May 20

Readings for LSPCON 2018 Attendees

Here are ten readings and five books for you. You might recall that I mentioned some of these during our time together.


1. Freedom of the editor, by Teodoro M. Locsin, Philippines Free Press, April 10, 1965:

What is freedom—of the editor or of anyone?

It is freedom to be intelligent and informed. Freedom to be ignorant is not freedom, for what is freedom? Is it not liberation? And what is ignorance but a prison?

One should be prepared to die for freedom—and how silly it would be to die for one’s ignorance!

Freedom is responsibility and the affluent as well as the slave hate it.

Freedom is a dirty word to those who do not believe in freedom but merely preach it. It is Luce talk, a loose expression, and can be made to mean anything. Freedom is slavery in George Orwell’s 1984. Freedom is freedom to be fired—in the usual democracy.

What is freedom? What is the freedom of an editor? It is freedom—

To study. (And having to go over so much in order to turn out a respectable paper—a paper one can respect—makes study almost impossible.)

To think. (And how can one think in a hurry?)

To express oneself. Freedom not to say the opposite of what one thinks.

See also The Masks of Filipinos, by Teodoro M. Locsin, Philippines Free Press, June 17, 1961:

To cultivate the virtues of honesty, industry and justice, to learn how to love, is to be human. To be a Filipino, in the best sense of the word. Whether as Spaniard or American or Japanese, or as Nationalist, the Filipino must reckon with himself at last. He has no excuse for what he does; he should blame nobody but himself for what he is. If he has courage, he is brave; if he is honest, he is true; if he loves justice, he is decent, and if he loves rather than hates, he is at ease. The rest is merely economics, politics and the movies.

2. Velvet Revolution: The Prospects by Timothy Garton Ash in The New York Times Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 19 · December 3, 2009:

1789 in France, 1917 in Russia, 1949 in China—all were at some point professedly utopian; all promised a heaven on earth. [Velvet Rervolution or VR] is typically anti-utopian, or at the very least non-utopian. In a given place, it aspires to create political and legal institutions, and social and economic arrangements, that already exist elsewhere (for example, in established liberal democracies) and/or that are claimed (often wrongly, or with much retrospective idealization) to have existed in the same place at an earlier time. François Furet, the historiographer of the French Revolution, doubted if the velvet revolutions of 1989 should properly be called “revolutions” at all, since they produced “not a single new idea.” In this sense, they were closer to an earlier, pre-1789 version of revolution, the one that gave the thing its name: a revolution, a revolving, a turning of the wheel back to a real or imagined better past.

Hannah Arendt quotes, as a perfect encapsulation of this idea of revolution-as-restoration, the inscription on the 1651 great seal of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, at the height of the English Revolution: “freedom by God’s blessing restored.” Poland in 1989 could have put those very same words on its seal, had it had one. “The return to Europe,” one of the great mottoes of Central Europe’s 1989, is also a version of the revolution-restoration theme. Most of the subsequent claimants to the title of VR display some such mixture of an idealized national past and a better present located elsewhere. While these movements manifest some unrealistic, idealistic expectations, none of them are decisively shaped by a utopian ideology, a vision of a new heaven on earth. The “new idea” is the form of revolutionary change itself, not the content of its ideological aspirations.

To say that the 1789–1917–1949 revolutions were class-based is of course a gross historical oversimplification, and even misrepresentation. As we know, the Bolshevik Revolution was not actually a heroic mass action of the working class. But it is fair to say that revolutionary leaders such as Lenin and Mao often claimed to be acting in the name of a class or classes—”workers and peasants,“ and so on. In VR, the appeals are typically to a whole society, the nation, the people. Nationalism (or patriotism, according to circumstance and interpretation) is often a driving force of these, as it can be of more violent movements. In practice, the strategic key to mass mobilization—to getting those inestimable peaceful crowds out on the streets, to generating “people power”—often lies precisely in building the broadest possible coalitions between classes, sections of society, and interest groups that do not normally cooperate, and among which nondemocratic powerholders had previously been able to “divide and rule.”

