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The Philosopher Who Attempted to Overthrow The Japanese Army -- How Philosophy Can Be Practical

Updated: Feb 21

A house built on a hill

In practice, most philosophers are armchair philosophers; thinkers who merely philosophize without doing anything else that is necessarily revolutionary or extreme.


One of the few philosophers who was not an armchair philosopher was one of the greatest Japanese authors of the 20th century, Yukio Mishima. Mishima was an exceptional writer and traditionalist who was strong-willed enough to attempt an overthrow of the Japanese military, the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF).


(Not to be confused with any Mishimas of the Tekken video game series, which I covered)

The point of this article is to present to you an example of what happens when a philosopher no longer remains an armchair, or in other words -- puts his or her ideas into practice and not just creates and discusses them. It's an example as to how philosophy can indeed be practical, and not only theoratical. And thus, those who claim that philosophy is entirely impractical, may be unaware of examples such as this. This article is also another example to this claim (although quite dark). The communist revolution in Russia is another example which is classic in comparison.


Anyways, Mishima was seriously convinced that Japan needed to "be great again."


He established a small paramilitary force, known in English as the Shield Society, and infiltrated a major military base in Tokyo. His private army, which consisted of around 90 to 100 uniform-wearing martial artists, was determined to fight against the threats of modernity to Japanese society after the Empire's defeat in World War II: democracy, leftist ideologies, and the influence of the West, mainly represented by the victorious American occupation.


Mishima was a controversial figure primarily because of his coup d'état attempt, in which he committed seppuku, a samurai-based form of suicide.


Before then, he went to the masses who had gathered around the infiltrated base and delivered a speech that was met with great failure due to the difficulty of hearing a person without proper audio equipment. His speech was not understood by many, and was even interrupted by the audience and by the helicopters that flew above him.


In his speech, he expressed his deep desire to restore Japan to its former glory, where it would be a thriving empire, led by a divine emperor, with a strong military, capable of both offense and defense, and finally, to bring back the values of the samurai warriors, otherwise known as the Bushido philosophy.


Mishima's coup d'état attempt failed miserably, and he and four of his followers committed suicide. However, his actions have continued to be debated and analyzed by historians and scholars for decades. Mishima was a complex and contradictory figure, and his legacy is still being debated today.

By today's standards, he was an extremist. It would only be natural to see him as such through the eyes of the 21st century, simply because nowadays the world is mostly run by democracies, and imperialism is seen as worthy of condemnation of any kind.


However, like Socrates, Mishima was strong-willed enough to die for his imperialist ideology if it meant he would die an honorable death in the name of the spirit of Japan. That was even though, the days of the samurai were long gone and irrelevant.


He shaped his private army, the Shield Society, in his own image. He would train them to be as fit as possible, as he wanted to be himself, and he would not equip them with modern weaponry such as guns. Instead, he would teach them martial arts and sword fighting.


The Shield Society soldier was a heavily fit, heavily disciplined volunteer who would seek to sacrifice his own life in order to protect the Emperor, if such an opportunity should ever arise.


He is merely a protector of traditional values, which he would seek to restore by overthrowing the JDSF, a military entity compromised by foreign influence.


In a way, Mishima was very radical, a right-wing imperialist, and a fascist. When some people claim that leftism is not a good ideology, what they fail to realize is, that the contemporary world is largely leftist in essence, and that even includes contemporary conservative philosophies.


Democracy, globalism, free speech, fair elections, and civil rights -- all, in essence, leftist values. A "traditional" right-winger would be one that would put tradition and personal sacrifice over anything else, as liberty is, ultimately, a leftist notion.


Mishima was and is a highly controversial figure not only because he was willing to commit suicide after failing to overthrow his country's military, but also because he was, so to speak, a true right-winger.


He opposed democracy, supported imperialism, and wished for Japan to be ruled by a totalitarian regime, which would oppose both foreign influence and the notion of globalism.


His hatred towards the West, and love of tradition were the catalysts for one of Japan's most bizarre attempts at rebellion, which eventually led to his suicide.


Mishima was never really a military man, even though his father was. He was an intellectual who would write countless literary works and even work as an actor to make a living.

He had a very strict training regime, since he wished to be as muscular as he could, and even managed to avoid the draft in World War II because a medical staff misdiagnosed him while he had a cold.


Nevertheless, his lack of military expertise did not stop him from forming his own paramilitary force and invading a major military facility with a relative degree of success.


He really does remind me of former president Donald Trump, but the main difference between them is that Mishima did not want to rule for himself, and was opposed to democracy, as written before.

Another difference is that Trump did not approve of the insurrection that occurred in Washington, D.C., after Biden was elected.


Mishima merely wanted to overthrow the military so he would be able to restore his country to its pre-World War II days, before the atomic bombings, before the American invasion, and before the rise of communism in places such as China, the Soviet Union, and North Korea.


(More on North Korea, here)


Ultimately, Mishima didn't want to die old, and perhaps he was afraid of it as well. He wanted to die young because he wished to be killed for a bigger purpose than himself, whether that death would be in battle or through seppuku.


Seppuku, by the way, is a very, very painful way to die, and in the days of the samurai, it was deemed honorable to do so in order to cover up shame such as defeat, failure, or captivity.

Had he not killed himself, he might've been imprisoned for the rest of his life, and marked as a fascist terrorist, along with his troops.


Is it worthy to use one's philosophy to practice? That depends on your goals, on the likelihood of you succeeding, and on whatever is at stake. That may sometimes include your and/or other people's lives.


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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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