Sunday, May 25, 2008

Notes on Alastair Bonnett’s 『The Idea of the West: Culture, Politics and History』 (2004) (Part 3)


In Chapter Two, “Communists Like Us: The Idea of the West in the Soviet Union,” Bonnett examines "how the idea of the West was employed and deployed by Soviet politicians in order to define the meaning of communism” (11). The West was originally associated by the Bolsheviks with socialist modernity, and, in fact, much of the non-Western world saw the West as socialist in the early 20th century. It was not until the 1930s that the West was recast as the polar opposite of the Soviet state— a change that occurred with Stalin and his condemnation of the West as corrupt, cosmopolitan, and capitalist.

In the next chapter, “Good-bye Asia: The Westernisers’ West, Fukuzawa and Gokalp,” Bonnett examines two cases of the Western-style nationalist agenda— one in Japan and the other in Turkey— in which we see a new positioning toward the West, and a distancing from Asia and its negative stereotypes. Bonnett argues, however, that the ultimate goal of these newly formed nation-states was not to join and imitate the West (as many claim), but rather to become independent and autonomous from it. These two examples thus offer a challenge to the hybridization hypothesis, and demonstrate how the East’s invention of “the West” was in fact "creative and original."

Post-colonial discourse has tended to divide the non-Western personality into two roles: slavish "colonial imitator" and “active resister." The non-Westerner could be one or the other, but never both or a combination of both. But the cases of Fukuzawa Yūkichi 福澤諭吉 (1835-1901) and Ziya Gokalp (1876-1924) show that the realities were often more complex, for both men were fervent nationalists who at the same time "deploy[ed] a form of Orientalism in which Asia [was] cast as a separate and primitive realm, to be distinguished from both the West and their own nations."

Fukuzawa Yūkichi was born in Nagasaki, where he was trained from a young age in rangaku 蘭学 or “Dutch studies,” the only European-style education available to Japan at the time. He was part of the famous Takenouchi mission to the West in 1862. Fukuzawa’s observations while abroad were formulated in his highly influential An Outline of a Theory of Civilisation 『文明論の概略』 (1875), in which he argued that Japan must recreate itself "for the sake of its own future" (67), and that merely copying the Western “surfaces” would not be sufficient. “We must first reform men's minds," he argued, “before we can begin to reform the nation.”

Fukuzawa was by no means a cultural essentialist, as evidenced by the negative attitudes he held toward his native culture, which he regarded as passive and weak. He advised that the Japanese do away with their native culture themselves, as it was doomed anyway to be erased by the unforgiving boot of the Western imperial powers. He was also critical of the influence of Chinese culture, which he held partially responsible for Japan’s current low status in the world. He saw a “static and passive” China to be representative of Asia as a whole, and urged Japan to move away from the lagging East and toward the West in order to fulfill its “new destiny.” In his essay “Good-bye Asia” 「脱亜論」 (1885), he urges the Japanese to shed their “Asiatic,” passive traits and abandon “our bad [Asian] friends,” so that they may advance the nation through the creation of a modern, Westernized nation-state.

To Fukuzawa, the most important task was the creation and preservation of a national polity. To create a new modern state, Fukuzawa thought it necessary to encourage an open, meritocratic system of public education that favored innovation and individualism, and that valued and nurtured cleverness. He insisted that the old, hierarchical feudal system based on lineage had to go, and that a degree of risshin shusse 立身出世 (“social mobility”) must be allowed for new talent to rise. (His statements about traditional Japanese culture being feudal and backward reveals that he was thinking mainly of samurai culture and not the plebeian chōnin 町人 of Edo, for whom a fair amount of social mobility was in fact permitted.)

Notably, Fukuzawa did not advocate the expulsion of the authoritarian Tokugawa government; rather, he foresaw that a powerful and potentially ruthless central government would in fact be needed for creating and maintaining the modern state.

Ziya Gokalp was a "Turkish nationalist and critical proponent of Westernisation," who served as "chief ideologist [for] Turkey's creation as a modern nation" (71). Aside from his political contributions, he was also a sociologist, historian, poet, and novelist. Like Fukuzawa, Gokalp advocated leaving Asia and joining the West, citing the example of Japan. Asians, he argued, had two choices: either westernize or become enslaved to the Western powers.

Like Fukuzawa, Gokalp too regarded “East” and “West” not as discrete realities to be exported or imported, but as "categories animated and employed in the service of an attempt to create a novel political identity and national project.” For Gokalp, this meant namely the project of cultivating “Turkishness," a new concept that sought to move Turkish identity away from the “backward and doomed” Ottoman culture (71). Gokalp, like the Zionists a generation later, took the lesson from recent European history that in order for the tribe to survive it must establish a mono-cultural nation-state.

Gokalp was a staunch anti-Ottoman, and was therefore against all that it represented: imperialism, cosmopolitanism, and pluralism. His vision for a modern Turkey consisted of the “cultural homogeneity of the modern nation state" (72). He saw Turks as the victims of a cosmopolitan elite that ruled the Ottoman empire by merely copying the West. He accused this elite of marginalizing Turkish culture and language, while promoting "Arabic, Persian, Russian, and Chinese" (73). As Bonnett points out, his pro-national, anti-imperial stance, however, conveniently overlooked the inherently imperial nature of many of the modern states.

Gokalp made an important distinction between “culture” (a sort of collective imagination of the tribe) and “civilization” (the institutions and techniques of power). He insisted that Turks should retain Turkish culture, but import Western civilization.

Both the Fukuzawa and Gokalp cases challenge "the political naïveté of contemporary theories of hybridisation" (70). About Fukuzawa Bonnett writes, "I would cast doubt on the utility of conceptualising his work as an example of hybridity at all. Rather than importing or translating a ready-made idea of the West, Fukuzawa actively fashioned a certain representation of the West to suit his own (and, in large measure, his social class's) particular political ambitions" (70). Again, the driving factor being Fukuzawa’s push to westernize was the desire to stave off subjugation. In this sense, Fukuzawa— like Kidd, Spengler, and Toynbee in Europe— can be seen as a conscious manipulator of East-West representations, which he used to serve particular political ends. Gokalp, too, defies the hybridization thesis, since he also "actively constructed, rather than merely mirrored, deconstructed or mixed, a series of stereotypes of self and other." Thus, these two cases illustrate how "the West" was creatively invented by the East for certain political goals.

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