Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Modernism and its Aftermath
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

March 28, 2019
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the Cold War, but in the history of ideas, 1989 was a year that also signaled a shift away from Marxist modernism, which embodied a progressive view of history, to post-modernism, which was symbolized by the growing diversity and relativity of values.

To be sure, the ideological transformation did not happen overnight, and it is not as if 1989 was a watershed year. The progressive view of history, as epitomized by Marxism, was already clearly in decline since the 1970s.

Progressivism is the idea that history progresses and develops from the primitive stage towards modernity, giving rise to something closer to the truth in the process. This linear view of history was replaced by the post-modernist theory of structuralism, proposed by the late Claude Lévi-Strauss, a French anthropologist and ethnologist.

Based on his study of undeveloped regions of Brazil, Lévi-Strauss formed a comprehensive theory in which he argued that societies differed only in their structures, that there was a rich world of spirituality and reason in primitive communities, and that Western society was not the only center of civilization. Structuralism laid the ideological groundwork for ending the Cold War, which became apparent in 1989 as a turning point in political and social systems.

Today, we live in a world where modernism exists together with post-modernism in a state of struggle. There are developed countries steeped in post-modernism, such as the United States, Europe and Japan, while China remains in the midst of modernism by embracing Marxism as its ideological foundation. And in the middle are countries making their transition to post-modernism.

In the developed countries, advances in the proliferation, relativization and segmentation of values has fomented a nihilistic social mood. This is shaking up the moderate middle class, especially in the United States and Europe, which are further ahead in the stage of post-modernism, and have provided momentum to extremist groups both on the right and the left. The former camp is inciting ethnic nationalism, while the latter camp insists on reevaluating the merits of Marxism. To me, it seems as though there is a certain nostalgia for modernism on either side.

China’s ability to defend its bastion of modernism is due in large part to the Internet and AI. It has set up a nationwide surveillance network while seeking to unite its people by appealing to their nationalistic sentiment through calls for a grand resurgence of the Chinese people. China has also benefited from the confusion in the post-modernist world. Even so, the waves of diverse and relative values are lapping at its feet.

South Korea is an example of a neighboring country where the two ideological tides are colliding with violent force. The insistence on a historical perspective of drawing a clear line between the aggressor and victim, and the sense of sympathy for North Korea’s anti-U.S. stance of self-determination are both founded on modernist thinking. Meanwhile, rapid advances in its wired society are accelerating the division and subdivision of values, and the government is being pushed around by wild swings in public opinion.

There are still no signs of a “post-” post-modernist ideology. Yet, one thing is certain: there can be no return to modernism. Let us keep our eyes firmly on the proliferation, relativization and segmentation of values that characterize our times, and look forward to the emergence of a new way of thinking.

Megumi Nishikawa is Contributing Editor for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2019年 3月 28日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