More than thirteen years have passed since Indonesia, in 1998, freed itself from Suharto’s authoritarian regime, and set sail into a vast democratic ocean, a new horizon of unlimited possibilities of democratization, which is being consensually called as Reformation. After almost fourteen years of democratization, a bunch of questions still lingers and confronts us: have we changed for the better? Have we made ourselves better along the road of democratization? Or are we as disoriented as before or even worse?
Of course these are hypothetical questions; questions pose as a means to reflect, to confront not only problems that challenge us today, but more than that, to confront our own selves in all its positivity and negativity. These are necessary hypothetical questions that force us, as a nation, to look inward and reflect. Many people believes that we are worst than before, that we plunged deeper and deeper into a stateless state, a near-anarchy condition. Many also believes that we are in a much better prosper nation than before, that despite all its discontents, we have succeed to prosper as a nation and gain a lot of material-cultural-political-economical benefit than ever before. Between these two opposites stand those with an indifference attitude, those who have lost all their enthusiasm to political process, those who don’t even give a slightest care if this nation rises or fall. So the answer to our hypothetical questions are undoubtedly varies, it really depends on whom you ask with all its educational-social-economical background. This variety of answers proves the relevance of what Karl Marx said as class struggle toward material-economical-political domination of means of production, that class struggle not only exists, but it drives people’s political preference in both national and everyday level.[ii] You only need to turn your television on and watch the local news to realize this evident class struggle, or else, just go yourself to the market, from the up-scale market in many newly built malls in Jakarta to the ordinary traditional-local market in various places around Jakarta where you will immediately find yourself walk along narrow alley accompanied by the stingily smell of not-so-fresh fish in the air. These two different kinds of market represent two different classes of society with its different interests, sensitivities and preferences. These two different kinds of market represent two different classes with its widening gap and more hostile attitude toward each others.
This evident social reality confronts us with more pressing hypothetical questions: what exactly is the system of our government today? What kind of political-economical system we adopt as a nation? What kind of democracy we are practicing today? Can anybody inside the government put a direct clear-cut answer to this question concerning system and framework? Answer to these questions becoming more pressing since more and more people are watching much inconsistency between what is stated at national-governmental level which is so promising and its decadent application in day-to-day practice which is far from being realized. This much inconsistency in government practice drags people’s trust to government to its worsening level, and the attitude of state’s apparatus like the police toward its people is not helping at all. You cannot talk about social justice, economic efficiency, or democratic procedure in front of people while you are doing all the political-economical back deal with for example foreign energy company at people’s back. You cannot talk about freedom and equality in front of people’s face while you are yourself doing a feudal-unequal-personalized political practice in bureaucratic process at the back of people’s face. To put it simply, you cannot talk about people’s welfare, democratic process or common good while you are obviously behaving like a feudal lord in your son’s wedding. In this case, inconsistency is nothing but hypocrisy.
So, if some say that we, Indonesians, are a democratic nation, I can’t believe it, since there’s no democracy built upon inconsistency and hypocrisy. It is transparency, trust, and consistency that fundamentally form democracy. If some say that we are a democratic state based on liberal and secular principle, I also cannot believe it, since there’s no liberal democracy built upon inequality, incompetence and poverty. It is the very idea of liberal democracy to promote freedom, equality, and prosperity to its people, at least theoretically, and that means you have to be excellently-individualistically competent and responsible in the area of profession you are doing, for example as a merchant, as a bureaucrat, or as a head of the state. Liberal democracy presupposes freedom, equality, responsibility, and competence in its theoretical-practical core, not feudality, inequality, irresponsibility and incompetence. If some say we are a social democratic state, I cannot believe it more, since there’s no social democracy built upon widening gap between the rich and the poor. It is the very core of social democracy to empower its people by creating fair and equal access to social-political-economic dignity, and by doing that narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, not widening it!
