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HISTORICKÁ SOCIOLOGIE, Vol 13 No 2 (2021), 47–66

A Perspective for Japan: Fukuzawa Yukichi’s “Theory of Civilization”, 1875

Wolfgang Seifert

DOI: https://doi.org/10.14712/23363525.2021.17
announced: 29. 11. 2021


This paper discusses the thought of Fukuzawa Yukichi, probably the most influential Japanese intellectual of the late nineteenth century, with particular reference to his attempt to develop a theory of civilization. For him, the civilizational approach was a framework for reflection on Japan’s situation in the world after the great changes of the 1850s and 1860s. He saw the preservation of national independence and the reform of Japanese society as primary goals, but they necessitated extensive learning from the experience and achievements of more advanced societies, especially those of Western Europe and the United States. However, he did not advocate a purely imitative Westernization. Japan’s distinctive identity and autonomous international stance were to be maintained. To clarify the reasons for transforming Japan in light of Western models without capitulating to them, he outlined an evolutionary conception of social change, understood in terms of an advance towards civilization. That kind of progress was not only a matter of technical and organizational development; it also involved the mobilization of whole peoples. On this basis, Fukuzawa articulated a more democratic vision of Japan’s future than the road subsequently taken by the Meiji government.

keywords: Fukuzawa Yukichi; Japan; civilization; nationalism; Meiji renovation; Westernization

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