Monday, May 28, 2007

The rule of the minorities

In political life in general, there are as many individuals or groups of individuals doing their best to transform our political habits, practices and institutions as there are others at the opposite end trying equally hard to conserve those habits, practices and institutions.

Radicals in this contest are seen as impatient with snail-paced reforms that leave behind their tracks a great mass of distressed losers. Conservatives, on the other hand, content with trickle-down progress, are regarded as reverential to certain time-honored values and traditional authorities that are deemed to serve well the existing order and a few winners who benefit most from it. In the face however of the perceived failure to justify the perpetuation of the system in place, drastic measures would be attempted paving the way in the process for the ideology of revolutionary transformation. For instance, feudalism or the old economy based on slaveholding, having lost its reason for being, has given way to industrial capitalism, and then capitalism itself, in need of reforms, has been subjected to serious challenge mounted by rival ideologies such as Marxism and socialism.

In 1989, conservative thinker Francis Fukuyama, in The End of History?, dared to claim that the big question has been settled with the supposed triumph of “liberal democracy” which he hailed as the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government”; and that if at all flaws in that triumphant ideology might still be extant, they were rather due to “incomplete implementation” than “in the principles themselves.”

Ideologies are secular (not religious) beliefs in the abilities of man to establish the good society on earth. In the Western world, whether the good society for the greatest number would come in spurts or trickle is driven by the claims of two competing ideologies, one promotes the preservation of allegiances to established order and the other advocates the rupture of bonds from such order, or the values, thoughts and institutions that support it; yet both of which are all the same based on liberal democracy.

There is historical basis in the contention that liberalism grew out of the friction between government and business, with the latter asserting freedom from interference by the former. It was in that sense a negative liberty (freedom from), which insists further on continued protection by the government of such liberty so recognized. Therefore, the progenitor of modern liberalism is economic (or market) liberalism.

Before the emerging power of the merchants and manufacturers sought privileges against restraints, it had always befallen upon the government to provide for the well-being of the nation and its people and toward that end direct and control the national economy. Then, Adam Smith wrote a convincing treatise to reinvent the wheel, arguing instead for a self-regulating economy where the efficient producers of goods and services in free competition are supposed to outsell the less efficient ones and consumers as a result get better products for their bucks than when government interferes with such freedom. Smith’s postulate was the early beginning of laissez-faire economics and inter-national trade.

Democracy on the other hand is about the assumption by the people of the responsibilities of government. It is in a sense an aspect of positive liberty, of self-determination or the realization of the individual’s fullest potential. Political participation is a solemn exercise of this liberty.

Unfortunately, a large population is often too raucous to make decisive action. Democratic governance would then require the initiative of an organized group or the commitment of an elite citizenry to run the government in the name of the people. The growing complexity of modern life has also reduced the expression of political sovereignty to the practical requirement of government by representation. When the undercurrent of elitist democracy converges with the rush of economic liberalism to make up the ideology of market democracy, there is the peril that the blend could end up only in the protection and maintenance, constitutionally or otherwise, of rights and rents already vested (in those who may have attained “market power”) and deference to old habits and modes of thinking rather than in experimentation and innovation with a view to the substantive distribution of opportunities to the impoverished majority desperately aspiring to secure them, or at least the safeguard against invasion of basic rights.

