Masahiro Noguchi: Translational Gap of "Rights" in East Asia: A comparative study in the light of Max Weber


The concept of human rights is recognized as having universal value in the world, of course including almost all countries in East Asia. Nevertheless, we should not forget that the concept of (natural) rights is a Western and modern product. There was no exact Japanese equivalent for the English word “rights”. It was not until the 1860s that the Japanese word “kenri (権利)” was invented as a neologism. The idea of “rights” was so difficult to translate into Asian languages, that a translational gap emerged.

Masahiro Noguchi focuses on the translational gap of “rights”. His presentation begins with a passage from David Nelken: “the Japanese ideogram for the new concept of ‘rights’ came to settle on a sign associated with ‘self interest’ rather than morality.” Where does the bias come from? In the first part of his talk, Noguchi traces the process of how the European word “rights” was transplanted into Chinese and Japanese, referring to Georg Jellinek’s study on the religious origin of the concept of human rights.

In the second part, he compares two opposite views on how to evaluate the cultural gap. Whereas Takeyoshi Kawashima, a legal sociologist of postwar Japan, interprets the cultural bias as an obstacle to modernization, Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore discusses “Asian Values” affirmatively. Noguchi attempts to articulate a constellation of discourses on the translational gap of “rights” in East Asia by critically describing these two intellectuals. He will discuss the communitarian critique of “rights talk,” “legal orientalism,” Confucianism as “invented tradition,” and Sino-centricism upheld by postmodern discourses of anti-Eurocentricism.

This research is a legal-political study of cultural translation. At the same time, it is study of Max Weber. Noguchi refers to Weber frequently because it is his comparative sociological theory of religion that considers cultural diversity and translational gaps regarding western modernity.

Curriculum Vitae

Following his studies in Political Science at Waseda University, Tokyo, Masahiro Noguchi studied Sociology, Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Bonn from 1998 to 2003. There, he completed his doctoral studies with a thesis on “Kampf und Kultur: Max WebersTheorie der Politik aus Sicht seiner Kultursoziologie” (“Clash and Culture: Max Weber’s theory of politics from the perspective of his cultural sociology”). Upon his return to Japan, he assumed teaching obligations at Rikkyo University, Meiji Gakuin University, Yokohama National University and Waseda University. From 2008, Masahiro Noguchi was Associate Professor for Political Science at Gifu University. In 2010, he was then appointed Associate Professor for Political Theory at the Faculty of Law of Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, before becoming Full Professor for Political Theory there in April 2013. Since April 2013, Professor Noguchi is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”.

Selected Publications

  • Kampf und Kultur: Max Webers Theorie der Politik aus der Sicht seiner Kultursoziologie, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot 2005 (Jp.: Tōsō to Bunka. Makkusu Uēbā niokeru Bunka-Shyakaigaku to Seiji-Riron, Tokyo: Misuzu Publishing 2006).
  • Universalgeschichtliche Probleme in der japanischen Weber-Diskussion, in: Karl-Ludwig Ay, Knut Borchardt (Eds.): Das Faszinosum Max Weber: die Geschichte seiner Geltung, Munich: UVK 2006.
  • Kanryōsei-Hihan no Ronri to Shinri. Demokurashi no Tomo to Teki (The Logic and Psychology of the Critique of Bureaucracy. Friend and foe of democracy), Tokyo: Chuokoronshinshya 2011.
  • Hikaku no Eitosu. Reisen no Shyuen igono Makkusu Uēbā (The ethos of comparisons. Max Weber’s political theory after the end of the Cold War), Tokyo: Hōsei UP 2011.
  • Makkusu Uēbā no Nihon, Tokyo: Misuzu Publishing, 2013 (Japanese translation of: Wolfgang Schwentker: Max Weber in Japan: Eine Untersuchung zur Wirkungsgeschichte 1905-1995 (Max Weber in Japan: An investigation into the history of impact 1905-1995), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 1995).