Eric Hoeffer, Machiavelli and Duterte

* This is my article in BusinessWorld yesterday.

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Mass movements and electoral mobs for “real change” promise the moon and the stars for the people, and many supporters are mobilized by that promise of change from the state, change from the outside, never mind changing the behavior of individuals from within based on existing laws and continuing evolution of voluntary and civil society.

The philosophy and sociology of mass movements including the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, and Stalin in Russia was aptly discussed by Eric Hoffer (1898-1983), an American philosopher, known more for his first book, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951).

Among the important points that Eric Hoffer discussed in The True Believer which have resonance and relevance to the current electoral campaigns in the Philippines are the following:

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the single-handed defiance of the world.”

“The permanent misfits can find salvation only in a complete separation from the self; and they usually find it by losing themselves in the compact collectivity of a mass movement.”

“The fact that mass movements as they arise often manifest less individual freedom than the order they supplant, is usually ascribed to the trickery of a power-hungry clique that kidnaps the movement at a critical stage and cheats the masses of the freedom about to dawn.”

“However, the freedom the masses crave is not freedom of self-expression and self realization, but freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from “the fearful burden of free choice,” freedom from the arduous responsibility of realizing their ineffectual selves and shouldering the blame for the blemished product. They do not want freedom of conscience, but faith — blind, authoritarian faith. They sweep away the old order not to create a society of free and independent men, but to establish uniformity, individual anonymity and a new structure of perfect unity.”

In earlier political rallies during the campaign period, front-runner Rodrigo Duterte declared,

“I am a dictator? Yes it is true. If you don’t like it then don’t vote for me.”

“If you put me there (presidency), I will finish (all the criminals) off.” (Feb. 24, 2016, Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Until now, the details of his economic, social, and foreign policies are still blurred as he continues his single-issue campaign to stop criminality and government corruption. And many of his supporters laud that absence of details, even the details how he can stop criminality in his self-imposed period of three to six months upon assuming the presidency. He and many of his supporters laud at the endless expletives and cuss words that normally come from his mouth.

He also reiterated his plans to form a revolutionary government in his rally last April 27, 2016: “Magtatayo ako ng bagong gobyerno… Magrebolusyon ako kapag nandoon na ako kasi hindi na ito para sa tao. Hindi ito kayang solusyonan ng Konstitusyon natin.” (I will put a new government… create a revolution if I’m there because this is not for the people. This cannot be solved by our Constitution).

When former President Cory Aquino declared a revolutionary government in 1986, she abolished the Batasan (parliament) and the Marcos 1973 Constitution, created a Constitutional Commission that drafted a new Constitution that was ratified in 1987. So Duterte’s plan, if he pursues it if he wins, should be along that line: abolish Congress, create a new Constitution.

An Italian Renaissance era philosopher, historian, and politician Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) is often cited by many observers and academics for his advice on political preservation and cunning.

Machiavelli’s book The Prince (1513) is well known and among the ideas that he articulated in that book discussing the role of deception and instilling fear are the following:

“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”

“…he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.”

“Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.”

“And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.”

Davao Mayor Duterte has explicitly instilled this culture of fear and violence in many of his campaign sorties.

“Kayong mga KMU, medyo pigilan muna ninyo ang labor union. Ako na ang nakikiusap sa inyo. Magkasama tayo sa ideolohiya. Huwag ninyong gawin iyan kasi sisirain mo ang administrasyon ko. Kapag ginawa ninyo iyan, patayin ko kayong lahat. Ang solusyon dito patayan na. Eh pakiusapan mo, ayaw eh.” (You in the KMU, please control your union activities. I am pleading with you. We are one in ideology. Do not do that because you will destroy my administration. If you do that, I will kill all of you. The solution here is killing. You plead and they won’t listen.) — Feb. 11, 2016, GMA news

“’Pag i-impeach ako, sabi ni Trillanes, eh ‘di isara ko ‘yang Congress. Eh ‘di wala nang mag-impeach sa akin… Sabihin ng congressman, ‘Bakit mo naman kami isara?’ Eh p — ina, impeach-impeach kayo diyan.” (If they will impeach me, according to Trillanes, then I will close Congress. Then no more impeachment. If congressman ask, ‘why will you close us?’, it’s because you initiate impeachment.) — April 28, 2016, GMA news

And in his chat with CPP Founder Joma Sison, still based in Utrecht, Netherlands, he proudly announced that “for the first time, merong Leftist president… follow the path of socialism. I’m a socialist. Though I am not a member of CPP, I belong to the Left.” — April 30,2016, InterAksyon.com

Like his passion for the ideas of Thomas Hobbes and Saul Alinsky (this column’s paper last week), Duterte also has affinity for some or many ideas of Machiavelli and Eric Hoffer. Instill a culture of fear and violence, use deception whenever possible, promise a nirvana of forced collectivism, coerced uniformity and equality under socialism and fascism.

The “real change” that Mr. Duterte promises is change for the worst.

Between the fireworks of political uncertainties and economic instability created by his pronouncements and promises vs the bland certainty and boring stability of the current leadership and its electoral team, the latter is a lot more tolerable especially if we value our political freedom, market efficiency, and tolerance for human rights.

 

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the President of Minimal Government Thinkers, a Fellow of SEANET and Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi), and member of the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia.minimalgovernment@gmail.com

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