In the Philippines, immediately following the May 2007 mid-term elections, Malacañang Palace has lost no time to enlist the succor of the Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (or certain high-profile representatives of what Yale Law School professor, author and Chinese Filipino Amy Chua prefers to call as the market-dominant minority) in an effort to tamper with what appears to be the harsh verdict of the elections. A Philippine Inquirer editorial has taken note of the following:
Early signs aren’t promising. The President sat down with members of the Federation of Chinese-Filipino Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and her Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila asked them to pass on a patronizing message to incoming senators. “It’s like fathers telling their children: ‘I’ve given you your allowance because I wanted you to do these things. Now if you don’t do them, you won’t have an allowance,’” Favila said. He hinted further: “They could say, ‘We don’t need (politicking) now. The elections are over. The people have spoken and we should accept the results. Let’s get our act together for our country’s future.’”
Indeed, democracy is threatened at any time political equality is violated (such as when the vote assigned to each particle of sovereignty is not properly counted or valued) just as in instances where political sovereignty is disregarded (such as when the will of the majority is adulterated or simply set aside post-elections through logrolling, cronyism, patronage and other political rent-seeking activities). In fact, there is as much failure of democracy when ordinary citizens lose the power of effective control over leaders resulting in utter lack of public accountability, as there is market failure when market-dominant minority engages in predatory market behavior because of unrestrained market power.

The observation that political elites are oftentimes helpless against well-entrenched economic elites who normally come out unscathed and blameless in the power play somehow dovetails with Amy Chua’s observation that fair, honest and democratic elections bring to power anti-market forces. Chua explains the polarity this way: “Markets concentrate wealth, often spectacular wealth, in the hands of the market-dominant minority, while democracy increases the political power of the impoverished majority.”

A couple of years ago at PCIJ blogsite, I posted the following historical analysis in reply to another post:
Well, then, as now, there was however a class conflict among the players, and to simplify, I will call the conflict as only between the middle-class (or the ilustrados) and the plebeians, the former preferring to just institute reforms within the existing Public, the latter being intent to form a new Public.

To create a new Public, or a State (or to upgrade civil society to an uppercased Civil Society or People Power), Rizal provided alternatives through Noli and Fili: Reform or Revolution.

To succeed in either alternative, the key ingredients Rizal indicated were a) patriotism, and b) self-abnegation.

Ibarra was the epitome of patriotism (the building of a school house in Noli was symbolic of his passionate stewardship to liberate the primitivized indio youth, the “hope of the fatherland”) and Elias, of self-abnegation. Indeed, without both virtues, civil society would remain in lowercase, meaning inchoate and unorganized and therefore would be unable to grow or collectivize into Civil Society (the uppercase).

The persona of Ibarra and Elias was merged in the martyred Rizal, and for a while effaced the class conflict between the ilustrados and the plebeians. The cultured and the unlettered saw a common enemy – the Friar system. But revolution as a means to attain a new Public failed primarily because self-interest (thirst for power) in Aguinaldo had prevailed over the greater good when he ordered the execution of Bonifacio (and later Luna) and dissipated the initial momentum of the revolution before the Americans had a chance to beguile the Filipinos.

As a leader, Aguinaldo failed to separate private interest from public interest. Also, while Aguinaldo was a patriot, he apparently lacked the self-abnegation of Elias and Rizal.

At the turn of the century, associated action powered by shared interests, born out of the patriotism, self-abnegation and a sense of the public of, and championed by, the civil society of the old was thereupon befuddled by the promise of the “enduring truths” of market and democracy peddled by the new Master. On top of it, the Friar system was in fact re-instituted to Christianize (how often could this happen?) and civilize the “half-devil and half-child” in the Hollywood but more virulent form, thereby perpetuating the indio myth. As a consequence, civil society has had to struggle painfully to arise from a damaged ego.

Meanwhile, a self-content and laggard oligarchy, under the backseat patriarchy of Big Uncle and its many instruments, has taken the initiative from a civil society entrapped and enthralled in its lowercased cast.

Arguably, the Philippine Revolution had preceded Rizal and company in the same way that EDSA I preceded the murder at the tarmac. But just as the execution of Rizal had galvanized the full conception of the real enemy and whereupon the fusion of interests across class lines, the murder of Ninoy led to the coalition of the Left and the Right, the bankers and the farmers, the teachers and the learners, and the clergy and the faithfuls against a common enemy upon the realization that under the conjugal dictatorship no one was really safe. Unfortunately, the people power “rebels” failed to form a new Public based on shared interests, not because they were not collectivized, but simply that they were collectivized only for a limited goal – to oust a dictator. It was then a short-lived break from pubescence or inchoateness. If at all, the public formed under the People Power Constitution of 1987 was based for all practical purposes on the inherited agencies of the old form.

