When people talk about the alt-right, and what its proponents want to see their society become, they frequently fall back on descriptions of the fascistic societies of 1930s Europe. Critics argue that a society governed on alt-right principles would be a dystopian hell of the kind that the free world rightly expended its full effort to destroy.
Yet, that critical view is blinkered, because there is already a successful state operating on principles that mirror the tenets of the alt-right: Japan.
In this article I will lay out five ways in which Japan is already living the alt-right dream, as well as outline why this matters to libertarianism and why people should be worried about it.
- It’s an ethno-state, and proud of it
The alt-right is not a monolith, obviously. But major currents within it certainly harken back to a racially charged rhetoric and philosophy once popular amongst avowed white supremacists. The language has been sanitized, but the sentiments are largely the same. Jared Taylor, who has been described as “the intellectual godfather” of the alt-right, is an avowed race-realist. Race-realism is the latest rebranding of white nationalism and couches itself in a pseudo-scientific language, drawing at times on statistics (some genuine, some debunked) about disparities in intelligence tests between races, to build a case for racial separation and the creation of a white ethno-state. Taylor and his views are no fringe in the movement; he has moved in the same circles as alt-right darlings Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes. The desire for a white ethno-state unquestionably runs deep in the alt-right’s “intellectual” circles.
While those views have long been considered outlandish and taboo in the American mainstream (and continue to be so for the most part in spite of the tech-savvy alt-right rebrand), they are long-established policy in Japan. Japanese nationality and identity is deeply bound up in ethnicity. It is excruciatingly difficult to immigrate to Japan, and few who do are ever allowed to become full citizens. While laws promise non-discrimination to immigrants, policies severely restrict entry, and business and social practice all hold with a sense of deep ethno-centrism.
These policies and informal practices have managed to keep Japan more than 98 percent ethnically Japanese. And despite massive demographic pressures, thanks to an ageing population, there is still profound social opposition to immigrants. On this metric, then, the alt-right will have to note both pluses and minuses. They can show that a functioning ethno-state can exist and be accepted by the community of nations as an exemplary member of the international community. But they also have to acknowledge the growing pressure on the population from low birth rates. With many European countries also failing to meet their demographic replacement rates, they will come under the same pressures. So far, the Japanese have failed to find an answer that excludes significant immigration. If they come up with one, the alt-right will no doubt snag it quickly.
- It enforces social traditions and traditional gender roles
The alt-right rose to prominence in part by riding a wave of resentment toward an ever bolder and more strident feminist movement. Tribunes of the alt-right like Milo Yiannopoulos have made their names debating and challenging the perceived militancy of feminists, particularly on college campuses and in academia. Misogyny of various stripes finds regular expression in alt-right circles, as well as somewhat more measured opinions of dissent. A common refrain is that things like the wage gap and rape culture are myths (the extent or existence of either of these is beyond the scope of this article – suffice to say there is distinct disagreement about the nature of these things between the alt-right and the broader society at large).
The alt-right manifests frequently as a reactionary movement: It hearkens back to a prior time when social values were different. A major facet of the alt-right’s philosophy is that women and men were both happier when labor and social duties were divided along more traditional lines, namely men working and providing and women keeping the household and rearing children.
That sentiment echoes deeply in Japanese culture. Politicians and activists in America lament that only 19 percent of corporate board seats and seats in Congress are held by women. Meanwhile, in Japan those figures are 3 percent and 9.5 percent respectively.
The structure of Japan’s labor market works to effectively exclude women permanently if they leave to start a family. There are still deeply ingrained social expectations that women maintain the home. And on top of that, the traditional family hierarchy is still firmly entrenched, with the men firmly ensconced as paterfamilias. Sounds like an alt-right dream come true.
- It is a virtual police-state when it comes to issues of law and order
The alt-right has played home to a mixed bag of views when it comes to issues of law and order, with some tacking toward a quasi-libertarian line that decries surveillance and police militarization, and others who wholeheartedly welcome the warm embrace of the police state. As of late, the latter view seems to have won out, particularly when it comes to police on the streets.
This has especially been the case over the past year as Donald Trump has risen to become a beacon of right-wing discontent and veritable spiritual liege to the alt-right movement. From Breitbart to American Renaissance to YouTube, most alt-right circles have rallied around his flag, and his uncompromising views on law and order. Not only is he dedicated to mass deportation, he has also repeatedly supported stop-and-frisk policies in inner cities. As these policies tend to target racial minorities for whom the alt-right has shown a high degree of disdain, their support for such marquee policies are unsurprising.
The alt-right cozying up to an old school law and order candidate is hardly surprising, given their rhetorical and philosophical attachment to a better, more wholesome time when people knew their place (especially women and minorities) and stepping out of line had sharp consequences.
