Thomas Hobbes, Saul Alinsky and Rodrigo Duterte

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last Thursday.

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An electoral exercise is a process of the changing and evolving function of the state, of local and national governments as key actors — politicians and political parties — articulate their vision or lack of it, of where government should focus its roles and function.

Such evolution of state and governments, like markets, is often for the better, towards the rule of law and equality before the law. But sometimes it is a change for the worse, towards the rule of men, unequal application of the law and dictatorship.

Among the leading presidential candidates, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte is the odd-man-out. While the three other leading candidates — Sen. Grace Poe, VP Jojo Binay, and Sec. Mar Roxas — promise plenty of subsidies and new welfare programs, or expansion of existing ones, Mayor Duterte is focused on a single issue, fighting criminals, drug pushers and corrupt officials.

One of the three “social contract” theoreticians of why government was invented was Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), an English philosopher best known for his book Leviathan (1651). He described early human situation under a “state of nature” as one of endless societal conflict, impossibility of peace, and the need to invent a Commonwealth where certain human freedoms are surrendered and curtailed by a supreme ruler in exchange for peace and order in society.

Hobbes wrote in the Leviathan:

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry;… and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

— Chapter 13, “Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind”

The Fundamental Law Of Nature… “That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre.”

The Second Law Of Nature… “That a man be willing, when others are so too, as farre-forth, as for Peace, and defence of himselfe he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himselfe.”

— Chapter 14, “Of the First and Second Naturall Lawes, and of Contracts”

This is what Mayor Duterte has been hammering regularly, consciously and unconsciously. That Philippine society is rolling back somehow to a “state of nature”, a pre-government state where individuals’ actions are bound only by their own desires and restraints, where criminals and brutes rule and can victimize anyone anywhere. Hence, a need for a “social contract” and install an absolute sovereign, a strong central government with the power of the biblical Leviathan (a sea monster) and protect people from their own selfishness, protect the weak from the brutes.

During the third and final presidential debate last April 24, host Karen Davila asked Mayor Duterte, “Sabi niyo po, ‘You cannot be a President if you cannot kill. Papatay ba kayo kung kayo’y Pangulo?” (Will you really kill if you become President?) and Duterte replied, “No, it’s not the actual — takot ka mamatay, takot kang pumatay, wag kang mag Presidente.” (If you’re afraid to die, afraid to kill, don’t run for President).

And there’s a follow up when Ms. Davila asked him, “Anong gagawin niyo sakaling malaman po ninyo na isa sa mga anak niyo ay gumagamit ng ilegal na droga?” (What will you do if you know that one of your children is using illegal drugs?) The Mayor quickly answered, “Patayin mo.” (Kill him/her)

Killing and murder, individually or by the thousands, are his “default” answer to questions related to enforcing the law. In one interview, he promised to kill 100,000 more criminals and drug pushers nationwide if he wins the Presidency.

Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), a Jewish American community organizer and writer, became famous worldwide as the founder of modern community organizing through his famous book, Rules for Radicals (1971).

There are 13 key rules in that book that proved to be generally effective in organizing successful mass movement and collective action. Five of those rules seem to work for Mayor Duterte:

  1. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” The other Presidential candidates promise endless welfarism and subsidies, controlling and killing many criminals is beyond their expertise.
  1. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” Constant use of cusswords “P— ina”, “bayot/bakla”, “go to hell” are powerful ridicules that decent politicians and statesmen and women are less prepared to deal with.
  1. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” Again, frequent use of cusswords, gutter politics, sexist jokes, even making fun of rape-murder Australian victim three decades ago.
  1. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” He keeps producing new attacks, new antics that his political competitors can only raise their eyebrows in disbelief. Like his plan to go to the Spratly islands on a jetski, plant the Philippine flag and let the Chinese Navy to kill him if they like.
  1. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Saying that he killed 1,700 criminals in Davao City alone, and promise to kill 100,000 more criminals if he becomes President, make people wonder whether he is joking but his followers take him seriously, impatient about rampant criminality in many parts of the country, whether real or imagined.

One important revelation of this campaign period is that the masa after all, are not so enamored with more welfarism, subsidies populism, and more environmentalism. Rather, they are more concerned with peace and order, physical annihilation of criminals and the corrupt.

Duterte has shifted the debate on the “raison d’etre” or reason for existence of government: Not welfarism and populism, but protection of the people’s 3 freedoms: freedom of private property, freedom from aggression and bullies, and freedom of expression. Somehow this is good.

He has played out this hunger by the public. The welfarists including the UN, foreign aid bodies and their consultants are wrong to persist in welfarism to “fight inequality” as an important election issue. People, even the poor, can live with inequality. What they cannot tolerate is more criminality, more stealing, legal or illegal/outright robbery.

And by riding on this public hunger to control criminality, Duterte is promising more criminality, of state-sponsored murders to achieve that goal. Duterte in effect will be violating the people’s three freedoms without realizing it.

Duterte is a dangerous candidate. He should not win. The problem is that the other leading presidential candidates are showing little capacity to snatch the lead. One practical but seemingly improbable scenario is a consolidation of votes of two least-opposing candidates, that of Sen. Poe and Sec. Roxas. But it seems that the probability of a Duterte victory is higher than the probability of this consolidation of forces.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the head of Minimal Government Thinkers, a Fellow of SEANET and member of the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia.

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