Various civic movements are rising up to oppose the security legislation proposed by the Abe administration. On June 14, roughly 25,000 people — including myself — took part in a demonstration encircling the Diet premises to speak out against the legislation. On the same day, about 3,000 mainly young people took part in a protest rally held in Tokyo’s Shibuya. The number of participants in both events reportedly well exceeded the forecast by the organizers.
I was shocked to see NHK’s 7 p.m. news program that evening. While the program gave a detailed report about the student demonstration in Hong Kong against the electoral reform led by China’s mainland government, it totally ignored the rallies held in Japan against the security legislation. I can only think that NHK has a policy of trying to avoid as much as possible reporting on moves to oppose the security legislation.
Of course NHK does not entirely kowtow to those in power. On the same evening of June 14, it broadcast an excellent documentary on the Battle of Okinawa that featured film footage of the battle and testimonies of survivors. I am fully aware that many NHK staffers — some of whom are my friends — do their best at work to produce excellent programs. But NHK’s reporting policy has no doubt been heavily influenced by the installation of people close to the Abe administration as the public broadcaster’s president and on its board of governors.
Along with mass media, universities and scholars have become a target of attack by those in power. In the past 20 years or so, specialization and subdivision progressed rapidly in Japan’s studies in humanities and social sciences, and as a result it has become quite rare for scholars to raise their voices on current political and social issues. In that sense, it was quite unusual that three constitutional scholars invited to the Lower House panel for research on constitutional issues declared the security legislation unconstitutional, sending a shock wave within the government and the ruling coalition parties.
I presume that this incident shows that even scholars devoted to purely academic studies could not afford to turn a blind eye to the Abe administration’s attempt to enact legislation that guts the Constitution.
In response, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura has repeatedly criticized the scholars, saying that constitutional scholars are obsessed with the text of the Constitution and that Japan’s security would be in danger if the government follows what they say.
Such a reaction appears to indicate that, for the first time in some while, academia has become unpleasant in the eye of those in power. While this year marks the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, it also marks the 80th year since the “theory of the emperor as an organ of government” incident of 1935, in which Tatsukichi Minobe, a leading scholar of constitutional law and member of the House of Peers, was rebuked by military officers and ultranationalists for his liberal theory on the role of the emperor in the state. His books and teaching of the theory were subsequently banned.
After this infamous case of academic censorship it took just 10 years for the nation to end up suffering a devastating defeat in war. If those in power are going to attack the practices of academia, it is the duty of scholars to fight back.
First of all, it’s a matter of course that constitutional scholars care about the Constitution’s wording. That’s what academic studies are about and politicians’ criticism of them is irrelevant.
Then what about the relationship between arguments by scholars and political judgments? There are no correct answers to policies. Scholars criticize policies pursued by politicians and bureaucrats. It’s not a question of which side is correct.
In a normal democratic political process, better policies are created through the clash of different opinions. In fact, the national security policies of the LDP-led governments since the 1960s, including the defense-only defense posture and disavowal of the right to collective self-defense, were born out of the tension and conflict between LDP lawmakers seeking amendment to the Constitution and scholars who criticized such a move.
The policies maintained so far were indeed examples of that mechanism having worked successfully. Politicians in the LDP half a century ago had the intelligence and tolerance to listen to dissenting views from the academia.
In that sense, the Abe administration pursues the politics of anti-intellectualism. The education ministry — which is supposed to be in charge of education — is at the forefront of the administration’s anti-intellectualism, calling on state-run universities to cut back on their humanities and social sciences faculties. Apparently bureaucrats at the ministry are keen on sweeping critical intellect out of Japanese society. Destruction of intellect means the loss of the ability to correct oneself, and paves the way for the weakening and eventual collapse of society. Japan is indeed at a crossroads in various senses.
Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.
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