Summary of “My Individualism” by Soseki Natsume

This article presents Soseki Natsume’s “My Individualism” in summary form.
 In 1914, Natsume gave a lecture entitled “My Individualism” at the Gakushuin School in Tokyo. By this time, Soseki had finished his teaching career in Matsuyama and Kumamoto, studied in England, and produced such masterpieces as “Botchan,” “I am a Cat,” and “Sorekara. Already an outstanding cultural figure, Soseki also began to engage in social criticism in the 1910s. My Individualism” is one of his best-known works.

Summary of “My Individualism”

 This lecture was given to students at the Gakushuin. It consists of two parts. In the first half, Natsume reflects on his own life and discusses the importance of the development of individuality. In the second half, he discusses how we must respect the development of others’ individuality.

 First, Natsume told the story of his college days. In college, he studied English literature. Or rather, he tried to learn it. In reality, however, he was forced to study English language and memorize the birth and death dates of famous English writers, but he could not say that he learned English literature.
 So, Natsume tried to understand what English literature was, or what literature was in the first place. At that time, there were no suitable books in the university library. As a result, “After three years of study, I finally could not understand literature”. Only agony remained.
 After graduating from university, Natsume was approached by the Higher Normal School Higher Normal School and became a teacher After graduating from university, Natsume was approached by the Higher Normal School Higher Normal School and became a teacher. He did not want to be a teacher, but rather became it by chance. From the beginning, he did not think he had the aptitude to be an educator.
 After a year, Natsume moved to Matsuyama Junior High School, the setting of “Botchan”. If there is a real person in this novel, he says, the “red shirt” corresponds to Natsume himself. A year later, Natsume moved to a high school in Kumamoto.
 In Kumamoto, Natsume worked there for a long time. He coped with his teaching job. However, in his heart, he felt a void. He always felt a vague sense of discomfort. Even then, he was not interested in teaching. So, whenever he found his true calling, he was ready to jump into it. But it seemed unlikely that he would ever find his true calling. He felt that he was in a fog. He could not see the path he should take at all. Therefore, he spent many gloomy days.
 Around that time, he was given opportunity to study in England by the Japanese Ministry of Education. At first, Natsume thought about turning it down. He thought that he would not be able to be useful for the nation if he went to study abroad without any purpose. However, at the recommendation of the vice principal, he decided to go. Still, he was unable to find anything to do in the UK.
 However, since he was studying abroad on a government-sponsored program, he felt he had to accomplish something. But, no matter how much he walked around London, he could not seem to find it. No matter how many books he read, it didn’t seem to work. He was even wondering why he should read books.
 It was at this point that Natsume realized problems of his own and Japanese academia so far. It was to pass on the opinions of others, especially Westerners, without understanding or examining them.
 Especially in Japan during the first half of the Meiji era, the opinions of Westerners were the object of blind obedience. Therefore, university faculty members and students took the opinions of prominent Westerners for granted, regardless of whether they themselves agreed with them or not, and passed them on to others. They were spouting other people’s theories as if these were their own. This was totally other-centered and totally dependent on others. If he continued to do so, he himself was nothing more than a rootless floating weed.
 Natsume changed his mind. He had to fundamentally figure out what literature was on his own. It must be self-centered, not others-centered. There is no need to act like a Westerner. If we find yourself in conflict with a Westerner, instead of compromising, we should think about what the cause of that conflict is. Thus, he chose self-reliance as his motto. As a result, the anxiety and heaviness that he had felt until then naturally disappeared.
 Based on this experience, Natsume recommends the following. If, like Natsume, you are in agony because you have not found the path you should take, you should go forward until you find it, no matter what the cost. It is not for the sake of the nation or your family but for the sake of your own happiness. If you can discover that path, you can hold on to your secure mind and confidence for the rest of your life.

