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NEW YORK — I was recently amused to read the following observation quoted in an intellectual history of modern Japan: “The system in which people vie to get elected head of state through indulgence in garrulity and by flaunting gestures like those of low-class actors is a singularly bizarre custom that we should do nothing more than watch from the sidelines.” The system in question, of course, is the process of electing a president in the United States.

What may be surprising is the man who wrote these words: Ikki Kita (1883-1937). Kita, after all, is best remembered today as a man arrested and executed for allegedly providing the philosophical backbone to the handful of army officers who led the 2.26 Incident in 1936 — a revolt that was prompted by an absolute trust in the Emperor that is incomprehensible today. Such a “radical nationalist,” as the American historian George Macklin Wilson called him in his 1969 book on the man from Harvard University Press, could not possibly have passed proper judgment on the cherished American democratic process, you might say, let alone dismiss it.

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