An Outline of a Theory of Civilization

by Fukuzawa Yukichi

Perhaps no man is more singularly responsible for the creation of a modern Japan than Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901). He became a nationalist at a time when it was not controversial to be so—it was necessary.

Japan was a technologically backward country when in 1853 U.S. steam ships (with big guns) arrived to “open” Japan. Fukuzawa’s growing social connections enabled him to travel to America and Europe even before the Meiji Restoration of 1868. His worldly experiences and keen intellect in a time of political and social upheaval quickly turned him into the greatest intellectual thinker of late 18th century Japan—and perhaps ever since. He steadied an entire nation.

Fukuzawa was a prolific writer and his collected works could fill a long shelf. An Outline of a Theory of Civilization, published by Keio University Press, contains ten chapters translated into English and carefully edited. Together, they illuminate Fukuzawa’s thought and a Japan in transition. The book was released in commemoration of the 150-year founding of Keio University, which Fukuzawa was also responsible for. Though not all of Fukuzawa’s theories hold water today, as the introduction points out, many of his observations were not just piercing—they were prophetic.



福澤は多作な書き手で、その作品を集めれば膨大な量になるだろう。慶應義塾大学出版会が刊行したAn Outline of a Theory of Civilizationは10章からなる代表作『文明論之概略』を英訳し、ていねいな編集をほどこしたもの。それぞれの章が福澤の思想と激動する日本の姿をはっきりと示している。この英訳は福澤が創立した慶應義塾の150周年記念版でもあるが、序文にもあるように福澤の理論にはもちろん現在では正論といえない部分もある。だが、その考察の多くは本質を突いており、そのうえ予言的ですらあったのである。

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