This is a bookshelf where authors can speak about their own works selected
for a UTokyo Grant for Academic Publications (UTokyo Jiritsu Award for Early Career Academics).

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Harold Laski no Seijigaku (The Political Thought of Harold J. Laski - A Public Intellectual and the Redefining of Liberalism in the 20th Century)


OHI Akai


312 pages, A5 format




March 22, 2019



Published by

University of Tokyo Press

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Harold Laski no Seijigaku

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This book tackles the political ideas of Harold. J Laski and describes the redefinition of liberalism in the 20th century through Laski’s political commitment.
Harold Laski is one of the representative political thinkers of the 20th century, known especially for his early academic works on Pluralistic theory of the State, and his engagement with the British politics through Labour party in his later years. Laski was also so famous in Japan in the 1950s that almost all of his works had been translated into Japanese.
However, after his death, Laski has been regarded as a failed academician who wasted his scholarly talent on political commitment, or as a failed politician who left no substantial influence on politics.
I have been skeptical on this academician/politician dichotomy that dominated the Laski image in Cold War era. Therefore, my claim in this book is that Laski can be best understood comprehensively when we define him as a “public intellectual” of the 20th century.
Intellectuals in the 20th century usually shared a certain universal dilemma: dilemma that arose from the fact that, while their intellectual backgrounds were nurtured by and deeply imbedded in the educational system that the ruling class provided, they tried to utilize the knowledge given by that system for the sake of the least advantaged people such as workers, farmers and miners etc. Intellectuals are certain people who, while they are elite in the educational hierarchy, try to represent the least advantaged people by critically reflecting this intellectual hierarchy.
Through this perspective, my book concluded that Laski’s political thought was his own quest for reflective circulation of liberty and equality, resulting in the redefining of liberalism in the 20th century.
During the Cold War era, the passionate commitment on individual liberty by early Laski and his later approach to Marxism were regarded as Laski’s contradiction. But my claim in this book is that his commitment on both liberty and equality should be seen as circulative process. For example, his early magnum opus Grammar of Politics was his trial to make expanding welfare state and liberal constrained state compatible. Even when Laski valued Soviet Communism in the 1930s, his change was brought precisely because Laski thought that people were able to achieve their individuality more fully in Soviet than they were in the West.
Then, what inspirations does Laski’s idea give to current politics?
So called “Neo-liberal globalization”, which has been rampant over the past 40 years since 1980, have seemingly faced deadlock after the Brexit and the advent of President Trump in 2016. At the corner of “Neo-liberalism”, it is now questioned whether liberalism, which has been a champion of “liberty” in the 20th century, can incorporate collective values such as equality or “the public”.
Bearing this challenge in mind, the reflective circulation between liberty and equality in Laski’s political thought gives us a constructive perspective when we when we grope an alternative for 21st century.

(Written by: OHI Akai / September 09, 2020)

Related Info

Book Reviews:
Goro HASHIMOTO ‘Where are “the Public Intellectuals”?’ (Yomiuri Shinbun, May 11th 2019)
Toshihiro KOMATSU ‘Understanding Laski as “the Public Intellectual”’ (Tosho shinbun, September 7th 2019)