Everywhere the course of human civilization has been shaped by the same evolutional law.
The earlier history of the ancient European communities can help us to understand the social conditions of Old Japan, so a later period of the same history can help us to divine something of the probable future of the New Japan.
The history of all the ancient Greek and Latin communities included four revolutionary periods.
- The first revolution had everywhere for its issue the withdrawal of political power from the priest-king, who was nevertheless allowed to retain the religious authority.
- The second revolutionary period witnessed the breaking up of the gens, and the enfranchisement of the client from the authority of the patron, and several important changes in the legal constitution of the family.
- The third revolutionary period saw the weakening of the religious and military aristocracy, the entrance of the common people into the rights of citizenship, and the rise of a democracy of wealth, presently to be opposed by a democracy of poverty.
- The fourth revolutionary period witnessed the first bitter struggles between rich and poor, the final triumph of anarchy, and the consequent establishment of a new and horrible form of despotism, the despotism of the popular tyrant.
To these four revolutionary periods, the social history of Old Japan presents but two correspondences.
The first Japanese revolutionary period was represented by the Fujiwara usurpation of the imperial civil and military authority.
After which the aristocracy, religious and military, really governed Japan down to our own time (Meiji Era).
All the events of the rise of the military power and the concentration of authority under the Tokugawa Shogunate properly belong to the first revolutionary period.
At the time of the opening of Japan, society had not evolutionally advanced beyond a stage corresponding to that of the antique Western societies in the seventh or eighth century before Christ.
The second revolutionary period really began only with the reconstruction of society in 1871.
But within the space of a single generation thereafter, Japan entered upon her third revolutionary period.
Already the influence of the elder aristocracy is threatened by the sudden rise of a new oligarchy of wealth, a new industrial power probably destined to become omnipotent in politics.
The disintegration of the clan, the changes in the legal constitution of the family, the entrance of the people into the enjoyment of political rights, must all tend to hasten the coming transfer of power.
There is every indication that, in the present order of things, the third revolutionary period will run its course rapidly, and then a fourth revolutionary period, fraught with serious danger, would be in immediate prospect.
Consider the bewildering rapidity of recent changes, from the reconstruction of society in 1871 to the opening of the first national parliament in 1891.
Down to the middle of the nineteenth century the nation had remained in the condition common to European patriarchal communities twenty–six hundred years ago.
Society had indeed entered upon a second period of integration, but had traversed only one great revolution.
Then the country was suddenly hurried through two more social revolutions of the most extraordinary kind.
Japan had not even approached that stage of industrial development which, in the ancient European societies, naturally brought about the first political struggles between rich and poor.
Japan’s social organization made industrial oppression impossible.
And under the new order of things, forms of social misery, never before known in the history of the race are developing.
Prior to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a minority there was never any such want in any part of Japan, except as a temporary consequence of war.
The early history of European civilization supplies analogies.
In the Greek and Latin communities, up to the time of the dissolution of the gens, there was no poverty in the modern meaning of that word.
Slavery with some few exceptions, existed only in the mild domestic form.
Under any patriarchal system, based upon ancestor-worship, there is no misery, as a consequence of poverty, except such as may be temporarily created by devastation or famine.
If want thus comes, it comes to all alike.
In such a state of society everybody is in the service of somebody, and receives in exchange for service all the necessaries of life.
There is no need for any one to trouble himself about the question of living.
Also, in such a patriarchal community, which is self-sufficing, there is little need of money.
Barter takes the place of trade.
In all these respects, the condition of Old Japan offered a close parallel to the conditions of patriarchal society in ancient Europe.
While the uji or clan existed, there was no misery except as a result of war, famine, or pestilence.
Throughout society, except for the small commercial class, the need of money was rare, and such coinage as existed was little suited to general circulation.
Taxes were paid in rice and other produce.
As the lord nourished his retainers, so the samurai cared for his dependents, the farmer for his labourers, the artisan for his apprentices and journeymen, the merchant for his clerks.
Everybody was fed, and there was no need, in ordinary times at least, for any one to go hungry.
It was only with the breaking-up of the clan system in Japan that the possibilities of starvation for the worker first came into existence.
And as, in antique Europe, the enfranchised client-class and plebeian-class developed, under similar conditions, into a democracy clamouring for suffrage and all political rights.
And so it is in Japan where the common people developed the political instinct for self-preservation.
It will be remembered how, in Greek and Roman society, the aristocracy founded upon religious tradition and military power had to give way to an oligarchy of wealth.
At a later day, the results of popular suffrage were the breaking up of the democratic government, and the initiation of an atrocious struggle between rich and poor.
After that strife had begun there was no more security for life or property until the Roman conquest enforced order.
Now it seems likely that we will soon witness in Japan a strong tendency to repeat the history of the old Greek anarchies.
