Monster of the Twentieth Century: Kotoku Shusui and Japan's First Anti-Imperialist Movement

Monster of the Twentieth Century: Kotoku Shusui and Japan's First Anti-Imperialist Movement

by Robert Thomas Tierney, Kotoku Shusui


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Monster of the Twentieth Century: Kotoku Shusui and Japan's First Anti-Imperialist Movement by Robert Thomas Tierney, Kotoku Shusui

This extended monograph examines the work of the radical journalist Kotoku Shusui and Japan’s anti-imperialist movement of the early twentieth century. It includes the first English translation of Imperialism (Teikokushugi), Kotoku’s classic 1901 work.

Kotoku Shusui was a Japanese socialist, anarchist, and critic of Japan’s imperial expansionism who was executed in 1911 for his alleged participation in a plot to kill the emperor. HisImperialism was one of the first systematic criticisms of imperialism published anywhere in the world.
In this seminal text, Kotoku condemned global imperialism as the commandeering of politics by national elites and denounced patriotism and militarism as the principal causes of imperialism.

In addition to translatingImperialism,Robert Tierney offers an in-depth study of Kotoku’s text and of the early anti-imperialist movement he led. Tierney places Kotoku’s book within the broader context of early twentieth-century debates on the nature and causes of imperialism. He also presents a detailed account of the different stages of the Japanese anti-imperialist movement. Monster of the Twentieth Century constitutes a major contribution to the intellectual history of modern Japan and to the comparative study of critiques of capitalism and colonialism.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520286344
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 06/09/2015
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Robert Thomas Tierney is Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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Monster of the Twentieth Century

Kotoku Shusui and Japan's First Anti-Imperialist Movement

By Robert Thomas Tierney


Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-96159-3



Imperialism: A Wildfire in an Open Field

Imperialism spreads like a wildfire in an open field. All nations bow down to worship this new god, sing hymns to praise it, and have created a cult to pay it adoration.

Look at the world that surrounds us. In England, both government and citizens have become fervent acolytes of imperialism. In Germany, the war-loving emperor never loses a chance to extol its virtues. As for Russia, the regime has long practiced a policy of imperialism. France, Austria, and Italy are all delighted to join the fray. Even a young country like the United States has recently shown an eagerness to master this new skill. And, finally, this trend has reached Japan. Ever since our great victory in the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese of all classes burn with fever to join the race for empire, like a wild horse suddenly freed from its harness.

What Virtue, What Power?

Long ago, Taira no Tokitada haughtily proclaimed: "Anyone who is not a Taira cannot be considered a human being." At present, no politician, of whatever stripe, can hope to be appointed as cabinet minister in any national government unless he agrees to serve the cause of imperialism. And no government that renounces imperialism will gain the respect of other nations. But, in the final analysis, what virtue, what power, and what value does imperialism possess, that it is able to inspire such fervent devotion in its acolytes?

The Purpose of the Nation-State

Ultimately, the main purpose of the nation-state is to ensure continual social progress and to better the welfare of humanity. A state should not aim just to create a brief show of prosperity but rather pursue policies that result in continual progress over the long term. In addition, it must adopt policies that lead to the happiness of all and not simply secure the privileges of a small minority. In what way does imperialism, now supported by all political leaders and nations, contribute to the progress and the happiness of the human race?

Scientific Knowledge and Civilized Morality

I believe social progress must be based on true scientific knowledge and human happiness and well-being must be founded on civilized morality. I support the ideals of freedom and justice for all and the goals of universal love and equality. Throughout history, statesmen who have adhered to such principles have ensured that the prosperity of their nation outlasted the pine and the oak tree. However, those who have ignored them have seen their nation perish as quickly as the dream of a nighttime in spring. If imperialism were truly based on a solid foundation and served the cause of human progress, men would welcome it as the glad tidings of heaven on earth. I would gladly become its advocate and even its watchdog.

But, what if, to the contrary, the growing craze for imperialism is based not on scientific knowledge but rather on rank superstition? What if it derives from fanaticism rather than from civilized morality? And what if it results in despotism, injustice, narrow-mindedness, and conflict instead of freedom, justice, universal love, and equality? And what if all nations of the world are ruled by these evil feelings and embrace this vicious morality, in both the material and the spiritual domains? How can one not shudder to think of the ravages that this poison is spreading in the world today?

Angels or Devils

Oh, imperialism! Will you lift the world of the twentieth century to the eternal light of the Pure Land, or will you plunge us into the hell of no respite? Do you represent progress or corruption, well-being or catastrophe? Are you angel or devil?

Our Most Urgent Duty

The most urgent duty of thinkers called on to lead our twentieth century is to expose the imminent perils of imperialism. Notwithstanding my own shortcomings, I have decided to undertake this mission on my own since I can no longer afford to wait any longer as danger approaches.


On Patriotism


The Battle Cry of the Imperialists

"Let's increase our population, expand the size of our territory, build a great empire, raise the national prestige, and bring glory to our flag." This is the battle cry of the imperialists of every nation. The imperialists have a deep, abiding love for their country.

