Theses Doctoral

Science of Thought and the Culture of Democracy in Postwar Japan, 1946-1962

Bronson, Adam Paul

This dissertation examines efforts to foster a culture of democracy in postwar Japan, focusing on Science of Thought, one of the most influential associations engaged in publicly rethinking democracy in the years after fascism and defeat. The group was founded in 1946 by seven young intellectuals whose wartime experiences had convinced them of the urgent need to bridge the gap between the world of intellectuals and that of "ordinary people." My dissertation shows how the group's many attempts to realize that goal embodied a vision of democratic experimentation that had to be re-articulated again and again in response to challenges that arose in connection with geopolitical events and also with the social changes that accompanied economic recovery and growth. For Science of Thought, democracy was not something that could be decreed by occupation authorities or conjured into existence by the media. Its seeds had to be sought in the "thought" (shisô) of the "man on the street." Contributors to the group's journal espoused a "science of thought" capable of enabling researchers to discover the mental worlds and implicit philosophies of ordinary people. Drawing methodological insight from American pragmatist philosophy and social science, the group conducted statistical surveys and interviews, and produced content analyses of popular movies, novels, and comic books in an unusual experiment to probe the mind of the "common man." In the charged political context of the early fifties, members of the group searched for new ways to nurture democracy from the grassroots. Inspired by the apparent success of the ongoing social revolution in China, members began promoting and facilitating educational and cultural movements underway in the Japanese countryside. In the process, Science of Thought became an anchor for a nation-wide network of factory workers, engineers, students, and housewives linked together by reading groups and writing circles. As economic growth began to transform Japanese society in the late fifties and early sixties, the group's earlier faith in the inherent democratic pragmatism of ordinary people gave way to promoting a more oppositional stance, embodied in the classless ideal of the citizen-activist confronting the pressures of conformism in mass society and white-collar life. On the basis of this ideal, the group became an enthusiastic supporter of the large-scale protests against the US-Japan Security Treaty in 1960, which marked the beginning of citizen movements that influenced Japanese civil society in the subsequent decades. The evolution of the group from a small research circle into a standard-bearer for citizen's activism in the sixties can be seen as a metonym for the experience of postwar progressives, an experience that included moments of pro-Enlightenment optimism and anti-American nationalism. Rather than through developing a specific theory of democracy or citizenship, the significance of Science of Thought lay in the way it exemplified democracy in practice. The accumulated practical experience of the intellectuals and citizens associated with the group remains relevant to those who continue to grapple with the dilemmas of democracy today.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Gluck, Carol
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 10, 2012