which it has had on Japan, and to connect with China through an attitude of mutual respect and humility.

Let us take a look back at ancient history. China was once again reunited under the Sui and Tang dynasties in the sixth and seventh centuries after 273 years of internal fighting during the era of the Sixteen Kingdoms and of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, which no doubt had an enormous repercussions in Japan. In 645, Japan strengthened the central control of power in the Great Reformation of the Taika Era (when the imperial family overthrew the Soga clan, which had been monopolizing power), but this movement probably came about in response to the rise of the colossal power on the continent under the Sui dynasty.

The Sui dynasty was soon replaced by the Tang dynasty. Immediately after this, in 660, an alliance between the Silla and the Tang dynasty overthrew the Paekche in the Korean Peninsula, and in 663 a Japanese navy which set out to revive the Paekche was destroyed at Hakusukinoe on the coast of Korean Peninsula, throwing the imperial court into a panic. The sakimori spoken of in the Collection of a Myriad Leaves (the most ancient anthology of the tanka) compiled around that time were probably farmers who had been deployed to defend the coastline of Japan, though it is impossible to say for certain. Then in 668, a naval coalition between the Tang and Silla dynasties overthrew Koguryo, whereupon Balhae, founded by the surviving generals in present-day North Korea, sent an ambassador to the imperial court in Japan. In this way, Japan, the Tangs, the Sillas, the Balhaes, and the Qidans (from Manchuria) were establishing a subtle balance of power in East Asia.

The Heian Period (corresponding for the most part to the Song period in China) was the period in which “Japanese culture” began gradually to take a clear form. Works such as the Collection of Ancient and Modern Poetry have been embraced as symbols of a particularly Japanese sensibility; however, we should not forget that even during this period, basic education consisted of Chinese characters, Chinese classical poems, and Chinese literature. The various senses of beauty which can be seen in the Collection of Ancient and Modern Poetry are cited as a reflection of Japanese people’s unique aesthetic, but many are believed to be no more than Japanese adoption of the ideas seen in Chinese poetry.

We are told that the Kamakura Period and Muramachi Period (13th-14th century) saw the flowering of a number of aspects of what is called Japanese “traditional culture” such as tea, ikebana (flower arrangement) and Japanese gardens. In these works of art, aesthetic of wabi and sabi (simplicity and quietness), asymmetrical beauty, and the beauty of colorless blank spaces were appreciated. It has been said that they were all “rooted in an aesthetic peculiar to the Japanese,” but there is no doubt that much of this minimalism originated in the intellectual culture of the Song Period in China. That culture was broken off in China due to the arrival of the Mongolians, and following this, minimalism never revisited the aesthetic of the Chinese. Thus it could be said that in fact, modern Japan and Korea are the places where Han culture in its most sophisticated form has been maintained.

In terms of economic relations, too, there is no sufficient recognition of the size of the trade carried out between Japan and China. It is unlikely that the Chinese economy of the Middle Ages could have expanded as far as it did without imports of gold, silver and copper from Japan (Japan being in 1600 one of the world’s foremost exporters of gold). In Dongjing menghua lu (Record of Dreams of the Eastern Capital), which describes the lifestyle of Kaifeng, the capital city of Song China, citations of the products being sold on the market cover many pages. In the Song Period, steel was produced using coke, with the output of approximately 150,000 tons every year. Later on, a code of worker ethics was formulated in Wang Yangming’s school of thought in the 16th century, more than 200 years ahead of Japan.

Nor is it generally known that Japan’s national isolation was closely linked with the trends in China. The fact that Ming and Qing dynasties repeatedly issued “maritime bans” is often forgotten by present-day Japanese, who imagine that it was only Japan that underwent a period of national isolation.

There might have been a concern that the uncontrolled export of gold and silver would impede the expansion of Japan’s monetary economy, which ultimately led to the decision for isolation. For example, when the number of Chinese ships bound to Japan surged after the ban on overseas voyages was lifted by the Qing dynasty in 1684, the Edo government issued a decree in 1685 limiting the annual trade volume to 6,000 kan of silver for Chinese ships and 50,000 ryo of gold (or 3,000 kan of silver) for Dutch ships, in order to keep down the outflow of gold and silver from the country.

