Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Politics of Nation-Building

World War II did not only demolish the social, economic, and moral fabric of human society. It also erased man’s faith in reason itself. The rise of fascism and Nazism in modern day Europe meant that human beings no longer believed in reasonableness. Even the most learned have surrendered their destiny into the hands of a cruel despot and evil tyrant in Adolf Hitler who inflicted inhuman atrocities to the powerless. The Philippines is not unfamiliar with the ills of modern civilization. The country too has suffered under a ruthless regime.

What is Political Philosophy?

Political philosophy after the war has become the mere abstraction of human society’s deepest thoughts about life and its meaning. Human civilization has suddenly lost its passion for freedom and equality. Philosophy turned to language and extracted in the most esoteric way the definition and sense of abstruse propositions. Politics suddenly meant nothing to thinkers and scholars who would just rather confine themselves to linguistic analysis.

And yet, there is no way of escaping the political. Many political upheavals during the sixties and the looming threat of communism overtaking everything else imply that liberal societies have to find their voice somewhere. Indeed, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice almost single-handedly caused the rebirth of a philosophy that was at its very dead end. Rawls put to task the prevailing and the most dominant moral paradigm at the time.

Utilitarianism, as espoused by J.S. Mill and Bentham, justified the sacrifice of some in favor of the majority. The politics of utilitarianism is simple – maximum welfare at the expense of others. But to sacrifice even one life in favor of the many violates the core principle of reason itself – life as inherently inviolable. It is unreasonable to sacrifice at the altar of politics the life of any human being. Yet, the idea of a life-boat ethics has provided human society with a measure of security, though for reasons that are morally deficient.

In fact, there was no stopping the modern state from rising. It determined the way of life of a people who were left homeless by the atrocities of the war. G.W.F. Hegel considers the state as the self-realization of reason. The state represents what reason is in terms of systems in which man is able to organize and legitimize himself in history and politics. The state, in this regard, must serve the very ends of reason and allow each individual to achieve the fullest enjoyment of his or her freedom.

Reason itself is the very unfolding of every person’s potential in the universe. It is the self-realization of the Spirit or Geist into flesh. Reason is the truth, the reality, or the actuality of life. This explains the dictum that everything happens for a reason. The logic of reality cannot be otherwise. Reason, we have been taught, is freedom. When an unjust man talks about things without a sense of reasonableness, then he is simply fettered by his own bias and prejudices.

Political philosophy is the Spirit giving that voice to human reason. Reason is the light of human subjectivity. It is reason's, and not the mandate of heaven, that a person must not be reduced into the level of an object. Each human being is endowed with the power to be. This inner principle is not something that is bestowed like an attribute or an adjective that is added to a thing. Each human person is essentially freedom itself. To diminish the foundational value of freedom is to demean humanity.

Authority, perhaps, is not the enemy of reason. Rather, authority draws its legitimacy from reason. In the absence of this legitimacy, there can only be oppression and the shameless violation of the rights of men and women. People confer upon the state the power to govern. They do so on the basis of their informed choice and judgment. In this regard, the legitimacy of any state authority comes from the sovereign will of the people who freely give their consent to be governed.

When people are united in their stand for truth and justice to demand their liberation from the tyranny that has caused them so much pain and suffering, it is democracy actualizing its due course by way of reason and solidarity. Political philosophy teaches us that while history is always the final arbiter in judging the greatness or infamy of a man, it is in the here and now that the value of that judgment will be most felt and realized.

The Politics of Nation Building

The reality of conflict, not social cooperation, is the starting point of politics. In the difficult terrain of nation building, Filipinos have, since the time of Manuel L. Quezon, characteristically held their President responsible for the future of their nation. A politician naturally thinks that he is the savior of the nation. But changing the status quo cannot be the singular responsibility of one person. As a matter of principle, citizens must also realize their basic moral obligations to the state, which include, among others, electing politicians who are worthy of the positions they hold.

We are tempted to ask if nation building is a question of virtue. After all, it was Aristotle who wrote that the main goal of politics is to cultivate the good character of citizens to empower them in achieving the ultimate end of human society – happiness. For Hegel, self-perfection is nothing but the realization of the potential of each. For Aristotle, each one of us needs society because man is neither a god nor a beast. However, our present state of affairs are a bit more complicated. There is a clash of values and of perception, to say the least.

We might find it relevant to look into Kant and examine if in fact, the unequivocal respect for the autonomy of the person is the foundation of any just society. Human dignity entitles each one of us to a moral claim that serves as the ethical basis for universal rights. It is our self-legislating capacity that determines why we must follow the law as an imperative. Rationality, the Enlightenment tradition says, is at the core in the establishment of a just political order.

In fact, politics for modern liberals is a matter of agreement. Political legitimacy means that people, without coercion, give their consent to the manner in which they will be governed. The basic structure involves a system of rights that intends to broaden a person’s life prospects. Society reflects a people’s aspirations and hopes to live under a political system in which they desire to enjoy their just entitlements as citizens of the state.

