Abstract: Japanese economist and philosopher Tsutomu Hashimoto is interviewed by French independent journalist Grégoire Canlorbe on a variety of topics, notably including the specificities of Japanese capitalism, novelist Yukio Mishima envisioned as an Austrian economist, the samurai ethics analyzed from a “praxeological” point of view, or the mafia’s economic role in Japan and elsewhere.
Tsutomu Hashimoto is a Professor of Economics at Hokkaido University in Japan, he obtained a Ph.D. at Tokyo University, and published various books on liberalism and philosophy of economics in Japanese. He was a visiting researcher at New York University from 2000 to 2002 and at Aix-Marseille University in 2016. Contact: email@example.com,ac,jp
Grégoire Canlorbe: Among the major quests of your lifetime, one project that is dear to your heart consists in constructing an original theory of liberalism from the angle of a “philosophical anthropology of the social sciences.” Could you develop the origin of this vocation and the present lines of force of your perspective?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: So far, I have published nine and edited five books in Japanese, all related to the theme of liberalism. You mention “philosophical anthropology of social sciences,” which is actually the title of my second book. In this book, I developed my philosophical foundation of liberalism, focusing on the concept of “person” in the context of philosophical anthropology since Max Scheler (1874–1928).
However, before explaining this, let me discuss my experiences on three epoch-making or breaking crises of our age, since all of these led me to a new consideration on liberalism. The first was the Revolutions of 1989 that lead to the fall of communism in Eastern European countries. The second were the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, which actually happened during my stay in New York. The third was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, in 2011.
First, the Revolutions of 1989 gave me the starting point of my study. At that time, I was 22 years old and was simply shocked by the corruption in Eastern European communist countries. Many Japanese intellectuals who influenced me in the 1980s were sympathetic to Marxist ideologies and they investigated new possibilities or frontiers on Marx’s text in terms of developing contemporary philosophy. In fact, many creative social theories in Japan emerged from this line of investigation. However, in 1989, I realized that these theoretical contributions were entirely useless in terms of normative issues.
At that time, I also had the chance to read F. A. Hayek’s Law, Legislation and Liberty during a seminar at my university in 1989. However, since the professor was a stubborn Hayekian and talked about Hayek authoritatively, I came to read Hayek critically. Meanwhile, I happened to find M. Rizzo and G. O’Driscoll’s stimulating book, Economics of Time and Ignorance, in my college library. When I found this book, I intuitively realized that it would be very important for both my life and research. In fact, after 10 years, I translated it into Japanese and, thanks to Professor Mario Rizzo, I had the chance to be a visiting researcher with New York University from 2000 to 2002.
My first book, The Logic of Liberty: Popper, Mises and Hayek, published in 1994, is about my investigation on liberalism as anti-communism. During the entire 20th century, the most important issue in the field of economic thought was “which regime is better or more desirable between capitalism and socialism?” Since this question cannot easily be settled at a theoretical level, the debate proceeded up to the stage of scientific methodology, and many people examined which side’s methodology or epistemology was scientifically legitimate between capitalism and socialism. This was a unique situation, because methodological statements carried some normative implications of these ideologies.
For example, methodological individualism carried implications on normative individualism. However, in my analysis, this situation gradually collapsed or faded. As such, methodological debates between capitalist and socialist camps have ceased to represent normative conflicts, partly due to their logical endogenous problems and partly due to historically exogenous elements. In other words, methodological investigation became de-ideologized or eliminated its “thought-ladenness.” In order to show what happened with the methodologies of the 20th century, I developed my “functional theory of methodology” and presented a thesis in which I call upon the “thought-ladenness of methodology.” This is, in short, the theoretical core of my first book.
The second book, as I already mentioned, is a philosophical investigation, in which I proposed a new model of what I call “problem-subject.” In this book, I analyzed the achievements of Max Weber and the subsequent Weberians and constructed an original system of philosophical anthropology.
After working on this book, I went to New York for two years as a visiting researcher and experienced the 9/11 terrorists attack in 2001 there. I was frightened not only by this incident, but also by the subsequent situation in New York. For example, I was stuck in an underground car a number of times for reasons unknown to me. Since I was alarmed by this situation in New York, I changed my research interests from Austrian economics to international political economy in general. The achievement of this change was reflected in the publishing of my third book, The Conditions of Empire, in 2007.
In this book, I first developed the ideas of “trans-conservatism” and “spontaneitism” as certain types of liberal enterprise in a global context. From this original perspective, I proposed two policies. One is how to create “world money” through Tobin’s tax and associated avoidance activities. The other is how to promote a liberal society by adjusting tariffs.