England battles with South Africa, the United States invades the Philippines, Germany seizes the region of Jiaozhou, Russia annexes Manchuria, France conquers Fashoda, and Italy makes war on Abyssinia. These are the most striking manifestations of imperialism in recent years. In every case, the advance of imperialist nations has been accompanied by the deployment of military force and by aggressive diplomacy backed by the threat of force.

The Warp of Patriotism, the Woof of Militarism

However, let us look at the consequences of these invasions. Isn't imperialism derived from patriotism and militarism? These constitute the warp and woof from which the fabric of imperialism is woven. Without a doubt, patriotism and militarism constitute the foundation upon which the imperialism practiced by the great powers of the present day rests. Accordingly, before we judge the merits of imperialism, we must first examine the nature of patriotism and militarism.

What Is Patriotism?

In fact, what is "love of country"? What does "patriotism" really mean? Why do people feel an emotional attachment to their native land and their country? Why do they have to love their nations?


Love of Country and Human Compassion

I agree with Mencius that any human being would, without hesitation, rush to rescue a child about to fall into a well. If patriotism were nothing more than the natural empathy that motivated this generous act, and if it were an emotion filled with the spirit of charity and love, then it would be a beautiful and glorious thing. I would have nothing more to say on the topic.

On second thought, however, a human being moved by such selfless love and charity does not pause to think whether the child is a family member or a close relative. When he rescues the child from danger, he does not even ask himself whether the child is his own or belongs to another. For the same reason, righteous and benevolent men in every nation in the world pray that the people of the Transvaal will win their freedom and that the people of the Philippines will gain their independence. There are many such men even in England and the United States, even though their countries are belligerents in these wars. How is it possible for a patriot to adopt such a stance?

At present, nationalists and patriots in England denounce their fellow countrymen who pray for their nation's defeat in the Transvaal and decry their lack of patriotism. In America, patriots revile fellow citizens who hope for the independence of the Philippines and condemn their hatred of their own country. But even if these people are lacking in love for their country, they are certainly filled with compassion, charity, and generosity. For this reason, we can conclude that patriotism is an emotion far removed from the profound feeling that leads a human being to rescue a child from impending danger.

I am saddened that patriotism has nothing to do with compassion and charity. In fact, the love a patriot feels for his country stops at national borders. He only cares about the human beings who live in his own country. A patriot who does not care for the people of other countries and only loves his fellow countrymen is like a man who only loves members of his own family and immediate relatives and is indifferent to everyone else. He only seeks superficial glory and the satisfaction of his material desires. How can we speak of public interest in such a case when only a person's private interests are at stake?

Nostalgia for One's Hometown

In addition, love of country can be likened to the nostalgia that men feel for their hometowns. The nostalgia that fills a man's heart when he misses his hometown is a noble thing, but, at the same time, it is base and contemptible.

Hatred for the Other

A little boy mounts his hobbyhorse at a time when hair still covers the nape of his neck, but does he really understand that he should love the mountains and rivers of his country? Is not the exact contrary true? A man only longs for his homeland and the place of his birth after he learns that there are foreign towns and countries. After he has wandered around the world, experienced setbacks to his ambitions, and endured the coldness of strangers, he fondly recalls the days of his boyhood and youth and yearns for bygone times and familiar places. People nostalgically recall their native land when they have trouble adjusting to a different climate, getting used to exotic food, expressing their thoughts in a foreign tongue, or living apart from their parents and family members who might have soothed their pain.

Men become nostalgic not because they have love or respect for their native land but because they hate other countries, especially when they have been exiled from their homes due to circumstances beyond their control. This nostalgia is not pure sympathy and compassion for their own nation, but instead a hatred that they come to feel toward foreign places. After seeing their dreams shattered or their hopes dashed, many people begin to hate foreign countries and to long for their native land.

Some assert that men who have met with adversity and disappointment abroad are not the only ones to feel the love of country and that patriots are also to be found among those who have been successful and even built a fortune overseas. In fact, this is certainly the case. But the feeling of nostalgia that successful people feel is especially contemptible. All that they really want is to show off their success to their family members, friends, and acquaintances in their hometown. This spirit of ostentation merely reflects their vanity, pride, and competitive spirit, and has nothing whatsoever to do with compassion and sympathy for their homeland. People in ancient times said, "To become rich and famous without returning to one's hometown is like wandering around in the pitch darkness wearing brocade robes." This saying exposes the petty and shameful motives that lie hidden under their pompous attitudes.

The citizens of a particular town demand that the government found a university in their hometown or build a railway line that passes through their district. Some even insist that the ministers and officials of the national government must be from their own prefecture. Does such selfish behavior have anything to do with sympathy and compassion for their homeland, as opposed to personal interest and vanity? How can a man of intelligence or moral probity feel anything but scorn for such ignoble sentiments?

The Pettiness of War

If patriotism and love for one's homeland came from the same source or were based on the same motives, then the rivalry between the Yu and the Rui would offer the perfect model for the patriot to follow in the settlement of disputes. And the fable of the warring kingdoms on the horns of a snail would offer the patriot valuable lessons on the pettiness of human war!

