The Fascist Era: Imperial Japan and the Axis Alliance in Historical Perspective

Posted on | April 4, 2002 | No Comments

Prepared for the Association for Asian Studies Conference Washington, D. C.
April 4-7, 2002


When Imperial Japan finally capitulated on September 2, 1945, it marked the end of both a war and an era. The Allies’ victory in the Pacific terminated the 20th Century’s bloodiest conflict and it also signaled the end of the Fascist Era. From the end of World War I through the close of World War II, fascism and fascist ideology overshadowed the other two “isms” of the day—liberalism and communism. Strains of fascism emerged in France, Great Britain, the Untied States, and China, but only with the three major signatories of the Tripartite Pact did fascism transform unrequited Great Powers into viable challengers for control of the globe.

Understanding their rapid ascension as a fascist bloc requires an historical framework flexible enough to assess each individually, yet rigid enough to establish a coherent fascist minimum.(1) When seen in its proper geopolitical context, the Axis alliance provides an adequate conceptual framework for better understanding both the Fascist Era and the development of the nations that embodied it. The terms or structure of the Anti-Comintern Pact and the Tripartite Pact are not of primary concern here, although they remain an untapped source of insight into the geopolitical character of fascism. The primary focus here is on the simple fact of the alliance.

Too often, historians divorce Imperial Japan from its Axis partners. This common division generates a great deal of ambiguity about the character of fascism. The highly politicized debates of the Cold War only exacerbated this widespread ambiguity. Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, some questioned the very possibility of establishing a minimum set of fascist characteristics.(2) But the Cold War is over and historians have renewed their efforts to define fascism.(3) Yet, without fail these new models exclude Imperial Japan. Imperial Japan might not be the “Rosetta Stone” of fascism, but including it in a comparative model of generic fascism does clarify the basic characteristics of both the Fascist Era and fascism in general.(4) Towards that end, this paper asserts that Imperial Japan should be included with its Axis partners as one of three vanguard nations leading the Fascist Era, each aligned with the others based on an organic continuity of interests and a strikingly similar evolution of their respective socio-political cultures. This organic continuity arose as an outgrowth of each nation’s place in the geopolitical landscape and a socio-political need to create a national identity that united the masses under the banner of a culturally-oriented nation-state.

Imperial Japan is often considered a “special case” because it did not have a party-based mass movement comparable to those in Italy or Germany, or a charismatic leader like Mussolini or Hitler, and because the Meiji Constitution and parliamentary political structure persisted through the end of the war.(5) Yet, a comparative analysis reveals that in spite of obvious culturally-based variations the core similarities shared by the Axis allies establishes a solid fascist minimum capable of encapsulating the essence of the Fascist Era. These key characteristics include the search for a “Third Way” beyond liberalism and communism; development of a broadly-based mass-oriented national identity in an era of “Static Imperialism”; a broad cultural and political expression of idealism against materialism, positivism and rational science; and the development of a national mythos that functions as a religion of nationality.


Italy, Germany, and Japan entered into the community of nation-states at approximately the same time—1868-1871—and as latecomers to the great geopolitical game they shared many of the same challenges. These challenges included the need to create a coherent national identity after a prolonged period of particularism, to acquire the accoutrements of Great Power status such as colonies and a navy, and to develop a viable political culture during a period of crisis for liberalism and capitalism. All three began as constitutional monarchies, but over time the imposition of liberalism, both economically and politically, failed to meet the challenges that preoccupied these young nations. By the end of World War I, Italy, Germany and Japan were, to varying degrees, proletarian nations without either the Great Power status or the functional socio-political cohesion that was liberalism’s initial promise. The Fascist Era began within this historical context, pulling on long muted threads of philosophical idealism to establish a “Third Way” capable of meeting the challenges of an increasingly Darwinian world.(6)

In 1939, Peter F. Drucker saw this phenomenon quite clearly. In The End Of Economic Man, his self-described screed against the fascism “monster,” he described Nazism and Fascism as “fundamental revolutions” overturning the trend of previous centuries which were “characterized by their efforts to make the spiritual serve the material.”(7) Further, Drucker believed that fascism emerged as a “major world revolution” not isolated to Italy and Germany.(8) The fundamentals of this socio-political revolution, according to Drucker, included the search for a “Third Way,” a socially-based substitution of “economic satisfactions” with “noneconomic satisfactions,” and the failure of rationalism to explain massive changes in both science and the social order.(9) Although he does not include Imperial Japan in his formulation, Drucker’s focus on Europe is understandable. He studied in Vienna during the 1930s and, at that time, employed a decidedly Eurocentric point of view. We, contrarily, have less excuse for not employing his rapier-sharp assessment to better understand Imperial Japan and, by extension, the Fascist Era.

Drucker’s cogent assessment of the underlying forces that drove fascism in the 1930s faded quite conspicuously after the end of World War II. Historical analyses of fascism quickly became a proxy war between the “Left” and the “Right.” The Left renewed pre-war analyses that characterized fascism as a reactionary attempt by finance capital to forestall eminent socialist revolutions. Conversely, theorists on the Right developed the totalitarianism doctrine, classifying both fascism and communism as a genus of repressive, anti-liberal dictatorships. Both sides shared a common view that fascism was an historical aberration, either on the way to socialist revolution and utopia, or as a hiccup on the progressive path to liberal modernization.