After writing this book, I published several other books on liberalism. Finally, in 2011, Japan experienced the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. This was the third crisis for me and a crisis of the legitimacy of the Japanese government as well. Facing this disaster, I conceived the nature of the problem from an Austrian perspective and pointed out that the constructivist formation of the electricity supply is at issue. From a broad perspective, capitalism in the 21st century would be driven by people’s ecological concerns.
In my book, Lost Modernity, published in 2012, I tried to answer the following question: what type of driving force is possible in our age for capitalism? Theoretically, I divided contemporary history after World War II into three periods: modernity, post-modernity, and lost modernity. Then, I investigated the driving force of capitalism in the age of lost modernity. The answer would be neither “modern diligent work,” nor “post-modern expanded desire.” I will talk about my investigation later during our interview but, in any event, this book was based on my observation on the contemporary Japanese society.
Therefore, I have developed my idea on liberalism by facing the three epoch-making crises: the Revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
I call my original theory of liberalism “growth-oriented liberalism” or “spontaneitism.” More recently, I developed a theory on liberalism by extending the implications of Dogen’s masterpiece, Shouhou Genzou (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye), written in 13th century Japan. I am still trying to broaden my original perspective, especially in the field of economic philosophy.
For example, I am targeting a theory of “capability as potentiality,” as opposed to Amartya Sen’s “capability as ability,” a “vita activa” model of interventionism, as opposed to Cass Sunstein’s libertarian paternalism, and so forth. Hopefully, I would systematize these theoretical studies and present a new image of the liberal ideal. Overall, this will be a work on the art of governance from the perspective of a Hayekian horticultural expert, which I am still working on.
Grégoire Canlorbe: In economics, you esteem the Austrian methodology and Weltanschauung very highly. When it comes to enlightening the specificities of Japanese capitalism, how do you sum up the conceptual advantages of Austrian economics over other approaches such as Weberian sociology or Marxian theory?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: Considering the idea of catching up with western capitalism, I think that there is no great worldview or Weltanschauung that has contributed to explaining it in detail. This is true in the Japanese case as well. Neither Max Weber nor Karl Marx provides us with any significant theory on this topic. Austrian economics, however, might have a normative answer. This school would propose that developing countries be incorporated into the global network of market economy through deregulation of the domestic market and acceptance of capital from advanced countries as much as possible.
This type of normative perspective would explain the successful history of capitalism in small countries such as Singapore, but would not explain other successful economic developments in large countries such as Japan. In fact, the Austrian worldview has begun to influence the Japanese society after Japan has economically caught up with the western countries in the 1980s.
In order to look into the specificities of the success of Japanese capitalism, we need to refer to some innovations in management, such as “just-in-time inventory management” and “quality control circle.” In this respect, Ikujiro Nonaka’s work on shared tacit knowledge in firms is worthwhile mentioning, since this theory explains why Japanese firms have competitive advantage in the global market economy in terms of knowledge. Nonaka’s work is best placed in the context of Austrian economics, as an application of the Hayekian theory of knowledge.
It is also worth mentioning that Katsuichi Yamamoto, the founder of Austrian economics in Japan, became active in the political area as well. While he wrote a comprehensive book on socialist calculation debate in 1939 and several related books on anti-socialism, anti-totalitarianism, and anti-welfare state, he became a member of parliament for five mandates. His political stance was based on moral nationalism and he sought national integrity for the Japanese spirit by means of education. It would be interesting to study his contribution to Austrian economics and his politically conservative message.
What I utilize from the Austrian worldview are some contemporary issues on social policies in Japan. For example, I have presented my reform proposals on national universities. In Japan, national universities have finally transformed into “national university corporations” in 2003. During this transformation, I proposed the following ideas: free mergers and acquisitions among universities, free use of university brand names, acceptance for those who passed a low standard of common entrance examinations in every university and college, additional examination to select students starting the third grade, and so on. It is interesting to see that some of my proposals have been accepted and institutionalized in the reform process of universities.
Other proposals of mine are related to the following issues: privatization of post offices, counter-arguments on the criticism of neoliberalism in Japan, reform proposal on the NHK (National Broadcasting Corporation), reform proposal on the tariff system, proposal to create a world currency, etc. In these proposals, I am, to some degree, inspired by Hayek’s way of thinking rather than by Marxist, Weberian, neoclassical or institutional economics.
Grégoire Canlorbe: In a world ruled by the law of conservation of matter, it seems that only knowledge can be created and destroyed. When an iPhone falls into the water, all its material atoms and molecules are preserved. The incorporated knowledge is however lost. As famously articulated by Yukio Mishima in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, any change in the world turns out to be ultimately the fruit of knowledge.
“What transforms this world is—knowledge. Do you see what I mean? Nothing else can change anything in this world. Knowledge alone is capable of transforming the world, while at the same time leaving it exactly as it is. When you look at the world with knowledge, you realize that things are unchangeable and at the same time are constantly being transformed.”
