A new generation of U.S. historians has now tagged “modernization theory” as the ideology of the Kennedy era, and is investigating its impact on American diplomacy, politics and culture (e.g. Michael Latham, Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and “Nation Building” in the Kennedy Era [University of North Carolina Press, 2000]). Their new interest in this topic provides the appropriate occasion for a fresh look at American scholars’ attempts to export a particular version of “modernization theory” via the 1960 Conference on the Modernization of Japan and other venues. It also reopens questions regarding the Japanese response to such efforts: Weren’t the Americans preaching to the converted, in the sense that Japanese social scientists, especially those often associated with the Civil Society School, had since mobilization for total war in the mid-1930s been working out their own “modernization theory”, albeit one that differed in significant respects from that embraced by the Americans?
J. Victor Koschmann is Professor of Japanese History at Cornell University. His research has focused on Japanese history of thought from the late Edo period until the postwar period. Major publications include: Revolution and Subjectivity in Postwar Japan (University of Chicago Press, 1996); The Mito Ideology: Discourse, Reform and Insurrection in Late Tokugawa Japan, 1790-1864 (The University of California Press, 1987; Japanese translation: Perikansha, 1998); Conflict in Modern Japanese History: The Neglected Tradition (Princeton University Press, 1982; edited with Tetsuo Najita).