And yet, the emphasis on human autonomy neglects the strong claims of community. People may find themselves possessing a sense of social identity by virtue of their beliefs, convictions, shared understandings, and values. The idea of the common good, in reality, may run counter to individual freedom. This is because modern liberalism has disregarded how the particularity of cultures may come to affect the people’s common interests, which define the meaning of values and the context or perspective with which people look at things.

In the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Hegel teaches us that the life of citizens cannot be abstracted nor separated from the dimension of their communitarian soul. Nation-building has to be a reflection of the practicality of politics. The unfolding of history in political movements is something that the atomism of most liberals has never paid attention to. Hence, beyond the idea of a social pact, tolerance for cultural differences means that people should recognize the historical rootedness and unique identities of others.

Nation-building requires that we must have faith in ourselves as a people. Citizenship is not just a political thing. It is also tied to a moral mandate. The love of country is a fundamental duty of every citizen. “Power is unjust,” says Jean Baudrillard. Indeed, no politician is a saint, but this should not mean that law-abiding citizens must stop doing what is morally right for their country. Ultimately, building a truly just society is a question of how people give importance to the moral good of others, whatever this moral good means.

Civil Society and Politics 

The moral good can only thrive under a democracy. While we must distinguish secular from religious morality, a liberal state should not preclude religious people from speaking about the moral good. Civil society, in which the church is part, cannot be excluded in the public debate on the many contentious issues that have besieged the country today. For example, Catholicism and politics are intertwined in Philippine political culture. While there is some truth to the claim that some clergymen take advantage of their privileged place in a community of believers, it is undeniable that across many regions in the country, many good priests have also become champions of the poor.

Religious values have become part of public morality. Church teachings on marriage and the sanctity of life have helped construct the informed judgment of the majority of Filipinos. As such, these do not appear as impositions of a major religion in the affairs of government, or as interference in the civic activities of citizens, because social issues are also a moral concern. For Jurgen Habermas, religious doctrines can deliver the profound truth on important public matters. The pronouncements coming from the church, while inspired by revelation, do have a stake in the realization of social justice. Religious teachings can permeate into the institutionalized practice of deliberation.

The public sphere often acts as a sounding board for problems that must be processed by the political system. Habermas explains that the public sphere in modern day democracy must help in amplifying the moral pressure and convincingly thematize them, and in the process, point the ethical way forward. In this regard, he believes that the political system should remain sensitive to the influence of public opinion. This influence is often converted into political power and thus, into binding political action. Civil society is important to the stability of the basic structure. Habermas thinks that Constitutional guarantees are never enough to preserve the state.

The Pursuit of Equality

For a long time, the Filipino people have provided the unmistakable means for their own destruction. This is obvious in the kind of democracy that we practice. We always have two sets of rules: one for the powerful, and another for the ordinary. The irony of it all is that those who are in power profit from the cumulative ignorance of the masses, whom they subdue by sheer manipulation. Those who are in the periphery of our society are trampled and demeaned, shoved away from a life of decency, even pushed like a piece of rag by those with which they entrust their hopes and dreams.

The design of the present Philippine state of affairs is based upon false expectations. The people enjoin themselves in everything that their government does, hoping for favorable consequences. The majority will desire equality in terms of outcomes, confounding the very basis of social cooperation. For such form of equality cannot be attained unless some soul out there is sacrificed. Even then, selfish people like many among us are more than willing to subjugate the freedom of others if it is the most efficient means by which we can achieve our ends.

But ignorance cannot be the root of all evil in the world. People need to determine why good people cease to be critical. We have to put reason to task in inquiring as to why it is no longer in use. Equal rights means equality in terms of treatment. Every human being is entitled to the same rights as others, not because it is something that one can demand from the state, but because the contrary of such irreverently defeats the essential purpose of democracy – all power must emanate from the people! And yet, the sad fact is that while tall buildings rise from almost all corners of the metropolis, many children in rural areas have no access to good education, their lives forever shattered and their dreams, unfulfilled in a country that cannot even provide them with a decent home.

The Philippines is no longer a colony of any imperial power. But precisely, the malady of times past is still happening in the country. Any man can count by the fingers the number of individuals who control the economy. In order to free the Filipino from the fetters of social inequality, he must learn on his own.  The ordinary citizen must understand his role in society and obligations in helping build the nation. This will necessitate the sincere understanding of the country’s political situation, its problems and the ethical path that the people should take to bring hope to every household. The Filipino must learn how to educate himself. Renato Constantino explains:
Education is [the most vital] weapon of a people striving for economic emancipation, political independence and cultural renaissance. We are such a people. Philippine education therefore must produce Filipinos who are aware of their country's problems, who understand the basic solution to these problems, and who care enough to have courage to work and sacrifice for their country's salvation. [1]
In our desire to build this nation, brick by brick if we must, we are compelled to respond with our conscience. We do not have a king, but many of our politicians are no different from the oppressors of old. They serve themselves, firstly. The late senator Joker Arroyo was right in saying that you cannot let a thief run a country. Yet, at the latter part of his career he supported someone who was perceived by many as corrupt. In a country such as ours, we can only continue to pray and hope that the freedom of the people who desire the moral good might reign one day.

1 Renato Constantino, "The Miseducation of the Filipino," in The Filipinos in the Philippines and other Essays. (Manila: Malaya 1966), 39.