The Austrian theory of knowledge, which we owe to Menger, Hayek and Kirzner, may well have recognized and investigated this very same aspect of reality. According to most Austrian economists, a capitalist economy consists in more than a “carrot and stick” game. In first place, capitalism constitutes an information system which links growth to the development and the application of entrepreneurial knowledge.
Against this conceptual background, many tensions have however been hatching among Austrian academics since the revival of their tradition in 1970s. Could you specify and develop what is so unique with the Austrian approach of “the world with knowledge” with respect to Neoclassical writings on the same subject? How do you envisage the outcome of the internal squabbles within the School?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: You raised two examples: the iPhone and the Golden Temple. In the iPhone example, the physical material of mobile phone remains, whereas knowledge is lost. In the example of the Golden Temple, however, materials disappear, whereas knowledge as blueprint remains and, therefore, the entire temple can be reconstructed after its destruction. However, both examples do not seem to be useful in explaining how knowledge develops our society. In the example of the Golden Temple, the knowledge can rebuild the temple, but does not necessarily enhance the growth of knowledge. However, I am very much interested in the question of how knowledge develops spontaneously.
As such, I would like to point out that there is a significant difference between capitalism as the world “of” knowledge and capitalism as the world “with” knowledge. When we conceive capitalism as the world “of” knowledge, it must assume K. Popper’s World III (the world of objective knowledge) and place the growth of knowledge in this sphere. On the other hand, Hayekians would conceive capitalism as the world “with” knowledge. We can extend Hayek’s implication on knowledge in the following way: knowledge has its tacit dimension, which includes not only specific time and place, but also shared and widely inter-subjectified conventions. I believe that this shared tacit dimension of knowledge would give us different observations on how the market works.
In fact, Hayek’s argument on tacit knowledge draws from Michael Polanyi’s argument on personal knowledge. Here I would like to emphasize that Polanyi’s personal knowledge is not the same as individual knowledge, but is a shared ability of evaluation among specialized scientists. The most important implication of M. Polanyi’s theory of knowledge is, in my opinion, that the government cannot control knowledge because scientific knowledge is sometimes tacit and always embedded in scientists’ personalities.
This observation would also allow us to understand why the market economy needs to be legitimatized in our society against government control. Of course, neoclassical economics would provide a different explanation of the market economy. Nonetheless, I believe that this tacit and shared dimension of knowledge is important, especially in conceiving the nature of the market economy. This aspect of knowledge has not been argued extensively in the context of Austrian school of economics, but it should have been emphasized since the revival of this school in the 1970s.
Regarding the endogenous arguments of the Austrian school, let me just mention Israel Kirzner’s theory on entrepreneurship. He explains that entrepreneurs can “see” the equilibrium price based on a hunch, which is not mediated by logical reasoning or knowledge. This explanation is rather unique and realistic, since the equilibrium price is to be discovered through the personal ability of entrepreneurs. Neoclassical economists would explain the existence of the equilibrium price as a logical consequence of demand-supply relations under perfect information and perfect competition. However, Kirzner does not assume this.
In my interpretation, Kirzner’s theory is to be better understood in the light of M. Polanyi’s personal knowledge. Entrepreneurs or those who take the role of entrepreneurship would use their practical ability (i.e., hunch) to discover equilibrium prices. The question is where does this hunch come from? Why they did have the hunch in the first place? I think that market economy participants more or less share a sense of equilibrium and this sense enables the entrepreneurial hunch. Based on this shared sense of equilibrium, the function of entrepreneurship can be stably (re)created in our market economy. Therefore, in my theory on the market economy, the basis of market coordination lies in our “sense of equilibrium” as shared tacit knowledge.
Grégoire Canlorbe: The starting assumption of Misesian praxeology states that any human being, so long as he acts, endeavors to increase his “state of satisfaction” through a permanent calculation of expected gains and losses for each of his decisions. This contrasts with some traditional anthropological conceptions that hold gain and loss mind, not for an universal feature of human nature, but for a pattern of thought specific to the merchant class within the political organism. These ancestral representations, often thought of as part of the ideological framework intended to legitimize the feudal caste system in Japan and elsewhere, still have some appeal in our present bourgeois era.
The clash between the contemporary claims by praxeology and the traditional way of opposing the calculating man, always weighing gain against loss, and the warrior supposedly devoid of any gain and loss mind, is particularly evidenced by reading Tsunetomo Yamamoto’s treatise on bushido. It feels as if the following excerpt of Hagakure anticipates and answers Mises’ treatise on “human action.”
