Yukio Hatoyama and Globalism
Why is the new leader of the world's third largest economy so against the idea of globalism?
October 23, 2009
In some critical ways, Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's new prime minister, is a remarkably confused man.
In an outspoken manifesto published just prior to the recent elections, he opined that "globalism has progressed without any regard for non-economic values."
And he expressed his concern about an "active embrace of globalism and leaving everything up to the dictates of the markets."
He also finds that "our responsibility as politicians is to refocus our attention on those non-economic values that have been thrown aside by the march of globalism."
Even more pointedly, he argues, "Today, as the supranational political and economic philosophies of Marxism and globalism have, for better or for worse, stagnated, nationalism is once again starting to have a major influence in major countries."
Suffice it to say that a Japanese prime minister speaking out in favor of nationalism is probably not where the world was hoping to be in the early 21st century — nor where Mr. Hatoyama would likely want his country to be.
Still, choice of words does matter in global politics — and so does the correct choice of key terms and concepts. This applies all the more if you are embarking, as Mr. Hatoyama is, on leading the world's third-largest economy.
Having said that, I realize that translating certain terms from Japanese into English (and vice versa) is potentially fraught with causing severe misunderstandings. Not so in this case, however.
According to Japanese colleagues in Tokyo, Mr. Hatoyama did indeed use the very word "globalism" in Japanese. So evidently, the prime minister meant what he said.
So why do I believe the venerable Mr. Hatoyama is a confused man? On the one hand, I actually find myself agreeing with many of the arguments and solutions he outlines in his search for a better (and, presumably, "anti-globalist") world.
I certainly agree wholeheartedly that we must resist "the fundamentalist pursuit of capitalism" in which "people are treated not as an end but as a means" — and where "human dignity is lost."
And he is spot-on when he finds that "people support the fabric of the local communities and are the physical embodiment of its lifestyle, traditions and culture." I sympathize as well with his appeal that the idea of fraternity can be "a force for moderating the danger inherent within freedom."
Why then is there such a divide between us? In my view, the answer is simple: Mr. Hatoyama's understanding of globalism is way off the mark.
What makes our difference of opinion so interesting and poignant is that he is a Japanese born after World War II — and I am a German born after World War II.
To me, globalism is first and foremost the antithesis to nationalism. In both its German and Japanese variants, the rigorous (and blind) pursuit of this particular vice has proved to have disastrous consequences. Germany and Japan rightfully paid a steep price for embarking on a path of destruction.
Against that painful — and, at the time, globe-engulfing — backdrop, globalism essentially stands for promoting the tangible benefits of a post-nationalist worldview. It is a profound effort to understand how, at its core, the world truly hangs together — and what needs to be done to improve outcomes for all.
By engaging in an ongoing effort to understand and articulate the connections between issues, peoples, economies and societies, a globalist seeks to contribute to shaping a path rooted in advancing mutual understanding and respect (while soberly acknowledging not just differences of opinion, but also action patterns).
That is why I am so astounded that the incoming Japanese prime minister professes to be such an anti-globalist. To my mind, today's Japanese are generally quite remarkable in their sense of circumspection and mutual respect.
And I am certain Mr. Hatoyama would draw the same conclusion from his nation's ill-fated engagement in World War II as I have done for mine. The Germans and the Japanese, in that regard, do have an advantage — in having seen the perversions to which nationalist zeal can drive otherwise civilized societies.
And he demonstrates his understanding of these treacherous issues by arguing in favor of a more regionally integrated approach in East Asia.
The post-nationalist agenda aside, globalism may just be best understood as a more contemporary-sounding term for what used to be called humanism. The latter is not some wishy-washy, do-gooder approach to life and one's own existence, but a profound effort at embarking on a lifelong journey of learning — and seeking to advance the cause of mankind in a comprehensive and balanced fashion.
Some, especially in the United States, may not much like the idea of a global learning community. They may try to find every opportunity to belittle its validity, if not deny its existence outright.
To me, that is a truly curious, if not ultimately self-destructive, effort — for it ultimately seeks to deny the benefit of learning from each other and for one's own good.
Conversely, those whose mindsets are rooted in the conviction of continuous, open-minded and open-eyed learning — whether Buddhist, Confucian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or agnostic — are, in effect, all in the globalist camp.
For all their differences, they are ultimately united in the goal of de-coding what unites — and also what still divides — humankind.
Despite prescribing a constructive course for Asia in that regard, Mr. Hatoyama fails to give globalism its proper credit.
Globalism never claims to have all the answers — nor has it set a one-directional, deterministic agenda, as Mr. Hatoyama falsely claims. If anything, globalism is a journey and a process of discovery.
And as he demands, it is a concept that is rooted in the notion of each individual's, community's and nation's dignity. But globalists also accept the fact that it is probably not wise to close one's eyes to the integration process that takes place around the world on a daily basis — and that even reaches into its farthest nooks and crannies.
Shutting off the world is generally not wise for human beings. Modern life, as Mr. Hatoyama postulates, is about preserving valuable local, regional and national traditions, while open-mindedly adjusting to new realities in order to ensure the economic and social sustainability of local customs and culture.
These days, stopping the world is simply not possible, even for the most passive or local-minded of people. If nothing else, the globe-spanning effects of climate change will see to it that any such effort is but pure illusion.
The most successful nations and communities will be those who work most actively and imaginatively at integrating the six poles of everybody's existence — the individual, communal, local, regional, national and the global.
I always believed that Japan was a leader, and an active agenda setter, in that regard. In fact, I still do.
I just think that Mr. Hatoyama ought to reconsider his confused way of equating globalism with market fundamentalism.
What makes our difference of opinion so interesting and poignant is that he is a Japanese born <i>after</i> World War II — and I am a German born <i>after</i> World War II.
Globalism is the antithesis to nationalism. In both its German and Japanese variants, the rigorous pursuit of this particular vice has proved to have disastrous consequences.
Globalism may just be best understood as a more contemporary-sounding term for what used to be called humanism.
A Japanese prime minister speaking out in favor of nationalism is probably not where the world was hoping to be in the early 21st century.