Katō Hiroyuki (加藤弘之,Katō Hiroyuki August 5, 1836 – February 9, 1916) was an educator, political theorist, statesman, and leader of the Meiji Enlightenment in Meiji period Japan. In 1854, at a time when Japan was still isolated from the rest of the world, Kato studied rangaku (Western studies) under Oki Nakamasu in Edo, and in 1865, became one of the first Japanese to seek an education abroad, at the University of London. He was also one of the first Japanese to study the German language and German philosophy. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, he worked for the new government in various capacities including gaimu daijo (officer of the Foreign Ministry). Kato Hiroyuki was influential in introducing Western ideas into nineteenth-century Japan, and played an important role in the formation of Meiji Japan's administrative policies.
During his youth, Kato was a liberal advocate of constitutional government, the democratic right to vote, and human rights. In the 1880s, when the movement for a parliamentary democracy in Japan became a reality, he moved from a theory of natural rights to social Darwinism, arguing that Japan was not ready for a national assembly, and that Prussia was proof that a democracy was not essential to national strength. He believed that morality and human rights were not universally present nor inalienable, but that they evolved over time as a jutsu (device) for controlling the destruction that might rise from an unbridled competition for survival. Kato won international recognition for the 1893 German publication of his Der Kampf ums Recht des Stärkeren und seine Entwickelung (1893; “War, Right of the Strongest, and Evolution”).
Katō Hiroyuki was born August 5, 1836 to a samurai family in Izushi domain, Tajima Province (present day Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. He studied military science under Sakuma Shozan in 1852, and in 1854, at a time when Japan was still isolated from the rest of the world, rangaku (Western studies) under Oki Nakamasu in Edo. As an instructor at the Tokugawa bakufu]]'s Bansho Shirabesho institute for researching western science and technology from 1860-1868, he was one of the first Japanese to study German language and German philosophy.
During the late 1850s and early 1860s, Kato worked in the government office for the study of foreign books. In 1861, Kato published a book, “Tonarigusa,” which introduced the theory of Western constitutionalism. In 1864, Kato became a leader of the Tokugawa shogunate, and was appointed as the professor of the Kaisei-gakko (later Tokyo Imperial University); his department was made into a school for the study of Western learning, and Kato became a professor of foreign affairs. In 1865, Kato became one of the first Japanese to go abroad for education when he went to study at the University of London.
He returned to Japan after the 1868 Meiji Restoration dissolved the feudal regime of the Japanese shogunate, and in 1870 became a private tutor to the emperor. He was appointed to many government posts in education and foreign affairs, including investigator of parliamentary and educational systems, and deputy minister to the United States. During this period, he wrote numerous discourses recommending Japanese adoption of western forms of government, especially of constitutional monarchy, with a national assembly based on representative democracy. His works Shinsei taii (1870; “General Theory of True Government Policy”) and Kokutai shinron (1874; “New Theory of the National Structure”), introduced European theories of government, democracy, and human rights to the Japanese public.
He joined the Rikken Seiyukai political party, and was also a founding member of the Meirokusha (明六社, “Sixth Year of Meiji Society”), an intellectual society organized by Mori Arinori in 1874, one of the most influential proponents of Westernization in Meiji Japan, to “promote civilization and enlightenment,” and to introduce Western ethics and the Western culture to Japan. The membership of the Meirokusha included some of the leading educators, bureaucrats, and philosophers of nineteenth-century Japan, who came from a variety of backgrounds. Most had studied both Confucianism and western philosophy, and most had experience in living abroad. The Confucian faction felt that the strength and prosperity of the Western nations was built on a foundation of moral strength, and urged that Japan follow the same path. The Western philosophy faction asserted that the strength and prosperity of the Western nations was due to logic and rationally organized and operated organizations and institutions. The pragmatist faction held that Japan had its own unique and special strengths that needed to be incorporated into both Western values and Western systems of government. Although the Meirokusha continued to function up to around 1900, the society's influence sharply declined after it was forced to cease publishing its journal following the introduction of the Press Ordinance and the Libel Law in 1875.
From 1877 to 1886, Kato served as superintendent of the Departments of Law, Science, and Literature of Tokyo Imperial University, and as its first president from 1890 to 1893. From 1905 to 1909, he was head of the Imperial Academy, and was also a special advisor to the Imperial Household Agency. He was appointed a member of the House of Peers in 1890, and was ennobled with the title of danshaku (baron) under the kazoku peerage system in 1900. In 1906, he was made a member of the Privy Council, and was able to exert considerable influence on state policy.
Kato Hiroyuki’s philosophical and political theories were sometimes inconsistent, and underwent significant changes during his career, reflecting the evolution of the new Meiji government. During his youth, Kato was a liberal advocate of constitutional government and the democratic right to vote. “Tonarigusa” (1861) introduced the theory of Western constitutionalism; Shinsei taii (1870; “General Theory of True Government Policy”) and Kokutai shinron (1874; “New Theory of the National Structure”), introduced European theories of government, democracy, and human rights. As Kato became more prominent in the Meiji oligarchy, these ideas became an embarrassment. In the 1880’s, when the movement for a parliamentary democracy in Japan became a reality, he moved from a theory of natural rights to social Darwinism, arguing that Japan was not ready for a national assembly.
In 1882, "Jinken Shinsetsu" (1882, “A New Theory of Human Rights”), he justified the political structure of the Meiji regime, and declared that Prussia was proof that democracy was not an essential condition for national strength. He served on the Genroin, (Council of Elder Statesmen), where he strongly supported a more authoritarian version of government against the views propounded by the Freedom and People's Rights Movement. The Meiji constitution of 1889 was based on the Prussian, not the British or French, model. It presented human rights as a privilege granted by the state, not an inalienable right, similar to the views expressed by Kato in Jinken shinsetsu.
Philosophically, Kato began as a Confucianist and was later influenced by Western ideas. A strong believer in social Darwinism, he drew parallels between a democratic government and the natural order. His ethical system emphasized egoism. He was confident that science could be used to investigate all aspects of existence. Kato declared that liberals believed that human rights were endowed through creation, by a divinity or by providence, but that scientific examination revealed that such ideas were merely superstition and not in agreement with the laws of nature. Scientifically, human beings had no more rights than any other natural being. He argued that evolution governed the law of nature, and that so-called “human rights” were established through the exercise of power by the strongest over the weakest. Human rights and morality were not universally present, but resulted from this exercise of power. Human rights had evolved over time as a jutsu (device) for controlling the destruction that might rise from an unbridled competition for survival.
Kato won international recognition for the 1893 German publication of his Der Kampf ums Recht des Stärkeren und seine Entwickelung (1893; “War, Right of the Strongest, and Evolution”).
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