Abe’s Perilous Patriotism: Why Japan’s New Nationalism Still Creates Problems for the Region and the U.S.-Japanese Alliance
October 3, 2014
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to promote “healthy patriotism” presages neither the end of democracy in Japan nor the return to militarism that his critics claim. Rather, Abe’s brand of nationalism needs to be understood within the context of post-1945 Japanese politics, where how to evaluate modern Japanese history has been a central bone of contention for decades. For conservatives like Abe, a positive view of Japanese history is necessary to rebuild the vital link between the Japanese state and society and allow Japan to mobilize its energies for a variety of pressing tasks, including reviving the economy, addressing various social problems and defending against external threats.
Historically, whenever there has been pressure on Japan to do more on defense and national security issues, Japanese conservatives have pushed hard to strengthen Japanese nationalism. In this they have been supported by more moderate Japanese, who view tolerating some part of the conservative agenda as part of the coalition-building process needed to get changes on defense issues through Japan’s tortured political process. However, whenever Japanese governments have gone too far in promoting nationalism, moderate support has evaporated and nationalist leaders have been forced to settle for relatively marginal gains in terms of both defense policy and changes in the national discourse on defense. The Abe government today seems to be repeating this process, and one might be tempted to expect a similar result as in the past.
Thomas U. Berger is an associate professor of international relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.
Japan Chair Platform is published by the Office of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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