So, what are we? In what democratic system do we dwell now? Yes, we do have the trias politica characteristic of democratic system, we do have an election process characteristic of federal democratic system, and we do have a constitution, a parliament, and presidential authority characteristic of a republic, we also do have a free-market economic system characteristic of liberal economy, but it’s all an apparent form, an artificial construction constructed as a framework suppose to work effectively. But, in reality, it does not work effectively and consistently. It is all not the fundamental substance that grounds and defines Indonesia as a nation. And in the midst of all that abundance of system, where are the people? What direct improving impact that those much praised systems bring on the ordinary day-to-day life of those traditional fishermen on remote coastal area, or of those local farmers on the remote mountainous region?
There are already many experts arguing the case for, or against, the democratization of Indonesia. Some are convincingly arguing that the way out of the issue lie in the betterment of our democratic republican systems. Some are blindly arguing to turn back to the era of authoritarian regime of the New Order, since everything felt much better at that time, which is an argument that can be understood and made a lot of sense. Many believe that the right path to take in the future is to follow China’s aggressive state-led economic policy in all its aspect forgetting the historical fact that China is politically a communist republic, or despite of the fact that China has moved too far away from its ideal of communism. Many also still believe that the right path to take in the future is to imitate America’s liberal democracy-economic system ignoring the historical fact that America’s political-economic system is deeply shaped and moved by religious ultra evangelical movements covered in liberal democratic jargons. Amidst these confusions, and as a reaction to it, some are foolishly arguing to turn back to religiously inspired Puritanism as inspired by the movement of Wahabi’s revivalism, completely ignoring the in-built historical fact of Nusantara as a community of pluralistic people with its syncretism since 5th century. All this opinions reflect one important thing, that is people’s preference to order rather than chaos or disorder. Each one of us has a longing for order, not only a stable and established social-political-economic order, but a just one. That means, as an Indonesian, each one of us has a longing for order that can represents our true self as an Indonesian, represents our historical authentic roots as a nation with its archaic and rich traditions, an order that is just, transparent, and fair, and more than everything else, an order that represents all the strata of the Indonesians, not just its middle or upper class. This longing for order, if it’s not satisfied or if it’s not channeled to the right canal to express it, it will burst uncontrollably into people’s anger and madness. A nation in which there’s people’s anger and dissatisfaction in much of its part is a nation close to disorder. It is the job of the government to create and establish order, a just one; it is the very reason of the government being paid each month by people’s money. So, where is the government that supposes to instill order? And behind this question, there is one more fundamental and pressing one: what kind of order best suited to the nation? You cannot simply instill an order as a blueprint for a nation that is geographically-culturally-politically diverse without comprehensive understanding of its philosophical-fundamental foundation (filosofische grondslag). So what is our foundation as a nation?
This article doesn’t aim to take side with any of those ideological positions mentioned earlier; it also doesn’t aim to arguing the case for, or against democracy. This article aims to phenomenologically suspend all ideological and practical framework about political systems, and by doing that, tries to move deeper into the most fundamental thing that lies beneath every political system in order to be effectively functioned as a means to instill order. More fundamental than just arguing the case for, or against democracy, this writing aim to show the one important thing presupposed by any kind of democracy or any kind of political-governmental system in order to be able to function effectively. By showing what is presupposed by any kind of democracy in order to function effectively, this article wants to make clear the obvious fact that this fundamental presupposition has largely been neglected in our overall democratic practice. This one important thing stand behind any kind of political activity is what at first inspired and formed the practice of democracy, but along the demand of practicality in the history of politics, this one important thing is slowly forgotten, and completely neglected by both liberal democracy and socialist democracy. This one important thing stands behind any political activity and political power is nothing political. It is not political since it fundamentally presupposed by everything that is political; it grounds and defines the political in every politics as an archaic primordial