The left-right political spectrum is an ironic framework within which to place fascism. In its very essence, fascism, inasmuch as it was formulated, attempted to forge a “Third Way” beyond liberalism and socialism. This ironic turn is understandable, though, as the Cold War presented both capitalism and communism with the odd challenge of recasting former foes as steadfast allies and turning former allies into deadly enemies. This politically-charged geopolitical landscape is easily understood as the primary source of seduction theories, aberration theories, ambiguity about the definition of fascism and its use as an ideological weapon.

Among historians of modern Japan, the battle lines mirrored the larger ideological conflict of the Cold War. The rise of the Modernization School in the 1950s solidified the idea that Imperial Japan was a peculiar instance of rapid modernization quite different from Italy and Germany and, therefore, not functionally a fascist regime.(10) Marxist scholars like Maruyama Masao continued to assert that Imperial Japan was indeed a fascist state, but the “Reischauer Line” held fast and eventually became a significant and influential interpretation of the Meiji Restoration and modern Japanese history, even among Japanese scholars.(11) Carol Gluck noted that for twenty years after the appearance of the Modernization School, progressive historians assailed, often futilely, the “Reischauer Line” and its rosy portrayal of the Meiji Restoration as “peaceful, pragmatic, and a nonrevolutionary revolution from above.”(12)

The Cold War, the Reischauer Line and the historical imperatives of the Marxist critique are now subjects of study rather than tools of interpretation. Although freed from the constraints of the last five decades, scholars still sidestep the issue of defining the era in a clear, substantive fashion.(13) More problematic is the persistent failure to include Imperial Japan in the equation, thus missing an extraordinary opportunity to develop a strong, truly comparative thesis.(14) Among Japanese specialists the recent focus on cultural studies of the Imperial period establishes a strong link between intellectuals in Interwar Japan and their European counterparts. Yet, these substantial efforts avoid entirely the fundamental problem of defining fascism.(15)


Defining fascism is a tricky but necessary game. Although many employ Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s pornography test—”I know it when I see it”—this ignores the significant and unique characteristics of fascist ideology.

Fascism was a philosophically-based, aesthetically-oriented mass movement that adapted cultural and social characteristics to meet political and geopolitical aims. Unlike liberalism (democracy and constitutional monarchy) and socialism (communism), the actual structure of politics and political institutions, or the development of political theory, was not the fascist thinkers’ or activists’ primary concern. Fascist ideology emphasized the underlying rationale for action, the vitality and cohesiveness of group identity, and the actualization of the individual within the larger context of the group. The fascist enterprise was guided generally by a neo-Idealistic yearning to overcome materialism and create new forms of social value based upon national myths. The value of the individual is redefined, not, as so many have claimed, negated. Giovanni Gentile, the neo-Idealist, neo-Hegelian official philosopher of Italian Fascism, steadfastly asserted that only within the context of a larger paradigm—the nation-state—could the individual achieve freedom of action and full actualization.(16) This is the nexus of fascist thought and practice, the idea that individuals are actualized and liberated by an overarching identification with a socio-political superstructure—in this case the nation-state.

Although this concept of individual liberty contradicted a long-standing Anglo-American tradition that emphasized the freedom of the individual against the state, it emerged out of the same historical era—the Enlightenment. From Rousseau’s “General Will” and the French Revolution, through Hegel and the Idealists, on through German Romanticism, and into the Neo-Hegelian movement in 19th Century Italy, this mainly Continental concept of philosophical Idealism burned faintly during the brilliant ascent of Anglo-American liberty, positivism, and empiricism.(17)

Karl Marx’s attempt to undo what he regarded as Hegel’s philosophical headstand epitomizes the 19th Century conflict between these two strains of the Enlightenment. Marx, working with the positivism of British Utilitarianism, tried to bend Hegelian Idealism back into its more prosperous sibling. From a purely philosophical point of view, World War II was an epistemological battle between idealism and materialism. This is, however, only a conceptualization. To see fascism in action, as it played out in Italy, Germany, and Japan, one’s attention must turn to the expressions of these principles within their historical context.


In Harry Harootunian’s preface to Overcome by Modernity, he states that, during the first half of the 20th Century, fascist ideology permeated most, if not all, Western nations.(18) This begs the question of why so few nations became truly fascist. Why wasn’t Aryan racial theorist Houston Stewart Chamberlain able to motivate his fellow Englishmen to take up the cause of fascism? Why did “Action Francaise” fail to ignite the passions of the French people? What kept Father Coughlin’s vitriolic populism from sparking an American fascist movement, particularly during the ultimate liberal crisis—the Great Depression? The answer is, quite simply, that these nation-states did not face the challenge of molding a new national identity during an “Age of Static Imperialism.”(19)

Great Britain, France and the United States could point to long-standing historical identities forged during crucial defining moments. An Englishman, a Frenchman, or an American was not the fancy of theorists or the idealized notion of a new governing regime. Further, these well-established nation-states wore the accoutrements of national identity and Great Power status—colonies, a powerful navy, and a long history of national achievement. At the time of the Meiji Restoration, colonies were the predominant symbol of national power, identity, and geopolitical importance. Colonies were to the Fascist Era what nuclear weapons are today—a means of asserting Great Power status, forging a national identity and forcing dominant powers into a geopolitical relationship.

