The study of nationalism, the most powerful political emotion in the modern world, has often become enmeshed in polemic and ideological combat. In Japan during the past century, evaluations of the historical role of nationalism have tended to oscillate between extremes. Some of its first serious students in the late nineteenth century, writers like Kuga Katsunan and Miyake Setsurei, opposing the prevalent Westernism, were convinced that nationalism was a necessary ingredient of Japanese survival; and they would have agreed with Tocqueville's aphorism that “the interests of the human race are better served by giving every man a particular fatherland than by trying to inflame his passions for the whole of humanity.” Since 1945, however, in a mood of national self-alienation, many Japanese writers have shared Veblen's turgid conclusion, “Born in iniquity and conceived in sin, the spirit of nationalism has never ceased to lead human institutions to the service of dissension and distress. In its material effects it is altogether the most sinister as well as the most imbecile of all the institutional incumbrances that have come down out of the old order.” Once seen as necessary and beneficial, nationalism came in the post-war period to be villified or simply ignored amidst the scholars' preoccupation with their anti-establishment liberal heroes. With some notable exceptions, nationalism has been slow to receive in Japan the thoughtful, dispassionate study it needs.

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