Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: July 2020

8 - From Signal to Legality

from Ancient Power with Civil Law Foundation


The Meiji era (1868-1912) dramatically transformed Japan from a feudal nation into a great power in little more than three decades. This chapter analyzes the Meiji Constitution as an instance of authoritarian legality. It begins by describing the intellectual and historical origins of the Meiji Constitution, originating as a reaction to the threat of Western colonialism. It then goes on to explain the institutional choices that established the bureaucratic-authoritarianism that has come to dominate modern Japan. The formal rules of the Meiji Constitution, complemented by a set of informal rules that channeled the actual exercise of power, were critical underpinnings for modern Japanese political and economic development.