Thursday, January 17, 2013

Breaking the cycle of revolutions

By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.

A revolution begins as a revulsion against what is seen to be an undesirable social order. Change is the battle cry. Enough is enough, goes the refrain. The time is ripe for a better substitute to the despicable status quo. To achieve the charted political agenda the time-honored moral law is reversed. So, the end is made to justify the means. The end is usually grandiose in its conception. The chief means is of course violence.

After all is said and done, why is it that one revolution almost always leads to another and to further violence? The Russian Revolution was followed by the Bolshevik Revolution, the American Revolution by the American Civil War. Even the French Revolution which was inspired by the noble catchwords of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity had in its wake the bloody Reign of Terror. The Philippine Revolution had executions like that of Andres Bonifacio in the hands of a brother Filipino who was a fellow revolutionary.

Could it be that contrary to the tenets of political expediency crafted by Machiavelli there is no such thing as a purely political question apart from the moral one? It was Thoreau who saw that the political and moral problems are interlinked. He wrote: “What is the value of any political freedom except as a means to moral freedom? Is it a freedom to be slaves or a freedom to be free?”

At the root of the well-known quarrel between two friends, the French existentialists Sartre and Camus, is the issue of whether or not the course of political action should be guided by a moral compass. The former, who sympathized with Marxism, espoused political expediency anchored upon absolute freedom and the inexorability of dialectical materialism. The latter recognized the necessity for some kind of moral brake to stave off any political power from running out of control like a runaway train. Camus believed in tempering political action with restraint and moderation. He despised any form of absolutism.

Rizal was also aware that the revolutionary, carried away by his equation of violence with freedom, soon sets up his own brand of tyranny. Any political structure set up upon the foundation of brute force may hold its own for a while but it is bound to crumble in the end. For unbridled violence can only beget further violence. Rizal knew this quite ahead of his time. Lord Acton formulated this ethical truth into the now famous maxim: Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

A political exercise like an armed conflict should steer clear of getting caught in the net of a new tyranny which but replaces the oppressor’s. How all too easily the underdog becomes in his turn the top dog. This was Rizal’s fear about the slaves of today becoming the tyrants of tomorrow. That is why he put education in the foreground of his political creed of nonviolence. Peace and freedom derive significance only from the inner condition of the mind rid of egotistic motives. Without moral intelligence and civility, they are meaningless.

People expect their political leaders to act impeccably like Cesar’s wife, that is, beyond and above suspicion. This means that the authority to govern derives legitimacy as much from the people’s consent as from one’s integrity and probity. In recent Philippine history, this was shown all too well in EDSA II. As then President Estrada’s shenanigans became widely known to a critical mass of Filipinos, he was considered as a disgrace to the presidency. Precisely because of his unmitigated chicanery, he had lost the moral ascendancy to hold the reins of government.

No less ignominious was Marcos’ so-called “democratic revolution.” Euphemistically billed as the New Society, it turned into a nightmare. He imposed martial law purportedly to stall the anarchy spawned by the communists, calling it a “constitutional” dictatorship. But whichever way one looks at his regime, it was nothing but despotism. It was the same dog with a different collar. His twenty-year rule went down our annals as its darkest chapter. Riding the back of the tiger spelt his downfall.

All too often the revolutionary goes berserk in his fight for freedom and justice. He trips along the way through a misuse of power. Like liquor, power is intoxicating and beclouds the mind of its wielder. So, maturity of political vision is what is imperative. This is acquired as the individual evolves from the egocentric stage through the sociocentric phase and finally to the worldcentric with its global outlook.

Moving from the egocentric predicament is no easy job. To subsume one’s self-interest to the larger interests of the greater number is an uphill climb. Being sociocentric is more than just being civic-minded. It is a disposition to regard every member of the body politic on a human level and make as one’s own everyone’s welfare. The worldcentric consciousness is the apex of the individual’s maturation. It makes human brotherhood universal by virtue of our common humanity.

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