Scanned, edited and tagged by: Courtney Danforth 9/27/96 Geertz, "Ideology as a Cultural System" I. It is one of the minor ironies of modern intellectual




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It is a country of false starts and frantic revisions, of a desperate search for a political order whose image, like a mi rage, recedes more rapidly the more eagerly it is approached The salv ing slogan amid all this frustration is, "The Revolution Is Unfinishedt And so, indeed, it is. But only because no one knows, not even those who cry most loudly that they do, precisely how to go about the job of finishing it.45 The most highly developed concepts of government in traditional Indonesia were those upon which the classic Hinduized states of the fourth to fifteenth centuries were built, concepts that persisted in somewhat revised and weakened form even after these states were first Islamicized and then largely replaced or overlaid by the Dutch colonial regime. And of these concepts the most important was what might be called the theory of the exemplary center, the notion that the capital city (or more accurately the king's palace) was at once a microcosm of the supernatural order�"an image of . . . the universe on a smaller scale"�and the material embodiment of political order.46 The capital was not merely the nucleus, the engine, or the pivot of the state; it was the state. In the Hindu period, the king's castle comprehended virtually the entire town. A squared-off "heavenly city" constructed according to the ideas of Indic metaphysics, it was more than a locus of power; it was a synoptic paradigm of the ontological shape of existence. At its center was the divine king (an incarnation of an Indian deity), his throne symbolizing Mount Meru, seat of the gods; the buildings, roads, city walls, and even, ceremonially, his wives and personal staff were deployed quadrangularly around him according to the directions of the four sacred winds. Not only the king himself but his ritual, his regalia, his court, and his castle were shot through with charismatic significance. The castle and the life of the castle were the quiddity of the kingdom, and he who (often after meditating in the wilderness to attain the appropriate spiritual status) captured the castle captured the whole empire, grasped the charisma of office, and displaced the no-longer-sacred king. 47 The early polities were thus not so much solidary territorial units as loose congeries of villages oriented toward a common urban center, each such center competing with others for ascendency. Whatever degree of regional or, at moments, interregional hegemony prevailed depended, not on the systematic administrative organization of extensive territory under a single king, but on the varying abilities of kings to mobilize and apply effective striking forces with which to sack rival capitals, abilities that were believed to rest on essentially religious�that is, mystical�grounds. So far as the pattern was territorial at all, it consisted of a series of concentric circles of religio-military power spreading out around the various city-state capitals, as radio waves spread from a transmitter. The closer a village to a town, the greater the im pact, economically and culturally, of the court on that village. And, conversely, the greater the development of the court�priests, artisans, nobles, and king�the greater its authenticity as an epitome of cosmic order, its military strength, and the effective range of its circles of outward-spreading power. Spiritual excellence and political eminence were fused. Magical power and executive influence flowed in a single stream outward and downward from the king through the descending ranks of his staff and whatever lesser courts were subordinate to him, draining out finally into the spiritually and politically residual peasant mass. Theirs was a facsimile concept of political organization, one in which the reflection of the supernatural order microscopically mirrored in the life of the capital was in turn further and more faintly reflected in the countryside as a whole, producing a hierarchy of less and less faithful copies of an eternal, transcendent realm. In such a system, the administrative, military, and ceremonial organization of the court orders the world around it iconically by providing it with a tangible paragon.48 When Islam came, the Hindu political tradition was to some extent l weakened, especially in the coastal trade kingdoms surrounding the Java Sea. The court culture nevertheless persisted, although it was overlaid and interfused with Islamic symbols and ideas and set among an ethnically more differentiated urban mass, which looked with less awe on the classical order. The steady growth�especially on Java�of Dutch administrative control in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries constricted the tradition still further. But, since the lower levels of the bureaucracy continued to be manned almost entirely by Indonesians of the old upper classes, the tradition remained, even then, the matrix of supravillage political order. The Regency or the District orfice remained not merely the axis of the polity but the embodiment of it. a polity with respect to which most villagers were not so much actors as audience. It was this tradition with which the new elite of republican Indonesia was left after the revolution. That is not to say that the theory of the exemplary center persisted unchanged, drifting like some Platonic archetype through the eternity of Indonesian