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HERBERT SPENCER'S ADVICE TO JAPAN
SOME five years ago I was told by an American professor, then residing in Tōkyō, that after Herbert Spencer's death there would be published a letter of advice, which the philosopher had addressed to a Japanese statesman, concerning the policy by which the Empire might be able to preserve its independence. I was not able to obtain any further information; but I felt tolerably sure, remembering the statement regarding Japanese social disintegration in “First Principles" (§178), that the advice would prove to have been of the most conservative kind. As a matter of fact it was even more conservative than I had imagined.
Herbert Spencer died on the morning of December 8th, 1903 (while this book was in course of preparation); and the letter, addressed to Baron Kanéko Kentarō, under circumstances with which the public have already been made familiar, was published in the London Times of January 18th, 1904.
FAIRFIELD, PEWSEY, WILTS,
Aug. 26, 1892.
MY DEAR SIR, — Your proposal to send translations of my two letters1 to Count Ito, the newly-appointed Prime Minister, is quite satisfactory, I very willingly give my assent.
Respecting the further questions you ask, let me, in the first place, answer generally that the Japanese policy should, I think, be that of keeping Americans and Europeans as much as possible at arm’s length. In presence of the more powerful races your position is one of chronic danger, and you should take every precaution to give as little foothold as possible to foreigners.
It seems to me that the only forms of intercourse which you may with advantage permit are those which are indispensable for the exchange of commodities — importation and exportation of physical and mental products. No further privileges should be allowed to people of other races, and especially to people of the more powerful races, than is absolutely needful for the achievement of these ends. Apparently you are proposing by revision of the treaty with the Powers of Europe and America "to open the whole Empire to foreigners and foreign capital." I regret this as a fatal policy. If you wish to see what is likely to happen, study the history of India. Once let one of the more powerful races gain a point d' appui and there will inevitably in course of time grow up an aggressive policy which will lead to collisions with the Japanese; these collisions will be represented as attacks by the Japanese which must be avenged, as the case may be; a portion of territory will be seized and required to be made over as a foreign settlement; and from this there will grow eventually subjugation of the entire Japanese Empire. I believe that you will have great difficulty in avoiding this fate in any case, but you will make the process easy if you allow of any privileges to foreigners beyond those which I have indicated.
In pursuance of the advice thus generally indicated, I should say, in answer to your first question, that there should be, not only a prohibition of foreign persons to hold property in land, but also a refusal to give them leases, and a permission only to reside as annual tenants.
To the second question I should say decidedly prohibit to foreigners the working of the mines owned or worked by Government. Here there would be obviously liable to arise grounds of difference between the Europeans or Americans who worked them and the Government, and these grounds of quarrel would be followed by invocations to the English or American Governments or other Powers to send forces to insist on whatever the European workers claimed, for always the habit here and elsewhere among the civilized peoples is to believe what their agents or sellers abroad represent to them.
In the third place, in pursuance of the policy I have indicated, you ought also to keep the coasting trade in your own hands and forbid foreigners to engage in it. This coasting trade is clearly not included in the requirement I have indicated as the sole one to be recognized — a requirement to facilitate exportation and importation of commodities. The distribution of commodities brought to Japan from other places may be properly left to the Japanese themselves, and should be denied to foreigners, for the reason that again the various transactions involved would become so many doors open to quarrels and resulting aggressions.
To your remaining question respecting the intermarriage of foreigners and Japanese, which you say is "now very much agitated among our scholars and politicians” and which you say is "one of the most difficult problems," my reply is that, as rationally answered, there is no difficulty at all. It should be positively forbidden. It is not at root a question of social philosophy. It is at root a question of biology. There is abundant proof, alike furnished by the intermarriages of human races and by the interbreeding of animals, that when the varieties mingled diverge beyond a certain slight degree the result is inevitably a bad one in the long run. I have myself been in the habit of looking at the evidence bearing on this matter for many years past, and my conviction is based on numerous facts derived from numerous sources. This conviction I have within the last half-hour verified, for I happen to be staying in the country with a gentleman who is well known and has had much experience respecting the interbreeding of cattle; and he has just, on inquiry, fully confirmed my belief that when, say of the different varieties of sheep, there is an interbreeding of those which are widely unlike, the result, especially in the second generation, is a bad one — there arise an incalculable mixture of traits, and what may be called a chaotic constitution. And the same thing happens among human beings — the Eurasians in India, the half-breeds in America, show this. The physiological basis of this experience appears to be that any one variety of creature in course of many generations acquires a certain constitutional adaptation to its particular form of life, and every other variety similarly acquires its own special adaptation. The consequence is that, if you mix the constitution of two widely divergent varieties which have severally become adapted to widely divergent modes of life, you get a constitution which is adapted to the mode of life of neither — a constitution which will not work properly, because it is not fitted for any set of conditions whatever. By all means, therefore, peremptorily interdict marriages of Japanese with foreigners.