“Calculating people are contemptible. The reason for this is that calculation deals with loss and gain, and the loss and gain mind never stops. Death is considered loss and life is considered gain. Thus, death is something that such a person does not care for, and he is contemptible. Furthermore, scholars and their like are men who with wit and speech hide their own true cowardice and greed. People often misjudge this.”
As one can easily notice, these few lines contradict the allegedly irrefutable presupposition of Misesian economics according to which any human being necessarily acts in order to improve his own well-being and will never renounce his material and emotional comfort, even less his life, on behalf of a warlike code of honor. They present the “praxeological” calculation of gain and loss as the fruit only of a certain frame of mind—rather than an universal aspect of the mentality of human beings. How do you think that Ludwig von Mises would have commented on this polemical passage?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: This question seems to probe to what degree I understand Mises’ praxeology. Having established his carrier as a professional economist, Mises proposed marriage to a famous stage actress, Margit Herzfeld, who accepted. Those who have a samurai spirit would not attempt this behavior. They would not have the courage to propose marriage voluntarily to a beautiful actress. At least, regarding this point, I believe that Mises was not timid, but a brave man.
This is just a humorous attempt, but let me consider whether bushido, the code of the samurai, and Misesian praxeology are compatible or not. My conclusion is that yes, they are compatible.
First, it is important to see that Mises’ praxeology concerns only the dimension of action that includes an end and its rational means, without paying attention to any utilitarian calculations. For example, Mises does not assume that individuals would “maximize” their own utilities. He does not claim that every human knows what kind of utility its purpose has. What Mises assumes is that every human acts with a purpose and using its rational means. He does not even claim that every individual optimizes its means. Optimization and rational consideration are different things.
As the samurai spirit points out, those who try to maximize their utility only on the criterion of “comfort” or to optimize means using the best calculation might be ethically condemned as contemptible. However, praxeology would not recommend this way of thinking. To live a morally noble life is also within the realm of praxeology. A person who has a strong sense of nobility or honor is also a rational being who has his/her own purpose and chooses his/her rational means. The noble being is rational in the sense that he/she chooses a better alternative than calculating means.
In other words, with reference to his noble preference formation, this individual chooses the option that does not require much calculation. Moreover, this individual is conscious about the cost of choice, namely, the value of alterative options. It is this consciousness of alternative option that is the universal feature of human action and hence praxeology.
However, when we ask “who are nobler, warriors or merchants,” then the general answer would be warriors. Nonetheless, we need to go forward and also ask “whether the government should distribute high statuses and salaries to those who are brave and noble.” Praxeology simply denies this distribution. Praxeology would say that every individual should be treated equally in a free market society and the government does not have any right to discriminate status and income depending on moral considerations. What bushido claims is not just moral but political legitimization for high status under an authoritative government. Which society is better? Those who praise samurai culture should perhaps answer this question.
Let me answer a related question, whether we should morally affirm the life of a coward, of contemptible and greedy people in a market society. Since Mises would not have an answer to this question, I will examine it myself.
In our market society, moral movements to make people noble sometimes emerge spontaneously. Protestant movements on labor ethics were such a case. In our contemporary era, among others, moral movements of the citizen-consumer, which I call “eco-citizen,” are of interest. I believe that there is the possibility for a new driving force of capitalism to emerge from this type of spontaneous ethical movements. I argued this issue in my book, Lost Modernity. Modern capitalism developed itself dynamically through the work ethics of Protestantism. Post-modern capitalism developed itself dynamically through Gilles Deleuze’s “desiring machine” as a driving force of consumption. Then, what type of driving force would make capitalism dynamic in our age, after post-modernity?
The spirit of bushido might become a driving force of capitalism in its different form. However, my observation is that the lifestyles of eco-citizens are creative enough to be adapted to the creative class of people, and become a driving force of a capitalism that stimulates innovative technologies, especially in the field of environmental issues. Therefore, there seems to be a close relationship between environmentalism and capitalism.
My answer for the question of whether we should morally affirm the life of coward, of contemptible and greedy people in the market society is “no.” Moral issues on market activities need to be understood in the light of spontaneous movements, which contribute to the driving forces of our capitalism. Nonetheless, I also agree that contemptible people sometimes drive capitalism to a certain extent.
Grégoire Canlorbe: In the field of international relations, you have notably shown a keen interest in tariff system with respect to the idea of global justice. Put concisely, your thesis is that the rate of tariff for exported goods from a given nation should be inversely proportional to the level of human capabilities achieved by that nation. Could you remind us of your ethical argument in favor of this proposition?
How do you conciliate the subjective theory of value so dear to Austrians with the idea that the quality of human accomplishment could be objectively measured?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: In my book, Conditions of Empire, published in 2007, I analyzed some issues on globalization after 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq war, and delivered my normative theory, which is to replace the dominant ideologies of neoliberalism and neo-conservatism in terms of reconstructing international relations. I have called my normative stance “trans-conservatism,” “spontaneitism,” or “growth-oriented liberalism.” The central question for this position is how we can utilize the act of spontaneity in order to coordinate our society. From this point of view, I raised two policy proposals. One is a proposal to create a world currency and the other is a proposal for a tariff system.