When Italy, Germany, and Japan arrived onto the international stage, the Great Powers held the lion’s share of prosperous, strategically located, and natural resource-rich colonies. Although the future Axis partners set out to acquire colonies, much of what was left on the map fell far short of their imperial aspirations.(20) This was the Age of Static Imperialism; a time when the spoils of imperialism were already claimed and the geopolitical system was inflexible and intolerant of change. Italy, Germany and Japan found no comparable match for the Belgian Congo or the Dutch East Indies, let alone the rich resources at the disposal of Great Britain, France, and the United States. For many in Italy, Germany, and Japan, aspirations for “Great Power” status became a struggle for national identity and, for some, national survival after World War I and the Treaty of Versailles.(21)

It is commonly held that Germany’s experience at the Paris Peace Conference and the tragically harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles sowed the seeds of fascism among its economically battered and humiliated population. Not so widely acknowledged is that Germany’s future Axis partners, despite being on the winning side, also found their Paris sojourn unfulfilling. Although not as severe, a sense of collective humiliation festered in both Italy and Japan, thus creating a natural affinity with Germany and setting the stage for fascist ideology’s broad-based appeal.(22)

Italy entered the war with great hopes and territorial aspirations. In the Treaty of London (1915), Italy’s backing of the Entente against the Central Powers came with the promise of territories in the Balkans and part of Germany’s colonial holdings in Africa. Yet, in what was widely known as the “Mutilated Victory,” Italy’s claims in the Balkans were ignored and France and Britain gobbled up Germany’s African colonial possessions.(23) Mussolini, reflecting the thinking of his generation, blamed both the Great Powers and the weakness of Italy’s liberal government for the post-war debacle. He appealed to a mass sense of betrayal, practicing the “politics of vengeance” against Italy’s former Allies with “credibility and public approbation.”(24) On Mussolini’s effective propagandizing of Italy’s experience during World War I into an eventual alliance with Germany, H. James Burgywn writes:

“Aligning with the losers of the Great War, Mussolini introduced into Italian policy a strong German orientation, which Italy used throughout the 1920s to challenge, however ineffectively, the European status quo. [Mussolini’s] …collaboration with Hitler [was] to overthrow the balance of power in the illusory hope of becoming an equal partner in a Fascist-dominated Europe.”(25)

Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile, among others, diagnosed the post-Versailles crisis as one of failed national spirit, atomized by liberalism and thus unable to compete as a cohesive unit in the great global game.

Italy’s experience and the overall conduct of the Paris Peace Conference must have been an object lesson for members of the Japanese delegation, some of whom came home dissatisfied and with a sense that the international system was rigged.(26) Referring to a group of activists who criticized the liberal ruling classes throughout the 1920s, Sharon Minichiello writes:

“At Versailles, so it seemed, Japan had been humiliated with the rejection of its proposed racial equality clause, and the Anglo-American powers had succeeded in maintaining the status quo that buttressed their interest. Like Nagai Ryutaro, Kita Ikki, Nakano Seigo, and others who had been present at the proceedings, Suzuki Umeshiro lashed out at Japan’s ruling bureaucracy as those responsible for the country’s diplomatic weakness.”(27)

Nagai Ryutaro wrote in 1919 from the Paris Peace Conference that Japan was “threatened by two worlds,” the Anglo-Saxon alliance bent on dominating the world’s culture, and bolshevism’s internationalist socialism.(28) Nagai believed, as did many others, that these “two worlds’ could destroy unique Japanese culture.(29) As such, Japan’s post-Versailles orientation, like Italy and Germany, “was projected against global trends.”(30) James Crowley notes that Japan, like Germany, was widely regarded as a “have-not nation.”(31)

During the post-war crisis in Italy, Mussolini elaborated what would be a major part of the fascist psychology—the idea of the Proletarian Nation. Taken from the widely read Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, Mussolini utilized the Proletarian Nation idea as a call for national unity and social cohesion.(32) He transposed the war among the classes within society, for a grand, geopolitical war among classes of nations. Unlike Gramsci, he emphasized the need for a new national spirit and collective identity capable of heroism in geopolitical battles, be they diplomatic or martial. These battles would, eventually, overturn the international system of liberalism and materialism.(33)

Indeed, fascism attacks the social atomism of both liberal individualism and socialist class warfare. Multi-party liberalism and class-based organizations are anathema to fascism. In nations with long-standing national identities and well-developed political institutions, these problems are easier to broach. For young nation-states building, almost a priori, a mass-based national identity, these problems threatened to derail the entire society. This is where fascism transcends a simple nationalism or patriotism that can be evoked in spite of differences. Fascism moves to create a nationalism that eliminates differences, uniting all sectors of the population under the rubric, the patronage, and personification of the state.

