A Discourse by Three Drunkards on Government

A Discourse by Three Drunkards on Government

by Nobuko Tsukui, Nakae Chomin

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Discourse by Three Drunkards on Government
the form of a debate between a spokesman for Western ideals of democracy and
progress, and an advocate for adherence to traditional samurai values. Their
discussion is moderated by the imperturbable Master Nankai, who loves nothing
more than to drink and argue politics. The fiction of the


Discourse by Three Drunkards on Government
the form of a debate between a spokesman for Western ideals of democracy and
progress, and an advocate for adherence to traditional samurai values. Their
discussion is moderated by the imperturbable Master Nankai, who loves nothing
more than to drink and argue politics. The fiction of the drinking bout allowed
Chomin to debate freely topical political issues, in a discussion that offers
an astute analysis of contemporary European politics and a prophetic vision of
Japan's direction. This lucid and precise translation of a delightful work has
been designated one of the UNESCO series of classics of world literature.

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Nankai loves drinking and discussing politics. When he drinks only one or two
small bottles of sake, he is pleasantly intoxicated—his spirits are high and
he feels as if he were flying through the universe. Everything he sees and
hears delights him; it seems unthinkable that there should be suffering in the

he drinks two or three more bottles, his spirits suddenly soar even higher, and
ideas spring up, unrestrained. Although his body remains in his small room, his
eyes scan the whole world. They instantly go back a thousand years, or else
span the next thousand, charting the direction for the world's course or giving
instructions for public policy. At such times, he thinks to himself, "I am
the compass for human society. It's a great pity that the world's nearsighted
politicians haphazardly take control of the rudder and cause the ship to strike
a rock or to be grounded in shallow water, thus bringing calamity upon
themselves and others."

though Master Nankai, the "Master of the Southern Sea," remains
physically in the real world, his heart is always climbing the mountain of
Hakoya and roaming through the hamlet of Mukayu. Because of this, the geography
and history he discusses have little in common with the geography and history
of the real world and there are often, in fact, discrepancies between his world
and ours. Of course, in his geography there are cold countries and warm ones,
big and powerful nations as well as small and weak ones, civilized societies
and barbaric ones. His history, too, contains peace, war, prosperity, and
decline. In short, his geography and history sometimes do correspond to the
real world.

if Master Nankai drinks two or three additional bottles, his ears begin to ring
and his eyes grow blind. He swings his arms and stamps his feet on the floor.
Overcome with excitement, he falls down unconscious. When he comes to his
senses after two or three hours' sleep, he has completely forgotten what he
said or did while drunk, and seems to have been freed from his possession by
the proverbial fox of madness.

time to time some of Master's acquaintances, or strangers who know of his
reputation, visit him in the hope of hearing the strange ideas he expresses
while drunk. They come to his house with liquor and food, and drink with him
until he is on the verge of becoming totally drunk. Then they deliberately
bring up national affairs and amuse themselves by coaxing him into giving his
views. Partially aware of this ploy, he thinks to himself, "Next time I
talk about national problems, I should carefully write down the main points
before I get too drunk. Then later I can look at what I have written, develop
my ideas further, and write a short book. Such a book will not only be a
pleasure for me but it may also please others. Yes. I'll do it."

day, feeling dreary and somewhat depressed after a continuous rain of several
days, Master had some liquor brought to him and was drinking alone, until he
reached that pleasant state of roaming through the universe. Just at that
moment, two visitors arrived with a bottle of European brandy labeled
"Golden Axe." Master had never met these people before and did not
know their names, but the mere sight of European brandy seemed to increase his
intoxication by a third.

visitor was dressed completely in European style, from top to bottom—right
down to his shoes. He had a straight nose, clear eyes, and a slim body. His
motions were quick and his speech was distinct. This man appeared to be a
philosopher who lived in a room of ideas; he breathed the air of moral
principles and marched forward along the straight line of logic. He had disdain
for the winding path of reality. The other was a tall man with thick arms. His
dark-skinned face, deep-set eyes, outer robe with splashed patterns, and
indicated a man who loved grandeur and cherished adventure, a member of the
society of champions who fish for the pleasures of fame with their lives as bait.

the two were seated and the formal greetings were over, the European brandy was
served. As the host and his guests performed the ritual of exchanging their
brimming glasses for a series of toasts, Master began to feel expansive.
Without bothering to learn their real names, he called one of the guests Mr.
Gentleman and the other Mr. Champion. The guests were not offended, but merely
kept smiling. After a while, the Gentleman of Western Learning casually began
to talk.

