Obituary: Masao Maruyama

James Kirkup
Friday 23 August 1996 00:02

Obituary: Masao Maruyama

In a Japan becoming ever more standardised, the innovative political scientist Masao Maruyama provided the welcome example of a free-thinking anti-establishment figure of great authority amid a multitude of consensus- minded businessmen and administrators whose concept of intellectual analysis reposed on the recitation of production figures and the percentages of everything. He was an outspoken critic of post-war government irresponsibility, of fascism masquerading as the new-found "democracy". He was a significant opinion leader among the progressive spirits of that time.

Maruyama was one of the few contemporary Japanese think-ers to have gained credibility in the west, and his writings and opinions can be found quoted not in popularising ego-boosting blockbusters like Japan as No 1, but in serious works of social criticism like Karel van Wolferen's The Enigma of Japanese Power and Peter N. Dale's The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness.

But Maruyama also erected a system of thought that greatly influenced Japanese intellectuals in their studies of Japan's often mystifying political processes. Soon there was a "Maruyama Current" and the "Maruyama Sect" of his supporters.

Masao Maruyama was born in Osaka Prefecture, the son of a political journalist. After graduating from the law department of Tokyo University in 1937, he was made a faculty member. He suffered from ill-health nearly all his life, but he fought during the Pacific War, and that experience and his sense of guilt became the motive powers of all his writing, as he explains in a 1961 work, Nihon no Shiso ("Japanese Thought"). He resumed his post at Tokyo University and in 1950 was made full professor, a post he held until his retirement in 1971.

He took the standpoint of a democratic humanist in his teachings and writings, which contributed immeasurably to the development of political scientific thought in Japan from the Occupation onwards. His work is a penetrating analysis of Japan's social and ideological situation, as can be seen in his seminal work, Chokokka shugi no ronri to shinri ("The Logic and Psychology of Ultranationalism") which in 1946 brought him to the forefront of sceptical commentators in the early excited misapprehensions of the nature of "freedom" and "democratic ideals".

After years of repressive military rule, Maruyama's book created shock waves in the Diet and in university circles. It analysed unsparingly the spiritual underpinnings of pre-war and post-war antidemocratic organisations, especially the Emperor system. At that time, any criticism of the Imperial family was absolutely taboo.

In 1956-57, he also attracted attention, not always favour-able, with his best-selling, two-volume Gendai seiji no shiso to kodo ("Thought and Behaviour in Modern Japanese Politics") and his 1976 work Senchu to sengo no aida ("Between the War and the Postwar Eras"). These and most of his other writings have been widely translated and published in learned journals, and several books have been written about him in Japan, notably Ryumei Yoshimoto's Muryama Masao Ron ("A Discussion on Masao Murayama"), 1963, and Juichiro Imai's "Maruyama Masao's Working Notes", 1964. He had been invited as Visiting Profes-sor at Harvard University and to various European institutions.

Maruyama was always on the side of the underdog, and he gave his full support to the student demonstrations of 1960. However, certain of his ideas taken up by left-wingers who only half understood the significance of his arguments, engendered violence on a wide scale, denounced by Maruyama as worse than the excesses of Fascist and Japanese militarists. It was a misinterpretation of his basic ideas that greatly saddened him, for it was obvious that student leaders had not really "studied" his books, composed with exceptional elegance and clarity. He also came under attack from certain fellow professors, nationalist academics who condemned his life's work as a total rejection of Japan's cultural and historical past. (The "economic miracle" was having deleterious effects on the whole of intellectual life). He was also criticised for his thought's affinity with progressive Christian ethics and European existentialist philosophy.

Masao Maruyama was elected a member of the Japan Academy in 1982, and honorary foreign corresponding member of the British Academy in 1982, then honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984. The Times in a review of one of his books aptly summed him up as "logical liberal".

Always an individualist with a sharp eye for social humbug, Maruyama expressed the wish that no funeral ceremony be held for him. So though he died on 15 August, his death was not announced until the 18th, when the funeral had been carried out. He also requested that the only form of memorial service should be a colloquium atten-ded by friends and colleagues to investigate and discuss the universe of his thought.

James Kirkup

Masao Maruyama, political scientist and writer: born Osaka 1914; married (one son); died Tokyo 15 August 1996.

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