Monday, February 5, 2018

Medieval Japan

In my search for societies, traditions and cultures that might have held to something approaching the non-aggression principle for an extended period of time (outside of the medieval western tradition), I decided to look here: Medieval Japan: Essays in Institutional History, edited by John W. Hall and‎ Jeffrey P. Mass.  Let’s just say, at least with this effort, I came up snake eyes.

The journey already began with the cards stacked against me.  I found very little available in English on this period of Japanese history.  After looking through the handful of choices, I settled on this book – capturing a series of essays prepared initially for the Yale Faculty Research Seminar on Medieval Japan held in 1972.

Now…the subject is complex enough and the terms foreign enough to begin with; matters are further complicated as I cannot avoid looking at this period in Japan through the lens of my knowledge of medieval Europe.  Add to this that the book I chose is a book of academic essays; let’s just say that it was not written for the uninitiated layman. 

The book captures the history of more than seven centuries, ending in about 1600.  Preceding this period, Japan was greatly centralized; then followed a period dominated by great noble houses, followed by a period where civil and military interests competed for power, and finally a period where almost all governance was local – exercised by warriors who could exercise military force.

While I find many snippets that seem familiar to one who has done a bit of reading on European medieval history, what connection that there is (in terms of law approaching the NAP) all seems very superficial – not superficial as in fake, but superficial as in no real foundation.

There is no sense of the worth of the individual, no sense of decentralized law – just decentralized power (toward the latter part of the period in question).  There is no concept of natural law, of man made in God’s image, of oath, of law following the oldest custom and tradition, of religion as a check on political power. 

To make a long story short, I found no reason for the decentralization that ultimately came toward the end of this period (albeit, relatively short-lived) other than the waning of centralized power.  None of the foundations under the decentralization of medieval Europe are clearly present in the case of Japan during this time period.  There was nothing underneath to sustain this decentralization.

And in this might be a good lesson for our times; we may very well be entering a period of decentralization – not based on any foundation that is lasting but based on a foundation of waning power.

It is worth keeping in mind: after this short-lived decentralization, Japan fell into civil war.  Thereafter, centralization came back in full force.


  1. I predict this article will put you on the trade winds and out of the doldrums of being posted by LRC on the morrow. If I know Mr. Rockwell’s style well enough, I’d guess he might try to border it against one by Dr. Block.

    1. OK, from now on I will refer to you as Lew!

    2. I called my friends at the Kremlin and had them hack your article into Mr. Rockwell’s daily list. In ‘murica, like Medieval Japan, individual decisions were not emphasized despite some decentralization!

  2. Great report, Bionic, very enlightening. My takeaway is that political power works the same everywhere, tending toward expansion and centralization the better to maximize its web of domination.

  3. "There is no concept of natural law, of man made in God’s image, of oath, of law following the oldest custom and tradition, of religion as a check on political power. "

    I'll offer an excerpt from an article I wrote 4 years ago that I shopped around a little when I was toying with writing a blog for your consideration:

    "How good is Asian culture in general at shunning when you can't even easily “google” it? Here's how good: does "he whom we do not name" sound? That's pretty powerful, but here's the one sentence that stands out in the entry:

    “There are many theories as to how and in which era the outcast communities came into existence. For example, it is disputed whether society started ostracizing those who worked in tainted occupations or whether those who originally dropped out of society were forced to work in tainted occupations. “

    Of course, I might argue there's a difference between ostracizing and shunning, but if you really want an interesting take, consider this guys viewpoint:

    His post discusses some things from a PC standpoint and he lacks some understanding in “freedom of association” that I would expect the average libertarian reading this to comprehend, but it's interesting none the less.

    So we've got Japanese society now dated to at least Feudal times in its shunning practice, but I'm not completely happy in ignoring China. So from my limited collegiate education I decide to google “Shame” in Asian cultures because I think they are inter-related and bingo:

    Look at this quote by Confucius:

    "Lead the people with administrative injunctions and put them in their place with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously"

    Seriously, can you imagine a more Voluntaryist oriented statement? They are probably out there, but I'm having trouble thinking of one at this moment. And how do you develop this “shame” Confucious speaks of? I suspect shunning would be very successful and I'm betting that it happens in Chinese culture as well.

    The quote comes from “The Analects”, with a suspected date of 445 to 221 BC. "

    Anyway, when I wrote the above I earlier cited Biblical verses dealing with "shunning" as well as a non-gov't way of dealing with "bad" behavior from a cultural perspective and I thought it might be a good time to post it.

    1. Nick

      But on what basis would a libertarian "shun"? Libertarians need not shun regarding violations of the NAP - these are clear in and of themselves.

      So on what basis do libertarians shun? Clearly...a moral code found outside of the NAP. But why? To what end? Interesting, and important, questions.