Our ideas of Japan’s period of isolation are dominated by the Dutch trade, and while it is known that during this period Japan maintained its trade with China, it is not widely known that the scale of that trade dwarfed that of Japan’s trade with Holland. When people go sightseeing in Nagasaki, attention tends to be focused on Dejima (Deshima), where the Dutch trading house was located, but only fifteen Dutch merchants were stationed here. By contrast, several thousands of Chinese people at any one time resided in the tojin yashiki or Chinese settlement nearby (despite its being called a settlement, this was in fact a 700m2 Chinatown surrounded by a fence) from which they carried out trade. Furthermore, the Dutch merchants initially traded in Chinese-produced goods acquired in Southeast Asia; they started bringing in advanced technology from home only after the industrial revolution, which happened significantly later.

Japan was unique in East Asia as a country which was not incorporated in the Chinese system of investiture and tribute (with only a few exceptions: Yamataikoku established in Japan was in an investiture relationship with China, and so was Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the 14th century who promoted licensed trade with China). Nevertheless, economic and cultural exchange prospered as long as the political situation in China remained stable. Although Edo Period was said to be Japan’s period of isolation, the basic learning of the samurai of the time was Confucian philosophy compiled in the Shiso gokyo (Four Books and Five Classics), and Chinese poetry provided popular reading for their pastime. They actually recited the Chinese poems out loud in Japanese pronunciation, a unique entertainment not seen elsewhere. It was as if today, we were to shout out the Japanese translations of the poems of Walt Whitman in a loud voice.

The fact that Japan never forged a relationship of investiture with China gave Japan a free hand in diplomacy, and allowed the country to open up to Europe and the United States in the 19th century ahead of its neighbors, and start constructing a modern nation state. This was an essential step for Japan to avoid being colonized.

However, Japan failed to manage the nation state properly as a war machine. Unable to prevent the military from running out of control, the Japanese government soon found itself on a path leading toward destruction.

It was at this point that Japan began to go down the path of failure in the handling of the powerful war machine that is dubbed “the nation state.” The Japanese, who have traditionally put a high value on decision-making through consensus, are not much used to seizing on absolute values; when they do choose such values, this can lead to fanaticism. Combined with the country’s out-of-touch perspective on international affairs, this allowed huge catastrophes such as the Pacific War to occur.

Challenges faced by modern nation states and their future

The modern nation states and the international community based on them are currently facing the following issues.

A monopoly by public opinion

In Western Europe, there has been a consistent “downward movement” in authority since the Middle Ages, from the Roman Empire to the Roman Catholic Church, individual kingdoms, magnates in the various parliaments, and finally to the general public. The interface between the general public and leaders is currently maintained through elections. In the United States, a “flat” power structure has been adopted since its foundation: the general public here selects presidents directly as its leaders.

In both of these models (Japan being of the Western Europe type), the interface between society and leaders is being clogged up. Floating votes are now taking up a larger part of the votes cast by the general public, which used to be pretty much organized along the lines of regional ties, blood ties, political parties and interest groups. Consequently, populism has become mainstream in all countries, stirring up the emotions of the electorate and relying excessively on the performance and personal appearance of candidates.

In Japan, young people in particular are seriously concerned whether the representative system is capable of reflecting their voices in politics, as the social welfare burdens bear more heavily on their shoulders. The official line is that elections encourage friendly competition between candidates and parties and the resulting changes in administration make possible far-reaching policy shifts, but as many commentators have pointed out, we cannot expect democracy to represent the stances of minorities or individuals.

Elections are a type of ritual for attaining, without conflict or bloodshed, the agreement of society on the policies (that is, redistributions of benefits) to be undertaken by parliaments and the government; they might also be described more harshly as providing an outlet for venting public opinion. The younger generation has sensed this, and as arguments between political parties have come to resemble mudslinging rather than friendly competition, the people have started to feel that politicians “are all the same” regardless of their political party.

After the Plaza Accord of 1985, Japan failed to revive the economic growth model which hinged on domestic demand instead of exports, and plunged into a recession in 1991 which has continued for more than a decade. The large-scale foreign direct investment (FDI) undertaken by Japanese companies to hedge against yen appreciation has promoted the rapid growth of the Chinese economy since 1994, while leaving the Japanese feeling starved of benefits.

Like any country experiencing economic recession or stagnation, the search has begun in Japan for “the culprit responsible for the unhappiness.” Initially high-level government officials, politicians, the entire bureaucracy, and finally the whole post-war framework of Japan was blasted as being deceptive, incompetent and corrupted; ultimately, what might be described as “authority” was all beaten into the ground.