activity of human beings as zoon politicon. This one important thing stands behind, defines, and grounds any kind of political activity, including (or especially) democracy, is nothing but Virtue. In other words, no matter what political-economical system built or adopted by any nation, whether democratic, authoritarian, socialist, or liberal, it will never work effectively and justly without virtue as its fundamental ground. In other words, a democratic, socialist or even an authoritarian nation can flourish as a just, prosper, and respected nation if those who rules and those being ruled posses’ virtue in both their personal and political attitude, regardless of system. This does not mean that virtue goes beyond justice or equality, for justice and equality are two most important things of the many ends that must be achieved by any political system. But, politics can never achieve those ends without the right and proper means to fulfill it, and the one most indispensable way to get closer to those ends is the understanding and application of virtue. Power, especially political power, can only be achieved and sustained by virtue. The same presupposition goes for justice, equality, and freedom.[iii]
The importance of virtue as a fundamental presupposition in both personal and political life has been recognized since the time of the classic philosophers such as Platon and Aristotle. It is also emphasized by those Stoic philosophers involved in the Roman Empire politics such as Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. It has been emphasized again by the modern-liberal thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill. This importance of virtue, without which no political system can work, is the fundamental reason why those philosophers since Platon were giving their utmost attention not to political struggle itself, but to the on-going process of civic education that is called as Paideia. They realized that the key issue lies not in the system per se, but in the capacity and competence of those humans work behind the system. Those philosophers realized that the key issue lies not only in the capacity and civic attitude of those people being ruled in any political system, but most importantly in the capacity and integrity of those persons in charge of political power. This means virtue goes both ways, it is demandingly required as a necessary disposition of those who rules, but it is also required as an indispensable attitude of those who are ruled. This importance of virtue, without which no order can be expected, is the very reason behind the emphasis of humanity studies and liberal arts (artes liberals / philosophy) in education from the time of Platon and Aristotle to our time. This emphasis in humanity studies and philosophy is somehow neglected by almost all educational system here in Indonesia, since all education is now being more and more narrowed to practical and technical purpose. Virtue, as a living principle, has lost from our horizon of thinking, slipped away from our frame of mind, and from this lost we pay high prices: injustice, violence, disorder, and even disintegration. This lost of virtue from our frame of thought also explains why Indonesians are now so much obsessed by material success as represented by the growing demand of public preacher called themselves as motivator. If someone has to be motivated beforehand by others to do what he/she think is right, then there’s obviously something wrong with that person, since that person no longer has the internal capacity to discriminate for him/herself his or her own judgments. Worst, we have even neglected that Pancasila, as our nation’s principle, in fact contain in itself rich and fundamental principles of virtue. It was not without reason that the founding fathers of modern Indonesia put forward Pancasila as national ideology. Our founding fathers had clearly realized that no political order and social integration might work without the basic principle of virtue, and thus Pancasila is being put forward as a source of virtues, a source of virtues that grounds and defines all the basic living principle of Indonesians as a social-cultural-political community. We have become weary of Pancasila as our common national standpoint along with our experience of Suharto’s regime that used it as his justification of power. We regard Pancasila merely as an empty formal ideology, when in fact it is a basic principle that contains rich materials of virtues, a basic principle of virtues that has been largely ignored by us Indonesians.[iv]
