It must possess a sort of dangerous allure. It must provide what Toynbee calledthe boon of living dangerously.
From the Substack post on January 19, 2022, by Masaki. Translated from Japanese by him. Original by Yukio Mishima.
That we have reached the point where, primarily due to the unanticipated Sino-Soviet Split, and contrary to all expectations, the Anglo-Sovieto-American Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that had so floundered has been signed, naturally does not permit optimism, but one feels that the era of the Universal Great Peace1 has become considerably longer.
Japan surrendered in order to bring peace to all nations,2 and it is a matter of course that a Universal Great Peace was the wish of all peoples, but the feeling that, in the course of the postwar eighteen years of peace, peace itself has subtly changed in quality3 is by no means limited to only sensitive intellectuals.
It is certain that a Universal Great Peace really exists as a fact, but, as concerns the thought of the Universal Great Peace and the morals of those who are living through the Universal Great Peace, such deficient eras are rare. It is surely not only the war generation4 that, not knowing how to live in an era of peace, has lived on with a feeling of being suspended in midair.
Toynbee’s Hellenism5 gives an interesting suggestion in this regard. Commenting on the feeling of ennui of the life of the Universal Great Peace of the residents of the Hellenistic world-state, he explains the sensual benefits that Christianity gave at that time.
“Thus, in contrast to the Hellenes in the age of the principate, the Christians did not suffer from lack of stimulus; and the crowning stimulus was given to them by the Imperial Government when it made the profession of Christianity a capital offence. One of the reasons for the prevalent insipidity of life in the Hellenic world-state was that the belated establishment of world-peace deprived most people of the opportunity of risking—and, if it so fell out, losing—their lives for the sake of a cause that transcended their petty personal interests. Before the Christians were made subject to martyrdom, the only inhabitants of the world-state who found themselves in this exhilarating position were the soldiers whose duty it was to guard the frontiers against the Parthians and the barbarians. As soon as Christians had to go in danger of their lives, an element—and this a growing one—in the population of the cities of the interior regained the boon of living dangerously which had been enjoyed by the citizens of these same cities in the age when they had called upon their citizens to hazard their lives in their service.”6
It was in the period of the Security Treaty Struggle7 that I felt that this insight of Toynbee’s had penetrated something. That was a truly complex incident that was difficult to regulate intellectually, and I, for instance, know of a man skilled at aikidō, who is normally a young man of a simple disposition most distant from left-wing thought, who went to see a demonstration and assaulted the police. On the outskirts of that incident there was certainly a group of young men who had been starved of the allurement toward “mortal danger” and “prohibition.”
Japan since the Security Treaty has been a considerably more stagnant and strange era, and when I think of what passions8 the public mind of such an era contains, I get a rather funny sensation.9 And politicians who have never thought about such things may be happy politicians, but they are at the same time foolish ones. To bring the people lives of perfect peace and happiness is also naturally an important job of politicians, but when they settle ignorantly10 within the masses and forget the “death drive”11 that awaits an opportunity to explode, things get messy.
Democratic freedom is a drug with the effect of weakening the death drive, but even if it has the effect of deceiving the death drive, it holds not the power to liberate or to eradicate the death drive itself. Naturally, that is the limit of the power of politics over humanity. Even in the case of the presently ascendant Sōka Gakkai, it would surely possess fearsome power if suppressed, but that power is pacified by freedom of religion. To put it from a different aspect, even if it is a fact at present that within the masses there is a force seeking religion that is quietly bubbling up, so long as there is freedom of religion, there is no danger that the explosive power that is the true danger of religion will be ignited, and one can also say that the allure that is the true danger of religion is being weakened.
This is the same with regard to ideas. We cannot imagine truly dangerous ideas with our quotidian imaginations. The three hundred year Great Peace of the Tokugawa possessed the effective stimulant of the suppression of speech, but the Great Peace of our era possesses no such thing. Even if the holders of the political ideas of one extreme view the political ideas of the other extreme as dangerous, demonic, and heretical, they will not attract the broad sympathy of the masses.
What follows is something of a joke, but as far as the most dangerous ideas in the world at present go, they are surely ideas that, like Nasser for a period or the Chinese Communists, say, “Come at me with arrows or hydrogen bombs. Even if the world is destroyed, I will remain. What’s so scary about the hydrogen bomb?” But such ideas have absolutely no way of possessing universality in societies with high living standards,12 and political ideas that have no hope of being able to possess universality are in the first place a contradiction in words.
All I can do here is pose a question, but if a thought of the Universal Great Peace were to emerge and have power, it is surely certain that it would not be a pacifism like the one we have had until now. It must possess a sort of dangerous allure. It must provide what Toynbee called “the boon of living dangerously.” It must provide some values that suffice for one to sacrifice one’s life. Having said this much, the erstwhile nationalist philosophy is in the present world already old. So what could it be?
First Published in September of the Thirty-Ninth Year of the Shōwa Era (1964)
1 天下泰平 Tenka Taihei. This is an old term that originally referred to the peace brought to all Japan by the three founders of the Tokugawa regime, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
2 This is an allusion to the Surrender Rescript, where the Shōwa Emperor states that the Japanese people would have to “bear the unbearable and endure the unendurable” in order to bring about a peace “for all ages.”
3 変質 henshitsu. Can also mean to deteriorate, transmutate, or degenerate. I have chosen a neutral translation in order to leave as much latitude as possible for the reader to decide for himself what Mishima means.
4 戦中派 senchūha.
5 Arnold J. Toynbee’s 1959 Hellenism: The History of a Civilization.
6 Taken from 217-218 of the original text, which can be found here. Italics are Mishima’s.
7 安保闘争 Anpo Tōsō. The term refers to two separate protest movements against revisions to the United-States Japan Security Treaty. In this case, Mishima refers to the first movement, which took place in 1959-60.
8 焔 honoo. Lit. flames.
9 気味がわるい Kimi ga warui. Could also mean that he gets a creepy or revolting feeling.
10 暗く kuraku. Lit. darkly.
11 Taken from Freud.
12 民度の高い Mindo no takai. Refers also to the level of culture of a people.