In today’s Japan, authority lies with what is called “the people,” and the mass media, which styles itself as representing “the people” and “public opinion,” sits at the pinnacle of this authority. However, there are no venues for questioning the responsibility of the activities of either NGOs or the mass media, both of which are considered to represent “public opinion.” In the world of today, leaders stand before the supreme authority represented by the mass media, and seek to please them by contriving various kinds of performance. The leaders of other advanced countries on average display a stronger leadership than in Japan, but they, too, are tossed by the waves of populism which present a risk to governance.

The dissolution of “civic society” values

The nation state and industrial revolution in Western Europe nurtured “civic values.” A composition of values such as individualism and rationality that allow the freedom, rights and desires of the individual to be exercised to the maximum extent were emphasized, along with the rights of other people and a basic minimum level of public order.

In building the nation state, Western Europe looked to the civilizations of Ancient Greece and Rome as the ultimate source. Latin was taught at schools, and the Greek and Latin classics became a common educational requirement among the countries of Western Europe.

Currently, Western Europe is seeing a decline in the standards of its education and the dumbing down of its values (whereby people accept the current state of the world unquestioningly rather than delving into history, being content with the kind of “how-to” pragmatism that only reveals a narrow horizon). As the traditional “Western European culture” is eviscerated, the face of its cities is gradually changing with the inflow of Middle Eastern culture brought by immigrants.

The “nation” (in its original meaning) state has changed; the state has become a “multi-ethnic state.” Of the defining attributes of the nation state, that of the “single ethnic group” has gone, leaving only national borders and language. Moreover, even the realm of language is now being gradually penetrated by multi-ethnicity. The nation state is steadily becoming something which exists only in a virtual sense. It may be described as a lawyer who speaks for the interests of companies and individuals that inhabit a single domain. The present age is a period of dramatic redistribution of benefits on a global scale, as can be seen in the fundamental shakeup in the north-south terms of trade, symbolized by the rise in the BRICs and the rises in the prices of crude oil and raw materials. The romantic liberalism of the 1960s, which urged the liberation and freedom of the individual, must for the moment be left out of the immediate prospects. At that time, the young people who had the luxury of advocating freedom were limited to a few of the developed countries. Today, as young people grow wealthier throughout the world, they are pushing to enjoy more freedom. However, in that process, far from exercising liberalism, they will have to compete with bare force.

As the international scramble for benefits grows more intense, there is a possibility that this could fan the flames of nationalism in various societies, leading to right-wing dictatorships or collectivist societies. The golden age in which the “greatest possible happiness for the greatest number of people” matched the benefit of the liberal intellectuals who sought freedom has probably come to an end.

In such circumstances, Western Europe senses that it has lost its economic, social and educational base which has underpinned its people’s freedom and individualism up until now. History may repeat itself in this regard. Following the occupation by the Mongols of the southern Song, which had attained the pinnacle of Han Chinese civilization, that culture was maintained and developed by Japan; a similar process may occur with the culture of Western Europe. Alternatively, the current situation in Western Europe could be compared to the Late Western Roman Empire which faced mass inflows of the Germanic peoples.

It is good for the developing countries to try to become wealthier, but according to what model should they aim to develop? If they aspire to a decent human lifestyle and the realization of human rights, I would be happy to support them. However, if they merely plan to seize the wealth of advanced countries to fatten the current corrupt networks that are already enjoying many benefits, I stand in opposition to such trends.

The “nation state” is economically unsustainable

In the past, the nation state was mostly built to function as a war machine. This is changing, however. Today, more is expected of its function as rule-creator and umpire of the market economy, redistributor of wealth in society, balancer of economic changes, and finally a “welfare state.”

However, it is becoming more difficult for the nation state of today to deal with these issues. As the industrial revolution brought limitless productivity into the world, it is no longer possible to sell products without what Keynes referred to as “the creation of demand.” In that sense, the United States has artificially maintained economic growth by creating demand through the IT bubble and sub-prime loan bubble.

The massive flows of global finance can no longer be altered by the monetary authorities of one country alone. Furthermore, social insurance expenses have grown beyond the capacity of governments in all developed countries, as seen in the case of Japan where such costs make up more than 40% of general expenditure. Of the triad of nation state, industrial revolution and colonialism, the colonies have already disappeared, and the remaining two elements are also reaching their limits.

The nation state used to be a war machine, but actual armed conflict between the developed countries has become almost unimaginable. The countries of East Asia sometimes exchange heated words on their historical relations, but in reality, they depend on free trade with the United States and other countries around the world for their development and stability. As long as free trade is maintained, these countries would prefer to maintain the status quo in political terms.

