Hatoyama is a problem for the DPJ

In the current issue of the Economist, the news magazine calls particular attention to comments by Hatoyama Yukio in an article in the September issue of Voice called “My Political Philosophy.” (I’ve gotten so accustomed to Japanese magazines not putting content online that I did not even bother to check whether it was.) Hatoyama, the Economist notes, “railed against American-led ‘market fundamentalism’ that, he said, the LDP had embraced since Mr Koizumi’s leadership. But his alternative is a mushy-sounding concept, yuai, that mixes up the Chinese characters for friendship and love.” The magazine also notes that Aso too has spoken of market fundamentalism.

Hatoyama’s emphasis on the supposed impact of market fundamentalism originating from America (naturally the complement of the “once-in-a-century financial crisis emanating from America”) does not particularly bother me, because I’ve come to expect this sort of rhetoric from Japanese politicians. Politicians of both parties have long looked to “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism as responsible for two decades of decline. Recall what Ozawa Ichiro said at the DPJ’s convention in January (discussed in this post). In January Ozawa spoke of creating an economy “of human beings, by human beings, and for human beings,” which he contrasted with “a market economy of capital, by capital, and for capital.” Hatoyama’s rhetoric in Voice is comparatively tame. No one seems to have bothered to define “market fundamentalism.” And the idea that Japan’s problems can be blamed on excessive neo-liberalism — politically convenient for both parties, as it allows the DPJ to blame problems on Koizumi and the LDP, and the LDP to blame problems on the retired Koizumi — would not stand up to serious scrutiny.

My problem with Hatoyama’s is more holistic: namely, reading this essay filled me with a sense of horror that this man is poised to be the prime minister of Japan, potentially governing on the basis of an enormous mandate. This essay confirms my preexisting impression of Hatoyama as something of a lightweight, convinced that his ideas about governing are serious when in fact they are so vague as to be meaningless. Like many Japanese politicians, Hatoyama seems to think that a vision must be vague — the difference is that his vision is vaguer than most, which is really saying something.

The essay is structured around the ideas of Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, or, to give his full name, Count Richard Nikolaus Eijiro von Coudenhove-Kalergi, a half-Japanese Austro-Hungarian count who was an early advocate of Pan-Europeanism. Apparently Hatoyama Ichiro, Yukio’s grandfather, read and translated Coudenhove-Kalergi’s The Totalitarian State Against Man during his period of exile from Japanese politics. (I, for one, long for the day when Japanese political leaders can begin their political testaments without references to their prime minister grandfathers.) And as a result we have Hatoyama’s notion of fraternity, which all we can say for certain is neither liberty nor equality, but essential for moderating both.

Without properly defining “fraternity,” Hatoyama provides an example of the LDP’s postwar pact with organized labor as an example of fraternal government. (Incidentally, this is another instance of the DPJ’s consciously linking itself to the old LDP mainstream, after the link with Ohira Masayoshi that I saw over the weekend.) Hatoyama then proceeds to claim that in the post-cold war era the LDP, focused overwhelmingly on economic growth instead of the Japanese people’s quality of life, decayed, prompting the emergence of the original DPJ, which in its founding document in 1996 said that it stood for the “spirit of ‘fraternity,'” contrasting fraternity with excessive liberty in which the “strong devour the weak” and excessive equality in which “the nail that stands out gets hammered down.” Fraternity, it seems, refers to politics centered on individual autonomy.

It is at this point that Hatoyama launches into his “critique” of American “market fundamentalism” and “globalism,” which he argues that contrary to a fraternal society, treats individuals as means to ends. “How can brakes be applied on financial capitalism, which forfeits morals and moderation, and market-supremacy-ism so that the people’s economy and the people’s livelihoods are protected?” From where I stand, Japan has been doing precisely this. At what point in time has Japan not moderated its relationship with the global economy so to provide a politically desired level of protection? Didn’t the LDP erect a political-economic system to provide precisely the economic protection desired by its constituents? And isn’t the problem now that the there are simply too many people outside the system erected by the LDP, and maintaining that system has become too costly in fiscal terms for the government and in human terms for those who don’t benefit from the protectionist system? But, as I said above, there is little to worry about in this critique because it is ultimately quite flimsy. As Aso discovered during the worst of the financial crisis, there is something gratifying about blaming America — especially when no one is asking for more details. “American market fundamentalism” of late is simply every Japanese politician’s favorite straw man.

Before continuing his harangue against American market fundamentalism, Hatoyama suggests one more definition for the elusive concept fraternity, that zeitgeist that appropriate for this age of “self-reliance and co-existence.” (The more Hatoyama explains the concept, the more it seems like everything and nothing at the same time. That’s what he gets for lifting ideas from a leading interwar idealist: has there been an era as characterized by muddled, mushy thinking as the 1920s and 1930s, the era that gave us the Kellogg-Briand pact among other fantasies?)

At this point, he trots out the canard that globalization is Americanization, again, something that Japan’s experiences, not to mention the experiences of various European countries that are globalized, egalitarian, and wealthy, belie. I might be more sympathetic to Hatoyama’s argument if he was a contender for the premiership of a peripheral Latin American country dependent on external markets for its primary products. But Hatoyama believes that global capitalism has destroyed local values, local traditions, and local culture. Undoubtedly there are places where this is true, but global capitalism’s impact has not been uniform. One example he cites for Japan is the privatization of Japan Post, seeing as how post offices have played a traditional role in Japanese life. (Yes, ensuring that the LDP could stay in power for a half-century.) Seriously, is this the best that Hatoyama can do? I think it is a mistaken to treat postal privatization as being primarily about economics when Koizumi’s intended target was the “opposition forces” in the LDP. Having taken a whack at the Koizumian straw man, Hatoyama then laments the decline of civil society in Japan, organizations that provide mutual aid beyond the realm of the market. It is odd that Hatoyama speaks of the decline of civil society when the decade since the revision of the NPO law has seen the blossoming of civil society organizations.