history, for (like the society as a whole) it evolved and developed, becoming ultimately perhaps more conventional and less religious in general temper. Nor does it mean that foreign ideas, from European parliamentarianism, from Marxism, from Islamic moralism, and so forth did not come to play an essential role in Indonesian political thought, for modern Indonesian nationalism is very far from being merely old wine in a new bottle. It is simply that, as yet, the conceptual transition from the classic image of a polity as a concentrated center of pomp and power, alternately providing a cynosure for popular awe and lashing out militarily at competing centers, to one of a polity as a systematically organized national community has, for all these changes and influences, still not been completed. Indeed, it has been arrested and to some extent reversed. This cultural failure is apparent from the growing, seemingly unquenchable ideological din that has engulfed Indonesian politics since the revolution. The most prominent attempt to construct, by means of a figurative extension of the classic tradition, an essentially metaphoric reworking of it, a new symbolic framework within which to give form and meaning to the emerging republican polity, was President Sukarno's famous Pantiasila concept, first set forth in a public speech toward the end of the Japanese occupation.49 Drawing on the Indic tradition of fixed sets of numbered precepts�the three jewels, the four sublime moods, the eightfold path, the twenty conditions of successful rule, and so forth---it consisted of five (pantja) principles (sila) that were intended to form the "sacred" ideological foundations of an independent Indonesia. Like all good constitutions, the Pantjasila was short, ambiguous, and Impeccably high-minded, the five points being "nationalism," "humanitarianism," "democracy," "social welfare," and (pluralistic) "monotheism." Finally, these modern concepts, set so nonchalantly in a medieval frame, were explicitly identified with an indigenous peasant concept, gotong rojong (literally, "the collective bearing of burdens"; figuratively, "the piety of all for the interests of all"), thus drawing together the "great tradition" of the exemplary state, the doctrines of contemporary nationalism, and the "little traditions" of the villages into one luminous image.50 The reasons why this ingenious device failed are many and complex, and only a few of them�like the strength in certain sectors of the popi ulation of Islamic concepts of political order, which are difficult to rect oncile with Sukarno's secularism�are themselves cultural. The Pantjaif sila, playing upon the microcosm-macrocosm conceit and upon the [traditional syncretism of Indonesian thought, was intended to contain within it the political interests of the Islamic and Christian, gentry and peasantry, nationalist and communist, commercial and agrarian, Jarvanese and "Outer Island" groups in Indonesia�to rework the old facsimile pattern into a modern constitutional structure in which these various tendencies would, each emphasizing one or another aspect of the doctrine, find a modus vivendi at each level of administration and party struggle. The attempt was not so totally ineffective or so intellectually fatuous as it has sometimes been painted. The cult of the Pantjasila (for that is what it literally became, complete with rites and commentaries) did provide for a while a flexible ideological context within which parliamentary institutions and democratic sentiments were being soundly, if gradually, forged at both local and national levels. But the combination of a deteriorating economic situation, a hopelessly pathological relationship with the former metropole, the rapid growth of a subversive (in principle) totalitarian party, a renascence of Islamic fundamentalism the inability (or unwillingness) of leaders with developed intellectual and technical skills to court mass support, and the economic illiteracy administrative incapacity, and personal failings of those who were able (and only too willing) to court such support soon brought the clash of factions to such a pitch that the whole pattern dissolved. By the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1957, the Pantjasila had changed from a language of consensus to a vocabulary of abuse, as each faction used it more to express its irreconcilable opposition to other factions than its underlying rules-of-the-game agreement with them, and the Convention ideological pluralism, and constitutional democracy collapsed in a single heap.5l What has replaced them is something very much like the old exemplary center pattern, only now on a self-consciously doctrinaire rather than an instinctive religion-and-convention basis and cast more in the idiom of egalitarianism and social progress than in that of hierarchy and patrician grandeur. On the one hand, there has been, under President Sukarno's famous theory of "guided democracy" and his call for the reintroduction of the revolutionary (that is, authoritarian) constitution of 1945, both an ideological homogenization (in which discordant streams of thought�notably those of Moslem modernism and democratic socialism� have simply been suppressed as illegitimate) and an accelerated pace of flamboyant symbolmongering, as though, the effort to make an unfamiliar form of government work having misfired, a desperate attempt to breathe new life into a familiar one was being launched. On the other hand, the growth of the political role of the army, not