Lessons from Saigo, man of the people, amid travesty of democracy in USA (Part I)

As we Americans witness the travesty of democracy this week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love,” I am reminded of the philosophy of a great man of the people in nineteenth century Japan.

Saigo Takamori

As I wrote in Samurai Revolution, Saigo Takamori, one of the great leaders in Japanese history, practiced a religious philosophy informed by his cherished maxim: “revere Heaven, love mankind,” which represents a Confucian ethic that dictates the relationship between the people, the government, and the Emperor—in a universe ruled by Heaven. . . . Heavy is the responsibility of the officials who oversee the everyday affairs of the [government]. Since they directly control the fate of the people, one blunder by just one official can mean catastrophe for a great number. As a leader of the people, a government official must win the hearts and minds of the people. To do so, he must put aside self-interest for the benefit of the people, who have no choice but to obey him. If he shows any sign of selfishness, he will incur the enmity of the people and no longer be able to lead them. Since his only function is to benefit the people, based on the “will of Heaven,” the people’s suffering must be his suffering, and the people’s pleasure must be his pleasure. . . . Saigo, who hailed from a poor lower-samurai family, had served as a clerk in the tax collector’s office. He knew first-hand of the hardships of the people.

I think that this samurai born and bred in feudal Japan had a better sense of “the people” than the so-called Democrats who, in cahoots with the Democratic National Committee, just nominated a blatantly corrupt candidate for president of the United States.

Read more about Saigo Takamori in my book Samurai Revolution.



Katsu Kaishu on Perseverance and “Ki”

Kaishu old man copy

Katsu Kaishu, “the shogun’s last samurai,” was a great statesman, an accomplished swordsman, and a national hero for his all-important role in averting civil war in the spring of 1868, soon after the fall of the shogun’s government. And he was also a philosopher, which is apparent in the collection of interviews he gave during the 1890s, the last decade of his life. The following, which I translated from the Japanese, is one of my favorites:

“Perseverance is the foundation of everything. It’s strange that while people nowadays make a big deal about [nourishing their bodies], they don’t know how to persevere.… Since human beings are living things, the most important thing [for a human being] is to nourish ki.* As long as a person’s ki is not starved, it doesn’t matter what he eats.”

* Ki (気): May be translated here as “vital energy.”

In Hikawa Seiwa (Katsu Kaishu Zenshu 21) Tokyo: Kodansha, 1973 (pp. 182-183), from a December 6, 1895 interview with the newspaper Kokumin Shinbun.

Read more about Katsu Kaishu in my book Samurai Revolution, the only full-length biography of the great man in English.



No More “faith in truth”: A Sad Day In American History

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted,” Nietzsche quoted the “secretum” of “the invincible order of Assassins” of the “Orient” (On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, sec. 24, published 1887; trans. Walter Kaufmann), with the caveat that under such circumstances there could no longer be “faith in truth.” Well, “faith in truth” in our government is out the window for We the People of the United States of America, on this first day after the 240th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Because it was on this day that FBI director James Comey had the audacity, the hubris, to announce that he would not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton despite “extreme carelessness” in her use of private email while secretary of state, even after making clear that her actions were indeed worthy of indictment. One set of laws for the likes of Clinton, another for the other “99 percent.” A very sad day in American history.