The ultimate personification of this mass-based movement is the charismatic leader. As a symbol of the nation, the people, and the national mythos, the charismatic leader unifies all sectors of society. All are equally Italian, German, or Japanese when placed under the defining image of the leader. Of course, this process also produces scapegoats—dissenters and subversives—and, therefore, another possible rallying point. Although many argue that Japan failed to produce a Mussolini or a Hitler, the Emperor served the selfsame role as a powerful national symbol. In Japan’s case, the dictator is superfluous. As the ultimate example of the personification of the state, the Emperor allowed individuals to identify with the state through his quasi-religious personage. In Japan, the ruling structure freely used the Emperor as a symbol of national unity. “Japan,” writes Anthony James Joes, “was fascist before the word was invented.”(34)

The fact that the Emperor was not the ultimate and unquestioned “decision-maker” is really not important. Throughout his dictatorship, Mussolini made numerous concessions to ruling elites, and, despite his atheism, to the Catholic Church. During the late 1920s, some in the Fascist Party accused “the state”—read Mussolini—of ideological weakness and forced him to remove the architect of Fascist Italy’s sweeping education reform. In Germany, Nazi Party leadership was essentially divided until 1934 when Hitler’s forces murdered Ernst Rohm, the popular leader of the “brown shirts.” Hitler’s control of the German state was predicated on assurances given to the military and industry. And, despite common perceptions, Hitler relied heavily on his coterie of advisors and propagandists—Herman Goering, Josef Goebbels, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, Alfred Rosenberg, Martin Bormann, and so on. They used him as a symbol to achieve their own ends and wield power.(35) Although Emperor Hirohito did not exercise dictatorial power, he was a potent symbol of absolute control of the state. Again, fascism cares little for the structure of politics, but it does focus on the unification of the masses to express the will of the state. The Emperor did provide that.


Fascism’s mass appeal was also predicated on finding a “Third Way” beyond the left-right political spectrum. At the outset of the 20th Century, philosophical materialism was ever more thought of as bankrupt, decadent, and, due to its Humean atomism, destructive.(36) It was a period of escalation in the philosophical and political struggles between materialism and idealism, between liberalism and socialism, and between “economic man” and “spiritual man.”(37)

By the end of World War I, the crisis reached a breaking point as the world reflected on the senseless carnage and inhumanity of the trenches. As stated earlier, Italy, Germany, and Japan all came away from the Paris Peace Conference embittered. The world was dominated by the powers of liberalism on one side, and increasingly under assault from socialism on the other side. Materialism, it seemed to many, was engaged in a pincer action destined to break apart weak nations. In all three nations, voices began to question the resolve of their wartime leaders and the cohesion of the nation, and much of the criticism focused on a failure of collective spirit and national will. Throughout this period, Italy, Germany, and Japan struggled against political and economic divisions.(38) Fascism promised a cure to modernism’s ills. It emphasized the creative forces of the collective spirit and offered people lost in mass society a way to participate as a collective actor in history. The individual was not merely a means of production or a politically feeble cog. Rather, the individual became a spiritual component of a larger, heroic corporate entity—the state. The “Third Way,” as Peter F. Drucker aptly put it, emerged out of a desire to assert man’s heroic nature.(39)


The quest to reawaken man’s heroic nature was set against a Darwinian world—with scientifically-charged political theories and the growing dominance of positivism and science challenging the value of human exceptionalism. Increased competition among nations began to take on iron laws of biological certainty which, in turn, became unwelcome harbingers of a race or nation’s destiny. The impact of Social Darwinism cannot be underestimated. The fact is that Italy, Germany, and Japan unified at a time when Social Darwinism was evolving into a raison d’être for American expansionism and British imperialism.(40) Herbert Spencer, an often-misinterpreted proponent of Social Darwinism, was read the world over.(41) “Survival of the fittest” writ large explained colonialism, inspired the growth of racially-oriented nationalism, and engendered the view that conflict and war were “natural” processes. The Darwinian biological paradigm and Social Darwinism would become driving forces behind fascism.(42)

Fascism’s aesthetically-oriented propaganda mythologizes the Darwinian conflict by calling upon the heroic to overcome the rational. In a sense, this mythos of nation, built upon historical imagery and mythologies, is an attempt to spiritualize the social Darwinism of the age. By transposing the “survival of the fittest” with heroic imagery out of the national collective past, the story of evolution is appropriated for the service of the nation-state. If the iron laws of biological determinism and the rational application of Social Darwinism were indeed true, proletarian nations like Italy, Germany, and Japan were scientifically destined to either underachieve or go extinct. Gabriele D’Annunzio, Ishiwara Kanji and Alfred Rosenberg were all working on the same basic problem—how to preserve the nation in a Darwinian world?

Although fascism is often regarded as a method of accelerated economic modernization, it is better understood as an accelerated method for building a national consciousness. The seemingly difficult problem of determining where fascism emanates from, either from elites or from the masses, is not so difficult when put into this context. The emergence of a rapidly-forming idea of national identity is, in the neo-Idealism of fascist ideology, necessarily a dialectical one between the top and the bottom. Remember, fascism seeks out a lowest common denominator that can underscore socio-political similarities among all sectors of society.

The mythos of nationality establishes a pseudo-religious group identity. The mythos is built on symbols, images, and history that appeal to the masses’ sense of collective destiny—Teutonic knights and bushido, the fasces, the swastika and the rising sun, the glory of Rome, Frederick the Great and Amaterasu. Fascist Italy’s New Man and New Rome, Nazi Germany’s Volkism and spiritual Aryanism, and Japan’s promotion of kokutai and State Shinto provided a vehicle for national solidarity.(43) This is quite unlike the rational, positivistic, and decidedly amythological emphases of both liberalism and socialism—where the individual’s relationship to the state is quantifiable and rational.


