Democracy and Development

 

 

 Tetsundo Iwakuni

Director-General, International Department

The Democratic Party of Japan

 

Liberal International Congress

Marrakech, Morocco

November 11,2006

 

 

    Good morning, everyone.  My name is Tetsundo Iwakuni, Director-General of the International Department of the Democratic Party of Japan and member of the Japanese House of Representatives.  On behalf of the Party, I would like to thank Liberal International for being kind enough to invite me to this, your 54th Congress.  I am truly delighted to have the opportunity to speak to such a distinguished audience.  I would also like to express my appreciation to the hosts, the Union Constitutionelle, for all their hard work in organising such a prestigious conference.

 

    Today, I will address the theme of this conference from the vantage point of Japan, and share with you the lessons we have drawn in our country, in the hopes that it will help to inform the efforts that all of our respective countries are making toward building a peaceful and humanistic world.  

 

    The dual concepts of democracy and development inevitably revolve around the individual.  To put it simply, in democracies, individuals are empowered to take an active part in political processes.  Development, especially in a free market economy, is driven on the micro-economic level by the choices made by individuals and competition among individuals.  It then follows that for these two processes to flourish, the capacities and abilities of individuals become critically important.

 

    It is therefore no surprise that education of the individual has come to be regarded as crucial to both democracy and development.  For example, effective participation in democratic processes demands that the populace be educated and informed, and economic development relies on the availability of an educated and skilled work force.  Japan, especially in the postwar era, is a testament to this formula of democracy and development.  The establishment of a modern educational system in the late 1800s and its continuing expansion throughout the 1900s could be said to have played a key role in enabling Japan°«s transition into a democracy, and the ensuing rapid development of the economy.  Indeed, Japanese education has drawn considerable international attention, particularly in the 1980s, for it was perceived to have contributed greatly to Japan°«s prominence as an economic power.

 

    And yet, the problems that have emerged not only in education but throughout our society in the last two decades have proven that it is not enough simply to achieve democracy and development – we must seriously and constantly consider how to sustain democratic and developmental health.

 

    Although Japan is a democracy and continues to enjoy a certain degree of development, it is evident that the optimism and hope suggested by these two concepts have all but disappeared.  In a survey conducted among junior high and high school students in several countries, students were asked about their expectations of the 21st century.  When asked if they saw their society in the 21st century as one of hope, 89% of the students in China and 63% of the students in the United States and South Korea answered in the affirmative, while only 34% of the students in Japan gave a positive response.  When asked if they thought that their country would become more prosperous, 80% of the students in China and the United States and 70% of the students in South Korea answered in the affirmative, while only 30% of the students in Japan agreed.  When asked if they thought their life would be better in 10 years, 90% of the students in China, the United States and Korea answered in the affirmative, while in Japan, only 37% had such hopes.

 

    Let us examine a little more closely the reasons why the youth of Japan regard the future with such pessimism.  While the emphasis on education remains high in Japan, due to the expanding income divide, accessibility to quality education has become limited.  As for the substance or content of education, there has been such a focus on memorization of facts that the development of a well-rounded human being has been neglected.  In other words, the educational system has prioritized knowledge over wisdom.  Moreover, the over-emphasis on achievement and achievement tests has resulted in casualties among the youth themselves:  a sense of alienation and isolation, anti-social behavior such as bullying and violent juvenile crimes, a feeling of apathy, and even suicide.  

 

    These problems affect not only those directly involved in the educational system; their impact inevitably permeates all sectors of society.  More and more, people are feeling disenfranchised – the younger generations, in particular, appear to have lost faith in the organs of government and show reluctance in participating in the democratic process.  Disheartened and disillusioned by the state of society, they likewise feel it is futile to commit to a specific career or skill.  Omron Tateishi, a well-known businessman, once said °»the person who enables others to become happy will in turn experience the greatest happiness.°…  It is clear that the experience of today°«s Japanese youth is far from this philosophy.  Their own disillusionment prevents them from even being actively engaged with others or in society.

 

    Despite the various attempts to reform the educational system over the years, however, the problems within education as well as society have continued to expand.  As a businessman, politician, and educator, I have had the good fortune to examine these issues from numerous angles.  My 30-year career in business allowed me to observe the economy in many parts of the world, and my years in the political arena have enlightened me to the realities of policymaking.  From my involvement as an educator, serving as visiting professor to two universities, in the United States and the People°«s Republic of China, I have personally been able to examine the import of education.  The inevitable conclusion I have drawn from my experience is this:  the kind of education that merely promotes knowledge without promoting the full breadth and depth of each human being will only have narrow and short-lived benefits.  

 

    Without a doubt, education is important.  However, for Japan to overcome its present challenges, it is not enough simply to enhance the educational infrastructure by allocating additional resources.  It is not enough simply to implement policies to minimize economic and social inequalities.  Rather, in order for democracy and development to flourish, we must refocus our attention on nurturing the entire human being, and reaffirm those very principles that uphold the absolute dignity of life, that empower individuals and enable them to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

 

    Such humanistic principles must be applied first and foremost to education, but also to all areas of policymaking. These principles are sometimes regarded as a given, so much so that they are often left unsaid, and unfortunately, also often left forgotten. When politicians lose sight of this fundamental truth, it is no wonder that stagnation – and even regression –results.

 

    For too long, we have been under the influence of the concept of °∆human capital,°« which tends to emphasize a person°«s utility in the marketplace and society, which regards people simply as commodities.  I propose that we shift our focus to °∆human investment°« – or °∆humanism,°« plain and simple – where the emphasis lies clearly on a person°«s value, rather than utility, where we regard the person as a human being, rather than a commodity. We need °»a shift from viewing education as serving the narrowly defined needs of society to a new paradigm which sees society serving the lifelong process of education.°…  In other words, whether or not Japanese society will be able to find its way out of the current impasse will be determined by the extent to which we can all agree that society should serve education, and not the other way around.

 

    Education based on °∆humanism°« would value wisdom over knowledge, and encourage a far wider, all-encompassing global perspective that would benefit not only the individual and his or her immediate community, but also society at large.  Citizens who feel valued in this way would not only feel more energized and motivated to contribute to and participate in their own society; they would also take responsible action in the international arena whether in terms of foreign policy or environmental issues, for they would have full awareness of the intrinsic connection among all people.  In the final analysis, no matter how well-intended, politicians, businessmen, educators will not be able to overcome the challenges of today to chart a long-term, sustainable course toward democracy and development unless we formulate policies and enact reforms rooted in humanism.

 

    These are the lessons I have drawn from the Japanese example.  And although I realize that each country faces its own unique set of challenges, I hope that this °∆case study°« can serve to encourage further exchange and discussion.  I am deeply honoured and proud to have been able to share my thoughts with you today, and look forward to relaying the insights I have gained from all of you to my colleagues back in Japan.

 

    Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patient attention.