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"The Will Cannot be Represented"―On the Relationship between a Representative System and People's Passivity

Hiroko Naruko
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: History of Social Thought, History of Political Thought, and Gender Theory

In the general election held on October 31, 2021, the turnout remained low (55.93%) as usual, particularly among voters in their 20s and 30s. Furthermore, the ratio of female members of the Diet, which had been decreasing Japan's Gender Inequality Index, actually worsened (10.1% → 9.7%) rather than improved. Why does voter turnout fail to increase even though the message "Let's Go Vote" is conveyed in a variety of ways? On the other hand, on November 9, 2021, the writer and Tendai sect priest Jakucho Setouchi passed away at the age of 99. Jakucho lived a turbulent life full of both praise and censure. She sought to resolve social contradictions by coming to the side of the vulnerable and oppressed. Jakucho strongly advised young people to live a life full of love and revolution. Jakucho was dynamic, while Japanese youth is passive. Why did Jakucho behave with such vigor? Readers of this article may wonder why I suddenly changed the subject from the general election to Jakucho Setouchi. However, there is a surprising commonality between Jakucho and my research theme--Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 to 1778), a philosopher born in Geneva in the 18th century. What is the commonality between these two people who lived in different times and have different genders? I will answer this question later in this essay; for now, I would like to enter the main theme.

Representative systems create dictatorships

The theme of this essay is the relationship between the will and the representative system. In other words, I seek to identify the source of people's passiveness. At the core of Rousseau's political philosophy and theory are volonté (will) and volonté générale (general will). I regarded will as a kind of fixed point and used Rousseau's concept of general will as an analytical point of view in an attempt to perform four-point observation for determining how the will changed in France and Germany between the French Revolution and the Nazi Third Reich(1). The first fixed point was the will expressed by the Feast of the Supreme Being during the French Revolution (1794), the second was the will expressed in Fichte's Reden an die deutsche Nation (Speeches to the German nation) in French-occupied Berlin in the early 19th century (1807-08), the third was the will expressed in Renan's Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? (What is a nation?) in Sorbonne during the Third Republic, when Alsace-Lorraine was ceded to Germany (1882), and the fourth was the will expressed at the Nuremberg rallies of the Nazi Third Reich (1934). In my research, I hypothesized that "representative systems create dictatorships." Dictatorship is usually understood in connection with the malfunction of representative systems in mass society, and the acquisition of public consent and support by leaders by using direct democratic methods such as referendums to bypass parliament. This means that my hypothesis was at the other end of the spectrum from the general understanding that the problem is not the representative system, but the malfunction of the representative system.

Nazi Germany―Triumph of the will

In this essay, I will proceed in historical order and start with my fourth and final fixed-point observation. Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) (1935), directed by Leni Riefenstahl, is a feature film recording the Nazi rallies held in Nuremberg in 1934, which is the year after Hitler rose to power. Combining high technology and artistry, her film focuses on the people's will, not on the state-of-the-art weapons of the military. At Nazi rallies, whose will was being expressed? Whose victory was being celebrated? In the process of taking power, the Nazi government seized the legislative power of the parliament by the Enabling Act. Ultimately, the legislative power of the government was monopolized by Hitler, who gained public agreement and approval through two referendums: one on withdrawal from the League of Nations, and one on the creation of the Führer and Hitler's inauguration as Führer. When making a conclusion from Rousseau's perspective, through these two referendums, the German nation transferred or abandoned their character to Hitler, who appeared to be an ultra-pseudo legislator. Presented with myths of the Germans, the concept of the German lebensraum, and the belief that power equals justice as espoused by Hitler, the German nation abandoned the dynamism of making their own judgments by exercising conscience and reason together. Instead, they entered into a passive existence in which they only followed the judgment and will of their cult leader. There are multidimensional corporate wills in nations with representative systems. However, when creating the Third Reich, the corporate will of the parliament was first to be eliminated and subsequently replaced by the corporate will of government that was essentially the will of a dictator. Hitler's will became a tremendous corporate will that governed the entire Third Reich. Will was reduced to the will of only one master, and the master-slave relationship of the 20th century emerged.

Now, let's contrast the fourth fixed point with the first fixed point; namely, the Feast of the Supreme Being in June 1794. The Feast was held during the Jacobin dictatorship and was presided over by Robespierre, but there was no enthusiasm for the dictator like at the Nuremberg rallies. Rather, a feeling of solemn joy was directed at the god of the people (the Supreme Being) who made the people free. Both men and women gathered at the Feast, which was held simultaneously not only in Paris but also in cities throughout France, and was inspired by a wide range of people. Rousseau discussed civil religion in the substantive final chapter of The Social Contract. His idea that "the act by which people become a people" refers to the consummation of a social contract. Ultimately, this is nothing more than the acceptance of civil religion. Therefore, the first people's assembly at the time of the formation of a state must accept civil religion. Rousseau developed a theory of people's assembly in which all citizens gathered to vote for or against a bill submitted by the government, thus identifying the general will (law) through the vote(2). The Feast was not a legislative assembly; however, it can be said that it was the moment when mankind was closest to the act by which people become a people.