so much as an executive or administrative body as a backstop enforcement agency with veto power over the whole range of politically relevant institutions, from the presidency and the civil service to the parties and the press, has provided the other�the minatory�half of the traditional picture. Like the Pantjasila before it, the revised (or revivified) approach was introduced by Sukarno in a major speech�"The Rediscovery of Our Revolution"�given on Independence Day (August 17) in 1959 a speech that he later decreed, along with the expository notes on it prepared by a body of personal attendants known as The Supreme Advisory Council, to be the "Political Manifesto of the Republic": There thus came into existence a catechism on the basis, aims and duties of the Indonesian revolution; the social forces of the Indonesian revolution, its nature. future and enemies; and its general program, covering the political, economics social, mental, cultural, and security fields. Early in 1960 the central message of the celebrated speech was stated as consisting of five ideas --the 1945 constitution, Socialism a la Indonesia, Guided Democracy, Guided Economy, and Indonesian Personality�and the first letters of these five phrases were put together to make the acronym USDEK. With 'Political Manifesto' becoming "Manipol," the new creed became known as "Manipol-USDEK," 52 And, as the Pantjasila before it, the ManipolUSDEK image of political order found a ready response in a population for whom opinions have indeed become a scramble, parties a jumble, the times a chaos: Many were attracted by the idea that what Indonesia needed above all was men with the right state of mind, the right spirit, the true patriotic dedication. "Returning to our own national personality" was attractive to many who wanted to withdraw from the challenges of modernity, and also to those who wanted to believe in the current political leadership but were aware of its failures to modernize as fast as such countries as India and Malaya. And for members of some Indonesian communities, notably for many [lndic-mindedl Javanese, there was real meaning in the various complex schemes which the President presented in elaboration of Manipol-USDEK, explaining the peculiar signifieanee and tasks of the current stage of history. [But] perhaps the most important appeal of Manipol-USDEK, however, lay in the simple fact that it promised to give men a pegangan�somethmg to which to hold fast. They were attracted not so much by the content of this pegangan as by the fact that the President had offered one at a time when the lack of a sense of purpose was sorely felt. Values and cognitive patterns being in flux and in conflict, men looked eagerly for dogmatic and schematic formulations of the political good.53 While the President and his entourage concern themselves almost entirely with the "creation and recreation of mystique," the army concerns itself mainly with combating the numerous protests, plots, mutinies, and rebellions that occur when that mystique fails to achieve its hoped-for effect and when rival claims to leadership arise.54 Although involved in some aspects of the civil service, in the managing o, the confiscated Dutch enterprises, and even in the (nonparliamentary) cabinet, the army has not been able to take up, for lack of training, internal unity, or sense of direction, the administrative, planning, and organizational tasks of the government in any detail or with any effectiveness. The result is that these tasks are either not performed or very inadequately performed, and the supralocal polity, the national state, shrinks more and more to the limits of its traditional domain, the capital city�Djakarta �plus a number of semi-independent tributary cities and towns held to a minimal loyalty by the threat of centrally applied force. That this attempt to revive the politics of the exemplary court will long survive is rather doubtful. It is already being severely strained by its incapacity to cope with the technical and administrative problems involved in the government of a modern state. Far from arresting Indonesia's decline into what Sukarno has called "the abyss of annihilation," the retreat from the hesitant, admittedly hectic and awkwardly functioning parliamentarianism of the Pantjasila period to the Manipol-USDEK alliance between a charismatic president and a watchdog army has probably accelerated it. But what will succeed this ideological framework when, as seems certain, it too dissolves, or from where a conception of political order more adequate to Indonesia's contemporary needs and ambitions will come, if it does come, is impossible to say. Not that Indonesia's problems are purely or even primarily ideological and that they will� as all too many Indonesians already think�melt away before a political change of heart. The disorder is more general, and the failure to create a conceptual framework in terms of which to shape a modern polity is in great part itself a reflection of the tremendous social and psychological strains that the country and its population are undergoing. Things do not merely seem jumbled�they are jumbled, and it will take more than theory to unjumble them. It will take administrative skill, technical knowledge, personal courage and resolution, endless patience and tolerance, enormous selfsacrifice, a virtlially incorruptible public conscience, and a very great deal of sheer (and unlikely) good luck in the most material sense of the word.
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