    2. The situation with the Buraku is an interesting one.

      If one wanted to stop being a Buraku, one can simply move to Tokyo (for example) and simply never mention that one is a Buraku. However there are now people that want to maintain a "Buraku identity", except without discrimination against Buraku. But discrimination and Buraku identity are so intertwined they may never come unstuck.

      I am not entirely convinced that there was no force against the Buraku, and that shunning the Buraku was purely organic and without sovereign power.

    3. "But on what basis would a libertarian "shun"? Libertarians need not shun regarding violations of the NAP - these are clear in and of themselves."

      Ha! You forgot your "sarcasm" switch. (/s)

  4. I'm not a fan of Japanese politics, just Japanese gardening. Keep looking for signs of liberty in other cultures though. I will do the same.

    Lao Tzu of China had some libertarian leanings from what I've gathered, but more in the Asian style of freedom: inner retreat and inner peace regardless of the harshness of the external world.

    1. I appreciate the politeness...and the sashimi...and the sake!

    2. Actually there is a lot I respect about Japanese culture, though I've never been there to see it for myself. I hope the Japanese succeed in preserving their culture.

      This is what non-libertarians don't understand about the right of discrimination. If everybody adhered to it, it would give all cultures the right and authority to exist into the future.

      Discrimination preserves diversity. The leftist egalitarian is the one who wishes to mix and dilute all cultures into one.

  5. I know I've posted this earlier BM,

    But just as a reminder of what exactly this medieval Western tradition was and where it originated, Ralph Raico (rip), once more:

    Ralph Raico:

    "Liberalism must be understood, I think.., as a political and social doctrine and a movement, grounded in the distinctive culture and traceable to specific historical conditions. That culture is the West."

    What is the West?

    "The Europe that arose in communion with the Bishop of Rome."

    "The historical conditions were those of the Middle Ages. The history of liberalism is rooted in what economic historians sometimes call: The European Miracle."

    1. Yes. Sometimes it is not enough to present evidence for the defense; one must also search out evidence to negate other possibilities.

  6. BM
    I appreciate your review. The last few months I have reexamined medieval Japanese culture and now I agree with your main point.
    Here I comment on law.

    Law must be good and old, but probably medieval Japanese anarchs did not know either.
    1. To be old, law requires old ethnos to hold it; however, they were emigrants, individuals or families, who originally consisted the near anarcho-capitalistic cities in medieval Japan, escaping from their hometowns. And once they entered the cities, they constituted new, anonymous communities, so there might be no culture old enough to reduce conflict.
    2. To be good, the law must be natural. However, Buddha-Law and Shinmei (God’s Clear) Law, the strongest and most legitimate one which the medieval cities had enjoyed, was not natural, but magical. Everything that the cities as temple-shrines acquired even with any means is legal against outsiders because it is supposedly in Buddha-God’s possession and nobles feared magic revenge of the deity.
    And apparently there were week or no sense of individual to hold and thus decentralize law. Communal but non-ethnic, and magical law - far from West. The eastern Sun rised, perhaps merely coincidentally. And falls fast.

    I had mistaken a similarity between the two. The key phrase must be "superficial as in no real foundation". To know is to know through the cause, or foundation.
    In my current opinion and to my regret, liberty was relatively difficult for the Mongoloid with Buddhism and the syllabary – in other words, the more neotenous race with oneism (as Peter Jones define) and essential illiteracy – than for German Whites with Catholic Christianity and the alphabetic philosophy, though high IQ and statelessness were equally qualified. Libertarians need the racial and cultural foundation for liberty.

    I am happy to read your post on our culture from the Western perspective.

    1. I truly appreciate your comment here.

      I must say I am saddened by it in one way. You are from this traditional, eastern, Japanese culture without this foundational tradition - looking for a move toward a libertarian society in a culture without the foundation for a libertarian society.

      Many in the west have this foundation that you lack in your society, and treat this foundation as worthless - worse, even destructive, to liberty.

    2. TM (Tooru) & BM,

      I want to submit to the both of you something about "foundation". That's also why I posted the above comment with Ralph Raico's LvMI lecture about the specific origin/culture of "The West" and the historical circumstances that led to this unique society.

      BM, you say that "many in the west have this foundation" and historically speaking, I can't argue with that. Only this: does the West - as outlined by Raico in his lecture - still exist today, and if so, where?

      The "heartland" of the West was the Middle Empire (later called Lotharingia, superior/inferior), characterized by radical decentralization (even internally) and a resistance to absolutism.

      Roughly this (with the British Isles added):

      To that was added the failure of kings/emperors to bring the whole area under centralized rule because more often than not, they found themselves opposed by a Church that claimed international power and authority.

      The liberal West, as Raico described it, survived where the tendency towards Absolutism was resisted and fought off successfully, like first and foremost in the Low Countries in their rebellion against the Spanish Habsburg Empire, and in England (RR's lecture, 56:12).

