Japan was the only non-Western country to build an industrial empire before the establishment of the liberal world order. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture by Ruth Benedict is thus a real-world case study of what culture could have beenen in a counterfactual history where the Industrial Revolution happened without Christianity, the Enlightenment and democracy.
Many books have been written about Imperial Japan. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is exceptional.
- It was written in 1946, before the United States Westernized Japan. Meiji Japan still existed when The Chrysanthemum and the Sword was published.
- The Chrysanthemum and the Sword was written for the US State Office of War Information. It is more goal-oriented than most histories and ethnographies. This isn't a book about appreciating a beautiful culture. It is an introductory textbook for reengineering an entire society.
The most interesting thing about The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is its philosophy. Western philosophy has Christian roots. Christianity is monotheistic. Monotheism is built around the idea of one truth. Singular truth is useful in the domain of science because the laws of physics are universal.
Western philosophers often take it for granted that ethics, custom and philosophy ought to be singular too. Daoist philosophy doesn't. In traditional Japan, acting differently in different contexts was a sign of refinement. Inscrutability was a virtue.
There were other things which don't make sense in a Western context but which do make sense in an Eastern context. For example, Japanese soldiers were notorious for the savagery of their attacks on US forces. However, when captured, Japanese prisoners of war were well-behaved and followed the orders of their prison guards. This pair of behaviors is not what you would expect from the same American prisoner of war in 1945.
Though I occasionally discuss Daoism with Taiwanese people, it is rare for me to have a complex productive conversation about Daoist ideas with white people. There isn't enough shared cultural context. If you want to read a good book on traditional Eastern culture written in a modern Western style then I recommend The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.