Shinzo Abe and Japan’s Place within a Global Order

By David Pan, TELOS

The assassination of Shinzo Abe is an incredible loss for Japan and the rest of the world. His leadership in shifting Japan away from its postwar pacifism toward a more committed defense of liberal democracy laid the foundation for today’s developing security framework in the region. After Japan’s movement from its World War II militarism to a postwar pacifism, he laid out an alternative path that emphasized its responsibility for supporting a global order based on national self-determination and liberal democratic processes. As other U.S. nation-building projects have shown, the establishment of liberal democracy as a Japanese phenomenon is a significant achievement that required both legal and political transformations, for which Abe’s work has been pivotal. In the face of China’s growing militarism, Abe’s efforts have highlighted Japan as a model for how China might find its place within a global community.

A key problem for Japan was the question of how to embrace and defend liberal values without abandoning its own sovereignty and culture, and our recent issue on constitutional theory presents three perspectives on Japan’s struggles.

Qin Wang argues that the way in which the Japanese constitution was imposed by the United States is an example of how Asian sovereignty has been suppressed by the West. He describes how the literary critic Takeuchi Yoshimi opposed this imposition, leading him to imagine a contradiction between national power and human rights. Takeuchi’s attitude, while leading in the end to a kind of literary pacifism, also fed into strong opposition to the undemocratic basis of the U.S.–Japan Security Treaty, which was ratified in Japan in 1960 in the face of massive popular protests.

Nakajima Takahiro describes the way in which the Japanese constitution’s Article 9 renouncing war placed the value of human rights at the core of Japanese law while also giving up on the right to defend this value, thus establishing a contradiction between law and sovereignty. Rather than giving up on the idea of sovereignty, Nakajima imagines a form of shared sovereignty in which a federation of states might defend human rights through each nation’s willingness to fight and die to protect such values.

Loren Goodman argues that Japan was able to combine liberalism with democracy by accepting the constitution imposed by the United States while at the same time reinterpreting it to assert Japanese popular will. He documents the way in which Japanese popular attitudes have moved toward broad support for its constitution as well as the alliance with the United States.

Categories: Geopolitics

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