In other words, in the developed world of today, which is essentially devoid of armed showdowns, conflicts arise not from specific economic or social issues but from national pride and vainglory. Both of these problems, indeed, exist because nation states themselves exist. The nation state itself creates conflicts.

Particular problems in Japan

Full-fledged industrialization in Japan started only one hundred years and a few decades ago, more than a century later than in Western Europe. Due to this, much of the morality and human relations generated in the village community that existed before industrialization still remain in Japan. In this respect, Japanese democracy differs from that of Europe and the United States.

Industrialization triggers an outpouring of village populations to cities, leading to the breakup of the village community, as epitomized by the “enclosures” that took place in England. Ultimately, people were cut off from ties of blood and of territory, leading a fragmented existence.

City dwellers in Western Europe, after they had once been fragmented, gathered to create a new civic society (that is to say, a virtual community in the cities) and set civic moral standards, although the process differed depending on the country. It is according to this code that they have lived until today. For example, residents of cooperative apartment houses observe tacit rules such as keeping down noise after dark to avoid causing each other annoyance.

Meanwhile, most Japanese citizens remain fragmented. People do not know their neighbors, nor do they try to get to know them. It is sometimes thought that individualism spread in Japan during the period of economic expansion, leading to the establishment of the fine custom of not interfering with people’s private lives. However, proof that this is not the case was revealed with the economic downturn. Public panic over “criminals” has become a frenzy; once a “suspect” is found, law and privacy are cast aside as a lynch mob-like feeding frenzy overtakes the scene. This is obviously quite different from the “civic society” in the Western European sense. Rather, it is more like the archaic ethics of the village society resurfacing in a modern industrialized society. The values and human relations suited to a modern industrial society have yet to be established.

The relationship between individuals and the government also differs to that in the United States and Europe. The proper sense of distance between individuals and the government has yet to be established in Japan. For some in Japan, the government is still “my superior” and “the authority,” while for others it is merely the entity that hands out pensions and allowances. The sense of political ownership as epitomized in Rousseau’s theory of the social contract is weak; the government remains essentially “the outsider” to most people. As soon as any problem occurs, complaints are heard from both establishment and anti-establishment, saying, “It’s the government’s fault.” People have aversion to the government’s interference, but when a problem occurs with buildings or food, they blame everything on “the government’s lack of management.” In the end, the government resorts to tightening regulations, thereby suffocating economic activity.

As many kinds of authority that held sway in the post-war society are denied, even the mass media, which has amassed enormous power, is coming up against major constraints. Because the mass media is reluctant to expose the defects and injustices of its own industry, it has no accountability. Furthermore, it does not report on the subtleties of internal politics, in order to avoid being cut off from its information source. It does not report on such matters even when there are connections with organized crime, religious cults and pressure groups.

As such, the position of Japan in the world is extremely difficult. The world is moving into an age where the major game is occupied by super-sized nations such as the United States and the BRICs—or, I may say, “mega nations”—and federations such as the EU. Japan must stay on par with them as a nation state much smaller in scale. East Asia as yet has neither the momentum nor the conditions to allow an EU-like federation to develop. Furthermore, no more than a handful of Japanese people have the linguistic skills, insight, and character to mingle with foreigners. Even through Japan cannot go on without internationalizing, most of the population has no such sense in their everyday lives, and cannot speak any foreign languages.

Indeed, Japan is the largest “ethnic nation state” in the world (the United States being a multi-ethnic nation state). Its strength comes primarily from manufacturing, which does not require linguistic skills. However, as the economy shifts toward services, knowledge-based industries and mass media, which require people to speak foreign languages on a one-to-one level, Japan will lose competitiveness.

To sum up the above, Japan is in a position like no other country, with many people resentful of the nation state and disliking its government, yet unable to go outside the framework of the “nation state” to an extent which is unusual in the world.

Seeking a new model

A perfect model of the nation state is not to be found anywhere in history. It is mere romanticism to imagine that we can transplant a model from elsewhere to replace the current defunct model. A panacea model probably does not exist. The only way is to tackle the present issues one by one (yet comprehensively); to extract some positive elements from historical examples, see if they can be applied to today’s society, and introduce them one by one organically and comprehensively with other elements. This is how political scientist Jun Sakurada sees it: “What we need to do is to define the scope of the role that the ‘nation state’ must assume, notwithstanding this trend of ‘globalization.’ In doing this, neither jumping on the bandwagon of the debate over the ‘decline of the nation state’ imported directly from the United States and Europe, nor a continued addiction to the mentality of ‘relativization of the nation state’ that positions the ‘nation state’ as a ‘negative existence,’ will be of help.” I agree with this statement.