This explanation of the Fascist Era does not hinge on new discoveries or startling revelations. The focus on the Axis is simply an attempt to re-unite studies of Imperial Japan with its allies in name and deed. Moreover, it places both the Fascist Era and the Axis powers in a broad historical context. If it leads to a better understanding of generic fascism as a phenomenon and the world it reflected, so much the better. Ultimately, for scholars of fascism it is important to break down the barriers isolating Imperial Japan as a “special case.” Imperial Japan, rather than being special, is actually rather typical. As the historiography of fascism turns yet again to the issue of generic fascism, re-examining the case of Imperial Japan within the historical context of the Axis alliance adds to the varied, yet coherent picture of the Fascist Era.


(1) The term “fascist minimum”, a minimum set of characteristics against which all regimes could be tested, was coined by Ernst Nolte, in Three Faces of Fascism, trans. Leila Vennewitz (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963). George Mosse and A. James Gregor both wrote copiously on the topic of fascist ideology and the search for a fascist minimum. For a good introduction to their work on fascist ideology see Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1964) and Gregor, The Ideology of Fascism (New York: The Free Press, 1969).

(2) An excellent debate of the issues surrounding the definition of the term fascism appears in the American Historical Review 84, no. 2 (April 1979): 367-398. Gilbert Allardyce’s “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept” is a cogent attack on the idea of “generic fascism” and concomitant reductionism. It is followed by rebuttals from two leading scholars of fascism, Stanley Payne and Ernst Nolte, both of whom assert the viability of a “fascist minimum.” Allardyce follows with a response to the rebuttals.

(3) Recent examples include Stanley Payne’s A History of Fascism, 1914-1945 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995) and Roger Eatwell’s Fascism: A History (New York: Penguin, 1997), both reviving the search for a “fascist minimum” and a generic model of fascism. The latest attempt at a generic model of fascism is Robert O. Paxton’s “The Five Stages of Fascism” The Journal of Modern History 70, no. 1 (March 1998): 1-23.

(4) Many scholars still continue to assert that fascism is an exclusively European phenomenon. Stanley Payne, among others, has refused to adopt an expansive model of generic fascism. In Fascism: Comparison and Definition (1980), Payne argues that fascism grew out of a particular set of circumstances found only in Europe from 1860-1914 (175). He tests his assertion against the examples of pre-WWII, semi-traditionalist Japan and oligarchic Latin American dictatorships, all of which he sees as uniquely informed by their particular cultural situations. Payne continues that theme in his recent book, A History of Fascism, 1914-1945 (1995). Payne finds fascism in places such as Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and, quite expansively, in South Africa, but is loath to include nations he considers outside European cultural and intellectual traditions (353-4). He does correctly point out, however, that two important scholars, Ernst Nolte and Renzo De Felice, also deny the viability of expanding generic fascism beyond Europe (354). De Felice argues against generic fascism as concept at all, preferring to keep Nazi Germany out of the fascist category, he asserts that only Italy provides an example of fascism. For a full explanation of De Felice’s declassification of Germany, see Fascism: An Informal Introduction to Its Theory and Practice (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1976). De Felice also argues, contra Payne, against any generalizations of fascist ideology, and compares his methodology to George Mosse’s focus upon the peculiarities of Nazi Germany and the inappropriateness of generic fascism as a concept (40-1). On the other hand, Barrington Moore, Jr., in The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966) drew substantial parallels between Germany and Japan. As early as 1933, an article comparing Germany and Japan, but purposefully excluding Fascist Italy as different, appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Prophetically, Miriam Beard wrote, “the hope of liberals in other lands that the elements of Old and New in Japan and Germany might be fused together painlessly and gradually, yielding beautiful amalgams of ancient culture and modern civilization, must be abandoned. The clash of feudalism and modernism, which formerly delighted tourists, may easily become a combat which will shake the world.” Beard, “Germany and Japan: Striking Parallels,” in New York Times Magazine (December 17, 1933), reprinted in John Weiss, ed., Nazis and Fascists in Europe, 1918-1945 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969), 187-195.

(5) These basic differences are also the main reason many English language scholars refuse to utilize fascism as a generic concept in the case of Japan. See Peter Duus and Daniel I. Okimoto, “Fascism and the History of Pre-War Japan: The Failure of a Concept,” in The Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (November 1979): 65-76; Miles Fletcher, “Intellectuals and Fascism in Early Showa Japan,”The Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (November 1979): 39-63; and Fletcher, The Search for a New Order: Intellectuals and Fascism in Prewar Japan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982).

(6) Among the various thinkers now commonly linked to the genesis of fascist thought are Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Italian neo-Idealists Giambattista Vico, Bertrando Spaventa and Giovanni Gentile (who would become the Official Philosopher of Fascist Italy), and two Frenchmen, the vitalist Henri Bergson and the syndicalist Georges Sorel. Harry Harootunian’s latest, Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture and Community in Interwar Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), goes far in establishing a co-eval development idealist thought in the West and Japan. Hiroshi Tanaka, “Carl Schmitt and Fascism: Schmitt, Germany, and Japan,” inHitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies 22 (1990): 1-6, on the comparison of Japan with Europe writes, “In Japan…the impact of western political thought has been salient, particularly over the last hundred years or so, and Japan’s political development can be understood from the stand point of European political ideas” (1). Kentaro Hayashi, “Japan and Germany in the Interwar Period,” inDilemmas of Growth in Prewar Japan , ed. James William Morley (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1971), wrote, “Japanese intellectuals were very sensitive to European intellectual trends, and new ideas were rapidly introduced to Japan” (473). For a full discussion of the Meiji Era’s governmental push to examine and utilize Western cultural and institutional structures and see Kenneth B. Pyle, The Making of Modern Japan (Lexington, KY: D.C. Heath and Company, 1966). In particular, Pyle explores the roles of the pro-Western intellectual, Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) and an official mission of one-hundred Japanese leaders to the United States and Europe (1871-1873) in shaping the government’s policies over the next four decades (83-5)

(7) Peter F. Drucker, The End of Economic Man (New York: Van Rees Press, 1939), xvi-xvii.