 From here, Natsume begins the second half of his lecture. The second half, Natsume says, is unique to Gakushuin. Gakushuin was originally an educational institution for the nobility. In particular, Gakushuin students at that time had high social status. Therefore, Natsume said, “If the children of upper class society only are gathered here, the first thing that will accompany you from now on is power. In other words, when you go out into the society, you will be able to use more power than when the poor enter the society”. The second half of the lecture was directed specifically at such students.
 In the first half of the lecture, it was argued that each of us should go our own way. This is because doing so will bring happiness and peace of mind. Natsume said that the reason why doing so brings you happiness and peace of mind is because it is the path that suits each person’s individuality. By following that path, one’s individuality can be developed. Natsume develops a theory that is generally similar to the European liberalism of the time.
 The power and power of money can be a tool to crush the individuality of others. According to Natsume, power can be a tool to force one’s own individuality on others. Furthermore, power of money can be a tool to seduce others in order to expand one’s own individuality. Therefore, both power and money are “very dangerous” in this respect.
 The individuality of others must also be respected. Natsume explains why this is so. Because if others allow us to develop our own individuality, “it is rational that we should also allow others to develop their own individuality and respect their tendencies”. This is necessary, right, and fair.
However, this does not mean that we must let others do whatever they want. For example, violations of the law are rightly punihed. However, when not involved in such matters of justice or law, we must grant others the same degree of freedom as long as we are granted freedom by others.
 It is those of high social status who must be careful not to interfere with the development of others’ individuality. Natsume emphasizes this point because his audience is students of such status. Such people have more power and money. Thus, they have more tools to hinder the development of others’ individuality, either by force or by temptation. However, they are not completely permitted to use their power and money freely.
 Why? In the context of power, Natsume relates to traditional Western jurisprudence. That is, because power and rights entail obligations. If one does not fulfill one’s obligations, one is not qualified to have power or rights.
 Regarding power of money, Natsume explains his reasoning with his own observations. Money can be exchanged for anything. It can be a means to buy books, houses, food, or anything else. It can also be “the means to buy the human spirit.” By scattering money around, it can also buy up the moral mind of virtuous people. In other words, even a virtuous person can be seduced by the power of money. Money can be a tool to corrupt their virtuous souls. This is a terrible and inconvenient fact. But “we have to admit it, because money works so in fact.”
 So what should we do? “The only way to prevent the corruption of the human heart is for those who possess money to use it without moral hazard, with a considerable sense of morality”. In other words, the only way is for those with power of money to discipline themselves.
 Natsume summarizes the latter half of his argument thus far in the following three points. First, if one wants to develop one’s own individuality, one must respect the individuality of others at the same time. Second, if one wihes to use one’s own power, one must be aware of the obligations that come with it. Third, if one wishes to show his/her financial power, one must respect the responsibility that comes with it.
 In order to be able to fulfill these three points while holding a high position in society, one must develop one’s character. Natsume states. “Without a certain degree of ethical cultivation, one is not worthy of developing one’s individuality, of using one’s power, or of using one’s money power. To put it another way, in order to freely enjoy these three things, it is necessary to be under the control of the personality that must be behind them”.
 Why? “If those without personality attempt to develop their individuality blindly, they will disturb the others. If they attempt to use power, they will abuse it. If they attempt to use power of money, they will bring about the corruption of society”. It is interesting to note that Natsume criticizes not only the abuse of power and money power, but also the outburst of individuality. Natsume also sees it as a serious problem when you go your own way and develop your own individuality, and as a result, drag others into your own path and individuality. Power, money, and individuality. “These are the three things to which you will have the greatest access in the future, so I think you really need to be a man of character and respectability”. Such people must be mature and cultivate their own personality.
 Here, Natsume refers to the example of England. Natsume says of the UK at that time, “There is probably no other country in the world that is so free and so well-ordered”. However, Natsume is not its blind follower. If anything, he even dislikes it. Even so, he says that freedom and order are so much a part of British society that “Japan can hardly be compared to it”. The reason for this is that “people are properly educated from childhood to love their own freedom and respect the freedom of others” in the UK. Thus, freedom is respected with such a sense of duty.
 Natsume recommends his individualism based on the above. Freedom is necessary for the development of individuality, and the development of individuality is very important for happiness. For others, the same freedom should be granted. We should not deprive others of their freedom through power or money power. We should not suppress the freedom of others by forming factions for the sake of our own power or money. If we take it away and suppress it, then the destruction of individuality and unhappiness would come.
 Finally, Natsume explains that his individualism is not in conflict with statism. The amount of freedom granted to individuals increases or decreases according to whether the state is secure or not. In other words, “when the state is in danger, individual freedom is narrowed, and when the state is at peace, individual freedom increases”. Natsume says this is natural and true. When the nation is in danger, each individual will naturally think about the nation by curtailing his or hier personal freedom. The two are not in an adversarial relationship, but rather a relationship in which a balance is naturally struck according to the state of the nation.