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Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers
University of Chicago Press, 2007
246 pp., $17.00
The Enlightenment emphasis on the ontological priority of the individual has had far-reaching effects. We value the fruits of individual reason, inalienable rights, the social contract, democracy, and capitalism. But this legacy has also provoked significant and often legitimate criticisms. Critics cannot be pigeon-holed as representing any peculiar partisan, ideological, or religious background. The earliest European critics, such as the Romantics, warned against the tyranny of reason or, like Edmund Burke, deplored the disparagement of history, tradition, and national particularities. Hans Georg Hamann, a devout Christian friend of Kant, argued against him from a faith perspective. As Enlightenment ideas spread to other parts of the world, such critiques spread and broadened as well, continuing into the 20th century. In India, Gandhi raised troubling questions about how scientific and technological development displaces concern for moral and religious truth. In Japan, Nitobe, a Christian, considered the dangers of a society in which one's own rights and freedoms trumped the needs of the broader society. Many non-Westerners saw colonialism and World War I as belying Western pretensions to possess a superior civilization, able to define the "good life" for all humanity.
The leaders of the 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan drew heavily on Western models to reorganize domestic society and politics after two centuries of seclusion, yet criticized these models on the basis of a close reading of Western thinkers. A conservative critique of Enlightenment liberalism, borrowing from European debates as well as drawing on Shinto and Confucian concepts, lay at the heart of the 1889 Meiji Constitution. By the time Japan sat among the victors at Versailles in 1919, bolstered by earlier triumphs in the Sino- and Russo-Japanese wars, the long-isolated nation had become a significant regional power. Japanese conservatism seemed vindicated by its success.
And yet, much to the chagrin of ...