From the time of Platon and Aristotle to ours, this presupposition behind the importance of virtue is common sense and very simple actually: before you can look outward and talk about social-political order and justice, you must be able to look inward, discriminate your own judgment, and then instill justice and order to your own self. This presupposition implies that order and justice in public political life goes hand-in-hand with order and justice in private personal life. A leader cannot be expected to deal with many basic problems of social justice such as people’s right to its legitimate inherited land which is unfairly sold to mining or palm oil Company, when in fact this same leader who talk about social justice is living in a lavish feudal castle in his own wide private land in the suburb of Jakarta. It was Platon in his book Politeia (Republic, book II 373a-e) the first thinker who formulated clearly the compatibility between politics and virtue, between the competence to do public service and the capacity of soul to discriminate the good from the evil ones.[v] Common good and public welfare are based on this compatibility between politics and virtue. Virtue is what is called by Platon as arētē, that is the capacity of soul to rationally optimize itself according to its own nature (phusis), and by doing that he/she can fulfill his/her role or proper function that is demanded to him/her by society. This means that each human being has the capacity to look inward, to know their own selves, and then to maximize its potentials according to their own inner nature and within the boundaries of reason. This also means that someone cannot ambitiously run for presidential seat when that person in fact hasn’t got all the competence needed to be the head of public services, or when in fact this person has no motivation of public service other than his/her own business interests. For Platon, a business man (or a man with business mentality) cannot be the head of political government since he will only turn political realm into a market place where anything can be sold or bought. This also means that a person who seats in public service cannot do business since he will only jeopardize public interest in the name of his own economic needs. Capacity, competence, consistence, and integrity are those categories required for those who desire to enter political life. These categories are virtues demanded to those who are about to enter public service. So, if there’s anyone lacks just one of these categories, he or she must back off from public service. It is a hard demand from Platon, but it is a demanding hardness that is reasonable. For, with public political authority in one’s hand it brings with it not only power but also responsibility, which is the capacity to respond and act accordingly to problems that confronts mercilessly. From Platon’s perspective we can clearly see that politics cannot be done without virtue. For, politics not only requires superior rational-moral capacity to discern and to judge any demanding problems, but it also requires one’s willingness to personally respond to public demands, to take responsibility of things in his own hand, and not blaming it to others. This responsibility in itself requires courage (andreia), and the courage to put one self forward in critical time is what distinguishes the mentality of leaders from the rest. Those government officials and leaders who are hesitant to take the nation’s problems in their hands as public officers can never be called as the nation’s guardian, since they are nothing but cowards and scoundrels.
In short, for Platon, politics is nothing but virtue written large. Politics and public life demand, more than anything else, one’s superior moral-rational quality of mind and character. There’s nothing religious in Platon’s conception of virtue as moral and personal superiority, and virtue itself has no affinity with any kind of religion. For, virtue, as a quality/superiority of mind and character points to one thing and one thing only: human excellence (arete). This virtue, as excellence or the superior moral quality of one’s mind and character, is the presupposition behind any kind of political system. It is what makes social-political order possible as order.
Those words such as superiority, excellence, character might sound undemocratic or even anti-democratic, since democracy itself proposes equality for all. But first of all, those words are not mine, but they are Platon’s words and can be found in Platon’s most influential work, The Republic. Secondly, they are not as anti-democratic as some interpretations of Platon hold, for example the interpretation of Karl Popper. What the classic philosophers such as Platon and Aristotle said about virtue is actually not too lofty and in fact very much common sensical. For example Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics compare the meaning of virtue to a knife, and Aristotle’s definition of virtue is not much different from Platon’s. The virtue of a knife is its sharpness (Nichomachean Ethics, 1102a 12-24). This means a metal plate that actually looks like a knife but is dull and cannot be used to cut something effectively is not a knife at all. For, it hasn’t had the capacity or the quality that distinguishes knife from any other similar object, that is, its sharpness. The same logic applies for every other thing like eyes, table, hands, pencil, politics or human soul. What makes something possible as something is its virtue. This is the most basic and simple definition of virtue. So, in Aristotle definition, man’s political virtue is the capacity or the quality of character in doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, toward the right people, and for the right reason (Nichomachean Ethics, 11016b 15-25, 11019a 25). This definition of virtue in connection with politics is so basic that it makes both Aristotle and Platon indispensable in every political study from the era of the Roman Empire to ours.
