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From Dictatorship to Democracy: Exploring the Growth of Democratic Institutions in Post-War Japan and Germany

Essay By: Victoria Klis
Non-fiction


The establishment of democracy in post-war Japan and Germany in 1945 represented the total success of Western capitalist democracies against the fascism of the Axis powers – Germany, Japan, and Italy – and begs a deeper understanding of the very requirements of democracy. How could two nations, differing on several fundamental historical, social, and political levels, so readily and successfully adopt democracy? Where Germany had a long-divided past with unification occurring not even a century prior to World War Two[1], Japan had a centuries-old stable Imperial state.[2] Germany was geographically close to industrialized, modern states such as Britain and France, whereas Japan was isolated in the Pacific Basin, dependent on other states for essential imports of raw materials. Japanese society focuses much more on family structures and community[3], whereas German nationalism was a decades old concept, championed heavily by Bismarck during the unification process as a means of creating socio-cultural ties between the citizenry and the state.[4] However, despite these apparent differences, both nations chose fascism as the route to modernity. Both nations felt economically unstable and uncomfortably dependent on resources, both physical and intellectual, from other, more economically developed countries. Both nations ultimately put the nation above societal bonds in order to pursue aggressive modernization in economics and militarism.


Submitted:Apr 10, 2013    Reads: 65    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


The establishment of democracy in post-war Japan and Germany in 1945 represented the total success of Western capitalist democracies against the fascism of the Axis powers - Germany, Japan, and Italy - and begs a deeper understanding of the very requirements of democracy. How could two nations, differing on several fundamental historical, social, and political levels, so readily and successfully adopt democracy? Where Germany had a long-divided past with unification occurring not even a century prior to World War Two[1], Japan had a centuries-old stable Imperial state.[2] Germany was geographically close to industrialized, modern states such as Britain and France, whereas Japan was isolated in the Pacific Basin, dependent on other states for essential imports of raw materials. Japanese society focuses much more on family structures and community[3], whereas German nationalism was a decades old concept, championed heavily by Bismarck during the unification process as a means of creating socio-cultural ties between the citizenry and the state.[4] However, despite these apparent differences, both nations chose fascism as the route to modernity. Both nations felt economically unstable and uncomfortably dependent on resources, both physical and intellectual, from other, more economically developed countries. Both nations ultimately put the nation above societal bonds in order to pursue aggressive modernization in economics and militarism.

Late industrialization in both nations created labor issues between the workers and the government, and made each state painstakingly aware of their economic shortcomings in regards to modernizing industry. Liberal political culture which had a fragile foothold in each society, was abruptly pushed to the background with the failure of the Weimar Republic in Germany and the Taisho democracy of early 20th century Japan. At the end of the Second World War, Germany and Japan's political, economic, and social institutions were discredited and in shambles. With fascist ideals no longer holding any romantic notions of long-term success and prosperity, the timing was finally right for the onset of capitalist democracy. Democracy was established in post-war Germany and Japan by the West (namely the United States, France and Britain) as the very pressures that had spurred the nations towards fascism were redirected through the understanding that through capitalist democracy, lasting economic prosperity was attainable, as exemplified by the superior economies and militaries of the Allied victors. Democracy in the case of Germany and Japan, was not the spontaneous embracing of a new regime, it was a shift of logic and self-preservation.

Many political scientists have contested the validity of evaluating Japan as a fascist regime alongside Hitler's Nazi Germany. Scholars Peter Duus and Daniel Okimoto purport that academics would be better off abandoning any attempts at creating definitions of socio-political concepts such as fascism that transcend any boundaries at all.[5] However, in an increasingly globalized world, comparative politics and indeed, comparative terminology is becoming more important that ever as political scientists, historians and their counterparts struggle to make sense of the post-war era and come to more complete understandings of the process of democratization in order to better advise future of democratic affairs. While focusing on differences in Germany and Japan's social and political histories and grappling over an "accurate", state-spanning definition of fascism, academics have failed to note the fundamental commonalities in each state, namely their political and economic motivations, which account for both the push towards fascism and the adoption of democracy post-war. For the purposes of examining the preconditions that led to democratization in Germany and Japan, it will be understood that fascism is an authoritarian, nationalist regime change from above which metastasizes in the form of ardent militarism, nationalism and corrupt state/business partnerships.[6]