(8) Ibid, 3.

(9) Ibid. Drucker explains the “Third Way” on page 132, fascism’s mass-oriented appeal to noneconomic social rewards on page 129, and, on page 57, he explains the malaise and uncertainty arising out of advances in physics—the Theory of Relativity—and the unraveling of societies based on the tradition of liberalism.

(10) E. H. Norman, The Origins of the Modern Japanese State: Selected Writing of E.H. Norman , ed. John W. Dower (New York: Pantheon Books, 1975). In his Introduction, Dower singles out Reischauer’s stated goal of developing a “counter-model to radicalism” that would explain to the Japanese a capitalist-based theory of development (45-6).

(11) J. Victor Koschmann, “Intellectuals and Politics,” in Postwar Japan as History , ed. Andrew Gordon (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993): 413. For a full discussion of the Marxist influence in Japanese academia see Germaine Hoston,Marxism and the Crisis of Development in Prewar Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986). In Chapter 9, Hoston explores the post-war debate between differing Marxist factions over the type and voracity of Japanese fascism and the difficulties of trying to explain Imperial Japan in the Cold War paradigm (261-3). Factions aside, Marxists of all stripes tend to agree that some form of fascism developed in Imperial Japan, although they often espouse various interpretations, i.e. a crisis of monopoly capitalism, a reactionary bourgeois revolt. As such, Maruyama Masao provides an excellent starting point for understanding the Japanese historiography of the period. See Maruyama, Thought and Behavior in Modern Japanese Politics , (London: Oxford University Press, 1963). For a full discussion of Maruyama’s intellectual evolution and influence in Japan see Rikki Kersten, Democracy in Postwar Japan: Maruyama Masao and the Search for Autonomy , (London: Routledge, 1996).

(12) Carol Gluck, “The Past in the Present,” in Postwar Japan as History , ed. by Gordon, 80.

(13) Roger Griffin, review of Between the Swastika and the Cross of Lorraine: Fascisms in Interwar Alsace , by Samuel Huston Goodfellow, American Historical Review , Vol. 106, No.4 (October 2001), 1474-5. Griffin hedges an otherwise positive review by pointing to the “conceptual flabbiness” of Goodfellow’s definition of fascism. Griffin has written extensively on generic fascism. SeeInternational Fascism , ed. by Griffin (London: Arnold Publishers, 1998), 1-21, for a full discussion of the persistent problem of defining fascism. The “flabbiness” Griffin refers to in the AHR has been a constant in the field of fascism studies and is a specific problem in many of the post-modernist interpretations of fascist ideology. See Jay W. Baird, review of Shaping the Superman: Fascist Body as Political Icon—Aryan Fascism, ed. by J.A Mangan, American Historical Review, Vol. 106, No. 1 (February 2001), 135-6, for a striking example of conceptual failure in defining fascism.

(14) See above, endnote 3 , for a full citation of some recent scholarship on generic fascism. For a recent, unusual example of a comparative study of Imperial Japan with an Axis partner see Bernd Martin, Japan and Germany In the Modern World (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1995).

(15) See Harootunian, Overcome , and Kevin M. Doak, “Building National Identity through Ethnicity: Ethnology in Wartime Japan and After,” in The Journal of Japanese Studies , Vol 27, No. 1 (2001), 1-39, and Doak, “Reconsidering Fascism as a Problem of Cultural Theory,” presented at Culture and Fascism in Interwar Japan, UC Berkeley on March 16, 2001.

(16) A. Robert Caponigri, “The Status of the Person in the Humanism of Giovanni Gentile,” The Journal of the History of Philosophy 2, no. 1 (1964): 61-69. Gentile’s seminal work, Teoria generale dello Spirito come Atto puro was published a six years before the March on Rome and helped establish him as a leading Italian thinker. See Gentile, Theory of Mind as Pure Act , trans. H. Wildon Carr ( London: Macmillan and Co., 1922). Written during the time of the Fascist Regime, Gentile’s Genesis and Structure of Society , trans. H.S. Harris (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1960) offers an excellent look into the threads of Hegelian Idealism in fascist thought.

(17) Eugen Weber writes in Varieties of Fascism (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1964) that fascism’s “collectivistic nationalism” can be traced back to the French Revolution, particularly to Robespierre and Saint-Just (19-23). Later, he states, “Fascism looks much like the Jacobinism of our time” (139).

(18) Harootunian, Overcome , xii

(19) The Age of Static Imperialism is this author’s attempt to describe the nature of the geopolitical environment during the second half of the 19th Century through the end of World War I. The previous 150-200 years could thus be described as an Age of Fluid Imperialism—a time when there were many imperial players competing for rights, colonies and influence around the world. The “scramble for Africa”, as Sir Thomas Pakenham termed it, was largely a done deal by the time the future Axis nations arrived on the scene late in the 19th Century.