This most basic and simple definition of virtue brings with it its important implication. If anyone wishes to enter political life and eager to seize power, or in fact already in power, he/she better be sure that he/she has got the virtue necessary to do it just as the virtue of a knife is its sharpness. If he/she is in fact nothing but an old and dull wooden pencil but insists that he/she can cut like a knife, then this person must be dreaming and his/her hope is nothing but a wishful thinking. If this same incompetent and dull person rises to political power (or already in power), we can only be sure of one thing: that he or she will only brings unnecessary disaster to its people. One fundamental problem with democracy is the fact that in democratic system with its free and equal political access to all, nearly everyone can rises to power, with or without virtue. This is the most vulnerable point of democratic system that can make what is at first a noble-good idea of freedom and equality falls down into its most disastrous political consequences. But this vulnerability need not makes us skeptical about democracy itself. For, democratic ideals are originally founded on optimism of human capacity as moral-rational creatures (animal rationale), that is, creatures capable of doing good judgment and capable to achieve goodness through its moral-rational discernment, and act accordingly-consistently to attain this goodness. This capacity to discern, to judge, and to act in a way that is moral and rational is its virtue. This moral-rational capacity is its distinctiveness that differentiates us humans from other creatures such as dogs, horses or plantations which are as alive as we are. Democracy is founded on this very ideal of human beings. This ideal of democracy must also makes us realize that in every democratic government or system the virtue of each one of its citizen is a necessary feature needed more than in any other systems. This also means that any government claims itself to be democratic must be able to prove its virtue as a democratic regime, and provides evident examples of its virtue to the people, otherwise this government is only betraying not just the ideal of democracy, but also the people it represents. Betrayal, cowardice, inconsistency, greed, and lust, these are vices, not virtues. Any political government claims to be democratic but in fact works according to these vices is better pushed to step down or seized before it brings more havoc to its people. There’s nothing easy or cozy in democracy, it requires all the hard work, restraints, efforts, and responsibilities from all its citizens, from those who rules and from those ruled. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca had already said in 1st century BC, that virtue always aims high and requires the best effort (labor optimos citat, per alta virtus it [De Constantia]).
From this classical-archaic and original definition of virtue we can infer that politics cannot be called as politics without its condition of possibility that makes it happen, that is, virtue. The virtue of politics is defined by its public common goal, which is to achieve the common good for all (summum bonum). In this ideal of common good lies those necessary quality of virtues that supports the happiness of men as social-political beings, such as justice, toleration, courage, decency, integrity, generosity, friendship, prudence, fortitude, temperance, etc. Perhaps these virtues are already being practiced by most of us Indonesians in our everyday social-cultural life, but somehow when it comes to politics those things are easily slipped away and inexistent. It is either we practice it only as mask to covered our own true ugly and greed nature, or we never really get to the utmost basic understanding of what it takes to live a public-political life. Whatever the case those virtues packed in one general functional term as ‘Common Good’ (summum bonum), are the most basic things that lie behind every struggle of political system and ideology. All political system and ideology rush to power in the name of this same identical common good. All debates and arguments of political theory or ideology will in the end show itself as nothing other than the claim about which most effective and reasonable way to attain this common good. But, along the way to achieve this goal, those political-economical system and ideology tend to sacrifice that common good they are fighting for in the name of the system, and not try the other way around, that is, to adjust the system in terms of the common good. All systems, whatever it is, made for the sake of man, not the other way around. In the midst of these categorical-ontological confusions, virtue vapors into the thick-smoky air of systemic artificiality and procedural complexity.
This is one of the many acute problems faced by modern democracy especially here in Indonesia. Those systems made for the sake of common good turn out to be the one that sacrifice it. Somehow, under the banner of constitution, law procedure, liberal principle, or democratic regime that suppose to be devoted to people’s interest, these banner are the first one that disappoint and stab people’s hope and expectation. More and more government officials run away from responsibility (virtue) under the name of democratic constitutional law. More and more government officials try to justify their vices and wickedness under the name of democratic constitutional law. More and more public officials try to cover their failure and incompetence by referring to a bunch of artificial-systemic statistical data that says nothing about the reality on the ground. The reality is that for many newly emerged middle-upper class in Indonesia, democracy is nothing but a means to their own power and well being. This evident fact swiftly drags down people’s trust in democratic process into its worrying level. The spectacle of opportunism and shallowness shown by those pseudo-politicians most benefited by the wrong-headed democratic process is infecting not only the true meaning of democracy itself, but also turns people’s understanding of democracy up-side down. The most fundamental-original meaning of democracy as an equal, reliable, and fair political process for the sake of the common good that necessarily requires the practice of virtue, is now almost completely lost. No one even think of injecting back again the importance of virtue both in our national politics and in our educational system.
