Unformatted text preview: were, by any criterion, extraordinarily capable and
farsighted men who took a strongly pragmatic approach to problems.
Once secure in power they did indeed tend toward the authoritarian in
consonance with their samurai backgrounds. But one advantage of their
functioning as oligarchs was that, immune from the everyday strife of
elected politicians, they could concentrate on the pursuit of loftier goals
for the betterment of Japan. They were committed to making Japan into
a truly modern state, and national constitutions were an integral part of
modernist thinking everywhere in this age. The man who assumed chief Encounter with the West 247 responsibility for writing the Meiji Constitution was Itò Hirobumi (1841–
1909) of Chòshû. In 1882 he went to Europe to study Western constitutionalism, particularly as propounded by German theorists; and, in 1885,
he became Japan’s first prime minister upon the institution of a cabinet
system of government.
Meanwhile, the people’s rights advocates were also active, and both
Itagaki and Òkuma formed new political associations—the Liberal Party
( Jiyûtò) and the Progressive Party (Shimpotò)—in preparation for the
opening of a parliament (or Diet) within the decade. It is difficult to
assess precisely the differences between the two major party lines established at this time. The works of Rousseau, Mill, and other Western political theorists had been translated into Japanese and were widely read and
admired by the party people. French natural rights democracy seems to
have appealed particularly to the Itagaki group, while Òkuma and his
followers espoused British utilitarianism. Moreover, whereas the Liberal
Party came in general to represent agrarian interests, the Progressive
Party tended to align itself with the emerging class of urban industrialists.
Yet, far more than any political creeds, specific issues, or class alliances,
it was personal allegiance to the leaders themselves that provided the basis
for party unity during this preconstitutional phase of the people’s rights
In addition to the political parties, an important source of burgeoning
opposition to the Meiji oliga...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at UBC.
- Spring '13