Three Letters to Kaneko Kentaro (1892)

by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

[Online editor’s note: These three letters (the second apparently incomplete) appear in David Duncan’s
Life and Letters of Herbert Spencer (London: Methuen, 1908). For discussion see this link. – RTL]

PEWSEY, 21 August, 1892.
LKK.I.1 Probably you remember I told you that when Mr. Mori [Online editor’s note: Mori Arinori (1847-1889). – RTL], the then Japanese Ambassador, submitted to me his draft for a Japanese Constitution, I gave him very conservative advice, contending that it was impossible that the Japanese, hitherto accustomed to despotic rule, should, all at once, become capable of constitutional government.
LKK.I.2 My advice was not, I fear, duly regarded, and so far as I gather from the recent reports of Japanese affairs, you are experiencing the evils arising from too large an instalment of freedom.

LKK.II.1 23 August. – Since writing to you on Sunday it has recurred to me, in pursuance of my remarks about Japanese affairs and the miscarriage of your constitution, to make a suggestion giving in a definite form such a conservative policy as I thought should be taken.
LKK.II.2 My advice to Mr. Mori was that the proposed new institutions should be as much as possible grafted upon the existing institutions, so as to prevent breaking the continuity – that there should not be a replacing of old forms by new, but a modification of old forms to a gradually increasing extent. I did not at the time go into the matter so far as to suggest in what way this might be done, but it now occurs to me that there is a very feasible way of doing it.
LKK.II.3 You have, I believe, in Japan still surviving the ancient system of family organization. ... Under this family or patriarchal organization it habitually happens that there exists in each group an eldest male ascendant, who is the ruling authority of the group – an authority who has in many cases a despotic power to which all descendants of the first and second generations unhesitatingly submit. This organization should be made use of in your new political form. These patriarchs or heads of groups should be made the sole electors of members of your representative body. ... Several beneficial results would arise. In the first place, your electorate would be greatly reduced in number, and therefore more manageable. In the second place, the various extreme opinions held by the members of each group would be to a considerable extent mutually cancelled and made more moderate by having to find expression through the patriarch who would in a certain measure be influenced by the opinions of his descendants. And then, in the third place, and chiefly, these patriarchal electors, being all aged men, would have more conservative leanings than the younger members of their groups – would not be in favour of rash changes.
LKK.II.4 In pursuance of the principle for which I have contended, that free institutions, to which the Japanese have been utterly unaccustomed, are certain not to work well, and that there must be a gradual adaptation to them, I suggest that, for three or four generations, the assembly formed of representative men elected by these patriarchal heads of groups should be limited in their functions to making statements of grievances, or of evils or what they think evils, which they wish to have remedied – not having any authority either to take measures for remedying them, or authority even for suggesting measures, but having the function simply of saying what they regard as grievances. This would be a function completely on the lines of the function of our own representative body in its earliest stages. ...
LKK.II.5 After three or four generations during which this representative assembly was powerless to do more than state what they thought were grievances, there might come three or four other generations in which they should have the further power of suggesting remedies – not the power of passing remedial laws, such as is possessed by developed representative bodies, but the power of considering in what way they thought the evils might be met, and then sending up their suggestions to the House of Peers and the Emperor.
LKK.II.6 And then, after this had been for generations the function of the representative body, there might eventually be given to it a full power of legislation, co-ordinate with that of the other two legislative authorities. Such an organization would make possible the long-continued discipline which is needful for use of political power, at the same time that it would at once do away with the possibilities of these quarrels from which you are now suffering.