Fichte―Speeches to the German nation

Next, let's go further back in time and focus on will as expressed in the second fixed point, "Speeches to the German nation." This was a series of lectures given by Fichte to the general public in 1807 and 1808 in Berlin, which was the capital of Prussia under the occupation of the French National Army led by Napoleon. There is no doubt that the lecture given under occupation was a discourse of resistance to the nation-state France, but what was the national consciousness evoked by Fichte? Fichte's focus was language and education. His lecture emphasizes that German national education in German fosters national consciousness. Fichte does not make an issue of race or ethnicity at the biological level, but he calls French a dead language and German a living language, and emphasizes the superiority of the living language. In his view, the nation replaces the church, and philosophy and poetry replace religion. He did not present a political initiative to unite and connect the German-speaking nations into one nation. Instead, his lectures cultivated pride as "a key race of the world", and repeatedly emphasized the unity of the German-speaking sphere. In his view, the separated German nations were an invaluable incubator for expansion into a larger German nation. Can we say that Fichte's national consciousness is the active will of the nation? The answer is no. In his view, the will of the nation is the passive consciousness of the governed to accept and support the national will. Fichte is not a legislator for the creation of a nation, but a reformative advocate for encouraging the reorganization and strengthening of a nation in terms of inner nature and spiritual aspects.

Renan―What is a nation?

The lectures were held in 1882, which was the eve of the imperialist era. Alsace-Lorraine, which had been a French territory after the Thirty Years War, was ceded to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. The question of possession for this mineral-rich land was a point of confrontation for the national interests of the two nation-states (French Third Republic and the German Second Reich). Renan argued that a nation is a spiritual principle, and that a modern nation is a historical product based on memory and oblivion. He argued that race and language alone are insufficient to create the spiritual principles of a nation; rather, will is essential. Renan claimed that residents of the disputed land are able to claim possession of the disputed land, and that an everyday plebiscite is essential to the existence of citizens. Renan's call for an everyday plebiscite was a spiritual message rather than a realistic proposal. Nevertheless, it undoubtedly contained an opportunity which led to today's referendum and plebiscite. Still, naively accepting Renan's claim will only illuminate one side of the issue. This is because even if a referendum had actually been held, large support for entry into French had been shown, and the German-French governments accepted the will of residents and attributed the land to France, the residents would subsequently belong to the political decision-making system of the existing nation-state France. My conclusion is that Renan's everyday plebiscite is a rhetoric of will. The will of residents, which is evoked by the third fixed point, is not linked to true activeness and creation. This is because the referendum hides agreement to the nation-state and encouragement for passivity.

From passive to active

Jakucho, who had believed that the Japanese war was a holy war, was in Beijing when the war ended. Upon witnessing how the world changed overnight and how Japanese withdrew from foreign countries, Jakucho was reborn into a person who would only believe what she judged by herself. She became staunchly anti-war and anti-nuclear. Now, the time has come for me to answer my previous question regarding the commonalities between Jakucho and Rousseau. Just as Rousseau left his newborn children in orphanages one after another, Jakucho left her young daughter with her husband. Indeed, these two people have so much in common--they both foresaw or encountered a major shift in history that completely changed their values, abandoned their children, and were persecuted and criticized for written works to which they staked their lives.

The French Revolution broke out 27 years after the publication of The Social Contract. During the revolution, many people shared the perception that direct democracy is the true form of democracy. Women also became active, left the realm of the family, and engaged in political action. The activation of women and their appearance in the public sphere went beyond Rousseau's political vision, which required women to remain in the family and become wives who indirectly contribute to politics through their husbands. Less than three months after the Storming of the Bastille, a crowd of women who took spears and cannons held the March on Versailles in October 1789. This forced the King to approve the relocation of the Royal Family to Paris and Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and several decrees in August. In this event, 180 years before the second wave of feminism, Parisian women embodied the concept that "the personal is political"(3). Afterwards, have we moved forward? We must now stop and work seriously to learn from the history of a representative system that has fostered and strengthened passivity in people. Following the lead of women in Paris who started action to save their families from hunger, we must move from passive to active.

(1) Hiroko Naruko (2016), "Rousseau's General Will and Fixed-point Observation of Will: The French Revolution, Fichte, Renan and the Third Reich", The Journal of Economics (Chuo University) 56-5/6.
(2) Hiroko Naruko (2001), Justice and History in Rousseau: The Theory of Eternal Democratic Revolution Without Utopia, Chuo University Press.
(3) Hiroko Naruko (2018), "Rousseau's Revolution and the French Revolution: On the Relationship between Violence and Morality", nyx 5, Horinouchi Publishing; Hiroko Naruko (2020), "Gender during the French Revolution from Rousseau's Perspective: What Will End the State of War?", Gender, Violence, and Power: From Horizontal Relationships to Horizontal/Vertical Relationships, authored and edited by Hiroko Naruko, Koyo Shobo.

Hiroko Naruko
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: History of Social Thought, History of Political Thought, and Gender Theory

Hiroko Naruko was born in Tokyo in 1957. She changed schools repeatedly due to her father’s work transfers. In 1981, she graduated from the Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University. She completed the Master’s Program in the Graduate School of Law, Chuo University in 1986. In 1994, she completed the Doctoral Program of the same graduate school. While enrolled in the Master’s Program, she conducted her research while running a private school. She holds a Ph.D. in political science (Chuo University, 2000). After working as a part-time lecturer at schools such as Chuo University, Mie University, Saitama University, Meiji Gakuin University and Sakushin Gakuin University, she served as Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, Gifu Shotoku Gakuen University. She then became Associate Professor in the Faculty of Economics, Chuo University in 2014 and assumed her current position in 2018. She has served as the Director of the Institute of Social Sciences, Chuo University since 2021.

Her research themes are the history of social thought, history of political thought, and gender theory.


Her major written works include Justice and History in Rousseau (independently authored; Chuo University Press, 2001), Gender, Violence and Power (authored and edited; Koyo Shobo, 2020) and more.