The idea of the tariff system is as follows. First, let us assume that the international market system, without any national borders of tariffs, is legitimate in distributing goods and services under the condition of a well-established private property rights system and another related system of individual rights. However, the reality is quite different. Some nations do not satisfy these conditions. As such, the question we need to ask ourselves is how we can legitimize free trade or free transaction with those deprived of private property rights? Even libertarians would not be able to justify such free trade, since the conditions of a rights system among individuals are not satisfied. Libertarians need to be serious about the global redistribution of income as a compensation for the real differences in conditions of rights systems.
There are some other related issues that we have to consider in this context, but my idea on the global justice of distribution is that all people need to have enough chances to develop their capabilities as potentialities. This idea of capabilities would give us a criterion for tariff systems. For example, when a nation realizes a certain level of capabilities among its people, we would decrease the tariff rate for goods exported by that nation. On the other hand, when a nation does not realize a certain level of capabilities among its people, we would not permit a decrease in the tariff rate or even increase it.
This simple idea of adjusting tariff rates would give nations a good incentive to improve people’s capabilities, thus cultivating their human capital. Under this simple condition on the tariff system, nations would be able to pursue both the idea of “justice of exchange” in international trade and that of “achieving various capabilities for all people.”
For this purpose, I proposed my original index, “Index of Spontaneitism for Tariff Structure,” which is composed of the following six indexes: Index of Human Development + Index of Democracy + (-) Index of Human Poverty + Index of Gender Empowerment + Index of the Number of Accepted Refugees + Index of the Number of Internet Users. Based on this set of indexes, each nation would be able to establish relevant criteria for tariff rating for importing goods from other nations.
The economists of the Austrian school would neither agree with my idea of tariff index nor with any kind of index of “welfare” or “well-being,” since this school takes the position of epistemological subjectivism. However, subjectivism on welfare would not be able to defend any objective criteria for minimum life security. I do not follow epistemological subjectivism in this respect.
What I learned from the Austrian school of economics is another topic. For example, Israel Kirzner’s theory of entrepreneurship can be interpreted as a theory of practical ability or capability. Kirzner sometimes uses the phrase, “a driving force of capitalism.” This issue of driving force is important because it is very much related to human capital of practical capabilities. The question I am concerned with is what the driving force of capitalism in our age is. As I already stated, my answer is to increase shared tacit knowledge.
As Hayek pointed out, true individualism is based on our conventions. In my understanding, conventions such as shared tacit knowledge are the basis for evolutionary rationalism, which enables both the market society and human beings to develop together. Therefore, the index of Spontaneitism for Tariff Structure would be best interpreted in the light of this consideration of evolutionary rationalism. After all, it is an index of human potentialities for the driving force of our society, rather than human attainment as our ideal goal.
Grégoire Canlorbe: The international success of manga and anime television series such as Hakuōki seems to attest the existence of a non-negligible “soft power” by Japan, not to mention the resplendent fame of movie directors such as Takeshi Kitano, Takashi Miike and Hayao Miyazaki. Regarding the problem of the contemporary influence of Marxism, it may be worthwhile to determine to what extent the ghost of the Marxist ideology, or related conceptions, still haunts the artistic, literary and cinematographic production on the part of leading nations in the globalized market of modern tales and legends.
Along with their ecological concern, it seems hard to deny the typically Marxist mixture of fascination for high technology, idealization of working people and contempt for impersonal market relations which permeates most Miyazaki’s works—and which may be, after all, part of the reason for their international popularity. According to you, is this a case of its own in the cultural landscape of post-war democratic Japan?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: Since last August, I have begun spending a couple of months a year in 2016 at Aix-en-Provence in France. This city has a population of 140,000, and it is surprising that the number of sushi restaurants is above than that in my city in Japan, which has a population of 70,000. Actually, I found more than 15 sushi restaurants in Aix-en-Provence. I also found a Japanese manga and figures store, while my city in Japan does not have one.
The Japanese government is now promoting to spread Japanese soft power, such as anime and sushi restaurants, under the name of “cool Japan.” Apparently, there is some logical relation between anti-capitalist sentiments and market economy. Many Japanese people now expect that the cultural industry enhances our economic growth. With regard to the effects of the cultural industry as a whole, the ghost of the Marxist ideology seems to be incorporated into this new driving force of capitalism. I believe that what Japanese soft power proposes is a new vision of capitalism with ecological concerns.
