We must rise above ourselves now

3
FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

IN just two weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte will have completed his first year in office. It will have been one of the more turbulent years in recent memory.

In his first 10 months, his war on drugs was virtually the only thing we ever talked about; “killing” was the most frequently repeated word in the President’s vocabulary. Since May 23 this year, DU30’s military campaign in Marawi against the Maute terror group and the Islamic State (IS) has replaced the suspected drug pushers and users with a more murderous enemy.

In both cases, the means adopted to contain the problem had become bigger than the problem it was trying to solve. The “summary killing” of more or less 8,000 drug suspects may have outraged and injured more people than the drug menace, while DU30’s controversial Proclamation 216 of May 23, 2017, declaring martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao— without a clear consensus that there is an actual invasion or rebellion and that the public safety requires it, and without the constitutionally mandated participation of Congress—may have spooked more Christians and mainstream Muslims than the IS-backed Mautes.

Many agree with DU30 that the illegal drug menace and the IS/Mautes are the nation’s foremost problems, and that they require the most radical solutions. To DU30’s critics, however, the summary drug killings have created a much bigger human rights problem, which now includes a complaint against the President before the International Criminal Court at The Hague, while Proclamation 216, with all its maladies, has created a constitutional crisis which can only weaken, if not paralyze, the functioning of our legal system.

Defining our crisis
But while all these issues may appear to define our crisis, they are, from a broader ethical perspective, mere symptoms of the real crisis. Our real crisis is not merely constitutional or political, though it is also both, but essentially moral, existential, and civilizational. Understanding this crisis from its very roots rather than from its mere effects is what we need to overcome it. We cannot afford to be misled by false or superficial appearances.

When the President, who has sworn to preserve and defend the Constitution, says he will not allow the Supreme Court or the Congress to meddle in his conduct of martial law; or when the Speaker of the House says he would tear to pieces a ruling from the Supreme Court ordering the Congress to convene in joint session to approve or reject DU30’s Proclamation 216, pursuant to the Constitution; or when the Senate President, who is said to have topped the bar examinations many years ago, says he expects the Supreme Court to support the Congress leaders’ contempt of the Constitution, there can be no debate that a constitutional crisis exists.

This need not be formally declared by the President, the Supreme Court or Congress. When the letter and spirit of the Constitution and the law are no longer followed by the organs of the State mandated to uphold them, then the crisis exists, and We, the People, should be the first one to bear its cost and consequences. This is what is happening now. But at the root of this crisis is a much deeper crisis, and this is our real crisis. This is what we must now try to understand.

The fundamental question
Why such contempt of the Constitution and the law exists among men and women who have taken a solemn oath to preserve and defend and, if necessary, die for them, and why they expect to get away with such contempt, without suffering any pain or paying any penalties, is the real question. The question is no longer what, but why? Why is it happening at all? Is it because the truth is gone, and reason, morality and human society no longer work? Or is it because what Margaret Thatcher cynically declared in 1987, and which Noam Chomsky, one of America’s public thinkers, recently revisited in an interview, is now the accepted truth—that “there is no such thing as society,” only individuals and families?

Forget Thatcher. Go back to Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas and the great teachers of Western civilization and their modern-day apostles. There is so much that Thatcher herself could have learned from them.

The liquid society
It is sadly not enough to look at DU30 and wonder why he is doing what he is doing and saying what he is saying. We have to look at what has happened and is happening to society, of which we are all an integral part. There has been a “liquefaction” of our society, a process by means of which something solid is turned into a liquid, to borrow an insight from the Spanish and European parliamentarian Jaime Mayor Oreja, in a recent lecture appearing in the current issue of Hungarian Review.

We are now living in a new World Order that is the fruit of “the socialization of nothingness, the result of a liquid society without solid and permanent values,” according to this former member of the Basque, Spanish and European parliaments. This is the result of “a long process of secular decantation that has shaped the world of the 21st century,” says Mayor. This has produced a language where saying some things is practically prohibited, while saying other things is obligatory.

