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Industrial Danger

EVERYWHERE the course of human civilization has been shaped by the same evolutional law; and as the earlier history of the ancient European communities can help us to understand the social conditions of Old Japan, so a later period of the same history can help us to divine something of the probable future of the New Japan. It has been shown by the author of La Citι Antique that the history of all the ancient Greek and Latin communities included four revolutionary periods.1 The first revolution had everywhere for its issue the withdrawal of political power from the priest-king, who was nevertheless allowed to retain the religious authority. The second revolutionary period witnessed the breaking up of the gens or ƴενος, the enfranchisement of the client from the authority of the patron, and several important changes in the legal constitution of the family. The third revolutionary period saw the weakening of the religious and military aristocracy, the entrance of the common people into the rights of citizenship, and the rise of a democracy of wealth, — presently to be opposed by a democracy of poverty. The fourth revolutionary period witnessed the first bitter struggles between rich and poor, the final triumph of anarchy, and the consequent establishment of a new and horrible form of despotism, — the despotism of the popular Tyrant.

To these four revolutionary periods, the social history of Old Japan presents but two correspondences. The first Japanese revolutionary period was represented by the Fujiwara usurpation of the imperial civil and military authority, — after which event the aristocracy, religious and military, really governed Japan down to our own time. All the events of the rise of the military power and the concentration of authority under the Tokugawa Shogunate properly belong to the first revolutionary period. At the time of the opening of Japan, society had not evolutionally advanced beyond a stage corresponding to that of the antique Western societies in the seventh or eighth century before Christ. The second revolutionary period really began only with the reconstruction of society in 1871. But within the space of a single generation thereafter, Japan entered upon her third revolutionary period. Already the influence of the elder aristocracy is threatened by the sudden rise of a new oligarchy of wealth, — a new industrial power probably destined to become omnipotent in politics. The disintegration (now proceeding) of the clan, the changes in the legal constitution of the family, the entrance of the people into the enjoyment of political rights, must all tend to hasten the coming transfer of power. There is every indication that, in the present order of things, the third revolutionary period will run its course rapidly; and then a fourth revolutionary period, fraught with serious danger, would be in immediate prospect.


Consider the bewildering rapidity of recent changes, — from the reconstruction of society in 1871 to the opening of the first national parliament in 1891. Down to the middle of the nineteenth century the nation had remained in the condition common to European patriarchal communities twenty-six hundred years ago: society had indeed entered upon a second period of integration, but had traversed only one great revolution. And then the country was suddenly hurried through two more social revolutions of the most extraordinary kind, — signalized by the abolition of the daimiates, the suppression of the military class, the substitution of a plebeian for an aristocratic army, popular enfranchisement, the rapid formalism of a new commonalty, industrial expansion, the rise of a new aristocracy of wealth, and popular representation in government! Old Japan had never developed a wealthy and powerful middle class: she had not even approached that stage of industrial development which, in the ancient European societies, naturally brought about the first political struggles between rich and poor. Her social organization made industrial oppression impossible: the commercial classes were kept at the bottom of society, — under the feet even of those who, in more highly evolved communities, are most at the mercy of money-power. But now those commercial classes, set free and highly privileged, are silently and swiftly ousting the aristocratic ruling-class from power, — are becoming supremely important. And under the new order of things, forms of social misery, never before known in the history of the race, are being developed. Some idea of this misery may be obtained from the fact that the number of poor people in Tōkyō unable to pay their annual resident-tax is upwards of 50,000; yet the amount of the tax is only about 20 sen, or 5 pence English money. Prior to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a minority there was never any such want in any part of Japan, — except, of course, as a temporary consequence of war.

The early history of European civilization supplies analogies. In the Greek and Latin communities, up to the time of the dissolution of the gens, there was no poverty in the modern meaning of that word. Slavery, with some few exceptions, existed only in the mild domestic form; there were yet no commercial oligarchies, and no industrial oppressions; and the various cities and states were ruled, after political power had been taken from the early kings, by military aristocracies which also exercised religious functions. There was yet little trade in the modern signification of the term; and money, as current coinage, came into circulation only in the seventh century before Christ. Misery did not exist. Under any patriarchal system, based upon ancestor-worship, there is no misery, as a consequence of poverty, except such as may be temporarily created by devastation or famine. If want thus comes, it comes to all alike. In such a state of society everybody is in the service of somebody, and receives in exchange for service all the necessaries of life: there is no need for any one to trouble himself about the question of living. Also, in such a patriarchal community, which is self-sufficing, there is little need of money: barter takes the place of trade.... In all these respects, the condition of Old Japan offered a close parallel to the conditions of patriarchal society in ancient Europe. While the uji or clan existed, there was no misery except as a result of war, famine, or pestilence. Throughout society — excepting the small commercial class — the need of money was rare; and such coinage as existed was little suited to general circulation. Taxes were paid in rice and other produce. As the lord nourished his retainers, so the samurai cared for his dependants, the farmer for his labourers, the artizan for his apprentices and journeymen, the merchant for his clerks. Everybody was fed; and there was no need, in ordinary times at least, for any one to go hungry. It was only with the breaking-up of the clan-system in Japan that the possibilities of starvation for the worker first came into existence. And as, in antique Europe, the enfranchised client-class and plebeian-class developed, under like conditions, into a democracy clamouring for suffrage and all political rights, so in Japan have the common people developed the political instinct, in self-protection.

