Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shinzo Abe a Right-Winger? Not on This Political Page

(The Japanese below, as usual)

I have been troubled lately by the English-language media, which typically slap Shinzo Abe with “right-wing” and similar labels. I know that Mr. Abe prefers "conservative", with "outward-looking", "open-minded" or something of the sort in front of it. But does any of this work? Challenged to come up with a better description, I’m beginning to feel there isn’t any. And it’s not Mr. Abe’s fault. Here’s the reason why:

Left-wing and right-wing are political terms that were translated from the original French and entered the political lexicon of doubtless many nations and languages. There, they, like most other elements of political discourse, are altered and transformed by their adoptive societies.

In Japan, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "uyoku"=right-wing is the extreme edge of the nationalists that shades into the Yakuza underground. I believe it is a widely-held belief that the relative silence over the arson and attempted suicide by a known right-wing activist at the dovish Lower House member Koichi Kato's mother’s home is but the latest example of the success with which the "uyoku" has been able to cower the media and politicians by its demonstrated willingness to use various forms of violence, including murder, against their detractors. Thus, the epithet "uyoku" is used on other politicians and other public figures only in a pejorative sense. I doubt that even real "uyoku" use it for themselves, instead using "aikoku"=patriotism instead.

"Sayoku"=left-wing has not fared much better, although its fate is that of neglect. Orginally encompassing communists and socialists, represented respectively by its own left-wing party, it spawned the term "shin-sayoku"=New Left (now where else have we heard that?) during the late sixties and early seventies. The fatal blow to the “shin-sayoku” came with the self-destructive purges of the United Red Army that culminated in a police shootout in the Asama Sanso Incident. The original "sayoku" also fell into disrepute as the their flagship Socialist Party lost relevance as the focus of opposition to the self-perpetuating LDP near-monopoly on power. The Communist Party still maintains a certain level of political presence, but it lost its hold on the imagination of the chattering classes long before the Cold War ended, and continues to be ignored by the mainstream media. Thus, nobody bothers to call them "sayoku" anymore.

Did that help?

A sidebar on "uyoku": The "2 Channel" is a huge conglomeration of media links and chat rooms, a sort of low-rent cyberspace. It is my understanding that belligerent, abusive political talk of the "right-wing" variety dominates there. My guess is that they are perceived by more sophisticated residents of the Internet as socially, economically and intellectually deprived, giving rise to the pejorative "hetare-uyoku"=worn-down right-wing.


最近の英語メディアが安倍晋三に“right-wing”、つまり「右翼」ないしそれに類したレッテルを貼っているのを苦々しく思っておりました。安倍氏自身が”conservative”、つまり「保守」の前に「開かれた」、つまり"outward-looking"、 "open-minded"といった類の形容詞をくっつけるのを望むであろうことはわかっています。で、それでうまくいくだろうか。適切なレッテルを考えてみろといわれたのですが、どうもそれは無理なのではないだろうかと思い始めております。何も安倍氏自身のせいではありません。説明は、次のとおり:



left-wing=左翼」も、それほどいい目に会ってきておりません。ただし、こちらの方は、無視されるという運命が待ち受けていたのです。始めは共産主義者及び社会主義者をまとめて指す表現であり、いずれもそれぞれ自分達の政党によって代表されておりました。これは、1960年代の終わりから70年代の冒頭にかけて「新左翼=New Left (英語でもどこかで聞いた表現のような…)」という言葉を生み出しました。しかし、「新左翼」は、連合赤軍の自殺的パージを経て浅間山荘事件で致命的な打撃を受けました。そして、元の「左翼」もまた、その旗手であった社会党が、権力をほとんど独占し続けるのに成功してきた自民党に対する反対勢力の結節点としての意義をうしなうにつれて、顧みられなくなりました。共産党は、今なお、そこそこの政治的存在感を持ってはおりますが、冷戦が終わるそのはるか前から知識人階層の関心を失い、依然としてメディアの主流にほとんど無視されています。というわけで、彼等を今さら「左翼」と呼ぶ人達はいないのではないでしょうか。


「右翼」について余談を一つ。「2チャンネル」は、メディアへのリンクとチャットルームを集めた、いわば安上がりのサイバースペースとでもいうべきものですが、私が承知しているところでは、「右翼」的な、それも戦闘的、攻撃的な政治的言論がそこで支配的だそうです。私の推測するところでは、インターネットに生息する、どちらかと言えばより洗練された人々は、彼等のことを社会的、経済的、知的に劣っている連中だと考えているようです。そして、これが「へたれ右翼=worn-down right-wing」という侮蔑的表現を生み出しているのです。


ross said...

I agree completely. Rightwing has grown to encompass so many dimensions of political conflict that it has little meaning and offers no leverage over cross-country comparisons. But, to engage of a bit of slightly less encompassing stereotyping, Abe seems elitist to me. And he may end up looking hawkisk, there is suggestive evidence, but I think the jury is still out on that matter. We will have to wait to see how he behaves in office. I think he will turn out to be more nuanced than many suspect, or would expect of a "rightwinger."

Also, love the blog keep up the hard work.


Jun Okumura said...

Thank you, Ross. It's you and everybody else who is willing to give this blog second and third looks that make my day.

Jun Okumura said...

I agree that Mr. Abe is something of an elitist. But that can be said of a large part of the LDP leadership, which is increasingly drawn for the offspring of Diet members who spend the better part of their lives in Tokyo, going to private schools where they associate mostly with their social peers. His book shows he has an interest in the public school system, as well as national health care and pension systems (although I do intend to have some critical things to say on these points in my “Towards a Beautiful Nation” book review posts). These are geared toward the middle class and below, and do not reflect an agenda far from the LDP mainstream.

More broadly, the LDP dichotomy could shifting from Tojin-ha/party regulars vs. Kanryo-ha/ex-bureaucrats to scions vs. ex-professionals (including ex-bureaucrats). I'm sure there are historical precedents of similar nature.

Speaking of elitism, does Bill Clinton have any close friends from his childhood? High school days? I’m curious.