That attitude would fit right in in Japan, where the law behaves very differently than in the West (and particularly the English-speaking world’s common law tradition). Japan has a criminal conviction rate of 99 percent, in large part the product of cooperation between prosecutors, judges, and the criminal justice bureaucracy. As with any paternalist system, the perception is frequently that if you are on trial, you must be guilty of something.
- It has a corporatist-paternalist economic and political structure
The Japanese economy is dominated by massive corporations with deep ties to the state. And most corporations inculcate intense loyalty in their employees through ritual and privilege. The economic system overall is extremely corporatist, with the government and company leaders forming a ruling elite that shares a common background, philosophy, and interests (even though they do not switch between public and private sectors like they do in the United States). The government supports big conglomerates, and expects them in turn to participate in its macroeconomic policies. For example, corporations are largely expected to be hungry customers for government bonds (which tend to be in massive supply in deeply indebted Japan).
The structure of government and politics reinforce this behavior as well. Japan is a virtual one-party state, with the Liberal-Democratic Party enjoying an almost unassailable hold on power, one that has been shaken only occasionally since the end of the Second World War, and then only briefly. This stability of single-party dominance allows for the clientelism of the corporatist state to flourish even in the midst of institutional democracy.
Together, Japan’s public and private sectors have conspired to form a corporatist system that is hostile to competition and extremely protectionist across a range of industries. An alt-right state, were one to exist, would no doubt strive to model itself on the public-private economic structure of Japan. The alt-right represents a rejection of the trend toward globalized trade that marks the liberal world order. Japan has managed to maintain its peculiar protected economy, while also participating in that broader order. They could teach would-be alt right rulers a lot.
- It has an actual god-emperor
Okay, this one’s mostly for fun.
A popular meme online portrays Trump in the guise of savior, or even god-emperor. While obviously mostly tongue-in-cheek, it does belie a fascination with The Donald’s persona, and his cult of personality undoubtedly drives much of his personal popularity. Fascist and corporatist societies have long relied on such strong personalities to maintain their cohesion.
Japan has produced an interesting spin on this thinking. It has a government of mostly anonymous functionaries who share power. But it also has a very real god-emperor. While the Emperor technically renounced his divinity at the end of the Second World War, there is still widely held sentiment that the imperial family is at least semi-divine. At the very least, they represent a spiritual essence of the nation in a way no European monarch could hope to match.
Why this matters
From gender roles, to ethno-centrism, to corporatist economics, Japan fits the alt-right mold to a t. Yet despite that closeness of philosophy, the alt-right doesn’t talk about countries outside the Western tradition. This is no doubt driven by a broad belief in the superiority, or at least preferability, of the Western canon, amongst alt-right activists.
Yet, even Jared Taylor has sought to use the example of Asian-Americans’ out-performance of white students in tests and other metrics of intelligence as an example of differentiation. It is actually a rhetorically powerful argument because it allows him to strengthen the notion that he is simply expressing the opinion that different racial groups are better off apart, and not that white people are truly supreme. This, after all, is the very rationale the Japanese use to defend their race-based policies. They are out to preserve their ethnic identity (one might even say purity), not subjugate or judge any other race qua race.
It is a sort of twisted logic, but one that can give the all-important veneer of impartiality and fairness. If alt-right activists were to take the same attitude toward the organization of societies, they might look to Japan’s example as something worth aspiring towards, if through the lens of an Occidental tradition they claim to fight for.
This matters to libertarians because, once alt-righters begin to coherently show that their principles can be enacted in a stable and prosperous society, they will have succeeded in instantiating their case in a way libertarians have not. There are no libertarian states. In the battle for supporters outside the mainstream of the political discourse, libertarians have traditionally had a solid following, especially from young people. Alt-right thinking has already permeated that arena, and having a strong real-world foundation will only legitimize it further.
The Japanese case matters to the public at large because as soon as an ideology can demonstrate that it will not destroy the world, it automatically gains a veneer of legitimacy. Take the example of democratic-socialist politics in the United Kingdom. From the end of the 19th century, the mainstream Conservative and Liberal parties managed to keep the socialist Labour party isolated through fear of the unknown: People were scared of what allowing a cadre of untested politicians with promises of radical transformation would do to the country. Yet, once they broke through in the aftermath of the First World War, its platform was mainstreamed overnight.
When a political movement is exposed to actual power, it is instantly cloaked in the esteem and authority of the institutions it now controls. That is what could happen if alt-righters were to make an electoral or public policy breakthrough.
That is a frightening prospect. While some are just socially conservative and corporatist, far too many are in the race-realist/actual racist camp. Letting them wield power would not be like Nazi Germany. But it could be like Japan: socially stifling, regressive toward minorities and women, and dedicated to protectionist economic policies that slow growth and create rampant inefficiency in commerce and governance. That is not a future that libertarians, or anyone with an appreciation of individual liberty, should anticipate with happiness.
This post was written by John Engle.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.