This essay examines the relation between some of the journalistic writings of Japanese philosopher Miki Kiyoshi (1897-1945) and his participation in Prime Minister Prince Konoe Fumimaro's “brain trust,” the Shōwa Kenkyūkai (Shōwa Research Association), which is often thought to have provided some of the intellectual foundation for the ideology of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. A brief intellectual biography of Miki and an examination of the founding and organization of the Shōwa Kenkyūkai are included, in addition to a close reading of some of Miki's journalism about China and the manifesto Principles of Thought for a New Japan.
I argue that with Miki's participation in the Shōwa Kenkyūkai and the production of its “world-historical answer” in the form of its signature concept of cooperativism (kyōdōshugi) there occurs a sudden shift away from the rhetorical strategies and lack of epistemological confidence that characterized his journalistic writings of 1935-40. Prior to Principles of Thought for a New Japan, Miki used a rhetorical strategy of conditionals arguing that unless new principles of universal validity were created, it would be impossible to solve Japan's domestic and international problems. During this prior period of Miki's “world-historical questions,” he never offered any suggestions as to what these new universally valid principles might be and worked with a questioning attitude marked by extreme epistemological doubt. In addition to his use of “only if, then... ” conditionals, Miki frequently offered a sustained criticism of virtually everything for being abstract and lacking dialectical mediation, negation, and sublation. Miki was especially critical of advocates of the “Japanese spirit” and so-called Japanists who assumed that Japanese culture already possessed a universal validity capable of solving Japan's problems and winning over the Chinese to the side of Japanese imperialism. However, one must be careful not to mistake Miki's privileging of universalism over particularism or his attempts to theorize a putatively inclusive and difference-respecting multicultural and multiethnic Japanese empire, which were indeed the ideological foundations of the East Asian Community (Tōa kyōdōtai), as radical gestures of resistance to the Japanese empire, as frequently occurs. For regardless of Miki's intentions, the effect of his oppositional rhetorical strategy in his journalism was firmly on the side of renovating and hence strengthening the imperialist Japanese state. While the Shōwa Kenkyūkai is often regarded as a failure, its apparently empty concept of cooperativism nonetheless contributed to the justification of imperialist violence throughout East Asia.