Let us shift our discussion to more concrete matters. Firstly, we need to consider what global regime should be set in place, without which we cannot stipulate what position the nation state can occupy in that regime. To speak in broad terms, the global regime has two roles. One is the prevention and resolution of conflicts; in other words, security. The second is the realization of economic prosperity; to be more specific, discussion on institutional infrastructure—that is, the IMF, World Trade Organization (WTO), international currencies—for the future.

This paper has stated that the nation state has a tendency to create unnecessary conflict by drumming up national pride. However, this does not mean that conflict would cease if Japan quit being a nation state ahead of other nations.

Without an international framework for verifying and defending the property and other rights of the people and companies firmly set in place, the economy of a country that has lost its guardians will be at mercy of great powers. This is not the only issue. If a country thus becomes a power vacuum, nearby powers may even invade it in fear of its being used by other countries.

If an international framework for verifying and defending the property and other rights of individuals and companies is firmly set in place, the right to national defense, which is one of the major rights of the nation state, may be entrusted elsewhere, leaving the nation with only the language and culture as unifying principles. If that is realized, then even if countries compete with one another due to ethnic sentiment, it is unlikely to produce armed conflict. National defense may be entrusted to either the US military or regional arrangements, broadly speaking. If world law and order is to depend on the US military, it is essential that the world secure greater rights to voice opinions regarding the US policies (assuming, however, that those countries seeking greater rights to voice opinions are paying taxes to the United States). Because the United States is coming to resemble a microcosm of the world as a whole, it is bizarre for there to be a difference in the rights between persons within its territories and those outside them.

In terms of economy, the reorganization of the IMF is essential. Ever since the United States left the gold standard following the Smithsonian Agreement in 1971, financial trading has become rampant, dwarfing the volume of trading in goods around the world. The IMF, which was created to redress deficits in trade balances, has become an anachronism. Countries holding ample reserves of foreign currency such as the BRICs should from now on build up contributions for the IMF, setting them up as rescue funds for possible financial failures in the future.

We need also to seek the way to continue the system of free trade, which has continued for the past 60 years since WWII. This is because as long as free trade is secured, it will be difficult for armed conflict to break out. Which economy possesses the scale and constant vitality sufficient to complement the US economy, which has slipped relative to other countries, and support free trade at the same time? This is not an easy question to answer.

Next, what are we to do for an interface between society and policy makers in each country? Those with a strong sense of independence resent authority and consult history for examples of state that prospered with minimum state intervention. The Islamic Empires and the port city states of the Indian Ocean can be cited as such examples. But was the actual state of governance in the Islamic Empires really liberal or soft? I cannot be certain of that, considering that a number of Islamic countries today practice an authoritarian style of governance which puts the interests of religious leaders first. Furthermore, the liberal governance practiced in the port city states of India did not reach the interior of the continent.

Today, the European Union (EU) is much vaunted as a substitute for the nation state. However, the major Western European countries have been reluctant to grant their rights to the EU, and retain practical rights of veto over the decisions of the European Commission. Praising the EU excessively and thus giving it authority beyond its actual capabilities is a folly that should be prudently avoided. That being said, should the EU member states act together as one in the international arena, this would be a formidable force given the large number of votes. That kind of potential should be justly evaluated.

The internet and computers are entirely new means of communication between public and policy makers. One leader alone cannot read emails from 100 million people each day, but a breakthrough software that aggregates and analyzes emails from the public may be developed in the near future, which may be capable of proposing policy options to the leader.

Through the internet, people can dream of “direct democracy.” Since the Industrial Revolution, people’s standard of living has steadily risen and regular elections have become reality to give an outlet to the people’s heightened political consciousness. However, with the expansion of the electoral base, the time for dialogue between policy makers and individual voters has diminished, resulting in a general resort to populist methods through television. Surely now is the time for democracy to rise to a new stage using the internet. In Scandinavian countries, both citizens’ political consciousness and the voting rate are constantly high. I believe that a similar thing can happen in Japan through the use of the internet.

The problem is, however, that people do not use the internet constantly, and do not necessarily wish always to take part in government.

What about Japan? Because Japan is short of people with proficient foreign language skills, it is extremely difficult to move outside the framework of the nation state. Perhaps the only practicable way to internationalize it is to allow more foreign participation in its economy so as to let Japan gradually move outside the nation state’s framework, and adapt the legal system to these changes.

Copyright ©08.10 Akio KAWATO


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