Having bemoaned the problems of an unrestrained market economy and the ailments of civil society, Hatoyama turns his attention to the culprit, Japan’s central government administration, and offers his solution of choice: decentralization.

To explain his thinking on decentralization, Hatoyama returns to Coudenhove-Kalergi, who wrote of a mystical chain linking the individual to the cosmos: “The individual creates the family, the family creates the community, the community creates the canton, the canton creates the state, the state creates the continent, the continent creates the earth, the earth creates the solar system, and the earth brings forth the solar system.” I’m not going to even try to dissect this mystical rubbish, but I will say that if Hatoyama’s thinking is actually guided by Coudenhove-Kalergi’s ideas, it’s little wonder that it is so hard to pin down what he believes. But Hatoyama presses on, stressing the reality of “an era in which economic globalization is unavoidable.” The result has to be a mix of globalization and localization. For localization he looks to the actual dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the de facto dissolution of Belgium. Never mind that Czechoslovakia broke due to long-standing differences between Czechs and Slovaks and did so before the country was fully integrated into the global economy. Never mind that divisions within Belgium similarly feature a mix of cultural, linguistic, and economic factors. How on earth are these countries models for what should happen in Japan? He goes further and discusses the EU’s principle of subsidiarity, but subsidiarity is an evasion. Who is to determine at which level a particular function can be best exercised? But we’re left with Hatoyama’s updating of Coudenhove-Kalergi: “That which the individual can do should be solved by the individual. In matters which the individual cannot solve, the family helps. In matters which the family cannot solve, regional society and NPOs help. Adminstration is first applied when problems cannot be solved at this level.”

Accompanying “localization” is globalization in the form of an East Asian community. Most of his analysis in this section is premised on the inevitable decline of American hegemony and the uncertain consequences of that decline. But Hatoyama does accurately describe what I think is Japan’s position in the region, Japan as one of several regional middle powers: “How can Japan, caught between an America struggling to remain a hegemon and a China wanting to be and planning to be a hegemon, maintain its political and economic autonomy and defend its national interests? The international environment is which Japan will be placed from now on is not straightforward.” His answer is a regional community that will sidestep the nationalism that plagues bilateral relationships. He sidesteps the obvious question of how the region will get from where it is today to a community like the European community by noting that it will take a long time and that it is a goal worth realizing. (It’s going to take more than wishful thinking to replace the ASEAN-led model of soft cooperation with integrationist hard cooperation.)

The content of this essay, such as it can be said to have policy content, does not alarm me. No, I am alarmed because this essay confirms my worst fears about Hatoyama as a leader. His thinking is a mishmash of pop-anti-globalizationism, mystical brotherhood-ism, and nostalgic conservatism. Frankly Hatoyama as prime minister will be the DPJ’s biggest problem if it wins on Sunday. The DPJ will need to build a strong cabinet filled with as many powerful politicians as possible simply to keep Hatoyama from doing more than serving as the quirky face of the DPJ-led government. It’s going to take more than a good chief cabinet secretary to keep Hatoyama from saying something dumb enough to lead voters to wonder why they put the man in power in the first place. Replacing Ozawa with Hatoyama may have helped give the DPJ an insurmountable lead in the general election campaign — but the same change may make it harder for the DPJ to govern once the party actually wins.

7 thoughts on “Hatoyama is a problem for the DPJ

  1. PaxAmericana

    You don't seem to care for Ozawa or Hatoyama, so it seems reasonable to ask who you do like, and why. Is there anyone?Also, while you argue that Japan hasn't gone down the road of financial capitalism, most Japanese I talk to feel that it has. It's widely stated that a large part of the privatized post office money has gone into the NY/London casino. This may be incorrect. All I can see on a daily level shows a great deal of financial products that weren't common ten years ago. I suppose we could see if the financial services industry has increased its percentage of GDP, and that would be a somewhat objective measure of whether Japan has followed the American path.


  2. Thanks for posting this long analysis of Hatoyama's \”philosophy\”.Politicians of both parties have long looked to \”Anglo-Saxon\” capitalism as responsible for two decades of decline.How is Hatoyama's vague and mushy \”vision-thing\” talk any different from any other? The purpose of blaming \”Anglo-capitalism\” and \”market fundamentalism\” seems to be to distract attention from the self-serving, statist policies which have helped to prolong the economic recession after the 80's boom.I'm not re-assured by your confidence that Hayoayama's \”vision\” can be lightly dismissed because it is intellectually unsound. What is more important, surely, coming from a politician, is to what extent his opinions reflect, or possibly channel, or hope to mold public opinion.


  3. Bryce

    Well, Hatoyama did write a longer exposition of his yuai philosophy in Bungei Shunju a couple of months ago. It just seemed to me like it meant he wanted to increase the voluntary sector in Japan.But who cares what it means? We have a fairly detailed manifesto, at least on domestic policy. If the Japanese can hold him to account on that, it doesn't really matter what philosophy he is using to justify it.


  4. Anonymous

    I don't know if you've missed it but America-bashing has pretty much been the big thing around the world during the last year. Not just Hatoyama – political leaders of all faiths, races and political persuasions join in! But you shouldn’t despair; the anger will probably soon switch to contempt/pity.


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