Beyond any doubt, the struggle is far from over. It’s been a continuing one however, perhaps from way back or even before Gomburza. The nemesis remains potent and school houses are needed to be built, as Ibarra did, to uncover in Gramscian formulation the conspiracy of the unliberated mind.

The immediate challenge for civil society today, it seems, is how to internalize the true embodiment of the real enemy. Today, to make GMA face justice is an immediate goal. But the vision for the Civil Society has yet to be fully instantiated. To do so, civil society must be able to assert its primacy and thereupon form a new Public based upon Rizal’s recipe: a mix of patriotism and self-abnegation. If successful, the process has to be kept experimental. It has to be so, because the making and re-making of the Public ought not to be inflexible.
The result of the last elections in the Philippines may have produced certain revolutionary symbolism in the persona of accused and detained mutineer Sonny Trillanes who if elected a senator has promised to shatter money and patronage politics but, echoing a conservative ideological line, “not to reinvent the wheel” or, ironically, of catholic priest-turned governor-elect Fr. Ed Panlilio whose religious hierarchy, the traditional citadel of conservatism, frets about free trade and globalization, and considers the market a tyrant. The same result could also be interpreted as indicative of wider fissures in the system in place that might have been glossed over lately. One discernible systemic crack may be attributable to the re-emergence of active, organized and intense minorities willing and able to serve as countervailing force against the various powers that support the existing state of affairs. For instance, besides the reorganized and improved National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), volunteer election watchdogs have proliferated such as the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), Bantay Eleksyon (BE), Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), Bantay Boto, No Cheats, Kontra Daya and Halalang Marangal (Halal) that all have zealously guarded the electoral process. Ricky Carandang observes that “with so many people watching over the vote, it’s not as easy as it used to be (to steal the election).”

“In a true democracy,” I have also written, “the people (the multitude) and the minority (the oligarchy) do not rule; the minorities (civil societies) do.”

13 Comments:

Anonymous Upn said...

What does "rule" mean?

Is it "write the laws"?
Is it "command the police"?
Is it "collect the taxes"?

May 31, 2007 9:15 AM  
Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

upn,

One theory of democracy claims that while normal organs of government rule (in the sense you are intimating), the people ultimately govern – essentially by political participation.

In reality, the people’s will could get lost in the shuffle, either during election (e.g., because of electoral fraud or similar manipulation) or during the inter-election period (e.g., the elected representatives simply ignore election promises or they succumb to pressures from rent-seekers in breach their agency, or the bureaucracy is too weak to enforce the law).

However, a small group or groups of committed, organized and passionate citizens can have their ways effectively brought to bear on policymaking and thereby alter the political equation as when what these intense minorities clamor for gets actually translated into “state policies” (such as universal suffrage and anti-discrimination laws or, in the future, anti-Garci and anti-dynasty laws), or directly they take extra-constitutional measures to force plunderers or despots out of office.

May 31, 2007 2:21 PM  
Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

I mean "... in breach OF their agency."

June 01, 2007 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abe : precede is "to be earlier than".

June 02, 2007 10:33 PM  
Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

Yes, anonie, because the struggle has “been a continuing one . . . perhaps from way back or even before Gomburza.”

June 02, 2007 11:02 PM  
Blogger cvj said...

Excellent survey of what came before and the challenge that lies ahead. BTW, have you come across Bryan Caplan's "The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies"? I haven't read it yet, but from the discussions, i understand that it's about how people act rationally when faced with market-oriented decisions and irrationally when faced with politically oriented issues. My guess is that the traditional (and artificial) unity between liberalism and democracy is already unraveling.

June 05, 2007 11:25 AM  
Anonymous up n said...