I have for the reasons indicated entirely approved of the regulations which have been established in America for restraining the Chinese immigration, and had I the power I would restrict them to the smallest possible amount, my reasons for this decision being that one of two things must happen. If the Chinese are allowed to settle extensively in America, they must either, if they remain unmixed, form a subject race standing in the position, if not of slaves, yet of a class approaching to slaves; or if they mix they must form a bad hybrid. In either case, supposing the immigration to be large, immense social mischief must arise, and eventually social disorganization. The same thing will happen if there should be any considerable mixture of European or American races with the Japanese.
You see, therefore, that my advice is strongly conservative in all directions, and I end by saying as I began — keep other races at arm's length as much as possible. I give this advice in confidence. I wish that it should not transpire publicly, at any rate during my life, for I do not desire to rouse the animosity of my fellow-countrymen.
I am sincerely yours,
P.S. Of course, when I say I wish this advice to be in confidence, I do not interdict the communication of it to Count Ito, but rather wish that he should have the opportunity of taking it into consideration.
How fairly Herbert Spencer understood the prejudices of his countrymen has been shown by the comments of the Times upon this letter, comments chiefly characterized by that unreasoning quality of abuse with which the English conventional mind commonly resents the pain of a new idea opposed to immediate interests. Yet some knowledge of the real facts in the case should serve to convince even the Times that if Japan is able in this moment to fight for the cause of civilization in general, and for English interests in particular, it is precisely because the Japanese statesmen of a wiser generation maintained a sound conservative policy upon the very lines indicated in that letter — so unjustly called a proof of "colossal egotism."
Whether the advice itself directly served at any time to influence government policy, I do not know. But that it fully accorded with the national instinct of self-preservation, is shown by the history of that fierce opposition which the advocates of the abolition of extra-territoriality had to encounter, and by the nature of the precautionary legislation enacted in regard to those very matters dwelt upon in Herbert Spencer's letter. Though extra-territoriality has been (unavoidably, perhaps) abolished, foreign capital has not been left free to exploit the resources of the country; and foreigners are not allowed to own land. Though marriages between Japanese and foreigners have never been forbidden,2 they have never been encouraged, and can take place only under special legal restrictions. If foreigners could have acquired, through marriage, the right to hold Japanese real estate, a considerable amount of such estate would soon have passed into alien hands. But the law has wisely provided that the Japanese woman marrying a foreigner thereby becomes a foreigner, and that the children by such a marriage remain foreigners. On the other hand, any foreigner adopted by marriage into a Japanese family becomes a Japanese; and the children in such event remain Japanese. But they also remain under certain disabilities: they are precluded from holding high offices of state; and they cannot even become officers of the army or navy except by special permission. (This permission appears to have been accorded in one or two cases. ) Finally, it is to be observed that Japan has kept her coasting-trade in her own hands.
On the whole, then, it may be said that Japanese policy followed, to a considerable extent, the course suggested in Herbert Spencer's letter of advice; and it is much to be regretted, in my humble opinion, that the advice could not have been followed more closely. Could the philosopher have lived to hear of the recent Japanese victories, — the defeat of a powerful Russian fleet without the loss of a single Japanese vessel, and the rout of thirty thousand Russian troops on the Yalu, — I do not think that he would have changed his counsel by a hair's-breadth. Perhaps he would have commended, so far as his humanitarian conscience permitted, the thoroughness of the Japanese study of the new science of war: he might have praised the high courage displayed, and the triumph of the ancient discipline; — his sympathies would have been on the side of the country compelled to choose between the necessities of inviting a protectorate or fighting Russia. But had he been questioned again as to the policy of the future, in case of victory, he would probably have reminded the questioner that military efficiency is a very different thing from industrial power, and have vigorously repeated his warning. Understanding the structure and the history of Japanese society, he could clearly perceive the dangers of foreign contact, and the directions from which attempts to take advantage of the industrial weakness of the country were likely to be made.... In another generation Japan will be able, without peril, to abandon much of her conservatism; but, for the time being, her conservatism is her salvation.
1 These letters have not as yet been made public.
2 The number of families in Tōkyō representing such unions is said to be over one hundred.