Repositioning the Present into History: Jean Paul Satre and the Japanese Occupation of China
by Sean McBride, System z Client Architect at IBM on Jul 05, 2013
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According to Jean Paul Satre, collaborators in conquered states practice the intellectual gymnastics of “historicism” in order to justify their decision to work with their conquerors. They accept ...
According to Jean Paul Satre, collaborators in conquered states practice the intellectual gymnastics of “historicism” in order to justify their decision to work with their conquerors. They accept their conquest as a fait accompli, and equate their submission to their conqueror with a moral decision based on a “vague belief in progress.” Seen through the lens of the Hegelian dialectic, Satre’s argument suggests that collaborators view their collaborationist regime as a synthesis of the prewar regime and the foreign conquerors. Their logic goes as follows: history is fundamentally progressive, and the defeat of the nation is the latest chapter of history; ergo, the defeat of the nation serves a progressive aim. Such a view allows the collaborators to define themselves as “progressives” and their resistors as obstructionists or terrorists, allowing the end of historical progress to justify the means of harsh and violent repression. The collaborators therefore assume the direction and end state of progress and define their decision to collaborate as part of a necessary chain of events leading to that end state. By connecting their decisions to with an imagined continuity of progress, Satre views collaborators as guilty of “historicism” or burying the short- and medium-term consequences of their actions under the presumed long-term promise of progress by redefining present actions as future history.
While Satre’s assessment forms an especially poignant intellectual criticism of the decisions of select French figures, such as Maréchal Pétain, Pierre Lava, and Robert Brasillach, to collaborate with the German occupiers, this paper seeks to utilize Satre’s theoretical framework to examine the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and China. Due to the differences in the Japanese occupation of these two regions, this paper will deal these two distinct experiences of collaboration separately. Did these collaborators perform Satre’s intellectual gymnastics of historicism like their French counterparts? Did they consider their decision a moral one? Did they justify their actions according to a progressive view of history? Did they imagine their present collaboration as a future past?
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