Let us look back at the counter-culture movement in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the United States. Although many of the movements were led by various anti-capitalist ideologies, “creative class” people emerged from these movements in place of WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). Since the mid-1990s, the creative class became dominant with the rise of the information technology industry. This transformation of the anti-capitalist movement into the pro-capitalist internet culture is a good lesson for us to consider. We can expect that a new form of capitalism would emerge from Japanese animation or other related culture that has originally shown anti-capitalist sentiments.
You mentioned that most of Miyazaki’s work contains anti-capitalist messages, which partly explains their international popularity. According to my understanding, most of the messages in Miyazaki’s work are not related to the ideology of anti-capitalism per se, but to our antipathy towards contemporary consumer culture or destructive modernization against nature.
However, there seems to be a possibility of alternative capitalism, which drives our capital by neither appealing to our “desire machine” nor deteriorating our natural environment. This is what I call “capitalism driven by environmental concerns.” For example, our capitalism works when we admit a certain premium for ecological goods and services, and by circulating information goods in a wider sense rather than wasting material goods.
In Lost Modernity, I distinguish among three modes of modernization: “modernity,” “post-modernity,” and “lost-modernity.” The driving force of “modernity” was the force of diligence in work, through which people aims to improve their standard of living. The driving force of the “post-modernity” was people’s amplified desire for consumption with a sense of affirmation in our affluent society. In “lost-modernity,” however, something new happens to our driving force of capitalism. Prima facie, our society has lost its conventional driving forces since the mid-1990s, because the economy stagnated.
However, I believe that our quest for new ecological lifestyles with a concern for the intrinsic value of nature would indicate a new driving force of capitalism in our age. Nature is multiple. It proliferates by itself. We find these characters in our inner selves. My hypothesis is that the new driving force of our society would be found in our effort of reconciliation between our inner selves and the wealth of nature.
The important thing is that we need to be sensitive to what was lost in modernity and post-modernity. What have been lost in the past can become potential resources of our new capitalism in the age of lost modernity. It is also worth noting that not all our potential capabilities are recognized by others in a real society. We, as individuals, have various potential capabilities that are even unknown to ourselves. What makes us recognize these potentialities is our investigative effort on how alternative societies look like.
The search of alternative image of the society, including Marxism, is useful because it drives us to notice our potentialities. This investigation is important in the age of lost modernity in terms of its driving force.
Grégoire Canlorbe: According to a popular opinion, firms should not be allowed to promote their philosophy and to pursue their activity while ignoring the requirements of what people in society agree to define as “common decency.” As such, through labour legislation, competition policy, tax audits and quality inspections, sometimes even prohibition, the democratic government is allegedly entitled to act to preserve the morality of firms, either public or private.
This point of view contrasts with other approaches, such as the following one by Murray Rothbard, which proclaim the right for any firm to conduct its business all the way it pleases—so long as it meets the demand of consumers and consequently makes a profit—and which present dissident organizations as resistance fighters against an undue intrusion of state in their affairs.
“The Mafia,” as Murray Rothbard wrote in 1990, “although leading a life outside the law, is, at its best, simply entrepreneurs and businessmen supplying the consumers with goods and services of which they have been… deprived… Violence… is never engaged in for the Hell of it, or for random kicks; the point is that since the government police and courts will not enforce contracts they deem to be illegal, debts incurred in the Mafia world have to be enforced by violence… But the violence simply enforces the Mafia equivalent of the law: the codes of honor and loyalty without which the whole enterprise would simply be random and pointless violence… Organized crime is essentially anarcho-capitalist, a productive industry struggling to govern itself; apart from attempts to monopolize and injure competitors, it is productive and non-aggressive. Unorganized, or street crime, in contrast, is random, punkish, viciously aggressive against the innocent, and has no redeeming social feature.”
In the light of the way of life, the code of value and the social contribution of the Yakuza in contemporary society, do you agree with the above?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: A couple of years ago, I had a talk during a radio program with a famous Japanese actor, Bunta Sugawara, who was the main character in an Yakuza film, Battles Without Honor and Humanity, in 1973, which won the 1974 Kinema Junpo Awards for the Best Film, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay; moreover, in 2009, the magazine Kinema Junpo named it fifth on a list of top 10 Japanese films of all times. The screenplay was based on newspaper articles written by journalist Kouichi Iiboshi and a manuscript written by a real yakuza, Kouzo Minou. As such, this film represents the reality of the Yakuza world in the mid-20th century in Japan.
In reality, there are many conflicts both inner- and intra-groups in Yakuza, and the codes of honor and loyalty are very well not established. In the world of Yakuza, punkish people always exist and order is not well coordinated. Therefore, I believe we should better discard the ideal image of a well-organized Yakuza world.