26 August, 1892.
LKK.III.1 Your proposal to send translations of my two letters to Count Ito [Online editor’s note: Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909) and Kaneko Kentaro (1853 – 1942) were two of the principal authors of the 1889 Meiji Constitution, which they were said to have drafted under the influence of a “careful study” of Spencer’s writings. – RTL], the newly-appointed Prime Minister, is quite satisfactory. I very willingly give my assent.
LKK.III.2 Respecting the further questions you ask, let me, in the first place, answer generally that the Japanese policy should, I think, be that of keeping Americans and Europeans as much as possible at arm’s length. In presence of the more powerful races your position is one of chronic danger, and you should take every precaution to give as little foothold as possible to foreigners.
LKK.III.3 It seems to me that the only forms of intercourse which you may with advantage permit are those which are indispensable for the exchange of commodities and exchange of ideas – importation and exportation of physical and mental products. No further privileges should be allowed to people of other races, and especially to people of the more powerful races, than is absolutely needful for the achievement of these ends. Apparently you are proposing by revision of the treaty powers with Europe and America “to open the whole Empire to foreigners and foreign capital.” I regard this as a fatal policy. If you wish to see what is likely to happen, study the history of India. Once let one of the more powerful races gain a point d’appui [Online editor’s note: a base or secure location; a foothold. – RTL] and there will inevitably in course of time grow up an aggressive policy which will lead to collisions with the Japanese; these collisions will be represented as attacks by the Japanese which must be avenged; forces will be sent from America or Europe, as the case may be; a portion of territory will be seized and required to be made over as a foreign settlement; and from this there will grow eventually subjugation of the entire Japanese Empire. I believe that you will have great difficulty in avoiding this fate in any case, but you will make the process easy if you allow any privileges to foreigners beyond those which I have indicated.
LKK.III.4 In pursuance of the advice thus generally indicated, I should say, in answer to your first question, that there should be, not only a prohibition to foreign persons to hold property in land, but also a refusal to give them leases, and a permission only to reside as annual tenants.
LKK.III.5 To the second question I should say decidedly, prohibit to foreigners the working of the mines owned or worked by Government. Here there would obviously be liable to arise grounds of difference between the Europeans or Americans who worked them and the Government, and these grounds of difference would immediately become grounds of quarrel, and would be followed by invocations to the English or American Governments or other Powers to send forces to insist on whatever the European workers claimed, for always the habit here and elsewhere among the civilized peoples is to believe what their agents or settlers abroad represent to them.
LKK.III.6 In the third place, in pursuance of the policy I have indicated, you ought also to keep the coasting trade in your own hands and forbid foreigners to engage in it. This coasting trade is clearly not included in the requirement I have indicated as the sole one to be recognized – a requirement to facilitate exportation and importation of commodities. The distribution of commodities brought to Japan from other places may be properly left to the Japanese themselves, and should be denied to foreigners, for the reason that again the various transactions involved would become so many doors open to quarrels and resulting aggressions.
LKK.III.7 To your remaining question, respecting the inter-marriage of foreigners and Japanese, which you say is “now very much agitated among our scholars and politicians,” and which you say is “one of the most difficult problems,” my reply is that, as rationally answered, there is no difficulty at all. It should be positively forbidden. It is not at root a question of social philosophy. It is at root a question of biology. There is abundant proof, alike furnished by the inter-marriages of human races and by the inter-breeding of animals, that when the varieties mingled diverge beyond a certain slight degree the result is invariably a bad one in the long run. I have myself been in the habit of looking at the evidence bearing on this matter for many years past, and my conviction is based upon numerous facts derived from numerous sources. This conviction I have within the last half hour verified, for I happen to be staying in the country with a gentleman who is well-known as an authority on horses, cattle and sheep, and knows much respecting their inter-breeding; and he has just, on inquiry, fully confirmed my belief that when, say of different varieties of sheep, there is an inter-breeding of those which are widely unlike, the result, especially in the second generation, is a bad one – there arises an incalculable mixture of traits, and what may be called a chaotic constitution. And the same thing happens among human beings – the Eurasians in India, and the half-breeds in America, show this. The physiological basis of this experience appears to be that any one variety of creature in course of so many generations acquires a certain constitutional adaptation to its particular form of life, and every other variety similarly acquires its own special adaptation. The consequence is that, if you mix the constitutions of two widely divergent varieties which have severally become adapted to widely divergent modes of life, you get a constitution which is adapted to the mode of life of neither – a constitution which will not work properly, because it is not fitted for any set of conditions whatever. By all means, therefore, peremptorily interdict marriages of Japanese with foreigners.
LKK.III.8 I have for the reasons indicated entirely approved of the regulations which have been established in America for restraining the Chinese immigration, and had I the power would restrict them to the smallest possible amount, my reasons for this decision being that one of two things must happen. If the Chinese are allowed to settle extensively in America, they must either, if they remain unmixed, form a subject race in the position, if not of slaves, yet of a class approaching to slaves; or if they mix they must form a bad hybrid. In either case, supposing the immigration to be large, immense social mischief must arise, and eventually social disorganization. The same thing will happen if there should be any considerable mixture of the European or American races with the Japanese.
LKK.III.9 You see, therefore, that my advice is strongly conservative in all directions, and I end by saying as I began – keep other races at arm’s length as much as possible.
LKK.III.10 I give this advice in confidence. I wish that it should not transpire publicly, at any rate during my lifetime, for I do not desire to rouse the animosity of my fellow-countrymen.
LKK.III.11 P.S. – Of course, when I say I wish this advice to be in confidence, I do not interdict the communication of it to Count Ito, but rather wish that he should have the opportunity of taking it into consideration.

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