Vanity and Love of Glory

One must not laugh when Mr. Iwaya, who boasts of his "great services to the nation," promises a donation of a thousand yen to build a memorial to commemorate the marriage of the crown prince but then forgets to carry out his promise. There is only a minuscule diff erence between Mr. Iwaya's patriotism and that of other so-called patriots of the realm. They only trumpet their love of country to better serve their own selfish interests, pride, and vanity.


Patriotism in Ancient Rome

"At that time not a single man stood for the interests of his party. All men united in support of the state." A poet of ancient Rome, carried away by his emotions, once penned this panegyric to patriotism. But perhaps the poet did not realize what he was saying. Perhaps the men he referred to lacked the intelligence to organize a party and advance their cause. Perhaps what brought them together and caused them to feel unified was not their common membership in a nation, but rather the existence of enemy nations. In the end, their unity probably resulted from the superstition that drives men to hate adversary nations and the enemies who inhabit them.

The Poor People of Rome

Consider the following: poor peasants of ancient Rome were mobilized along with a small minority of rich patricians, who served as their commanders, to fight in wars on behalf of the nation. These soldiers demonstrated exceptional bravery on the battlefields: they advanced fearlessly upon the enemy, fought with outstanding courage, and risked their lives without a second thought. How can one not be moved by their great show of loyalty and righteousness? But observe what happened after the wars ended. When they returned to the safety of their homes after winning a military victory for their nation, they quickly fell into slavery because they had incurred large debts during their time of military service. While the rich were off busy fighting wars for the nation, they had slaves and servants tend to their fields, but the poor had no choice but to let their fields go to waste. Upon their return, they fell deeply into debt and were forced to sell themselves as slaves. Who is to blame for such a catastrophe?

They hated the so-called enemies of the Roman nation. But these enemies surely caused them no more harm than their rich fellow-citizens. During the war, they faced multiple dangers: the enemy would deprive them of their freedom, steal their property, or capture them, and sell them as slaves. But how could they have guessed that their fellow citizens would be the cause of their downfall? They could never have imagined such an outcome was possible.

Why Are People So Foolish?

When the rich go to war, they increase the amount of their wealth and add to the number of their slaves and servants. In contrast, the poor draw no benefits from war; they fight only for so-called national honor. Aft er they have fallen into slavery, they console themselves by recalling the heroic battles in which they defeated the enemy and the services they rendered to their nation. They are filled with pride and self-satisfaction when they recall these events. What foolishness! Such was the patriotism of ancient Rome.

The Slaves of Ancient Greece

Let us next consider the condition of the slaves in ancient Greece, the Helots. Depending upon circumstance, they either fought as soldiers or worked as slaves. Their masters oft en massacred them if they grew too strong or if they increased too rapidly in number. But when they fought for their masters, they were incomparable in their loyalty and exceptional in their bravery; they never thought of turning their weapons against their master to win their freedom.

The Superstitions of Patriotism

Why did they behave in this way? They believed that the highest honor and glory was to defeat the enemies of their nation whom they hated. They failed to become aware of their own vanity and stupidity. Their so-called patriotism was a hollow, vulgar superstition even more incurable than that of the faithful of the Tenri sect, who drink putrid water because they believe that it has mystical powers. In fact, their superstition had far direr consequences.

The Two Feelings of Love and Hatred

You should not be surprised that they feel such a deep hatred of their enemy. These primitive creatures live lives that are close to those of animals and cannot understand the noble ideals of universal love and humanity. Since the earliest period of history, love and hatred have been joined together like the threads of a rope or the links of a chain. Look at the beasts. They are suspicious of one another and even devour members of their own species; when they happen to meet a creature they do not know, they are filled with terror and panic, which quickly turn to envy and hatred. This hatred and envy give rise to growling and lead them to attack the intruder. While they previously devoured animals of their own species, now they join together with others to fight against a common enemy. Once they face a common enemy, they start to feel a bond of sympathy with their own species that holds them together. Do these animals really feel a sentiment that we can call patriotism? People of ancient times were not so far removed in their way of life from these beasts.

Barbarians are tied closely to one another in their groups, unite in their struggle with the forces of nature, and fight wars with the members of different tribes. And they have a feeling that resembles what we call patriotism. In fact, we must acknowledge that their unity, friendship, and sympathy only derive from the existence of a shared enemy and is merely an ancillary reaction to their hatred of the enemy. Their compassionate feeling resembles the sympathy that patients who suffer from the same sickness tend to feel for one another.


Excerpted from Monster of the Twentieth Century by Robert Thomas Tierney. Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents




In the Shadow of Revolution
What Is Imperialism?
What Causes Imperialism?

The Boxer Rebellion and the Band of Idealists
Heiminism and the Russo-Japanese War
The Asian Solidarity Association and the High Treason Case

Three preliminary observations
Chapter 1.
Chapter 2. On Patriotism
Chapter 3. On Militarism
Chapter 4. On Imperialism

Epilogue: The Monster of the Twenty-First Century?



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