Generally speaking, there must be spontaneous order and disorder at the same time under the condition of anarcho-capitalism. Rothbard seems to be too optimistic in his observations on the Mafia or Yakuza. I agree with him by pointing out that organized crime is better than unorganized crime. However, in reality, voluntary organizations in anarcho-capitalism cannot organize everything.
What Japanese people are fascinated in Yakuza films is the lifestyle of characters as lonely wolves. We recognize important ethics on individualism, with high codes of honor and loyalty, even if the character kills people or his boss is a lowly character.
There might be another question we need to ask on the difference between anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism. Think about the case of slavery contracts. Rothbard would not agree with slavery contracts because they undermine the condition of individual rights. But what would he say about free contract of sexual harassment between employer and employee? Most libertarians, including Rothbard, would agree with this kind of free contract when it can be cancelled at any time.
A company or association constructed through sexual harassment does not have a code of honor and is not characterized by loyalty. Such an association does not have any productive function in a society in terms of its coordination. Then, how can we justify this kind of free association in a society? I would have liked to ask this question to Professor Murray Rothbard.
Grégoire Canlorbe: During the last 3,000 years, the empire builders may well have been among the major craftsmen of a worldwide extended order of human cooperation. By standardizing languages, writing systems, laws, trade, weights and measures, and by building roadways over which their troops could march and in which merchants, pilgrims and adventurers could follow, they deployed the tendrils pulling us together to this day.
In an original theory on liberty and the “conditions of empire”, you suggest that empire builders may also have played a crucial role to preserve and to foster “orders of freedom.” Could you tell us more about this?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: Thank you for a general question on globalization. I will be basing my answer on Conditions of Empire. In this book, I have developed the original idea of growth-oriented liberalism in the light of recent globalization issues after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Let me introduce the contents of this book. I first analyzed four major ideologies after 9/11 and found there is an ideology of radical liberalism shared by both left- and right-wing politicians at that time. From a long-run perspective on radical liberalism, the solution to global terrorism is welcoming as many immigrants from Islamic countries as possible and creating hybrid ethnicities.
Subsequently, I analyzed the global state of affairs in several aspects. For example, a study on a recent transformation of the United States which is in a trap of terrorism, a study on an alternative network of empire building in Al-Qaeda groups, a study on contradictory results of anti-global and anti-empire-building movements which accelerate the logic of capital, and so forth.
From these observations and analyses, an alternative possibility of global order emerged. The question of what is an empire or global order in our age remains. Negri and Hart’s masterpiece, Empire, was published before 9/11 and has many limitations. My intention was to transcend this analysis and draw an alternative vision of world order. Specifically, I analyzed various aspects of neoliberalism and neo-conservatism in my book. As for the ideology of neo-conservatism, I have critically examined the texts of Leo Strauss and Gertrude Himmelferb.
Then, I described my original theory of liberalism as an idea for building an “empire order.” However, an empire order is not an imperial order. It appears as a non-legitimate order in Max Weber’s categorical theory of power. This means that we cannot legitimize any good empire order in conventional political discourse. As such, I first described the nature of this order as an order without transcending universality. Then, I argued that a good empire order is defensible based on my idea of “trans-conservatism.”
I went on to examine the issue of who is an ideal empire builder. We sometimes talk about the ideas of “world citizens” or “cosmopolitans” as carriers of globalization. In contrast to these conceptions, I described the ideal carrier of good empire as “omni-human,” which is based on an interpretation of Negri and Hart’s concept of multitude.
From a Hayekian point of view, world order would be legitimate when the globalization of the market economy develops spontaneously, namely, without government intervention. However, what I am concerned here with is the problem of inactivation of spontaneous order formation. The question I raised is why the act of spontaneity is sometimes activated or inactivated in a society.
Hayek has once used the metaphor of “gardener” for legitimizing the role of the government. A gardener can nurture the soil and enhance plant growth in the garden. Similarly, government can nurture the condition of the economy and enhance economic growth. If this is the case for government legitimacy, we can examine some policy ideas for creating a good empire order through government authority.
From this perspective, I raised two policy ideas. One is how to create “world money” through the combination of Tobin tax and associated avoidance activities on one hand, and the denationalization of money on the other hand. I described my idea strategically with five stages of reform. The other is how to promote a liberal society by adjusting the tariffs as above. Of course, these two policies are only part of a comprehensive vision on good empire order. However, both proposal and discussion on policy ideas are important, since we can be productive in constructing a good world order without involving ongoing conflicts on ideological issues.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Allow me to quote The Book of the Samurai one more time.
