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date: 23 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter aims to investigate the acceptance of “rights” in nineteenth-century Japan by examining divergent interpretations of political concepts between the West, especially Europe, and East Asia. After the arrival of US warships in 1853, facing the imminent threat of Western power, Japanese scholars and statesmen raised fundamental normative issues concerning the legal and moral concepts shaping the Western world—essentially posing the question, “What is Western civilization?” They grappled both theoretically and practically with Western political thought, employing the vocabulary and concepts provided by their own East Asian legal, moral, and political traditions, such as Confucianism, in a variety of ways. Given the differences between Western and Asian legal traditions, especially, the idea of “rights” was one of the hardest to accept. This chapter examines how some key Japanese intellectuals and politicians, including Nishi Amane, Nakae Chomin, and Fukuzawa Yukichi, confronted the complex plurality of rights in jurisprudence and discourse of European thinkers such as Simon Vissering, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Stuart Mill and how they used it to reconsider specifically the legal culture of East Asia. In the course of this intellectual struggle with an alien culture, these Japanese thinkers sought to liberate European political theory from a closed historical identity and imbue it with new meaning in a new context. This is a history of comparative political theory concerned with the cross-cultural phenomenon of the nineteenth-century encounter of non-Western intellectuals with the ideal and the reality of “the West.”

Keywords: rights, legal culture, East Asia, jurisprudence, Confucianism, Fukuzawa Yukichi, Nishi Amane, Nakae Chomin

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