It will be remembered how, in Greek and Roman society, the aristocracy founded upon religious tradition and military power had to give way to an oligarchy of wealth, and how there subsequently came into existence a democratic form of government, — democratic, not in the modern, but in the old Greek meaning. At a yet later day the results of popular suffrage were the breaking-up of this democratic government, and the initiation of an atrocious struggle between rich and poor. After that strife had begun there was no more security for life or property until the Roman conquest enforced order.... Now it seems not unlikely that there will be witnessed in Japan, at no very distant day, a strong tendency to repeat the history of the old Greek anarchies. With the constant increase of poverty and pressure of population, and the concomitant accumulation of wealth in the hands of a new industrial class, the peril is obvious. Thus far the nation has patiently borne all changes, relying upon the experience of its past, and trusting implicitly to its rulers. But should wretchedness be so permitted to augment that the question of how to keep from starving becomes imperative for the millions, the long patience and the long trust may fail. And then, to repeat a figure effectively used by Professor Huxley, the Primitive Man, finding that the Moral Man has landed him in the valley of the shadow of death, may rise up to take the management of affairs into his own hands, and fight savagely for the right of existence. As popular instinct is not too dull to divine the first cause of this misery in the introduction of Western industrial methods, it is unpleasant to reflect what such an upheaval might signify. But nothing of moment has yet been done to ameliorate the condition of the wretched class of operatives, now estimated to exceed half a million.


M. de Coulanges has pointed out2 that the absence of individual liberty was the real cause of the disorders and the final ruin of the Greek societies. Rome suffered less, and survived, and dominated, — because within her boundaries the rights of the individual had been more respected.... Now the absence of individual freedom in modern Japan would certainly appear to be nothing less than a national danger. For those very habits of unquestioning obedience, and loyalty, and respect for authority, which made feudal society possible, are likely to render a true democratic regime impossible, and would tend to bring about a state of anarchy. Only races long accustomed to personal liberty, — liberty to think about matters of ethics apart from matters of government, — liberty to consider questions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, independently of political authority, — are able to face without risk the peril now menacing Japan. For should social disintegration take in Japan the same course which it followed in the old European societies, — unchecked by any precautionary legislation, — and so bring about another social revolution, the consequence could scarcely be less than utter ruin, In the antique world of Europe, the total disintegration of the patriarchal system occupied centuries: it was slow, and it was normal — not having been brought about by external forces. In Japan, on the contrary, this disintegration is taking place under enormous outside pressure, operating with the rapidity of electricity and steam. In Greek societies the changes were effected in about three hundred years; in Japan it is hardly more than thirty years since the patriarchal system was legally dissolved and the industrial system reshaped; yet already the danger of anarchy is in sight, and the population — astonishingly augmented by more than ten millions — already begins to experience all the forms of misery developed by want under industrial conditions.

It was perhaps inevitable that the greatest freedom accorded under the new order of things should have been given in the direction of greatest danger. Though the Government cannot be said to have done much for any form of competition within the sphere of its own direct control, it has done even more than could have been reasonably expected on behalf of national industrial competition. Loans have been lavishly advanced, subsidies generously allowed: and, in spite of various panics and failures, the results have been prodigious. Within thirty years the value of articles manufactured for export has risen from half a million to five hundred million yen. But this immense development has been effected at serious cost in other directions. The old methods of family production — and therefore most of the beautiful industries and arts, for which Japan has been so long famed — now seem doomed beyond hope; and instead of the ancient kindly relations between master and workers, there have been brought into existence — with no legislation to restrain inhumanity — all the horrors of factory-life at its worst. The new combinations of capital have actually reestablished servitude, under harsher forms than ever were imagined under the feudal era; the misery of the women and children subjected to that servitude is a public scandal, and proves strange possibilities of cruelty on the part of a people once renowned for kindness, — kindness even to animals.