Both Germany and Japan were latecomers to industrialization, entering into modernity in the 1880s.[7] Following the leadership of agrarian leaders - the Prussian Junkers and the Japanese Sat-Cho samurai - both states were unified in the desire for modernization, with the hopes of improving military capabilities.[8] As Germany and Japan were behind in industry, neither state had the capacity to produce goods of economic or military value to the scale of industrial pioneer, Britain. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the world would experience the horrors of the "Long Depression" of 1873-1896.[9] Newly unified Germany was forging a presence on the global economic stage with its involvement in the Second Industrial Revolution.[10] Japan was likewise making economic gains with its own plunge into industry development. However, with the onset of the Weimar Republic of 1919[11] and the Taisho democracy of 1912[12], both states would suffer at the hands of weak democracies. The Weimar Republic would mark a period of German political history that saw the destruction of German territorial gains in the era of imperialism and the forced entrenchment of the principles of the Versailles treaty that contained massive military reductions and reparation payments to the victors of the First World War.[13] In twentieth century Japan, the Taisho democracy emerged, bringing with it sweeping social reforms, as in its German counterpart.[14] However also like its German counterpart, it was not to last - in 1926 the Taisho democracy fell along with its emperor as a result of ongoing economic troubles.[15] According to Professor Ouchi Tsutomu, Japanese fascism was similar to its Italian and German counterparts. As political oppression increased in the 1930s along with national monopoly capitalism and economic crisis, alienating the middle class from established socio-political order, fascism was once again seen as an attractive avenue, which touted the possibility of economic success via political reform.[16] While fascism certainly is not an inevitable step in the development of capitalist democracy, it does represent an avenue taken by certain societies for modernization[17] as it allows for greater centralized control of industry via government/business partnerships. Facing increasing external pressure to perform economically in a growing global community, as well as increasing internal pressure from stagnating, ill-developed economies, fascism was an attractive political option that allowed for more decisive change and, potentially, more rapid growth than the ill-formed democracy of the Weimar or Taisho eras. The pressures that would push Germany and Japan in the pre-war era to move towards fascism, namely a need for economic stability, would propel each state in the post-war era to an adoption of lasting democracy that would establish industry, trade, and much needed commerce in each nation.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, Western Europe was industrializing rapidly, and along with this change came social and cultural problems involving a growing population of working laborers. As Britain was pioneering this move into modernity, there was no point of reference and so industrialization continued into the latter half of the century, mitigated continually by increases in working class and human rights, as well as increasing knowledge of the fragile bonds between worker and employer. Germany and Japan however, would experience these same social and cultural challenges at a time when there was pressure to perform economically alongside fully industrialized nations, such as Britain, France, and the United States. This very pressure would have a detrimental effect on the way in which German and Japanese employers would internalize the notion that higher wages for workers would eventually equate to better yields and higher profits.[18] The desire for unbridled progress would overshadow the gradualist approach that, in Britain, had slowly melded capitalism with democracy. Management modernization in late-nineteenth century Japan meant the improvement of working class conditions and represented a "psycho-cultural conversion" reticent of Western practices forged during previous industrialization in the former half of the 19th century.[19] Socialist movements in Bismarck's Germany paralleled the management modernization of Tokugawa Japan, as the staunchly conservative German government ultimately made concessions.[20] Attempts at remedying these social consequences of industrialization would prove unsatisfactory and lead to the further appeal of fascism as a means of eradicating the need for socio-political policies regarding worker's rights and worker/employer relations. Through corporatist policies post-Second World War, the West would remedy this consequence of industrialization, thereby further legitimizing democracy.

