International push for “progress” around 1900

When reading through some of the third- and first-person accounts around 1900 for this week, I noticed that there was a pervasive necessity among elites and thinkers of the time to push for industrialized “progress”, even if it meant cruelty inside the nation or betrayal of possible allies. “On De-Asianization”, by Fukuzawa Yukichi, paints the picture of a Japan needingĀ  to do away with general Asian traditions in order to survive. Yukichi, both fearful of “civilization” and in awe of it, argues that one must not resist it, but rather “help its spread with all its might so that his fellow countrymen will be immersed in its ways as soon as possible”. The necessity would stem from resistance from, and intimidation towards western industrialized countries and their eastward advances. If they stand idle, and dwell in the supposed backwardness of Asia, like China and Korea at the time, Japan would risk being swallowed up by western imperialist ambitions. Yukichi asserts that Japan must take the initiative in the coming struggle, and to dissuade any connections with China and Korea, thus wishing to “behave towards them as the Westerners do”. Yukichi would perceive the approaching “civilization” as such a powerful force that he would rather ally with its morals and dictations rather than ally with countries rejecting this force.

Moving to Mexico in “Latin American since Independence”, a similar initiative took place. Porfirio Diaz, president of Mexico for more than 30 years, asserts in an interview with James Creelan the necessity of his rule. He believes that the future fate of Mexican democracy is not harmed by his long occupation of the Presidential office. In fact, he asserts democracy to be the highest, fairest form of government, but that “in practice it is possible only to highly developed peoples”. This resonates with the attitude of Yukichi, who had little hope for the “less developed” Koreans and Chinese.

The forward progress of railways and telegraphs, and their success in Mexico, are recounted by Diaz in page 102 . He adds to the success by indicating the necessities he had to impose, like making “robbery punishable by death” and harshly punishing those who did little to stem the cutting of telegraph wires. He admits he and his tactics were harsh, but that it was all “necessary then to the life and progress of the nation”, and that the results justify the cruelty. This mirrors the attitude of Yukichi, who believed in a strong national stance against those who would stand against progress, in order to encourage a more advanced and rich national society. In Diaz’s case, he exercised this ideal internally for the good of the nation.

However, one must make note of the lack of focus on negatives of progress. in Yukichi’s case, he admitted that civilization “is always accompanied by both harm and good, but by more good than harm” in page 130. As an idealist, he can ruminate on the necessities of the new age of “civilization” all he wants, but he fails to take up inspection of the harm it could bring Japan. Additionally, one could even make the argument at the time that regional alliances and ties could act as an additional buffer to industrial empires from the west, in addition to practicing “civilization” as a country. In the case of Diaz, there is the bias from the interviewer to contend with. Diaz can speak of national progress as much as he likes, and justify it however he wishes, but there is no reason to believe all who live in an “advancing” state would benefit equally from progress. Only 2 years after this interview, the Mexican Revolution would begin, ending the Mexican dictatorship in 1920. This war occurred largely in part to the exploitation of the lower classes throughout Diaz’s so-called era of prosperity. Proper national “progress”, it seems, needs to be indeed a national push, not just a push to benefit the elites and upper classes more generally.

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