There is now a humane outcry for reform; and earnest efforts have been made, and will be mad to secure legislation for the protection of operatives. But, as might be expected, these efforts have been hitherto strongly opposed by manufacturing companies and syndicates with the declaration that any Government interference with factory management will greatly hamper, if not cripple, enterprise, and hinder competition with foreign industry. Less than twenty years ago the very same arguments were used in England to oppose the efforts then being made to improve the condition of the industrial classes; and that opposition was challenged by Professor Huxley in a noble address, which every Japanese legislator would do well to read to-day. Speaking of the reforms in progress during 1888, the professor said: —


“If it is said that the carrying out of such arrangements as those indicated must enhance the cost of production, and thus handicap the producer in the race of competition, I venture, in the first place, to doubt the fact; but, if it be so, it results that industrial society has to face a dilemma, either alternative of which threatens destruction.

"On the one hand, a population, the labour of which is sufficiently remunerated, may be physically and morally healthy, and socially stable, but may fail in 'industrial competition by reason of the dearness of its produce. On the other hand, a population, the labour of which is insufficiently remunerated, must become physically and morally unhealthy, and socially unstable; and though it may succeed for a while in competition, by reason of the cheapness of its produce, it must in the end fall, through hideous misery and degradation, to utter ruin.

"Well, if these be the only alternatives, let us for ourselves and our children choose the former, and, if need be, starve like men. But I do not believe that a stable society, made up of healthy, vigorous, instructed, and self-ruling people would ever incur serious risk of that fate. They are not likely to be troubled with many competitors of the same character just yet; and they may be safely trusted to find ways of holding their own."3


If the future of Japan could depend upon her army and her navy, upon the high courage of her people and their readiness to die by the hundred thousand for ideals of honour and of duty, there would be small cause for alarm in the present state of affairs. Unfortunately her future must depend upon other qualities than courage, other abilities than those of sacrifice; and her struggle hereafter must be one in which her social traditions will place her at an immense disadvantage. The capacity for industrial competition cannot be made to depend upon the misery of women and children; it must depend upon the intelligent freedom of the individual; and the society which suppresses this freedom, or suffers it to be suppressed, must remain too rigid for competition with societies in which the liberties of the individual are strictly maintained. While Japan continues to think and to act by groups, even by groups of industrial companies, so long she must always continue incapable of her best. Her ancient social experience is not sufficient to avail her for the future international struggle, — rather it must sometimes impede her as so much dead weight. Dead, in the ghostliest sense of the word, — the viewless pressure upon her life of numberless vanished generations. She will have not only to strive against colossal odds in her rivalry with more plastic and more forceful societies; she will have to strive much more against the power of her phantom past.


Yet it were a grievous error to imagine that she has nothing further to gain from her ancestral faith. All her modern successes have been aided by it, and all her modern failures have been marked by needless breaking with its ethical custom. She could compel her people, by a simple fiat, to adopt the civilization of the West, with all its pain and struggle, only because that people had been trained for ages in submission and loyalty and sacrifice; and the time has not yet come in which she can afford to cast away the whole of her moral past. More freedom indeed she requires, — but freedom restrained by wisdom; freedom to think and act and strive for self as well as for others, — not freedom to oppress the weak, or to exploit the simple. And the new cruelties of her industrial life can find no justification in the traditions of her ancient faith, which exacted absolute obedience from the dependant, but equally required the duty of kindness from the master. In so far as she has permitted her people to depart from the way of kindness, she herself has surely departed from the Way of the Gods....

And the domestic future appears dark. Born of that darkness, an evil dream comes oftentimes to those who love Japan: the fear that all her efforts are being directed, with desperate heroism, only to prepare the land for the sojourn of peoples older by centuries in commercial experience; that her thousands of miles of railroads and telegraphs, her mines and forges, her arsenals and factories, her docks and fleets, are being put in order for the use of foreign capital; that her admirable army and her heroic navy may be doomed to make their last sacrifices in hopeless contest against some combination of greedy states, provoked or encouraged to aggression by circumstances beyond the power of Government to control.... But the statesmanship that has already guided Japan through so many storms should prove able to cope with this gathering peril.


1 Not excepting Sparta. The Spartan society was evolutionally much in advance of the Ionian societies; the Dorian patriarchal clan having been dissolved at some very early period. Sparta kept its Kings; but affairs of civil justice were regulated by the Senate, and affairs of criminal justice by the ephors, who also had the power to declare war and to make treaties of peace. After the first great revolution of Spartan history the King was deprived of power in civil matters, in criminal matters, and in military matters: he retained his sacerdotal office. See for details, La Citι Antique, pp. 285-287.

2 La Citι Antique, pp. 400-401.

3 The Struggle for Existence in Human Society, "Collected Essays," Vol. IX, pp. 218-119.

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