Failed Democratization in Prewar Japan
Breakdown of a Hybrid Regime
Harukata Takenaka


Failed Democratization in Prewar Japan: Breakdown of a Hybrid Regime

Author(s): Harukata Takenaka

How and why does a semi-democratic regime—one that developed as a result of significant degree of democratization—collapse without experiencing further democratization? This book answers these questions through a case study of the collapse of the semi-democratic regime in prewar Japan. Japan's gradual democratization after the Meiji Restoration in 1867 led to the rise of the semi-democratic regime in 1918. It was characterized by the rule of party government and electoral participation by a significant portion of the population. Confronted with a series of threats from the military, it collapsed in 1932 after the May Fifteenth Incident. This book explains the collapse of this regime as a result of shift in the balance of power between the party government and the military. It focuses on Meiji Constitution's institutional constraints as well as legitimacy and the semi-loyalty of political parties and their memebers as factors that affected the relationship/ Although the Meiji Constitution placed the party government in a weak position institutionally with respect to the military, the high legitimacy that it claimed initially enabled it to sustain the regime from the outset. Gradually, however, its legitimacy eroded and political parties became semi-loyal to the regime, tolerating or encouraging the military's challenge against to it. This led to the collapse of the semi-democratic regime.


Chapter abstract:

The introduction presents the central question of the book: how and why does a semi-democratic regime collapse without experiencing further democratization? It defines the semi-democratic regime, a subtype of hybrid regimes. It then describes the book's two objectives in answering this question, which it attempts to achieve through a study of the literature on hybrid regimes as well as on prewar Japanese political development. The first is to widen our knowledge of the political dynamics of hybrid regimes. The second is to provide a comprehensive analysis of Japan's political development from the late 1910s to the early 1930s. Lastly, it refers to three comparable cases of semi-democratic regimes: Great Britain in the latter half of 19th century, Brazil between 1945 and 1964, and Thailand between 1978 and 1997.

Analytical Foundations

Chapter abstract:

This chapter examines various approaches to analyzing the collapse of semi-democratic regimes. It first examines whether it is possible to apply existing theories of democratization and regime change to explain such a collapse. Then it discusses the problems of these approaches and proposes an alternate analytical framework, arguing that the collapse of the prewar Japanese regime can be seen as gradual change in the relationship between the party government and the military. In other words, it can be analyzed as a process, in which democratic forces, political parties and party politicians supporting the regime, and non-democratic forces, the military opposing the regime, compete. The balance of power gradually shifted from the party government to the military. This chapter shows that it is possible to explain this shift by focusing on three factors: political institutions, regime legitimacy, and semi-loyalty.

Defining the Regimes of Prewar Japan

Chapter abstract:

This chapter has two objectives. First, it demonstrates that the regime that existed in Japan from 1918 to 1932 can be defined as semi-democratic. It argues that three distinct regimes—a competitive oligarchical one, a semi-democratic one, and a military authoritarian one—existed between 1889 and 1945. The first spanned 1889 to 1918, the second from 1918 to 1932, and the third from 1935 to 1945. Second, to illustrate the special nature of prewar Japanese democratization and the semi-democratic regime in prewar Japan, it compares democratization in Britain and Japan. In doing so, it examines the implications of their differences might have on the study of democratization as a whole.

Political Institutions under the Meiji Constitution

Chapter abstract:

This chapter describes characteristics of the Meiji Constitution that affected the relationship between the party government and the military. The constitution put many constraints on the party government while giving many prerogatives to the military. The party government was institutionally weak under the constitution. It was difficult for it to maintain internal cohesiveness. Second, political power was shared by various political institutions such as the Lower House, the House of Peers, Ministers, and Privy Council and thus the party government could not consolidate its political power. On the other hand, the military could employ prerogatives granted by the constitution, such as autonomy of supreme command, to challenge the government.

The Semi-Democratic Regime, 1918-1926: Containment of the Military

Chapter abstract:

This chapter considers the relationship between the party government and the military from 1918 to 1926. It demonstrates that the party government did not face serious threats from the military; quite the contrary, it succeeded in containing it. The Hara cabinet achieved de facto subordination of supreme command of the military, party politicians continuously requested civilian ministers, and reduction of the army was implemented. The party government could take the upper hand against the military because the semi-democratic regime could claim a high level of legitimacy not only at an elite level, but also at the mass one.

The Semi-Democratic Regime, 1926-1929: The Rise of the Military and the Decline of Party Government

Chapter abstract:

This chapter demonstrates how the semi-democratic regime gradually weakened between 1926 and 1929 under the First Wakatsuki cabinet and the Tanaka cabinet. The shift in the balance of power was clearly demonstrated by the assassination of Chang Tso-lin and—in the face of opposition from the army—the party government's failure to penalize the officers associated with it. It examines how the assassination and the government's reaction to it turned the tide between the military and the party government. This chapter then explores why the balance of power shifted toward the military, with particular reference to the legitimacy and semi-loyalty of political actors. It also considers how developments in this period affected the final breakdown of the semi-democratic regime in 1932.

The Semi-Democratic Regime, 1929-1932: Crisis and Breakdown

Chapter abstract:

This chapter demonstrates that between 1929 and 1932, under the Hamaguchi, the Second Wakatsuki, and the Inukai cabinets, the balance of power between the military and the party government shifted so decisively that the military succeeded in removing the party government from power in 1932, bringing an end to the semi-democratic regime. This was demonstrated by a series of crises that took place during this period: the signing of the London Naval Treaty in 1930; the March and October Incidents in 1931; the Manchurian Incident in 1931; and the May Fifteenth Incident in 1932. This chapter demonstrates that the party government could not constrain the military from taking over political power for two reasons. First, the semi-democratic regime lost its legitimacy because the party government could not effectively deal with economic problems while it revealed various political ones. Second, some party politicians acted semi-loyally to the regime.


Chapter abstract:

This chapter first summarizes the book's arguments. It then considers their implications. First, it discusses the role of semi-loyalty. It emphasizes the importance of the semi-loyalty of party politicians in changing balance of power between the military and the party government. It also demonstrates that the institutional arrangement of the Meiji Constitution was a major factor that caused party politicians to behave semi-loyally. Second, it examines findings related to legitimacy. This book shows that legitimacy also plays a decisive role in determining the fate of semi-democratic regime. It further reaffirms previous arguments on the factor that contributes to erosion of legitimacy: that is, political factors must be combined with economic crisis to severely undermine it. Lastly, it underlines importance of time as a factor in strengthening regime legitimacy.