Date: Wed, 24 Jan 1996 08:05:49 -0800
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <>
From: Frank Conlon <>
Subject: H-ASIA: REVIEW-Japan & Enemies of Open Political Science
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Review of David Williams, Japan and Enemies of Open Political Science

By Andrew DeWit, extracted from Social Science Japan, February 1996

Japan and the Enemies of Open Political Science. By David Williams.
London: Routledge, 1996. pp. xxvii, 334.

David Williams' second book-length challenge to social science's Eurocentricism is a must-read, both for those who value area studies and those who do not.

The text is a treat to read in a discipline where style is often an afterthought. And Williams' eloquence is matched by his erudition, his argument being informed throughout with the ideas of Comte, Kant, Marx, Popper, and other thinkers seldom seen in political studies of Japan. Their works are Williams' podium to proclaim the need for a robust area studies to tell the story of 20th century Japan, a civilization comparable to ancient Greece, the British Empire, and the American Republic. There is much meat in this, and plenty of fireworks, too, in Williams' withering critiques of positivism and the guilt-ridden contradictions of political correctness.

Blasting both positivism and political correctness is necessary. The former is the obdurate heart of Eurocentrism, the scientistic mind-set that clings to its positivist faith even in the face of gales of contrary empirical evidence. Commanding the citadel of this scholasticism are, to use Said's phrase, the recycled Orientalists of neoclassical economics, whose dogma has repeatedly thwarted a proper interpretation of Japan. Williams indeed accuses the 1980s recrudescence of Anglo-Saxon orthodoxy of having forced, within Japanology, a retreat from Chalmers Johnson's revelation of MITI's role in the Japanese Miracle. Calder, Friedman, and Samuels—fearful at the sight of the reanimated Smithian corpus—fled rather than carry Johnson's torch forward to shed more light on the new world of industrial policymaking.

To transcend Eurocentrism one must know it, as Fanon did, implicitly. Political correctness, with its anti-literate zeal to incinerate the canon of European thought, is thus a mere gutter flowing backwards into a swamp of mediocrity. Abandoning strict academic standards cheats in particular those who are not the us of the European tradition, as it denies them the challenge to match the manifest greatness of Plato, Hegel, Smith, and other so-called dead white European males. Nor is this problem confined to the peevish victimology so popular and corrosive to truly critical thought on North American campuses. Social science must also step past the distractions of evanescent post-structuralists and others whose methods render them incapable of understanding Japan's postwar accomplishments.

Wary of positivism and trendy dismissals of canonic thought, where is Williams' would-be chronicler of Japan's greatness to turn? A bedevilling difficulty in the quest to express Japan's triumphs is the absence of indigenous first-rank work in political philosophy and political economy. Japanese culture is caught in an imprisoning `now-ism' (genzai-chushin), a stultifying immanence of the spirit that provides poor soil for nurturing a classic. Williams makes this point repeatedly, but suggests that List's work on mercantilism is a useful proto-canonic text. Moreover, of fundamental importance is the scholar's grasp of his (Williams refuses to police his pronouns) position in History and a full-blown anthropological and empirical engagement with Japan.

Possessed of the requisite skills, and with List's text in hand, the student appears set to herald Japan's world-historical significance and, as a corollary, cleanse the positivist corruption from political science. Yet what makes Japan, the cyclic darling and dunce of the business journals, such a potentially paradigmatic shock to a complacent Western tradition? The answer, it seems, is found in the economic miracle's superlative expression of List's mercantilist statecraft. Industrial policy is the terra firma on which to battle the orthodoxies of Eurocentrism, and thus Calder and others' unwillingness to defend the thesis of bureaucratic dominance was an act of desertion. Similarly, John Campbell's wise remark that there is more to Japan than industrial policy receives a quick slap of criticism, though elsewhere his methodological pluralism and empirical practicality come in for a fair measure of praise.

After Williams' many thoughtful pages on the work of great minds, one feels hopelessly plebian in suggesting the book ought to examine in more depth Japanology's distinctly pluralist turn after the oil shocks. The sociology of knowledge approach that implicates neoconservatism in this development may yet be half right, but there were important indigenous features highlighted in, say, the patterned pluralism of Krauss and Muramatsu. Unlike the tendentious agenda of the principal-agent school, such hyphenated pluralists did not deny the significant role of bureaucrats in Japan's postwar political economy; they instead offered more flexible models through which to incorporate a host of empirical observations of shifts in the character of Japanese policymaking.

Another issue that Williams never adequately confronts, though it flits a few times through the text, is the fact of rapid economic growth in many parts of Asia, and not just Japan. Williams notes Robert Wade and others' assertions that the institutions of rapid East-Asian growth contradict the holy writ of neoclassicism. Thus if merely violating the dogma of Adam Smith's descendants merits a place alongside Athens, then perhaps modern Malaysia and Singapore and their noisy authoritarian elites have to be included as well. But if paradigmatic significance lies in the governance of Japan alone, then we had best pay more heed to Campbell's close empirical approach guided by a deliberate contest among methodologies. Campbell's strong interest in researches on organizational mission - including a nuanced reading of Johnson's masterful study of MITI - fosters empirically robust works that foil the rational choice threat to decree the methodological equivalent of Gresham's Law in Japanology. Such works also promise to uncover, in the institutionally thick ties among Japan's economy, state, and society, the hard evidence for a decisive canonical challenge to Eurocentrism.