Budo – overcoming corruption in business and politics

Budo – overcoming corruption in business and politics

We recognize the Budo spirit of rising above the tiredness of body. We see it again, on a much deeper level, in the independence of money grabbing among many ordinary Japanese. In Britain we are used to giving tips for good service; we have always been surprised when Japanese refused them. (Perhaps recently we have begun to corrupt them.)

But it surprises us when we see that this same spirit of independence and honesty does not extend to politics. In Britain we have financial scandals, but they never involve politicians. In the fiercely fought election campaign of 1992, there were many personal attacks on politicians from the other side and from newspapers. But there was not one accusation of financial dishonesty. I would guess that this is one of the new fields where the Budo spirit will show itself.

The purification of politics is not at all impossible. In the last century, British politics was hopelessly dishonest and corrupt. We can read vivid descriptions of it in Dickens.  In 1892 London was run by the Metropolitan Board, which was famous for dishonesty. When it was proved that a director of the Board had taken a large sum of money from a builder, he maintained that it had been just a friendly gift, and that he had done nothing in return. There was a famous cartoon which showed this director as a baby in the cradle with hard-faced businessmen dropping golden coins into the cradle. The caption said, ‘He never did anything for it: it was always just a friendly gift!’

In general the ruthless businessman was admired. It was he who built railways, roads, houses and great bridges all over the world like the huge one at Calcutta. He brought prosperity to the country. If he was dishonest, well….

Darwinian evolution, understood by non-scientists to be simply ‘survival of the fittest’, supported the idea that the weak and stupid and lazy must simply perish. The Church was defenceless against these ideals. Little girls of six were employed in factories for tiny wages: they soon died, but others took their place. The businessman felt he must be hard. In some offices, spectacles were forbidden; they were regarded as a sign of weakness. Some hard men refused the new anaesthetics before an amputation. (My own uncle, who was in the Royal Navy, had to have a toe cut off: he refused to have ether.)

These merciless entrepreneurs were not gentlemen. The gentlemanly ideals of fairness and compassion were preserved in the countryside among landowners. Some of them were not rich: but whether rich or poor, they would not talk to the newly rich businessmen. The latter felt slighted and began to desire to become gentlemen. So they sent their sons to the small country schools, where the old ideals of the gentleman were still cultivated. As these sons grew up, the ideas of the men of wealth began to change. The figure of the perfect gentleman—calm, brave, quiet, honest and kind—was struggling to public consciousness.

In the course of time, the public view of political corruption began to change. Up to the end of the 19th century, the successful businessman or politician was admired, even if he was dishonest. In the 20th century any suspicion of financial dishonesty is a bar to a career as a politician. We have big financial scandals but no big political ones.

As an outsider, I wonder how the Budo spirit of Japan will struggle to the surface of Japanese life. After all, many samurai—like British country gentlemen—were poor compared with the traders. It is not something which even a Japanese could consciously plan: it must rise from the depths of the spirit. But I hope it will not be the Budo of yang—swaggering, bullying, mindlessly aggressive and narrow. That would lead to isolation and ultimate ruin. I have faith in Japan and believe that it will be the Budo of yin—gentleness in strength, strength in gentleness, associated especially with culture. I believe this can be Japan’s contribution to world culture.

Britain gave the gentleman ideal to the world and we are proud of having done so. But there is a big gap in it. The gentleman, it has been remarked, can be a bit boring, if he has no sense of humour and no appreciation of art. Of course, many gentlemen have a good sense of humour and appreciation of art. But it is not formally part of the ideal. One can be a good gentleman without either.

The Japanese ideal of bunbu ryodo, or the pen and the sword, thus supplies something missing. Of course, Japan cannot simply revive this old slogan: it can, and must, take a new form. But I think this will be one of Japan’s real contributions to the advancement of world culture. Only when that contribution is made, will Japanese feel at peace within themselves.



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