      Can't say that I find that set of circumstances or anything closely resembling that anywhere nowadays. Holland is - for now - still part of this ghastly remake of the US, the European Union. Of course there's always hope and the resistance is gaining strength. Over here secession still has a better fighting chance than on the other side of the Atlantic, if I'm not mistaken. Nexit is more probable than a "Texit", but who knows..

      America sure had its chance, but when it finally became USA after the War against Secession, there was this Union, growing in power by the decade, which doesn't quite square with radical decentralization.

      And let's forget about today's Church. It has no overarching authority of any kind to act as a check on State power, like it did during the Middle Ages. Most certainly not in the US.

      In this day and age, the US is a source for "Westernization". But westernization is very far removed from anything like Western Civilization and in many ways i.m.o. almost the exact opposite. Something to do with the point about modern Gnosticism in Voegelin's analysis. This US sponsored Cult of Diversity and open borders we've been talking about, is an example of modern gnosticism and one important aspect of this "Westernization".

      Anyway. To much for one comment, so I'll leave it at that for now.

      Tooru, if you read this, please feel free to tell me if I'm making sense here. Can you find "Western Civilization" - with all the important aspects Raico described - anywhere in the West nowadays?

      Cheers from Amsterdam,

    3. Richard, what I see as follows:

      1) In Europe, decentralization seems almost certain

      2) In the US, there are many regions that hold to the value of the individual - as a proxy, see the map by county of election results from last year's presidential election. How this plays out is less clear than in Europe.

      3) There is a pushback against political correctness / diversity - again, the election of Trump, Brexit, etc. Plus, life destroying philosophies will consume themselves.

      4) But no, I don't see the culture of the Middle Ages - the noble acting in a manner that can be described as "noble."

      This is one reason I write about it, I guess. Not too many people connect liberty to a necessary underlying foundation.

      Maybe a futile task, but necessary - and one I find fruitful.

  7. Hi BM,

    1) Wish I could share your view on this point, but I'm far from certain about decentralization here. More like disintegration and a period of protracted civil war. After that, there's no guarantee that any new sort of order will even approach the radical decentralization that was so beneficial to the Middle Empire region over here.

    2) The value of the individual. Depends on the kind/type of individual that people are valuing and the object(s) of these individuals' passions as expressed in a certain culture. Besides, many of these regions, I reckon, are better characterized by what a majority of people are against than what they're for.
    No wait, I do remember some very interesting research showing that the one deciding factor for regions going to Trump, was the anti-war stance of the voting public there. So hope remains, and I gladly join you in that. Sad that as far as war goes, the votes of these people seem to have been in vain.

    3) I'd say that life destroying philosophies destroy life. Before that, they destroy cultures. Especially cultures that - because of modern Gnosticism, are no longer grounded in reality, like in our "Westernized" nations of today.
    In the end, I think you're right though. These philosophies, false religions, doctrines of hate or whatever one might call them, will consume themselves, but only after having consumed the host culture, like a bad, maladapted parasite that doesn't know how to behave in its own self-interest (keep host alive!).

    4) The culture of the Middle Ages, in the specific sense that concerns us who are interested in the prerequisites for a culture of freedom, IS the culture of radical decentralization, cemented by the Church as a counterweight to monarchical Absolutism. Noble behaviour was/is not an essential part of that cultural foundation i.m.o. (maybe an effect, but a disputable one).
    I have detailed reports here, questionnaires, eyewitness accounts ;) all testifying to the fact that most people then as now were mostly acting out of self-interest, not out of nobility as commonly understood today. One important difference with today's individuals was the object of their self-interest, which lay beyond the immanent. With that, we're back to the question, what type of individual are we talking about? (point 2)

    "Not too many people connect liberty to a necessary underlying foundation."

    Well, that's all John Stuart Mill's fault with his "free speech" demagoguery (a minority interest really, and a hidden agenda to boot). Can't do anything to change that now ;)

    Some may find your task futile (compared to what?), but you don't find that and I don't, or we wouldn't be here. So see you around BM, sail on & stay the course.

    Take care,

    1. Sagunto,

      I am sorry but maybe I am not the right man to make an existential assessment of the Europe, but if there were no Europe after Middle Ages and because of the States and inept Church, then you can refrain from calling yourself as European, providing you are from there.

      From my almond eyes, your people still have the genes, the religion, and the languages, all fighting against the life destroying tendency you worry.

      So I support them, and I do you if you believe in European Civilization.

    2. Hi Tooru,

      Thanks a bunch for your reply. I am from Europe, Netherlands, so that provision has been met.

