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Social Movements and the Contemporary Capitalist Nation State: Insights from Karatani Kôjin and the “Sunflower Movement”

Chen Shiyu


Karatani Kôjin is one of the most important New Left critics active today. Several of his key concepts, such as “beyond capital-nation-state” and “singularity,” have not
only sparked considerable theoretical discussion in the academe, but have sometimes become guiding principles of social movements both in Japan and abroad. Over the past fifteen years, his has been a key standpoint in discussions of
the nation state in political philosophy. Taiwan’s massive “Sunflower Movement” in March of 2014, which to some extent related to Karatani, can be interpreted as the reproblematization of the concept of “East Asia” and subjectivity under postmodernity. This essay attempts to characterize the potential, practicality, as well as problems in Karatani’s thinking on democracy, through a comparative analysis of the recent history of the nation state in Japan and China. The starkly different interpretations of the concept of modernity in China and Japan complicate a general account of East Asian modernity. Japan’s pre-war “East Asian imaginary” and the notion of “overcoming modernity” also differ sharply from revolutionary China’s “anti-modern modernity.” I argue that such a comparison shows the strengths and limitations of Karatani’s formulations. Moreover, the study of social movement must also be modified to account for these divergent trajectories.

Keywords Japanese philosophy, Kyoto School, Kant, modern
thought, national sovereignty, nationalism

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