Sunday, May 02, 2010

Rule of Kings, Rule of Government

It seems, at times, we are caught in a time warp. Similar configurations from the past revisit time and again as though to punish those among us hard-pressed to learn the lesson. Some say we could be where we were in 1986 and that the magic of People Power will once again be put to test. It is the same power blocs jockeying for position playing by old rules in this tired old game.

Are we truly stuck in a time warp or are we progressing onto something else? I have, from time to time, thrown my hands in exasperation. I am, like you, too close to the action to discern any real change in the way we conduct our politics. I am, like you, alternately exhausted, befuddled, aghast, bemused. But my current location, that is, my position in our polity, affords me little perspective. Once in a while, however, one might glimpse a glimmer of … something new.

In a comment Jego says, and with reason, that character matters. I say yes, sure it does. I am not, however, entirely convinced how and why it does. This internal contradiction within me has stopped me from endorsing any candidate clearly or strongly. Character matters, but surely other factors matter too?

In Michel Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics, he asserts the rise of a new kind of ‘raison d’état’, a new rationality of government from the eighteenth century onwards. He says there arose in Europe a kind of government that does not derive its reason for being from legitimacy (i.e. its rightness or wrongness) but from its efficacy (i.e. its success or failure). Prior to this new raison d’état, all that mattered was that the governor, the person in charge, was legitimate. His legitimacy is derived from his being ‘good.’ And his being good, in turn, is derived from princely virtues – whether he is just, whether he is even-tempered, whether he is corrupt.

I have bemoaned the fact that we seem stuck at this question of whether our ruler is good or not. In fact the whole discourse of the elections so far has been anchored on perceptions of goodness. This is why I thought Conrado de Quiros’ framing of a good versus evil quite retrograde. There has been little discussion on policy issues. A discussion of policy could allow the electorate to discern whose ‘platform’ i.e. whose master plan might mean success or failure in terms of quantifiables. For example a debate on economic policy might elicit a complicated calculus of what might bring the country out of poverty. After all, corruption, by itself, is not the root of poverty.

Government in our age should be more than just a question of being legitimate or being just. Rather, government should derive its legitimacy and justness from success. And success, in turn, must be based on a calculation, a rationality of what can be measured. Because the end-point of all politics is the attainment of the good life – we might measure that in terms of well-being in various spheres (economic, cultural, social).

So, in the year 2010, is the Philippines stuck in an eighteenth century frame of mind? I think not. Among my peers and people younger, there seems to be a real yearning to find not a prince but a modern governor. This might be why there is, in the blogosphere, a desire for real platforms and for these master plans to be dissected in ‘bean-counting’ detail. This might be why so many among my friends and acquaintances will vote for the person they think is capable even when he has no chance of winning. And for this, I have hope. :-)


Jego said...

In his column yesterday, Randy David articulated what I was ineptly trying to get at in my comment.

If the institutional system of a society were strong, the personal integrity of leaders would not be as crucial. But if the system is weak, the trustworthiness of leaders not only acquires paramount importance, it becomes the only criterion that matters.

"The only criterion that matters." Although we could use other criteria, at this point in our history, character is paramount. Before anything else, we need this leader we can trust first of all; before we could even try to grill this leader on policies and issues, the leader must convince us first if he or she can be trusted with the power we are bestowing. Prof David: "By voting for leaders we can trust, we buy time for our institutions to fully mature."

No we are not stuck in the 18th century. If youll notice, in the national level at least, there is less of the what-can-he-do-for-me criteria. We have moved on to Can this person be trusted?

Anonymous said...
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Cocoy said...

I'm still perplexed sparks. as in i truly don't understand. people i know and highly respect like you keep saying "we want platforms." we want to dissect platforms--- but i've hardly had see posts on such dissection. where is the ripping out of Aquino's? of Villar's? of Teodoro's? of Estrada's?

Take for example, Teodoro's digital strategy for education--- is that even the right way to go? I asked someone on twitter about it and he said that in a nutshell, "it's the teachers, stupid!" that the focus of any real transformation in education must start with getting better paid, better trained teachers.

I've been looking at political blogs for the past nine months, and there is hardly ever any real, intelligent discussion pertaining to each of them. That is *my* disappointment. We on the blogsphere have had that opportunity, we seem to have failed.

I go on twitter and find the same thing. "we like so and so because he isn't throwing mud at the other candidates," but stop at explaining what is it that this guy-- other than apparently doesnt' want to get his hands dirty wants to do.

please explain this to me because as an observer of these events, as a participant in this campaign, i don't get it.

pian said...
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pian said...
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sparks said...


Yes of course, there's no question character matters. And yes perhaps Randy David best explains why. Precisely, I think now people are truly asking what these politicians have planned once they take over.


Maybe we overestimate the capacity of non-MSM to drive public discourse. If politicians don't want to talk about their platforms, then there is only so much even MSM can do. I was really excited when Noy's economic platform first came out, outlined briefly in that MBC speech. I dissected the whole thing with as little jargon as possible. I can't, for the life of me, expect MSM to do something similar. Unless you're Winnie Monsod.

Ha? What do I need to explain to you? I can't explain other people's motivations. *scratch head*


Thanks to your spam, I will not turn on comment moderation :-)

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Anonymous said...

Better say nothing than nothing to the purpose. ........................................

Orlando Roncesvalles said...

Humans evolve. So do the birds and bees. So do politicians. The theory is that the "successful" survive and grow, but there can be interregnums of decline when evolution is temporarily messed up (Rome, for example). Hence, there is room for optimism. The OFW vote is a harbinger; it seems not as mired in the Wowowee politics of (we hope) soon to be yester-year.