(20) The pickings were indeed slim. See Thomas Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa (New York: Avon Books, 1991), for both an excellent narrative of 19th Century colonialism in Africa and, in particular, detailed maps of the divided continent. By 1912, The British and the French held the lion’s share of the resource rich areas of Africa, while Italy and Germany were left with difficult to exploit regions. Italy suffered the worst colonies, a slice of coastline and the Libyan Desert in the Mediterranean and a sliver of the Horn of Africa. Germany could look to its east from German East Africa and see the richest part of central Africa held by tiny Belgium, to the north to see diamond rich British holdings, and to the south see t more British and Portuguese territories (670). For Japan, the landscape of Asia was dominated by the British, French, and Dutch, and the Americans were beginning to enter into China and the Pacific. Not only was Japan largely shut out in Asia, but the continent stood as an object lesson in “Unequal Treaties” and Western imperialism.

(21) While it has become axiomatic that the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles enforced against Germany contributed to its economic, political, and social deterioration, thus setting the stage for the rise of Nazism (including Hitler’s effective use of the “sell-out” at Versailles as a propaganda wedge), the effects (both real and perceived) of Versailles upon Italy and Japan should not be minimized. F.S. Marston in The Peace Conference of 1919 (London: Oxford University Press, 1944) explores the extent to which Great Britain, the United States, and France shut Italy and Japan (both allies with territorial claims) out of the decision making process of the Supreme Council and off key committees (121). Marston writes, “Membership was of course limited to representative of the Great Powers…” and that fact often meant Japan and Italy were not involved in the “general workings” of the committees dominated by Great Britain, the United States, and France (ibid.). For a full discussion of Italy’s reaction to the Treaty see H. James Burgywn,The Legend of the Mutilated Victory: Italy, the Great War, and the Paris Peace Conference, 1915-1919 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1993).

(22) Ian Buruma sees similar mindset in both German and Japan that he terms “romantic nationalism.” Of the inter-war similarities he writes, “Like Germany, Japan—as represented by its intellectuals and politicians—often felt the need to compensate for a feeling of national inferiority by turning to romantic nationalism. Fichte’s theories of organic nationalism were imported to bolster Japanese self-esteem, even as Japan was Westernizing itself to catch up with Western might. Spengler’s ideas on the decline of the West were comforting when Japan felt excluded by the Western Powers in the 1920s and 1930s.” See The Wages of Guilt (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994): 34-5.

(23) Marston, Peace Conference , 121. See also H. James Burgywn, The Legend of the Mutilated Victory: Italy, the Great War, and the Paris Peace Conference, 1915-1919 , (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1993).

(24) Burgywn, Legend of the Mutilated Victory , 320.

(25) Ibid., 320-1.

(26) Of the group of Japanese leaders who attended the Paris Peace Conference, some of the most outspoken criticism came from Konoe Fumimaro, a future prime minister (of and on between June 1937 and October 1941), leader of the New Order Movement (a political movement based on fascist-style ideology), and founder of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (with the intent of establishing a “new order” in Asia). See Miles Fletcher, “Intellectuals and Fascism in Early Showa Japan, in The Journal of Asian Studies 39, no. 1 (November 1979): 39-63. In particular, Konoe wrote as early as 1918 that the Treaty of Versailles was an “Anglo-American peace” meant to preserve the “status quo that suits their interests.” Further, he believed the Anglo-American call for justice through the League of Nations and arms control to be a deceptive tactic that hides, indeed preserves, the injustice inherent in the “rampant economic imperialism that so benefits the Anglo-American powers.” He cites the codification of the Monroe Doctrine of the United States into the League Covenant as an example of this faux peace. Konoe regarded the destruction of the Anglo-American status quo as an act of self-preservation for nations such as Japan and Germany, and concluded that the outcome of the Paris Peace Conference was “the end of idealism.” See Oka Yoshitake, Konoe Fumimaro: A Political Biography , trans. by Okamoto Shumpei and Patricia Murray (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1983): 10-15.

(27) Minichiello, Retreat from Reform , 1.

(28) Minichiello, Retreat from Reform , 50-1.

(29) Ibid.

(30) James Crowley, “A New Asian Order: Some Notes on Prewar Japanese Nationalism,” in Japan in Crisis , Silberman and Harootunian, eds., 273

(31) Ibid., 273.

(32) Michael G. Smith, “Gramsci on the Mirror of Italian Fascism: Mussolini, Gentile, Spirito,” Italian Quarterly Vol. 31 No. 119/120 (Winter 1999): 59-79, provides an excellent discussion of Gentile’s critique of Marx and Mussolini’s link to Antonio Gramsci. Smith asserted that “…both early Mussolinian fascism and Gramscian communism developed on the same ideological and political ground” (58).

(33) In Italian Fascism and Developmental Dictatorship (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), A. James Gregor writes about Fascist hopes at the outbreak of World War II, “The war would finally break the hold of the ‘plutocratic and hegemonic powers’ over the ‘proletarian nations.’ ” Those proletarian nations—Germany, Japan, and Italy—delayed in their industrialization and confined to restricted economic space, would finally attain their merited status as economically and politically sovereign major powers” (162).