Cvj: You and Abe will probably disagree with Bryan Caplan, who says:
"I offer an alternative story of how and why democracy fails. The central idea is that voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational—and they vote accordingly. Despite their lack of knowledge, voters are not humble agnostics; instead, they confidently embrace a long list of misconceptions.

Economic policy is the primary activity of the modern state. And if there is one thing that the public deeply misunderstands, it is economics. People do not grasp the "invisible hand" of the market, with its ability to harmonize private greed and the public interest. I call this anti-market bias. They underestimate the benefits of interaction with foreigners. I call this anti-foreign bias. They equate prosperity not with production, but with employment. I call this make-work bias. Finally, they are overly prone to think that economic conditions are bad and getting worse. I call this pessimistic bias.

In the minds of many, Winston Churchill's famous aphorism cuts the conversation short: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." But this saying overlooks the fact that governments vary in scope as well as form. In democracies the main alternative to majority rule is not dictatorship, but markets. A better understanding of voter irrationality advises us to rely less on democracy and more on the market."

June 06, 2007 12:08 AM  
Blogger cvj said...

UPn, i believe that Bryan Caplan's argument is just limited to economic issues. It does not (and cannot) say anything about issues that involve justice, human rights and other political and social values. Even in this limited area of economics, just as there are situations of government failure, there are also instances of market failure. As economist Dani Rodrik says, the difference between progressive and market fundamentalists is that the former recognizes that the market only works if a given set of assumptions are fulfilled. That is not always the case in the real world. So unless one is sure that all these assumptions are fulfilled, then being a market fundamentalist is just another form of irrationality.

June 06, 2007 5:20 AM  
Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

upn,

At least Bryan Caplan (thanks cvj for the reference, I have not heretofore heard of him) strives to be fair when he has also written:

“Fervent partisans of democracy often grant that democracy and the market are substitutes. As (Robert) Kuttner puts it, ‘The democratic state remains the prime counterweight to the market.’ Their complaint is that the public has less and less say over its destiny because corporations have more and more say over theirs. To ‘save democracy,’ the people must reassert its authority.”

And Caplan has not likewise concealed the fact that the “world listened when billionaire George Soros declared that “market fundamentalism . . . has rendered the global capitalist system unsound and unsustainable.”

As part of a long essay I have also written about

“… how a mutant form of democracy was handed down to the Filipinos by the American colonizers. In a sense, the delivery of democracy in the Madisonian contrivance (a.k.a. democratic elitism) was fair because the Filipinos were given what the Americans have had in practice. Not so with respect to the market system. For, whereas America also mutated the market system, it has kept the mutant form to hold sway in its backyard while requiring Third-World countries like the Philippines to practice the pure variety through the bitter prescriptions of the market discipline by such institutions as the IMF and the WTO.

“Despite the market rhetoric, state-capitalism (as opposed to market-capitalism) has been adopted by powerful nations—such as France, Great Britain and Germany. Britain then had emerged as the world’s most advanced 'developmental state' (ironically, a label the West pejoratively ascribes to Japan), a model that has become endemic in the industrial world and certainly the United States being among its earnest adherents up to the present.”

June 06, 2007 9:54 PM  
Blogger Jao said...

beautiful article, simply beautiful.

you missed another side of Rizal's Noli and El Fili. Not only was Ibarra and Elias, Rizal's alter-ego, Ibarra himself had alter-egos in the story. one was for reform, and one was for revolution. it was Rizal's own way of arguing with himself and the merits of the two. the reform minded Ibarra was shown In Noli, while a scarred, cynical Ibarra gave up all hopes at reform and was only bent on revolution. in the end, Rizal tempered his revolutionary view, by not allowing Ibarra to succeed. he seems to be guilty with himself for allowing thoughts of violence to enter his once peace-loving mind.

as for me, i think the cries for reform have been useless. we must burn everything down and have a fresh start.

August 15, 2007 3:20 PM  
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March 10, 2010 3:44 AM  
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