have long been acquainted with your great fame. I hear that your learning
encompasses both the Occident and the Orient, and that your knowledge
penetrates the past and the present. I, too, have some personal views on world
affairs. I would like your opinion of them.

democracy, democracy! Absolute monarchy is stupid. It is unaware of its faults.
Constitutionalism is aware of its faults but has corrected only half of them.
Democracy, though, is open and frank, without a speck of impurity in its heart.

is it," continued the Gentleman, "that many European nations have not
adopted democracy even though they know the three great principles of liberty,
equality, and fraternity? Why is it that, against all moral principles and
economic laws, these nations maintain standing armies of tens of millions that
gnaw at their economies and make their innocent citizens slaughter each other
in a vain competition for glory?

a small nation which is behind the others in its progress toward civilization
were to stand up proudly on the edge of Asia, plunge into the realm of liberty
and brotherhood, demolish fortresses, melt down cannon, convert warships into
merchant ships, turn soldiers into civilians, devote itself to mastering moral
principles, study industrial techniques, and become a true student of
philosophy, wouldn't the European nations who take vain pride in their
civilization feel ashamed? Suppose, however, those great nations are not only
unashamed but also stubborn and villainous, and suppose they impudently invade
our country, taking advantage of our disarmament. What could they do if we have
not an inch of steel nor a single bullet about us, but greet them with
civility? If you swing a sword to attack the air, nothing happens to the thin,
free air no matter how sharp the sword may be. Why don't we become like the air?

like throwing an egg at a rock for a small and powerless nation dealing with a
big and powerful one to exert a physical force that is less than one
ten-thousandth of its opponent's. Since the opponent takes great pride in his
civilization, it cannot be that he lacks the moral principles which are the
essence of civilization. Why shouldn't we, a small nation, use as our weapon
the intangible moral principles our opponent aspires to but is unable to

we adopt liberty as our army and navy, equality as our fortress, and fraternity
as our sword and cannon, who in the world would dare attack us?

on the contrary, we should rely exclusively on fortresses, swords, cannon, and
troops, our opponent would also rely on his. As a result, the one with stronger
fortifications, sharper swords, more powerful cannon, and larger numbers of
troops would necessarily win. This is merely the indisputable logic of
arithmetic. Why should we resist such obvious reasoning? Suppose our opponents
launch an armed invasion and occupy our country. The land will have to be
shared. They exist and we exist; they stay and we stay. What kind of conflict
could there be? Suppose they take away our rice fields or our homes, or torment
us with heavy taxes. Those who are rich in endurance endure, and those who are
not devise their own countermeasures.

we live today in Country A, we are of that nationality. However, if we live in
Country B tomorrow, we will be of that nationality. It's just that simple. As
long as doomsday is not yet here and the earth, which is the home for our human
race, survives, isn't every nation of the world our homestead?

our opponent lacks civility, while we possess it. He is against reason; we
stand for reason. His so-called civilization is nothing but barbarism, and our
so-called barbarism is the essence of civilization itself. Even if he gets
angry and indulges in violence, what can he do if we smile and adhere to the
"way of humanity"? How would Plato, Mencius, Spencer, Malebranche,
Aristotle, or Victor Hugo view us? And what would the watching world say?
Regardless of whether or not such a precedent existed before the Deluge, it
seems incredible that nobody has tried it since. Why couldn't we ourselves be
the precedent?"

hearing these words, the Champion turned to the Gentleman and said, "Have
you lost your senses? You're mad. It's insane that a nation of millions of
strong men should neither draw its sword nor shoot a single bullet, but instead
choose not to resist, letting the invaders pillage. Fortunately I have not yet
gone mad. Master Nankai is not crazy, nor are our countrymen. How could we
possibly agree with the Gentleman's words—"

Nankai interrupted, smiling. "Mr. Champion, wait a little. Let the
Gentleman finish his argument."

Champion smiled, too, and agreed.

Gentleman continued.

Meet the Author

Nakae Chomin was one of Japan's seminal thinkers during the Meiji era (1868–1912), a time when the nation was attempting to leapfrog from feudalism into the modern world. The son of a low-ranking samurai family, Chomin (a pen name meaning "the masses") began his studies with the Chinese and Buddhist classics, later traveling to France where he studied political philosophy. After returning home he won a seat in Japan's first parliament, although he quickly resigned for reasons of conscience. Chomin's critical writings continually drew the ire of the government; he was often censured and at one point was sent into exile in Osaka. He nevertheless continued to write prolifically, despite poverty and illness, until his death in 1901.

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