Goto Shimpei’s Meta Theory on Modern Empire

I feel that, from what I have read so far, Goto Shimpei is everyone’s favorite colonial policy-maker. He learned ‘scientific’ colonial governance from Western examples; his management of colonial affairs made the Japanese rule in Taiwan self-sustainable; he made a basis for Japan’s rule of Manchuria. Compared to Hara Kei, another ‘everyone’s favorite’ in the history of Japanese colonialism, who believed in the extension of home rule (内地延長主義), Goto was much closer to contemporary Western colonizers in that he regarded colonies as completely separate entities from the home country. The fact that these two figures who had almost opposite ruling philosophies are praised in the same way shows the difficulty of determining what exactly “good governance” means in colonial rule.

Anyway, I happened to read Goto’s 日本植民政策一班 (Japanese colonial policies), which was written based on his lecture given in 1914. I was curious of how he thought about the role of modern empire. He says;

19世紀において起こりました、国民主義なるものは… 強者には無上の好武器であるが、弱者には却って身を殺すの凶器であったと云ふことは明らかであります…この国民主義の興隆と共にその弱い国は無理往生的に同化を強いられるという形成に相成ったのが、欧羅巴列国生存競争の結果であります。その国民主義に加えるに帝国主義を以てすることになりました。

(rough translation) It is clear that nationalism, which arose in the nineteenth century,… was an excellent weapon for the strong, but for the weak, it was rather a self-destructive weapon… Together with this rise of nationalism, those weak countries were forced to assimilate. This is a result of the competition for survival among European powers. They added imperialism to this nationalism.

Assuming that the common narrative that today’s historians give that the era of nationalism took over the era of imperialism is somewhat right (at least chronologically), Goto’s reverse perception is quite fascinating. Partly this is because he was trying to analyze World War I, which manifested the coexistence of nationalism and imperialism. But I suspect this was a common mindset for the Japanese leaders. They, including Goto, probably felt that “first comes nation, and that becomes empire” from their experience. This was absolutely not the case for most of the European empires. But for Japan, with a strong orientation for “nation” building, “empire” was a powerful version of the “nation.” This might sound a little too banal as a point for Japan specialists, but from a comparative viewpoint, this is quite anomalous.

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