THE political opposition of all colors, from the yellows to the reds to what appears to be their convergence in orange, seem to have appropriated the word “tyrant” and “fascist” without due regard to the fact that these are technical terms in political science.
A Movement Against Tyranny has been launched by civil society activists coming from various sectors, from the academe to the church to the artist community who blatantly label the President as a tyrant. Left-leaning student groups continue to carry placards that serve as canvases on which they paint a so-called US-Duterte regime that they describe as fascist.
We in the political science community, those who have to labor hard to earn our credentials, cringe at how concepts and constructs in our discipline are easily appropriated, co-opted, transformed and corrupted just to advance certain political interests.
Of course, concepts can evolve, but such should be in consonance with changing paradigms that we in the social sciences all agree, regardless of our theoretical biases, as one that should be firmly based on shifts in knowledge claims backed by thoroughly vetted evidence, and not simply on political exigencies.
As a professor of political science, I would not just chastise, but even fail any of my students who would so blatantly redefine tyranny and fascism simply to advance their political biases.
The dictionary definition of tyranny refers to it as a nation under cruel and oppressive government, or a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler or a group of people. Plato described tyranny as a corrupt form or rule by one person. Tyranny has been associated with authoritarian regimes, the most extreme form of which is manifested in totalitarianism.
Here is how Thomas Magstadt, in his book Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions and Issues, a widely prescribed textbook for Introduction to Political Science courses, describes authoritarian and totalitarian states, within which tyrants naturally inhabit:
“Whatever precise shape and form they assume, authoritarian states share certain reliable traits. Self-appointed rulers typically run the show, and all political power – in practice, and often in principle – resides in one or several persons. Most authoritarian regimes spurn utopian goals, although at the totalitarian extremes, the rulers do use a millenarian (or utopian) ideology to justify all state action, no matter how harsh or brutal. Typically, authoritarian rulers do not try to control every aspect of the society and the economy. Rather, they focus on keeping themselves in power and turning back all challenges to the status quo (the existing structures of state power). Authoritarian regimes continue to be the main alternative to constitutional democracy.”
Fascism, on the other hand, is considered as the early embodiment of the ideology of the extreme right that emerged during the 20th century. James N. Danziger, in his book Understanding the Political World: A Comparative Introduction to Political Science, which is another widely prescribed textbook in courses in Introductory Comparative Politics, argues that fascism “places fundamental importance on the unity and harmony of government and society and is defined particularly by its opposition to forces that might weaken that collective unity.”
Fascism is seen as anti-socialist and anti-democratic. It is against the idea of egalitarianism, and it abhors the divisive and destabilizing effects of political competition. It upholds the role of a strong leader that embodies the national will to which all people must submit, and considers the use of state violence as necessary in keeping social and political order. Furthermore, fascism takes on as key element the celebration of a superior racial or ethnic group, and by implication, leads to the persecution of other racial or ethnic groups that are considered to be inferior. Contemporary fascist movements embody this ideology of racial superiority in that they become extremely racist, anti-immigration and anti-foreign in orientation.
Only the uninformed, or the maliciously misleading can claim that the Philippines under President Duterte is what is described above, and that the President himself promotes such beliefs that are required to nurture and harbor such society enough to label him a tyrant or a fascist.
Our democratic structures are still functioning. We have a legislature, and a noisy political opposition. The courts are still functioning. And while the President possesses a strong, almost tenacious stance vis-à-vis those whom he sees as threats to the stability of the Republic, he doesn’t have the absolute monopoly on political power to silence or oppress them. He may be a strong leader, but his strength is checked by constitutionally mandated political institutions.
In fact, the President is not defending the status quo with brute force, which tyrants normally do. He is the one that seeks to dismantle the entrenched status quo.
It is shameful for some to suggest that the President is a fascist authoritarian, for such can mean that the main philosophy of his government, of which 82 percent of the population approve, is a racist one. This reveals a lazy appropriation of labels without due regard to their requisites. Calling the President a fascist amounts to implying that our worldviews are dominated by jingoist, anti-foreign, anti-Western forms of racism.
I can forgive freshmen students in Introductory Political Science who make the mistake of equating strong rule with tyranny or authoritarianism, or populism and charisma, traits which the President possesses, with fascism.
I can even understand ideologues in the left who insist on their own labels. I can also excuse performance activists and writers who may have little background in political science, and whose livelihoods subsist on political fiction or imagination.
But not when such misappropriation of academic terms are propagated by law professors, journalists or social scientists, and worse, by people with a background in political science, whose job prescription is to work within the parameters of established academic disciplines from which their primary credentials are derived.