In old-style revolution, the angry masses on the street are stirred up by extremist revolutionary leaders—Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Mao—to support radicalization, including violence and terror, in the name of utopia. Bring on the red guards! In new-style revolution, the masses on the street are there to bring the powerholders to the negotiating table. The moment of maximum mass mobilization is the moment of turn to negotiation; that is, to compromise. Or in some cases, to violent repression—at least for the time being. For also characteristic of VR is that it often takes a long time to succeed, after many failed attempts, in the course of which opposition organizers, but also some of those in power, learn from their own mistakes and failures—as, for example, in Poland, Serbia, and Ukraine. Protesters “fail again, fail better,” to adopt Samuel Beckett’s memorable phrasing. Both sides do it differently next time. Eventually, the moment comes when there are two to tango.

So another name for the genus is “negotiated revolution.” Exit prospects for the ruling elites are critical. Instead of losing their heads on the guillotine, or ending up hanging from lampposts, transition-ready members of an ancien régime, from a president such as F.W. de Klerk all the way down to local apparatchiks and secret policemen, see a bearable, even a rosier future for themselves under a new dispensation. Not merely will they get away with their lives; not only will they remain at liberty; they will also get to retain some of their social position and wealth, or to convert their former political power into economic power (the “privatization of the nomenklatura”), which sometimes helps them to make startling returns to political power under more democratic rules (as, for example, have post-communists all over post- communist Europe). In VR, it is not just the Abbé Sieyès who survives. Louis XVI gets to keep a nice little palace in Versailles, and Marie Antoinette starts a successful line in upmarket lingerie.

These uneasy and even morally distasteful compromises with members of the ancien régime are an intrinsic, unavoidable part of velvet revolution. They are, as Ernest Gellner once memorably put it, the price of velvet. They produce, however, their own kinds of postrevolutionary pathology. As the years go by, there is a sense of a missing revolutionary catharsis; suspicious talk of tawdry deals concluded between old and new elites behind closed doors; and, among many, a feeling of profound historical injustice. Here I am, a middle-aged shipyard worker in Gdan´sk, left unemployed as a result of a painful neoliberal transition to capitalism, while over there, in their high-walled new villas, with their swimming pools full of half-naked girls quaffing champagne, the former communist spokesman and the former secret policeman are whooping it up as millionaires. And their first million came from ripping off the state in the period of negotiated revolution.

There is no perfect answer to this problem, but I will suggest two partial ones. First, absent both the catharsis of revolutionary purging (that orgiastic moment as the king’s severed head is held aloft) and retroactive sanctions of criminal justice, it becomes all the more important to make a public, symbolic, honest reckoning with your country’s difficult past. This alone can establish a bright line between bad past and better future. That is why I have argued that the essential complement to a velvet revolution is a truth commission. Second, establishing the rule of law as fast as possible is vital to lasting success, and corruption is deeply corrosive of it. “Speed is more important than accuracy,” the famous motto of the no-holds-barred Czech privatizer and free marketeer Václav Klaus, sacrifices the long-term prospects to the short.

One other feature of some velvet revolutions needs to be mentioned. Traditionally, we would think of a revolution as diametrically counterposed to an election: here, the violent overthrow of a dictatorship; there, the peaceful transfer of power in a democracy. But many examples of VR over the last decade, from Serbia to Ukraine to Iran, had an election as the catalytic moment of the new-style revolution.

In hybrid, semiauthoritarian regimes, the holding of an election—albeit not under fully free conditions, with a key distortion being regime control of television—provides the occasion for an initial mobilization behind an opposition candidate, whether Voji-slav Ko tunica in Serbia, Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine, or Mir Hussein Moussavi in Iran. Real or alleged rigging of the election by incumbent powerholders is then the spark for a wider social mobilization, with burgeoning demands for change not merely in but of the system. The color symbolic of the opposition candidate—orange in Ukraine, green in Iran—becomes, or at least is now claimed to be, the color of the whole cheated nation, the color of the “color revolution.” So yet another name for this phenomenon, or a large subset of it, is “electoral revolution.”

