"Third World View of the Genealogy of Democracy -Theorizing from the Indonesian, the American, and the Japanese Political Histories"

Dr. Machtar Pabottingi (CSEAS visiting research fellow, Senior Researcher at Center for Political Studies, Indonesian Institute of Sciences)
14:00-16:00, January 10 (Tue), 2006
E207, 2nd floor of CSEAS East Building

Whence democracy? How did, does, and will it come into being? Since history has already testified that democracy is by no means a privilege destined to Western countries alone, what are its universal and ultimate prerequisites? And since simply reiterating the prerequisites of democracy the way they have been identified and discussed in contemporary literature has increasingly become an idle undertaking, what constitutes and/or where lies its starting point―the very factor that ignites and moves the democratic engine in the first place? With the partial answer that could be inferred from the great works of Tocqueville, Mill, Rawls, and Sartori, these questions linger on even after I read Lipset, Verba, Dahl, Diamond, Lijphart, Linz & Stepan, O’Donnell & Schmitter, Benhabib, Kymlicka, Shapiro, etc. We could even argue that the answer to them seems remoter the more contemporary we go along the literature―leaving the majority of the Third World ever in the dark to what democracy is all about regarding its essential makeup.
     I must state that theorizing about the origin or the genealogy of democracy is more a haunting quest that keeps chasing me during the last fifteen years rather than prompted by any kind of scholarly ambition whatsoever from the outset The purpose is nothing but to draw a learned conclusion out of the cumulation of my readings and writings in politics over the last two decades. It is thus a theorizing in the way a theory should emerge and stand, that is as the way Geertz puts it: “after the facts.”
     Strongly driven by love for my country, I was first led in 1983 to voluminous readings of Indonesian political history, particularly its staying aspirations of nationalism and egalitarianism. This prompted me to get immersed in the extensive literature of nations and nationalisms as well, then to case and theoretical studies of democracy, to American democracy as so finely enunciated by Tocqueville as well as its political history and finally to that of Japan. It was the juggernaut of political insanity set in by President Soeharto’s selfish and cowardly resignation in 1998 with its ugly aftermath throughout Indonesia that ushered me to a kind of “clue” toward a genealogy of democracy. In other words, I am theorizing in order to crystallize my readings of politics, of democracy in particular, thus far.
     Democracy in the modern sense has been viewed as closely tied to Western civilization―especially the role of the British political tradition, or as a product of the reigning of a substantial number of bourgeoisie--a prosperous and well-educated middle-class, or as a function of the flourishing of civil society. To my reading, all these explanations are ad hoc if not tangential, tautological, or even plain wrong. Even the proliferation of comparative studies on democracies as well as that of “transitional paradigm” does their trades not so much without a firm understanding of democratic genealogy as for taking democracy for granted, i.e., of not applying a deeper question into its genealogy―precisely the way they take the existence of “nation” for granted.
     Extrapolating from the utter discrepancy between the agonizing impoverishment of centuries-long political experience of “Indonesians” and the praiseworthy exceptionalism of that of the American and the Japanese within the same and comparable time frame, I have come to conclude that the bedrock of democracy is landed-nation with its autocentric working mode. It is this mode of the landed-nation that in time greatly facilitates the drawing of “social contracts” and/or the hard-won formulation of the body of the Constitution.
     Partly recovering the seminal thesis of Rupert Emerson in From Empire to Nation (1962) and simultaneously correcting his strayed analysis in the last few chapters of this classic, partly due to my readings of the American and the Japanese experience on the one hand and that of the sub-Saharan African countries on the other, I am convinced with the symbiotic relationship between nation and democracy by according a more determinant role to the former―provided it is understood the way Renan and less explicitly Gellner and Hobsbawm take it. If Barrington Moore Jr. states that “No democracy without bourgeoisie,” I would go with Emerson and further that “No democracy without nation.” We must note that most students of “nations” and “nationalism” use the two concepts interchangeably, as identical, or inseparable and thereby confuse their analysis (Kohn, Kedourie, Anderson, Smith, Greenfeld, Tamir, Hall, etc.). This study simultaneously serves to correct the big mistake.
     The grasping of nation as an autocentric political community brings me to what we might call “a two-by-two conceptual genealogy of democracy”―namely that between nation, autocentricity, (political) rationality, and democracy. In this regard, nations beyond my present focus like Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, India, and perhaps contemporary South Africa could all be juxtaposed along with the USA and Japan as good exemplars to support my thesis. I include “democracy”--an end-result in simple reasoning--as a factor in itself, because on this count there is indeed a logicofactual circularity at play first observed by Emerson that while democracy is largely a function of nation, the reverse is just as true-- a democratic system can also function to mold a nation. As a matter of fact, it has been a long-reigning fallacy to assume that “nation-building project” is capable of building a nation. Soekarno has learned his bitterest lesson here. Indeed, not a single nation-building endeavor that I know of has ever really succeeded in building a nation, for, apart from the work of centuries-long historical providence, the best alternative nation-builder is nothing but democracy itself.
     It is this “two-by-two-democratic genealogy” that I will try to enunciate at length in this coming “Special Seminar”-- not so much to win agreement with my thesis from colleagues that could kindly spare their valuable time to attend as to solicit their suggestions and/or criticisms. That would be deeply appreciated as I do intend to get this study published well-cooked for an international audience.

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