ORIGINS OF THE MODERN JAPANESE STATE: Selected Writings of E. H. Norman by John -- Ed. Dower

ORIGINS OF THE MODERN JAPANESE STATE: Selected Writings of E. H. Norman

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

This dense and rewarding volume contains the book Japan's Emergence as a Modern State (1940), as well as a previously unpublished study, ""Feudal Background of Japanese Politics"" (1944), a jeu d'esprit on historiography called ""The Shrine of Clio,"" and a long essay about Norman by the editor. Norman was an old-fashioned humanist with missionary parents in Japan and an exceptional breadth of learning; he became the Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, and killed himself in 1957, having suffered years of McCarthyist persecution for his early leftist associations. Despite the latterday preference for more rosy models of ""growth"" and ""nation-building,"" Japan's Emergence has remained a classic among specialists, and indeed Norman's work makes a book like Jon Halliday's A Political History of Japanese Capitalism (KR, p. 97) look facile and superficial by comparison. The two main parts of the volume, ""Japan's Emergence"" and ""Feudal Background,"" overlap considerably. The fulcrum is the Meiji Restoration, which consolidated a state machine for industrializing Japan while averting, and in fact suppressing, liberal democratic political forms. Norman has a rich sense of the oppression of the peasantry before the Restoration and also afterwards, when they were doubly looted as the base of capital accumulation and as a new labor force. He gives a complex picture of the samurai, many of whom were small-time thugs, but who also fueled the state bureaucracy and the coalition with the merchant class upon which it was founded. The elaborate mechanisms of social control developed by the Tokugawa and their Meiji successors have seldom been so forcefully laid out. The peasant revolts which actually accelerated under the Meiji are described with sympathy but no romanticism. Part of the book's strength is a delicate use of comparisons with non-Japanese history, from Goya's Spain to Tsarist Russia, as well as its confident and nicely explained use of primary sources. A priority for most collections.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1975
Publisher: Pantheon