Looking at the recent history of electoral revolutions, a prudent authoritarian ruler might reasonably draw this conclusion: Don’t risk holding any elections at all! But it is striking how few of them actually do draw this conclusion. Formal democracy, in the sense of holding public ceremonies called elections from time to time, has become established as one of the most widespread international norms. Elections are not just, so to speak, the tribute vice pays to virtue; they also seem to be part of the accepted panoply of legitimation for any self-respecting dictator. And nine times out of ten, authoritarian rulers can emerge victorious from these elections, or “elections,” with some combination of genuine popular support, tribal loyalties, media control, propaganda, bribery, intimidation, and outright vote-rigging. In the case of Serbia, for example, Slobodan Miloevic´ did win a series of at least semifree, even three-quarters-free elections, with only some vote-rigging, before losing power in an electoral revolution in 2000. Hubris, based on past successes, helpfully nudges such rulers down the road to nemesis.

See also This tale of two revolutions and two anniversaries may yet have a twist, by Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, May 8, 2008.

3. Two samples of Randy David’s thinking. The first is the summary of a speech he delivered, the second, a quote from one of his columns. How do you boil down the crisis that seems to be perpetual? David has.

4. Where the drug war began, by Patricia Evangelista, Rapper. This will be a modern classic.

5. A two part series. The blueprint for the ‘War on Drugs’ and Lies, damned lies, and drug statistics. For bsckground, see: My answers to questions on the War on Drugs.

6. Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism, by Jaron Lanier, Edge, May 29, 2006. You can also watch his recent April 2018 TED Talk, How we need to remake the Internet. He has done much to study, and explain why the net is the way it is and why we act as we do, when online.

7. The groundbreaking three-part report by Rappler on social media and elections: see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

8. The $10bn question: what happened to the Marcos millions? by Nick Davies in The Guardian, May 7, 2016. You should do your part to widely share this article. It spares no one, and goes a long way to explain the enduring power of the Marcoses.

9. My own article, Ferdinand Marcos and Us, in SPOT.ph. Includes links to additional readings.

10. This isn’t a reading, but i’ts someone who’s written powerful books and put together powerful documentaries. In this 2012 Maastricht University lecture, Laurence Reese tries to explain why otherwise decent people fall under the spell of monstrous leaders.


  1. The Emperor and Shah of Shahs, by Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski. A fellow writer who’d also served in government once told me, we are all students of power, and these two books to my mind are some of the most engrossing and truth-filled explorations of power, the powerful, and the powerless ever written.

2. The Philippine Revolution, by Apolinario Mabini (translated by Leon Ma. Guerrero). A slim book but massive in terms of what it has to teach the reader.

3. State and Society in the Philippines (Second edition), by Patricio N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso. One of those books that renders all that came before it (it’s meant to be a textbook) obsolete. If you want a crash course in how our country came to be, the developments and trends that made –and make– it what it is, this is the book to trust.

4. Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897 by Jim Richardson. Another book that marks the before and after, in terms of our understanding of the topic it covers. The essays and other documents that form the book are also freely available online in his website, Katipunan: Documents and Studies.

5. Five e-pubs: Put together by my team, 2010-2016 and hopefully, of practical and informative use to you.

a. Philippine Electoral Almanac Revised And Expanded

b. Historical Atlas Of The Republic

c. Heroism, Heritage And Nationhood

d. Official Calendar Of The Republic

e. Style Guide for the Government (Gabay sa Estilo para sa Gobyerno)

And of course, don’t forget the book that could dramatically improve your academic prospects — Researching Philippine Realities: A Guide to Qualitative, Quantitative, and Humanities Research by Jose Eos Trinidad.


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