Can Malaysians Do Political Philosophy?

political-philosophy-essential-texts-steven-m-cahn-paperback-cover-artA friend of mine, Ahmad Fuad, posted an essay in his Facebook entitled “Do Malaysians Need Political Philosophy?” Basically he is arguing for the need for political philosophy in the country. What caught my attention was his observation of how we disavow the need for serious thinking about the nation’s politics. For Malaysians, we are either indifferent to political philosophy by saying (i) it is too abstract or it’s a Western invention that is not applicable to the country; or (ii) we are cynical “hell, politics is about bread and butter issues! We don’t need some airy-fairy theory to tell us what is politics!”

What fascinates me here is, to use the concept advanced by my favourite philosopher-clown, our disavowal of political philosophy/ideology. We may not realize it but our very disavowal masks an ideology that affects the very fabric of our daily lives (and by extension our view on politics).

So what is this ideology that rules over us? Our ideology (or political philosophy) is called developmentalism (a term coined by my own teacher Francis Loh).* Briefly, developmentalism is based on the idea that our personal economic and social well-being takes precedence over the welfare of the nation. So long as the state can generate economic growth which I benefit, what care I for politics?

Indeed, this ideology can be observed through our daily experience. Consider the difficulty of finding a parking bay in shopping malls over the weekends, the media publicizing how many As our children scored, the talk about where best to take a holiday, etc. Of course, the state perpetuate this ideology by promoting the great Malaysian sale campaigns, restricting the space for serious political discussion through censorship or intimidation and an education system that focus on developing well-adjusted happy consumers. The ultimate proof of this brand of ideology is the YBs (most of them anyway from both sides of the divide) who cannot even give a reasonable position on any issues. And we vote them in every five years even though we know them for what they are!

A nation deserves the government it gets. So if we seek to disavow serious thinking on politics then we deserve idiots as politicians. Just because we are not aware of it does not mean that there is no ideology that governs the way we view or act in the political sphere. As the great economist J.M. Keynes said “Ideas shaped the course of history.”

My friend Fuad is correct by saying we need to seriously think about our politics. What we seriously require in this critical juncture in our history is the need for serious thinking as to the future of the nation. Will we allow the current status-quo to continue or should we chart a course for a change? If we opt for the latter then what future do we want? This requires serious thinking that involves political philosophy.

All said and done, it is not that we do not have an ideology but rather it is one we unconsciously accept without critical reflection. As for myself, I’m actually waiting in anticipation for his future essays on applying political philosophy to our current political situation.


* Loh, Francis, K.W., 2002. Developmentalism and the limits of democratic discourse. In: Loh, Francis, K.W. & Khoo, B.T. eds. Democracy in Malaysia: discourses and practices. Surrey: Curzon Press, pp. 19-50.


About Chris

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Posted on September 22, 2011, in Malaysia, Philosophy, Politics, Society. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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