井の中の蛙

11/18/2004

A New Constitution for Japan?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:07 pm

I love constitutions. They’re great texts for teaching, they are fantastic touchstones for discussion and, of course, they are crucial to the definition of sovereignty, rights and government function. The first thing I did with the first scanner we ever bought was to scan and OCR the text of the Meiji and 1947 constitutions, (and submit them to Project Gutenberg, here and here) and the only upper-level undergraduate seminar I’ve ever had the chance to teach was about the 1947 constitution.

So I take it pretty seriously when Japanese politicians begin talking about altering the Japanese constitution. Not Article 9, the renunciation of war now honored almost entirely in the breach, but about the fundamental document itself. Yakushiji Katsuyuki, in Sekai [via the Saaler translation in Japan Focus] suggests that the LDP is moving towards a dramatic and fundamental revision of the Japanese constitution.

I think he overstates the role of the Koizumi government specifically; these changes have been in the air since Nakasone, who made fundamental shifts towards international engagement and power-flexing, and cultural conservativism, as part of the Reagan Coalition of the 1980s. I don’t think the LDP has been as adrift as the economy, in other words. But the “Planning Document” he describes is quite dramatic, an open rejection of the US-authored 1947 constitution.

In particular, Yakushiji points at the statism of the revision, and quotes from the document:

Until now, discussions about the Constitution have conspicuously and exclusively emphasized the desire of citizens to limit state power. In the future, when we turn to revising the Constitution, any revisions should not focus solely on limiting the power of the state, but should rather set out the respective responsibilities of the public and private [spheres], in order to protect and enhance both the interests of the people and the national interest (kokueki). It is important to appreciate the significance [of the Constitution] as a set of rules defining the roles of both the state and the people in creating a common society (kyosei shakai).

This strikes me as a remarkable shift, from minshushugi [democracy; popular sovereignty] even beyond a Yoshino Sakuzō-style minponshugi [government based on the views and good of the people], towards or beyond Minobe Tatsukichi-esque “organ theory” [people are one "organ" of the nation, essential but not sovereign]. Both of these represent liberal views within the context of pre-WWII Japan, rejected by the Imperialist politics of the 1930s, but only Yoshino’s approaches our modern understanding of democracy. There are even shades of kokutai thinking in the draft document which calls for a new constitution

based on healthy common sense, embodying features such as the values peculiar to our country (i.e. our national character [kunigara]) and the morality the Japanese originally followed — values which are rooted in [our] history, tradition and culture, but which have been forgotten during the period in which the present Constitution has been enacted and during the occupation by SCAP.

Some of the “peculiar” values which need to be written back into the constitution are inequality of the sexes, reestablishment of state-sponsored religion, and open embrace of military power. Yakushiji does not cite anything with regard to the role of the Emperor, or dramatic revision to the form of government.

Amending the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Diet, followed by a simple majority of a national referendum. There is precedent for that process to be not just a clause-by-clause change but a full-text replacement: that’s how the current constitution replaced the Meiji constitution. So it is entirely possible for the LDP to envision a truly radical revision of the constitution, in theory. As Yakushiji points out, it’s highly unlikely that any revision would be just as described, but it’s also worth noting when the leading party sets out a radical agenda.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria]

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