“In one’s life, there are levels in the pursuit of study. In the lowest level, a person studies but nothing comes of it, and he feels that both he and others are unskillful. At this point he is worthless. In the middle level he is still useless but is aware of his own insufficiencies and can also see the insufficiencies of others. In a higher level he has pride concerning his own ability, rejoices in praise from others, and laments the lack of ability in his fellows. This man has worth. In the highest level a man has the look of knowing nothing. These are the levels in general. But there is one transcending level, and this is the most excellent of all. This person is aware of the endlessness of entering deeply into a certain Way and never thinks of himself as having finished. He truly knows his own insufficiencies and never in his whole life thinks that he has succeeded. He has no thoughts of pride but with self-abasement knows the Way to the end. It is said that Master Yagyu once remarked, “I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself.” Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending.”
Looking back over your intellectual journey since your very first works of importance, namely your dissertation on the Hayekian denationalization of money and your book about Max Weber, do you think that you have reached this ultimate stage of spiritual power?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: So far, you have quoted two passages from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, dictated by Tsunetomo Yamamoto and written approximately in 1716. The second quote is, however, very different from the first.
The first shows anti-intellectualism and is a lesson for how to become a good samurai warrior on a battlefield. This kind of ethics has been widely spread among samurais in the Sengoku period (the period of warring states in the 15th and 16th centuries in Japan) and later provided one of the spiritual origins of totalitarianism or ultra-nationalism in the 19th and 20th century Japan. The second quotation is, however, based on Zen philosophy and is a very peaceful lesson. In fact, when The Book of the Samurai was written, Japan enjoyed a stable society in the middle of the Edo era without any serious samurai driven conflicts. The second quote shows how the samurais can train their spirit in a peaceful society as moral beings. As such, at the beginning of my answer, I would like to draw your attention on this difference.
Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai is not a well-thought philosophy, but an assembly of fragments of Yamamoto’s thought. Before he dictated this book, he became a Buddhist priest at the age of 42. His wife also became a nun at the same time. It is interesting to note that he has just been an intellectual bureaucrat and never participated in battles as a warrior. Nevertheless, he advocated samurai values, which belonged to a period more than hundred years before his time.
On the other hand, Yamamoto also talks about the philosophy of Master Munenori Yagyu (1571–1646), as per the second quote. Master Yagyu was a famous military commander, a feudal lord, and a swordsman. He wrote the official guidebook on the art of war for Tokugawa Shogun’s family in the early Edo period. He advocated a philosophy of consistency between the sword and Zen. Furthermore, he developed the samurai martial arts towards Budo, which investigates the height of human spirit without any connection to real battles. His approach has influenced the samurais during his time and succeeded in the contemporary Kendo in Japan.
In the light of this historical context, my answer to your question is more or less “yes,” because the ultimate stage of the spiritual power you mention is just the ethics of an ordinary contemporary life and what we share in the tradition of the Zen culture. This spiritual stage would not be ultimate, but merely popular in Japanese daily life.
However, I need to critically evaluate Master Yagyu’s philosophy in the history of Japanese thought, which unintendedly developed as a national moral philosophy in the age of modernization. At the beginning, samurais were required to show absolute loyalty to their lord. However, this ethics of loyalty became a resource of nationalism since the Meiji era in the 19th century. Therefore, even when we agree with the ultimate stage of Master Yagyu’s guide for moral training, we also need to be critical regarding its historical succession, which supports the morality of nationalism in the context of modern Japanese history.
Let me add my observation on this issue. Master Yagyu said, “he knows how to defeat himself.” The English translation can also be, “he knows how to overcome himself.” When we translate it this way, many people would agree, “we know how to overcome ourselves, but it is sometimes difficult due to our weakness of will.” This seems to be a general observation on ethical practice.
If this is the case, the question we must ask ourselves is whether we can demand from our government or intermediate groups to provide a service to overcome weakness of will. This is a question that libertarian paternalism asks as well. I have my own opinion on this issue. As a normative vision of legitimate government activities, my idea is based on what Hanna Arendt calls “vita activa.” I refrain from talking about this theory here, but the main point of my answer to your question is that we need to be critical in supporting the moral ideal of the samurai and Zen, because this moral issue is connected to the political problem of what types of activities can the government be legitimized for.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Thanks for your time and your insights. Would you like to add anything else?
Tsutomu Hashimoto: Thank you for your stimulating questions. This was a good opportunity for me to recall past endeavors and what I need to do in the future as well.
(I would like to thank Editage for English language editing, supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 16H03603.)
Grégoire Canlorbe, a political and scientific journalist, has conducted numerous interviews for journals such as Man and the Economy, founded by Nobel-Prize winning economist Ronald Coase, Arguments, and Agefi Magazine; and think tanks such as Gatestone Institute and Mises Institute. He has a few articles and appearances on radio, as a political analyst, to his credit. And he is currently cooperating with sociologist and philosopher Howard Bloom on a conversation book, dealing with mass behavior in the universe, from atoms to humans.