Asia Past and Present Books

The Turn Against the Modern



ISBN 978-0-924304-84-2. 340 pages. Paperback.

Ronald P. Loftus

The Turn Against the Modern
is a biography of the late Meiji social and cultural critic Taoka Reiun (1870–1912) who was known for his fierce attack on modernity. Reiun was convinced that the western conception of modernity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was based on an overly narrow, materialistic view of the world—one that placed far too much emphasis on commerce, profit, and utilitarianism—and he believed that this concept was rapidly emptying life of its richness, depth, and meaning. He, therefore, could not help but decry a world that had “squandered its spirit and vitality, forsaken its grandiose visions, and lost its sense of mystery, its very soul!”

A careful reader of philosophy, religion, and literature, Reiun embraced a vision of history, society, and the future that marks him as an original and creative thinker whose understanding of what it means to be modern and human remains alive and vital today.

"This study vividly brings to life an overlooked contrarian whose writings tell us that Japan’s modernization process was much more complex and controversial than the standard 'Meiji progress narrative' would have us believe. Taoka Reiun comes through in this exhaustively researched study as a powerful critic who thought capitalist materialism had robbed Japan of its soul—a much-censored opponent of slavish Westernization who insisted that modernity should spring from the creation of autonomous individuals (women as well as men). Loftus’s analysis is incisive; his attention to Reiun’s tumultuous personal life brings special energy to the work."

— James L. Huffman, Wittenberg University

"At the moment when interiority became the site of contestation in Meiji Japan, Taoka Reiun overturned civilization discourse from the inside out by envisioning progress predicated on moral action. Reiun refashioned an imagination of an alternative future, composed of less hierarchical, less violent, more just, and more humane communities in a syncretic world order. Offering a compelling analysis of Reiun’s thought, Ron Loftus pushes us to think beyond and outside the supposedly universal fold of Western modernity and its resulting hierarchical conceptual bifurcations of tradition and modern, East and West in modern history and the historiography of the modern. Situated in the larger realm of ideas in Meiji Japan and its wider world, this account also offers an excellent introduction to the intellectual life of perhaps the most critical period of Japan’s modern experience. Reiun’s courage, thoughtfulness and imagination are the kind of critical intellectual energy and intervention that are called for today, making the book an important read for students of modern Japan and East Asia. This is a most welcome scholarly achievement. "

— Sho Konishi, University of Oxford


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