In Bismarckian Germany, there was a growing sense among German intellectuals that freedom from foreign economic control would be beneficial for more than economic reasons; it could be a source of pride and nationalistic glue which would cement the newly unified Germany together. In the case of Japan, the establishment of Japanese independency regarding raw materials was of crucial importance to a nation very much aware of its lagging status compared to the west. Germany would ultimately make forays into imperialism with holdings in coastal Africa,[21] and Japan would have a presence in Manchuria and Korea in the opening decades of the twentieth century.[22] These holdings were political footholds representing both nations desire for international recognition as an imperial power. That both Germany and Japan chose this route to economic success speaks to each nations' mismanagement of internal resources. Political sociologist Barrington Moore, held that had income and wealth been more equitably divided in the countryside, Japan might not have had to seek overseas markets and resources via aggressive military conquest[23], the very militarism which would see the rise of fascism and the allying of Japan with fascist powers Italy and Germany. In Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler would capitalize on Germany's many resources, catapulting the nation forward industrially and solidifying his control via economic success that would wrench the nation out of a depression.[24] Both nations would ultimately continue to become aggressively expansionist as the Second World War erupted, speaking to each nations economic and military instability, and setting the stage for democratic intervention post-war, when once again each states' economy was devastated, fascism having failed them.

Both Germany and Japan had a history of liberal political culture, thus substantiating the adoption of democracy post-war as being precedented. In the midst of the Meiji restoration and the years following, factory owner Saihei Hirose "offered a prayer that the government would refrain from taking any action detrimental to industrial progress."[25] Heigoro Shoda, a leading manager at Mitsubishi, had faith in a free market economy bringing about economic prosperity and social harmony.[26]; he would eventually have a hand in policy making which would introduce unregulated capitalism to Japan. Aizo Soma, founder of confectionary Nakamuraya emphasized "consensus and solidarity without authoritarian control"[27] in the workplace, an example of early democracy in Japanese employer/worker relations. As Professor Tsurumi Shunsuke explained in his work on liberal politics in Japan, there were many liberal political thinkers who were forced to recant their beliefs under duress to support the Japanese values of harmony and unity during the 1930s.[28] In late nineteenth century Germany under chancellor Bismarck, there was much campaigning for social welfare policies, among other demands for greater working class rights and representation.[29] This sentiment largely encapsulates those of decades-earlier capitalist entrepreneurs in Britain and France who eschewed equality and workers' rights for capitalistic gain. However while early industrialization went through gradual reforms throughout the nineteenth century, Japan and Germany would see their paths to an understanding of capitalism cut short by both the first and second world war, as well as ineffective forays into premature democracy which, rather than spurning onward the modernization both nations desperately craved, stagnated both states into a socio-political mess ready for the seductive, assertive control of fascism to sweep them off their feet.

In the hazy aftermath of the catastrophic Second World War, the West (particularly the United States) sought to involve itself in the reconstruction of the defeated nations Germany and Japan. By addressing the key grievances and desires of each society pre-war that lead to the states' seduction by fascism, the West was able to implement democracy and foster its successful growth. Corporatism post-war was an attempt to remedy the antagonizing between workers/business owners and prevent the attractiveness of anti-democratic regimes from resurging. Contrary to the views of Japanese academic Maruyama Masao, there was a "cult of the supreme leader" centered on the "divinely appointed" Emperor Hirohito.[30] In the aftermath of the war, the Western allies forced the emperor to confess his non-divine origins in order to discredit his leadership, and the imperial, non-democratic regime he represented.[31] In similar fashion, Hitler's fascist regime was also discredited vis-à-vis the discovery and publicizing of the atrocities of the Holocaust. Through this, there was less opposition to the new democratic regime with the authority of the previous fascist leaders completely disgraced. Once democracy was implemented following 1945, Germany and Japan would experience unprecedented growth and economic success over the successive decades, becoming global industrial powers. This success would entrench democracy in both states by proving a successful means to establish a dynamic, self-sufficient economy capable of supporting high levels of growth and industrialization, thereby quashing future interest in an anti-democratic regime.