      Of course "Europe" (Western Europe, actually) didn't just vanish after the Middle Ages waned, the Church was split and fragmented, and the radical decentralization was slowly replaced by ever increasing and increasingly "modern" bureaucracies (Netherlands under French rule, German lands united under Otto von "welfare state" Bismarck etcetera). This was radically sped up by two devastating world wars fought on our territories (Holland escaped the first). Today our nations have been thoroughly "Westernized" by the modern Gnostic ideology ever present as a self-destructive force in Western Civilization from the beginning of the decline described above. During the postwar decades, this "Westernization" of European nations has come almost exclusively from the USA, main source of this modern Gnosticism, in the form of multiculturalism. This, and the centralizing forces behind the EU (not Europe!) are the main threats to our nations today. But as BM noted, hope remains.

      Before leaving this thread, one little anecdote comes to mind about Japan, and historical circumstances that mimicked/approached the medieval situation of Western Civ. in part of Europe.

      I believe that for about 200 years, when Japan closed itself off from the outside world, the Dutch on the artificial island in the Nagasaki harbor (Dejima?) were just about the only contact Japan had with the West.

      Before that period, the Portuguese were there and they tried to spread the Catholic faith. Apparently they succeeded to such an extent that one shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada, took drastic measures (against the Jesuits). Part of his motivation was a distrust of the converted daimyo's loyalty to an "international" Church.

      So here you see, if you will, the Japanese analogue of what could have resembled the typical power struggle in Medieval Europe that was part of Western Civilization as a relatively free society. We'll never know how this might have ended, other than that the Portuguese were eventually kicked out (with help of the Dutch) and only the Dutch traders were allowed to stay, as they were not interested in making converts among the Japanese.

      All the rest is history ;)

      Kind regs from Amsterdam,

  8. I read an article in LRC last week (?) regarding differences between pictorial language (literal) and phonetic (conceptual) languages. It may be that oriental culture is hampered by their more literal language and so have a more difficult time with concepts such as "liberty" and "individuality", especially in an environment where it was in the best interest of those at the top to prevent understanding. It was easy enough to remove the characters for those ideas - remove the words in a literal language and you literally remove the ability to express those ideas.

    I have a great deal of respect for Oriental culture - the people appear to be more selfless and often more disciplined than those in the west. Yet, without liberty, those attributes seem hollow and pointless.

    1. Woody,

      I've longed believe that one can only think insofar as one's vocabulary makes it possible. If I do not know the word/concept "tree", for instance, I'm extremely limited in my ability to think about a tree.

      Your comment makes a lot of sense. I've never really thought about this particular difference in the languages (conceptual vs. literal). I shall ruminate on it a bit more. Thanks!

    2. I just think that not having the vocabulary just makes it difficult to communicate a concept. That is all.

    3. How do you think, if not in terms of the words you know and the concepts they represent? AND, as I've learned from Jordan Peterson, talking is part of the thinking process.

    4. For the "everyday" person, if a concept cannot be expressed in language, it is ignored. It is only the exceptional intellect that can examine concepts for which there are no words.

    5. I honestly do not believe that one can "think" about a concept without (at least) approximate words. When I think, it is with words - even though they are not spoken out loud - sometime pictures...but even those I must have words to truly "think" about them.

  9. So, when you think, or dream, of a tree you hypnotherapy tree, maybe with a qualifier?

    You think a baby cannot think of a boogie when he is hungry because he does not have a word for it? The baby develops an association between hunger and satisfaction by seeing and satiating the need from a boobie.

  10. Bionic,
    A book that might interest you on the genesis of medieval Christendom is "The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity”, by James C. Russell. His thesis is that the early Roman Church, which tended to be “world-denying” and universalist, was altered greatly when it met with the pagan Germanic tribes, whose people were “world-accepting” and kinship-oriented. In the integration of these world views, medieval Christendom came to be, more or less. (I oversimplify somewhat). It was this heroic, Germanized Christianity that fought the Crusades, and that believed a lord had obligation to his liege.

    More relevant to the discussion here, Russell notes (though not his idea originally) that the reciprocity of those feudal relationships - a hallmark of the decentralization you have documented here so well - derived from the earlier Germanic comitatus, a war-band ethos of oaths and obligations that made for exceptional cohesion, and gave these tribes a competitive advantage over others.

    Which leads me to thinking of mutual obligation, of keeping one's word, of heroic self-sacrifice - these likely all developed as auxiliary to the well-being and survival of the kin group, enforced through honor and dishonor. They become less relevant - even counterproductive for the individual - apart from that tribal/familial context.

    This much is clear to me: Christianity took root in a Europe where keeping one's oath was already paramount, where there was already a link between "free" status and the ownership of land, and where customary law had long been the tradition. So far as I can tell, this constellation - and the social order to which it contributed, once unified under the Church - has nothing logically necessary or inevitable about it. Once lost, it will be gone, unless perhaps forged again one day through generations of hardship and struggle. You are quite right to suggest that preserving Western culture is essential to the cause of liberty.