This new world order has a sick, pathological obsession to destroy Christian values in terms of civilization and replace them with nothing, says this author; the only absolute value it believes in is money, which flows from one hand to another without any solid anchors. “In a society as liquid as the one in which we live, the unthinkable, the unexpected, the unimaginable has begun to be part of the everyday natural landscape. Throughout the world, in Europe and Spain, every month—almost every week—something unexpected happens that scandalizes us. It is not a coincidence. They are not chance events. They are characteristic of decadence, of a terminal stage…This is because the crisis is moral, and it resides in the hearts and in the consciences of the people,” he writes.

This is exactly what is happening to us.

The death of reason
There are no longer any debates of moral or intellectual significance; no longer any between Right and Left, but only between relativism, which now dominates the mass media, and populism and extremism, of which false news and the use of the big lie are the truest expression. Indeed, the only things that try to look like debates are the one-sided exchanges between the weak and the strong, in which the power of the law has to yield to the law of the strong. It happens even here. I try to make a great effort every time to invite a rational conversation with those who either agree or disagree with what I write, but every now and then a bumbling ignoramus, who apparently packs a pistol close to his hip, threatens to shoot me for saying something actually constructive but which he does not have enough brains to understand.

To speak the truth has become life-threatening to the speaker, simply because most everybody else are willing to give up what is sacred and inviolable in exchange for nothing. And they just happen to hold all non-biodegradable political power. The same moral decadence that preceded the fall of empires in the past is now being promoted as the necessary precondition for attaining political nirvana in the new world order. In a less perverted world, the average citizen should be able to say that right is right and wrong is wrong, but today this invites extreme danger not only from the strongman, who has his finger on the trigger, but above all from his trolls and fanatical supporters, who could be more prone to bullying than their idol.

Perversions and oxymorons
In a less perverted world, we should be able to expose the errors and excesses of strongmen, without inviting death threats or hate campaigns. But the perversion of liberal democracy is merely given some scientific name by some credentialed academic or scholar, and what originally sounded clearly perverse now attains a figleaf of respectability and becomes acceptable.

Thus, we encounter such oxymorons as “totalitarian democracy,” courtesy of the Jewish historian Jacob Leib Talmon (1916-1980), in which the people elect their own leaders but are not permitted to participate in government decision-making. Just a more pretentious term for naked authoritarianism. Or something called “orderism,” which emphasizes “order” from the point of view of the State, at the expense of the human rights and liberties of its citizens.

At its best, it could mean an emphasis on patriotism, traditional family values, Orthodox religious beliefs and practices, military strength, and benevolent rule. Perverted, it could lapse into the oppressive practices we have seen under various names—in Nazi Germany, in Mao’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Union, etc.

It is not enough to be able to call it by its supposedly correct scientific name. We ought to be able to calmly denounce it and stop it because it is unacceptable, ruinous and wrong. We must arrest and reverse the liquefaction of our society, of which the present regime has become its most visible fruit and symbol. We have to transform our liquid society into something that rests on solid moral precepts, principles and structures. We need to make war not only against drugs, against the Mautes and the IS and other obvious enemies, but also against our diseased understanding of our society and ourselves as a people.

fstatad@gmail.com

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3 Comments

  1. Jovelyn Rojas on

    The death of reason and the desecration of society’s most cherished values are the proximate cause of so-called moral decay. Many no longer view things as objectively as possible. Some things considered intrinsically wrong by are treated as though they are the new standard or are right.

  2. I conclude that the main problem is the Pilipino people. Duterte is just trying to make sense what is going on in this country. He is trying to plug the holes but it created more holes. Nobody can solve these problems because it is generational. We inherited the corruption from our forefathers.

  3. Amnata Pundit on

    And I suppose the Catholic Church did not contribute anything to this liquifaction but Duterte did? Religion provides the basic moral compass in any society, so if the western civilization into whose orbit we were violently pulled 500 years ago is in a moral decline, can this not be characterized as a failure of religion? Religion is any society’s most basic belief, and if it failed to prevent western society’s liquifaction it is because Christianity the mother of which is the Catholic Church is based on false teachings that go against the natural law or the laws of God. If the west is in an existential crisis, maybe because the maximum shelf life of a false religion is 2,000 years.