Compare the definition of nationalism presented by Joseph-Ernest Renan and Benedict Anderson. What common themes can you identify in their position? Describe Fukuzawa Yukichi's interpretation of...

Compare the definition of nationalism presented by Joseph-Ernest Renan and Benedict Anderson. What common themes can you identify in their position?

Describe Fukuzawa Yukichi's interpretation of the West. What do his observations reveal about the cultural differences between Japan and the West?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the common themes in Renan's and Anderson's construction of nationalism is that the individual envisions themselves as part of something larger.  Renan suggests that the individual must expand their ethical imagination to see themselves as part of a national legacy that exists in the past.  The expansion of the individual's imagination and envisioning themselves as a part of this past expression is essential to nationalism:

A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation's existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual's existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. That, I know full well, is less metaphysical than divine right and less brutal than so called historical right. 

Renan clearly suggests that the individual must envision this feeling of "past" in terms of sacrifice and how it influence their appropriation of the present and the future.  This is reflective of the "imagined" status that Anderson sees as essential to his definition of nationalism.  Anderson argues that the nation is a construct of imagination.  It exists in this condition because "the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion."  There is a shared lack of concrete reality in both definitions. They both exist in the envisioning of the individual.  Certainly, a point of divergence in both thinkers would be the extent of this elasticity in individual understanding.  Renan would say that the individual expansion of imagination to connect with the past is real and perceptible, while Anderson might suggest that this is the essence of "imagined."   Yet, in both constructions, the individual must see beyond their own sense of being in defining the true parameters of nationalism.

Yukichi reflects an appropriation of the imagination construct in his writings about Japan.  His interpretation of the West reflects a need for Japan to develop its own cultural identity.  Yukichi advocated a position in which Japan would develop self- sustenance to prevent it from being subservient or dependent on the West.  He understood "national independence through personal independence" and recognized that Japan's pivot towards a "higher plane" of civilization rests with strength and assertion of independent identity:  

... civilization means not only comfort in daily necessities but also the refining of knowledge and the cultivation of virtue so as to elevate human life to a higher plane... It refers to the attainment of both material well-being and the elevation of the human spirit, [but] since what produces man’s well-being and refinement is knowledge and virtue, civilization ultimately means the progress of man’s knowledge and virtue.

Yukichi argued that Japan did not have to be dependent on Western imperialism.  Yukichi advocated that Japan could embrace the same ideological tenets of the West such as advanced education and pragmatic application of knowledge to emerge as strong as the West.  His writings reveal an understanding that power lies from within and not on external dependence.


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