Japan’s Nationalist Turn

Anti-China protests in Tokyo. Photo: Taka@PPRS/flickr

TOKYO – Japan has been in the news lately, owing to its dispute with China over six square kilometers of barren islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyu Islands. The rival claims date back to the late nineteenth century, but the recent flare-up, which led to widespread anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, started in September when Japan’s government purchased three of the tiny islets from their private Japanese owner.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said that he decided to purchase the islands for the Japanese central government to prevent Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara from purchasing them with municipal funds. Ishihara, who has since resigned from office to launch a new political party, is well known for nationalist provocation, and Noda feared that he would try to occupy the islands or find other ways to use them to provoke China and whip up popular support in Japan. Top Chinese officials, however, did not accept Noda’s explanation, and interpreted the purchase as proof that Japan is trying to disrupt the status quo.


Evolving Ideas of Nationalism II

Travelling the world - but only with states

This week the ISN will examine the role of nationalism in an evolving and dynamic international system. We will also consider whether multiculturalism is a necessary and appropriate response to some of the more retrograde and unsettling aspects of nationalism. From the outset, however, it is important to mention that the social science literature on nationalism often emphasizes 1) the lack of a comprehensive definition for the term, or 2) that there is a multiplicity of nationalisms. Indeed, these nationalisms often get defined with catch-all terms such as New Nationalism, Liberal Nationalism, Small Nationalism and so on. This multiplicity, in turn, confirms that the very concept of the nation has developed across the course of history and refers to more than just to a group of people born in the same place.

Again, to chart our understanding of nationalism today, we begin by quickly outlining Ernst Renan’s conception of the nation-state, followed by a look at how some analysts are trying to transform this traditional view of it in order to respond more effectively to the stresses of globalization. (Yes, nationalism provides states with a cohesive identity, but often by playing upon the insecurity of societies to achieve desired outcomes.) Finally, we will quickly look at multiculturalism and see whether it offers an approach to addressing global challenges that is more user-friendly than nationalism.


The Future of Nationalism and the State – Introduction

'Liberty Leading the People' by Eugène Delacroix. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Thus far in our Editorial Plan we have posited a simple overarching theme – the international system is indeed undergoing irrevocable and tectonic changes. To illustrate this claim, we have done three things thus far. First, we asked ourselves what the trajectory of these changes might look like. We looked, in other words, at the challenges and opportunities afforded by international relations-centered future forecasting. Second, we built on this exercise in ‘futurology’ to look at the traditional geopolitical dimensions of international relations today and tomorrow. Last, we then looked at geopolitics’ theoretical opposite – i.e., we looked at the arguments presented by those who would have us pursue global interdependence and effective multilateralism rather than hew to traditional geopolitical lines.

This week and then starting again on January 2 (yes, we will feature new material during Christmas week, but it won’t be part of the Editorial Plan), we will ‘sandwich’ our previous analysis of global interdependence between our initial discussion of geopolitics and our current discussion of nationalism and the state. Over the years we have tended to hyphenate these two categories, but we know better now. Nationalism is a broader concept and carries with it considerable socio-cultural ‘baggage.’ We therefore plan to look at it first this week and pit it against a rival concept that has equally vociferous advocates – multiculturalism. Then, after the Christmas break, we will resume our discussion by looking at the state of the state in international relations. By twining our analyses of nationalism and the state in this way, we will have addressed the geopolitics of international relations, its potential for interdependence and multilateral cooperation, and its still-dominant Westphalian dynamics. As usual, we wish you happy reading.


The ISN Quiz: Nationalism

We’re examining concepts of national identity and nationalism in Switzerland this week, but what do you know about these concepts in other countries? Test your knowledge and find out.