With the constant increase of poverty and pressure of population, and the concomitant accumulation of wealth in the hands of a new industrial class, the peril is obvious.
The Primitive Man, finding that the Moral Man has landed him in the valley of the shadow of death, may rise up to take the management of affairs into his own hands, and fight savagely for the right of existence.
The absence of individual liberty was the real cause of the disorders and the final ruin of the Greek societies.
Rome suffered less and survived, and dominated, because within its boundaries the rights of the individual had been more respected.
Now the absence of individual freedom in modern Japan would certainly appear to be nothing less than a national danger.
For those very habits of unquestioning obedience and loyalty and respect for authority, which made feudal society possible, are likely to render a true democratic regime impossible, and would tend to bring about a state of anarchy.
Only races long accustomed to personal liberty, liberty to think about matters of ethics apart from matters of government, liberty to consider questions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, independently of political authority are able to face without risk the peril now menacing Japan.
For should social disintegration take in Japan the same course which it followed in the old European societies, unchecked by any precautionary legislation, and so bring about another social revolution, the consequence could scarcely be less than utter ruin.
In the antique world of Europe, the total disintegration of the patriarchal system occupied centuries.
It was slow, and it was normal not having been brought about by external forces.
In Japan, on the contrary, this disintegration is taking place under enormous outside pressure, operating with the rapidity of electricity and steam.
Yet already the danger of anarchy is in sight, and the population astonishingly augmented by more than ten millions already begins to experience all the forms of misery developed by want under industrial conditions.
This immense development has been effected at serious cost in other directions.
The old methods of family production, and therefore most of the beautiful industries and arts, for which Japan has been so long famed now seem doomed beyond hope.
Instead of the ancient kindly relations between master and workers, there have been brought into existence with no legislation to restrain inhumanity all the horrors of factory–life at its worst.
The new combinations of capital have actually reestablished servitude, under under harsher forms than ever were imagined under the feudal era.
The misery of the women and children subjected to that servitude is a public scandal, and proves strange possibilities of cruelty on the part of a people once renowned for kindness, kindness even to animals.
If the future of Japan could depend upon her army and navy, upon the high courage of her people and their readiness to die by the hundred thousand for ideals of honour and of duty, there would be small cause for alarm in the present state of affairs.
Unfortunately, Japan’s future must depend upon other qualities than courage, other abilities than those of sacrifice, and her struggle hereafter must be one in which her social traditions will place Japan at an immense disadvantage.
The capacity for industrial competition cannot be made to depend upon the misery of women and children, it must depend upon the intelligent freedom of the individual.
And the society which suppresses this freedom, or suffers it to be suppressed, must remain too rigid for competition with societies in which the liberties of the individual are strictly maintained.
While Japan continues to think and to act by groups, even by groups of industrial companies, so long Japan must always continue incapable of her best.
Her ancient social experience is not sufficient to avail her for the future international struggle, rather it must sometimes impede her as so much dead weight.
Dead, in the ghostliest sense of the word, the viewless pressure upon her life of numberless vanished generations.
Japan will have not only to strive against colossal odds in her rivalry with more plastic and more forceful societies, Japan will have to strive much more against the power of her phantom past.
Yet it were a grievous error to imagine that Japan has nothing further to gain from her ancestral faith.
All her modern successes have been aided by it.
All her modern failures have been marked by needless breaking with its ethical custom.
Japan could compel her people, by a simple fiat, to adopt the civilization of the West, with all its pain and struggle, only because that people had been trained for ages in submission and loyalty and sacrifice, and the time has not yet come in which Japan can afford to cast away the whole of her moral past.
More freedom indeed Japan requires, but freedom restrained by wisdom, freedom to think and act and strive for self as well as for others, not freedom to oppress the weak, or to exploit the simple.
And the new cruelties of her industrial life can find no justification in the traditions of her ancient faith, which exacted absolute obedience from the dependent, but equally required the duty of kindness from the master.
In so far as Japan has permitted her people to depart from the way of kindness, Japan herself has surely departed from the Way of the Gods.
And the domestic future appears dark.
Born of that darkness, an evil dream comes oftentimes to those who love Japan.
The fear that all her efforts are being directed, with desperate heroism, only to prepare the land for the sojourn of peoples older by centuries in commercial experience.
That her thousands of miles of railroads and telegraphs, her mines and forges, her arsenals and factories, her docks and fleets, are being put in order for the use of foreign capital.
That her admirable army and her heroic navy may be doomed to make their last sacrifices in hopeless contest against some combination of greedy states.
Provoked or encouraged to aggression by circumstances beyond the power of Government to control.
But the statesmanship that has already guided Japan through many storms should prove able to cope with this gathering peril.
Japan, An Attempt At Interpretation
Patrick Lafcadio Hearn