If this is the case, to talk about the noble struggle to fight for the universal ideals of particular political system, including democracy is I think irrelevant. Under this general lack of virtue shown by almost all political elites claim to be democratic, I think people don’t mind being ruled by any authoritarian figure or system, as long as it is ruled by the basic principle of virtue. Thomas Hobbes has really got his idea speaks for itself, that is, the fact that people is always longing for order rather than disorder, and therefore people is generally willing to exchange their basic freedom for order no matter what kind. For, the fear of disorder and chaos is ever present and ever strong, and this fear is always more strongly felt than the need to fight for your own virtue. If in his last interview with Der Spiegel magazine on September 23, 1966, Heidegger emphasized that in the midst all the modern procedural-technological entanglement “it is only a God can save us”.[vi] As a nation disorientated in democratization we can say the similar: only virtue can save us. ***
[i] Ito Prajna-Nugroho received his degree in philosophy from Driyarkara Higher Institute of Philosophy (STF Driyarkara), Jakarta, with a thesis on Husserl’s phenomenology. He is currently working on another difficult theme on phenomenology. He is now lecturing on philosophy at Defense University and several other higher education institution. Prajna-Nugroho is known for his extensive writings on many issues around the theme of phenomenological philosophy and social-political philosophy. His writings and publications can be read in several journals such as Basis Magazine and Jurnal Filsafat Driyarkara. He contributed an article about Husserl and Sartre on the 100th memorial publication of Jean-Paul Sartre in: A. Setyo Wibowo (ed.), Filsafat Eksistensialisme Jean-Paul Sartre. Yogyakarta: Penerbit Kanisius, 2011. In early 2013 he published his first book: Fenomenologi Politik – Membongkar Politik Menyelami Manusia (Purworejo: Sanggar Pembasisan Pancasila, 2013); along with it also included another independent publication on Stoic political philosophy and leadership as a tribute to the former Army chief of staff, Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu: Ito Prajna-Nugroho, “Disiplin Hasrat dan Kerasnya Moralitas Pemimpin,” in Greg Sudargo, Ryamizard Ryacudu, Kepemimpinan, dan Kita: Satunya Kata dan Tindakan (Purworejo: Sanggar Pembasisan Pancasila, 2013).
[ii] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Bantam Classic Book, 2004), pp. 22-24.
[iii] This same emphasis on the importance of ethical virtue as the ground that grounds all political-economical development process is also pinpointed by one of Indonesia’s leading intellectual figure, Sudjatmoko. See Soedjatmoko, “Etik dalam Perumusan Strategi Penelitian Ilmu Sosial,” in Soedjatmoko, Etika Pembebasan, Pilihan Karangan tentang Agama, Kebudayaan, Sejarah dan Ilmu Pengetahuan (Jakarta: Penerbit LP3ES, 1984), pp. 274-293.
[iv] The concern to enlivening and enlightening again people’s awareness of Pancasila as their basic national principle of virtues is also faced by one of the most qualified and influential Indonesian’s philosopher, Nicolaus Driyarkara, SJ. See. Frans Danuwinata, SJ, “Prof. Dr. N. Driyarkara, SJ. Pemikir yang Terlibat Pnuh dalam Perjuangan Bangsanya,” in Frans Danuwinata (ed.,), Kumpulan Surat Romo Driyarkara, SJ (Jakarta: Pusat Pengkajian Filsafat dan Pancasila, 2010), pp. 134-147.
[v] All my arguments and explanations of the compatibility between politics and virtues, also with the connection to its relevance on the critique to modern liberal democracy, draws its insights from Alasdair MacIntyre’s influential book After Virtue. See Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984). As a comparison also see Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).
[vi] Martin Heidegger, “Only A God Can Save Us,” in Philosophy Today, Volume XX, number 4/4, Winter 1976, p. 277.