The recent release of The Failed States Index 2012 is no doubt disconcerting for the government. Placed in a danger zone and faring worse than last year, Indonesia is rated as being on the brink of a “failed state”. The ensuing chorus of displeasure was expected. The irony is, the louder the grumble, the more convincing the verdict.
For years the government has been preoccupied with all kinds of global rankings, from global investment indexes to global competition indexes. This strange obsession has reached such an alarming level that the government seems more concerned with its position in global rankings than its legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens, as if its constitutional mandate comes from global ranking agencies. Now, to savor the irony of its fixation with global rankings, the government complains when another verdict is upon us.
We know only too well that the government is agitated because the verdict shatters its self-image. So, the problem lies not in the assigned rank but in the tainted self-image. It is a refusal to see an unpleasant fact in all its starkness. On the 12 indicators employed by the Failed States Index, Indonesia has, within a five-year trend, fared worse in areas of demographic pressures, group grievances and human rights.
While the first is likely to be linked to the poor quality of development programming, the second and third are directly related to the inefficacy of government. It is written in the report that “harassment and violence against religious minorities” have increased and “the government’s ability to curb violence between groups has been limited”. In short, the government is characterized by lower levels of efficacy in dealing with violent groups and in protecting religious minorities.
There is nothing new in this. It has been pointed out repeatedly to the point of becoming a cliché: The government is increasingly losing its hold over organized vigilantes and religious bigots committing violent atrocities. The fact that it remains in power is no substitute for the loss of its governing efficacy. We only expect the present government to survive until 2014 then disappear quickly into historical oblivion. It is wounding to be remembered as an undistinguished government.
Two puzzles are immediately present. First, if political feebleness is unacceptable, why is the government muted? Second, if the thuggery is intolerable, why do ordinary citizens remain silent? The two may be categorically distinct but they make up two faces of the same reality. The government is quiet because its public order apparatus (i.e. the police) simply does not perform, whereas ordinary citizens remain silent because, like all people of sanity, they know that to oppose violence with violence is a recipe for barbarity.
Beneath the gap between the two lies an anthropological convergence that augurs badly for the reason of the state in today’s Indonesia. Any polity is a dream of civility. Rooted in the notion of “citizen” (Latin: civis), civility is a way of citizenship, a life together of citizens under law and government. Civility is a mark of those who have left the state of barbarity behind, often called the state of nature. Abandoning the rule of the jungle, a polity is made of a shared life of the civilized.
Since citizens are human beings and not beasts, the basic precondition of a polity, hence civility, is the activation of human characteristics i.e. reason, argument, letters of law. That is why a democratic polity is founded on the letters of law (a constitution) in carrying out the art of government. This of course is a nirvana yet to be enacted in the realpolitik.
The realpolitik of governing is a game played out within the Janus-faced nature of citizens. Here lies a tragic fact that remains ineradicable, in that a constitution by no means wipes out the beastly tendencies ingrained in humanity. That is why the art of government is also vested with another constitutional mandate, i.e., the monopoly of the means of violence — the police for public order, the military for defense.
In many respects, a constitution and the monopoly on the means of violence are simply an extension of the Janus-faced nature of humans – creatures capable of rational persuasion as much as beastly savagery. As such, the art of government must know how to appeal to the good sides of human nature, but at the same time it cannot avoid dealing with humans at their worst. The short of it is that the letters of law are but empty words.
The implication is plain. Apart from the police and the military, the use of violence is neither legal nor legitimate. Of course this monopoly over the use of violence has become a source of abuse. But even persistent abuse does not dissolve the police’s constitutional mandate – abusus non tollit usum, abuse is no argument against proper use.
Thus unfolds the chilling situation we are now in: The more the government delays in addressing the problem, the more high-handed the solution will likely be needed. In the end, the index is a call to prevent civilized Indonesia from descending into barbarity. This is a foregone conclusion, with or without the index.
The writer is a lecturer in the postgraduate program at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy, Jakarta