Throughout the course of this paper, various themes regarding German and Japanese development and politics pre- World War 2 have been examined, in particular the ways in which late industrialization, a history of liberal political culture, and Western influence could successfully grow and support democracy in previously fascist states. Due to the time at which both Germany and Japan modernized in the late nineteenth century, both states felt the brunt of external and internal pressures for greater economic and military competence. With the failure of both the Weimar Republic and the Taisho democracies of the early twentieth century with failing economies in tow, both states were attracted to the controlling features of fascism. In the post-war era, decimated by the Allied victors, both Germany and Japan would look to democracy with the same vigor, affirming the notion that democracy was, in this case, a means to an end. Even though democracy has flourished in Germany and Japan following the Second World War, vestiges of the old regimes and socio-political traditions remain strong within each society suggesting that while democracy was the winning ideology post-war, it does not overcome cultural history. In Japan, single-party rule and sacred-nation egoism abroad -remnants of long Japanese traditions of bureaucratism and isolationism - served Japanese capitalism well in the decades following the war.[32] In Ben Lombardi's "All politics is local" remnants of Germany's socio-cultural past pervade in the form of favoring social welfare-ism, even after the decimation of the German social and political systems following Hitler's defeat.[33] Democracy after the Second World War was successful because both Germany and Japan would see the potential for stability in the new democratic regime. Much in the same way both states had fixated on fascism decades earlier, the external and internal pressures that had encouraged rapid modernization were gone, and the gradualist approach that had encouraged democracy in Western Europe with the onset of industrialization was now a viable option.

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612-637.

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[1] Robin W. Winks and Joan Neuberger, Europe and the Making of Modernity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 34-35, 155.

[2] Wilson, George M. "Plots and Motives in Japan's Meiji Restoration." Comparative Studies in Society and History 25, no. 3 (Summer 1983): www.jstor.org. 407-408.

[3] Koji Taira. "Factory Legislation and Management Modernization during Japan's Industrialization, 1886-1916." The Business History Review 44, no. 1 (Spring, 1970): www.jstor.org. 89.

[4] Shelley Baranowski, Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 27.

[5] Peter Duus and Daniel I. Okimoto. "Fascism and the History of Pre-War Japan: The Failure of a Concept." The Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (Fall 1979): www.jstor.org. 67.

[6] Lawrence W. Britt. "Fascism, Anyone?" Free Inquiry 23, no. 2: www.secularhumanism.org. 8-12.

[7] Perry Anderson. "The Prussia of the East?" Boundary: Japan in the World 18, no. 3 (Autumn 1991): www.jstor.org. 12-14.

[8] Ibid., 11.

[9] Winks and Neuberger, Europe and the Making of Modernity. 233-234.

[10] Ibid., 231-232.

[11] Baranowski, 109-110.

[12] Robert Anthony Scalapino. Democracy & the Party Movement in Pre-War Japan: The Failure of the First Attempt. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1953. 41.

[13] Baranowski, 110-112.

[14] Matsuo Takayoshi. "The Development of Democracy in Japan: Taisho Democracy - Its Flowering and Breakdown." The Developing Economies 4, no. 4 (2007): 615.

[15] Takayoshi, The Development of Democracy in Japan. 617.

[16] Miles Fletcher. "Intellectuals and Fascism in Early Showa Japan." The Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (Fall 1979): www.jstor.org. 40.

[17] Duus, Okimoto. Fascism and the History of Pre-War Japan. 66.

[18] Taira, Factory Legislation and Management Modernization during Japan's Industrialization, 1886-1916. 86.

[19] Taira, Factory Legislation and Management Modernization during Japan's Industrialization, 1886-1916. 88.

[20] Baranowski, 21-27.

[21] David Northrup. Africa's Discovery of Europe. 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009. 88-89.

[22] Takayoshi, The Development of Democracy in Japan. 616-624.

[23] Duus and Okimoto, Fascism and the History of Pre-War Japan. 75.

[24] Baranowski, 211-213.

[25] Ibid., 75.

[26] Taira, Factory Legislation and Management Modernization during Japan's Industrialization, 1886-1916. 94-95.

[27] Ibid., 106.

[28] Fletcher, Intellectuals and Fascism in Early Showa Japan. 42.

[29] Winks and Neuberger, Europe and the Making of Modernity. 320.

[30] Duus and Okimoto, Fascism and the History of Pre-War Japan. 66.

[31] Chalmers Johnson. "The People Who Invented the Mechanical Nightingale." Daedalus: Showa: The Japan of Hirohito 119, no. 3 (Summer, 1990): www.jstor.org. 75.

[32] Anderson, The Prussia of the East? 19.

[33] Ben Lombardi. "All Politics is Local: Germany, the Bundeswehr, and Afghanistan." International Journal 63, no. 3 (Summer 2008): www.jstor.org. 604-604.





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