Mishima, Nabokov, Another Democracy

4 min readOct 27, 2021


Decentralized Socrates (Part 17b)

Mishima, Asa Kiri, ca. 1833–34, Utagawa Hiroshige, Japanese

Previous Entry

Contrary to what one might think, opposing totalitarianism with words and logic while assuming the current democracy is nearly impracticable.

Perhaps that is also the reason why Heidegger fell in love with totalitarianism. And it is also the reason why the author, at the end of the previous entry, suddenly brought up the judgment of taste that “I hate totalitarianism.” At any rate, we can only say “I hate it” if another democracy cannot be devised.

The origin of totalitarianism is the idea of some “ doctrine” (be it racism, patriotism, communism, or an ideal commune) as a means to solve in a snap the slow pace of implementing liberal democracy, the corruption, the emptiness that formalism, the isolation of the individual who is stripped of community and granted freedom and responsibility, and so on.

Usually, a charismatic individual popularizes the ideology, though the groundwork has already been covered for the charismatic mobilization.

Discussions and enlightenment are naturally absurd to individuals who are desperate for the consequences of liberal democracy. It is also useless to persuade them to build up a steady accumulation to address minor problems. They are a mob that despairs the slowness and the fact that these will eventually be cheesed off. Furthermore, it is vain to oppose the loss of human life and violence. They have yet to find a human institution that doesn’t involve murder.

These people are addicted to the principles not because they are stupid. Totalitarianism is, in a sense, an “ advanced “ version of today’s democracy.

Yukio Mishima, a clear-headed and calm Japanese writer, committed suicide by cutting his stomach, “a street performance almost considered a joke (Nabokov).”

After giving a speech in which he urged the (Japanese) Self-Defense Forces to stage a coup d’etat as a leading force to revive the Emperor’s rule, he suddenly committed seppuku.

The SDF members could not hear his voice because of too much noise. The next day’s newspaper featured a picture of Mishima’s decapitated head.

What kind of joke is this? Even if you are not Nabokov, you may desire to say, “What a jest!”

However, Mishima was perhaps even more cynical than Nabokov (and many of us), who mocked him. Mishima was the only one capable of understanding the situation. “Cynicism” in this context is the self-awareness of superiority that comes from “not believing in a value others believe in, or knowing that it is worthless due to his information not admitted to touching.”

Mishima’s cynical position was thoroughly completed by playing the role of a “totalitarian fake” who dies for a “principle he does not believe in.”

His seppuku, in essence, is a statement of such a stance that “creates a position where all positions can be mocked and no longer allowed to be refuted. Simultaneously, he added the “performance piece” of “actually dying” as a rhetorical operation to enhance the truthfulness and silence the opposition.

As with all totalitarian ideals, his arguments are meaningless. Or there is no mechanism in detail to implement it. Purely as a rhetorical maneuver, seppuku was wonderfully effective; even after nearly half a century, Mishima is not forgotten in Japan, leaving any shortage of people pondering his mysterious death.

In his later years, Mishima held several conversations in which he lamented the irrelevance of “death inside a work of art” to “actual death,” and each time forced his interlocutor to express the common-sense opinion that “work and reality should be irrelevant.”

Mishima’s intention with his “ artwork” can be summed up in other words: to set a trap in advance for (in a sense innocent) people like Nabokov who would later come to laugh at him.

Those who laugh at his act as a “ meaningless performance” do not grasp Mishima’s intentions, nor do they have the logic to escape from it as well. No one has yet discovered how to reach outside the current path from democracy to totalitarianism. Hence, even now, nearly a hundred years after the beginning of the 20th century, the ghosts of totalitarianism are beginning to roam the world.

Only someone who has figured out another way would be qualified to laugh at Mishima.

Nabokov, therefore, has no right. He is just too naïve to realize it. A child wanders into the abnormal play of adults. If there were a means to keep that child from growing up to be an adult akin to him or her, the child wins, indeed.

However, the author disapproves of (though respects) the twisted sublimity of Mishima. Consequently, “ another” democracy, not the current one, is foolishly sought. Without accepting the current democracy, a path that does not lead to totalitarianism is possible.

At first glance, these topics have nothing to do with what we have been talking about so far.

Yet, if the fight against fake news, anti-intellectualism, prejudice, and totalitarianism were grounded in naive liberalism, the conclusion would be “more discussion, more enlightenment.” The road to totalitarianism, however, stems from the awareness of how impossible or pointless this kind of enlightenment is.

Enlightenment, debate, and the naive Socratic method of dialogue, therefore, are not the solution.

Next time: Summary and Conclusion.