(34) Anthony James Joes, Fascism in the Contemporary World: Ideology Evolution, Resurgence , (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1978): 155.

(35) See Ian Kershaw, The Hitler Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

(36) See Zeev Sternhell, The Birth of Fascist Ideology , trans. by David Maisel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994) for a full discussion of the anti-materialist focus of fascist ideology. Sternhell explores the extent to which Italian intellectuals viewed Fascism as the initiation of an “anti-materialist revolution” that grew out of the 19th Century anti-materialist and anti-rationalist revision of Marxism (229). Also, Walter Adamson has written extensively on the crisis of Modernism. See “Modernism and Fascism: The Politics of Culture in Italy,” in American Historical Review . Adamson equates Mussolini’s emphasis upon the rebirth of a “spiritual Italy” with the modernist search for secularized “new values” (359-60). See Günter Berghaus, Futurism and Politics: Between Anarchist Rebellion and Fascist Reaction, 1909-1944 (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1996) for a full discussion of the connection between art and politics in Italy. Also, George Mosse has explored the connection between Expressionism and Nazism in Germany. See “The Genesis of Fascism,” Journal of Contemporary History 1, no. 1 (1966): 14-26. Mosse writes, “the idea of both fascism and expressionism share the urge to recapture the ‘whole man’ who seemed atomized and alienated by society, and both attempt to reassert individuality by looking inwards, towards instinct or the soul…” (15).

(37) George Mosse, among others, has written extensively on the crisis of values at the end of the 19th Century. Mosse writes, “Fascism originates out of an attack on positivism and liberalism at the end of the 19th Century, ” and, “the phenomena of mass man were accompanied by a feeling that the bourgeois age had culminated in conformity while those personal relationships upon which bourgeois morality and security were built had dissolved into nothingness;” in “Genesis of Fascism,” Journal of Contemporary History1, no. 1 (1966): 14-26.

(38) Mussolini, the reformed socialist, and Hitler the National Socialist, were obviously aligned against an internationalism and the social divisions and political divisions caused by bolshevism and liberalism. Bolshevism threatened to rip the nation apart along class divisions, and liberal parliamentarianism was, for them, a weak, divided and bankrupt political system. In Japan, however, the same pressures existed. In Revolt in Japan , Ben-Ami Shillony writes, “Japanese conservatives abhorred communism, because it negatedkokutai , the national polity, according to which the nation was one family with the Emperor at its head,” and “…right-wing radicals objected to both the capitalist system and its left-wing opponents…their aim was to restore kokutai on a popular basis (5).”

(39) Drucker, End of Economic Man , 190.

(40) George Brown Tindall, American: A Narrative History , 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1988), writes that “the ideas of Darwin and Spencer were quickly popularized in America” (837). Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), points out that Social Darwinism was in vogue in Britain by the end of the 1860s and that it was taken to mean that the Anglo-Saxon race’s empire must be a natural expression of evolutionary genius (205). About the long term effect of Social Darwinism James writes, “notions of racial superiority blended with arguments for imperial unity to produce an ideology for the new imperialism” (ibid).

(41) In Japan, Herbert Spencer was read by leading Meiji intellectuals like Fukuzawa Yukichi and Tokutomi Soho, W.G. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), 98. Spencer’s ideas permeated the fascist ideology that would emerge much later, but his ideas took hold early on. David Wiltshire, The Social and Political Thought of Herbert Spencer (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1978), 255. Ironically, Wiltshire points out that Spencer’s “…account of the operation of the survival of the fittest applied internationally helped to justify the policies [imperialism] he attacked” (ibid). Wiltshire believes that while Spencer “…would have abhorred fascism…” his idea of “…society as a coherent organism and his popularization of the ethics of struggle contributed substantially to its rationale” (ibid). In Germany, Ernst Haeckel popularized Social Darwinism, sowing the seeds of imperialism and an organic idealism so pervasive in Nazism. See Daniel Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism (New York: American Elsevier Inc., 1971). Haeckel believed that the truth of Social Darwinism necessitated that Germany initiate a program of colonial expansion to ensure survival (126-8).

(42) David E. Ingersoll and Richard K. Matthews, eds., The Philosophical Roots of Modern Ideology: Liberalism, Communism, Fascism (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986), 238.

(43) Ian Buruma, in Wages of Guilt , points out that not only did Japan absorb ideas from Europe, particularly Germany, but that Japan had an impact on National Socialist thinking. On his exploration of Japan’s proto-fascist intellectual roots he writes, “I began to notice how the same German names cropped up in their [Japanese ideologues] often oblique and florid prose: Spengler, Herder, Fichte, even Wagner. The more Japanese romantics went on about the essence of Japaneseness, the more they sounded like German metaphysicians” (7-8). Further, he identifies a less reported admiration of Japanese ideology within Germany: “In Hitler’s Germany, Japan was admired for having achieved, instinctively, what German Nazism aspired to. In the words of Albrect Furst von Urach, a Nazi propagandist, Japanese emperor worship was `the most unique fusion in the world of state form, state consciousness, and religious fanaticism.’ Fanaticism was, of course, a positive word in the Nazi lexicon. Reading Nazi books on Japan, one might think that German propagandists wished to instill in the German people, through propaganda, a culture like the one that was handed down to the Japanese people by their ancient gods” (34-5).

©2002 Joseph P. Sottile


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