In 1935, Nishida Kitarō, modern Japan’s most important philosopher and, at the time, also a well-known public intellectual, was invited to a government committee for the reform of education. Nishida was not too enthusiastic about it. After economic crises, attempted coup d’états, and political assassinations, Japanese society had been in turmoil for some years. Tensions with the West were rising and, under pressure within from military and right-wing movements, the country was steering away from democracy. Marxism enthralled many students and intellectuals, while government- and right-wing ideologues, alarmed as much by the rampant consumerism in the cities as by international communism, were calling for a spiritual mobilization and unity under the emperor, who was considered a descendant of the Shintō gods. At this committee, Kihira Tadayoshi, who is now forgotten but at the time was a well-known philosopher and professor working for the Ministry of Education, circulated a proposal. Nishida was aghast at its contents, but did not dare to protest openly. These were dangerous times. But Nishida did complain in private, writing to his friend, the philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō:...
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