Beyond “East and West”: Nishida's Universalism and Postcolonial Critique

During the 1930s and 1940s, many Japanese intellectuals resisted Western cultural imperialism. This theoretical movement was unfortunately complicit with wartime nationalism. Kitaro Nishida, the founder of modern Japanese philosophy and the leading figure of the Kyoto School, has been the focus of a controversy as to whether his philosophy was inherently nationalist or not. Nishida’s defenders claim that his philosophical “universalism” was incompatible with the particularistic nationalism of Japan’s imperialist state. From the standpoint of postcolonial critique, I argue that this defense is insufficient. Philosophical universalism is not in itself anti-imperialist, but can in fact contribute to imperialist ideology.
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