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Sakmongkol ak 47

Tuesday 16 December 2014

The Rise and Fall of Civilisations.

I have to share this with readers who otherwise do not have the inclination to read the comments that come after my article. It is a piece written by the ever vigilant and insightful Sumpitan Emas. My thanks to Sumpitan Emas.
  “We all have the right to have a government led by the ABLEST Malaysians, DEDIDATED and COMMITTED to SOCIAL JUSTICE” — that this simple and fair demand has to be made at this point of our national political life speaks volumes of the state of affairs we are currently confronting; are we in danger of being underwhelmed by a group made up of the LEAST able?
 Below shows how a statesman confronts the issues of good governance, social justice, national development, personal courage and learning from the past. The man is none other than ex-Malaysian and one-time Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, the late S. Rajaratnam. Let him articulate his thoughts to demonstrate the breadth and depth of a thinker and nation-builder extraordinaire. Pity that he chose to walk away from our shores, but he has left behind a niece in Kuala Lumpur who has a mind as sharp as his, thank God.
  “I think I should begin by declaring what vested interest, if any, I have in the Singapore of the year 2000. Regrettably, I have none. The probabilities are that I may not be around to ring in the new century but if, through a genetic windfall, I should be given a reprieve, you can take it from me that even then, for all practical purposes, I will be nearer eternity than the year 2000.
    …So while thinking many steps ahead may not ensure success in every case, it is nevertheless true that those societies which think many steps ahead are more likely to do better in the uncertain decades ahead than other societies which only think one step at a time or which, frightened by the future, takes one step back towards the lost and unrecoverable Golden Age…So this brings me to the next and most crucial question implicit in the topic you have set out for me. And it is this: Granted that Singapore is future-oriented, is that enough to see it through into the 21st century?
    My answer is: NO, it is NOT enough. Something far more important than being able to make INFORMED GUESSES about the future is necessary to see Singapore safely through the turbulent and dangerous decades ahead. Even if you can make correct guesses about future trends and developments and even if you stumble on the correct solutions, the decisive factor is NOT knowledge BUT the determination and courage to ACT upon it. Without this will to action, knowledge and perception about the future are USELESS. There are nations which have perished because they did not know how to save themselves. They should enlist our pity. But it is a tragedy of greater proportions when a people perish NOT out of IGNORANCE but because they LACKED the WILL to respond to the DICTATES of their wisdom.
    The rise and fall of great civilisations can eventually be traced NOT to irresistible, impersonable forces of history, but to a single human factor – FAILURE OF NERVE.
    …(Machiavelli) said all societies were moved by two forces. He distinguished between what he called FORTUNA—the capriciousness of history — and VIRTU the ability of a ruler to show mastery admist the flux of things. Fortuna comprises the objective forces of history stemming from economic, social, cultural, political and technological changes. These are like winds. They are unpredictable, they are impersonal and they can be destructive.
    But a ruler or people who HAVE virtu can harness and tame these winds to serve men’s needs; to build GREAT civilisations. It is the PRESENCE or LOSS of virtu in RULERS and PEOPLE which decides the FATE of societies and civilisations.
 So the question arises: ‘How is virtu acquired and lost?’ This fundamental question has fascinated thinkers since time immemorial. UNABLE to resolve this question, they INVARIABLY PINNED RESPONSIBILITY on the CREATOR. It was PUNISHMENT for men’s WICKEDNESS and this view has wide appeal EVEN today in the face of a contemporary world seemingly near collapse.
    I too have been thinking about this problem since receiving your invitation to address this seminar. I happened at the same time to be also thinking about Ayatollah Khomeini. Since the Ayatollah claims to be spearheading an Islamic Revolution I decided to supplement my meagre knowledge of Islamic civilisation by studying its rise and decline a little more closely. I therefore sought the advice of PROFESSOR (SYED) HUSSEIN ALATAS who promptly loaned me a massive three-volume work entitled MUQUADDIMAH: An Introduction to History.
    I was doubtful whether it would be worth my while ploughing through these massive tomes. For one thing it was written by a man called IBN KHALDOUN whom I have never heard of and who is rarely mentioned by modern historians.
    Moreover, the work was completed in 1377. Of what relevance, I asked myself, could the outpourings of a man from over 600 years ago be to our times let alone the year 2000?
    I was NEVER MORE WRONG my life. This 14th century Berber, a descendant of one of the Prophet’s supporter, is so contemporary that modern historians in comparison appear traditional. The Ayatollah is certainly less an enigma to me now than before I read Ibn Khaldoun, though I doubt whether the Ayatollah will be as relevant as Khaldoun in the year 2000. It is incredible that this 14th century man should have ANTICIPATED ideas about man and society, about jurisprudence, geopolitics, power, religion, war and peace and many of the great themes about the rise and fall of civilisations centuries BEFORE thinkers like VICO, MARX, SPENGLER and TOYNBEE elaborated them with greater wealth of detail.
    …We must remember too that in his time Islamic civilisation was the DOMINANT one in Europe and Africa. The Muslim faith, philosophy and law made up the TOWER from which he points out to his contemporaries and to us new and wider horizons which NO man BEFORE or even AFTER him had discovered until very recently. He nevertheless looks on his environment with a detachment and objectivity that was NOT to be surpassed until CENTURIES later by Western man. He states facts. He observes. He KNOWS the GLORIOUS PAST OF HIS OWN CIVILISATION. He KNOWS the Caliphate represented the BEST, the IDEAL state. But he is AWARE too that it is GONE and he does NOT WANT TO RESTORE IT. He CONCEDES that government based on REVEALED LAW is superior to that based on HUMAN LAW. This may be OBVIOUS, he says, but it is IRRELEVANT for HISTORY moves according to the ways of MEN and NOT of God.
    …He allots to ALL civilisations a FINITE LIFE-SPAN of about 120 years spread over THREE generations of FORTY years each. In the FOURTH generation the END is reached and by the FIFTH, the FINAL DEATH spasms.
    … What sparks off a civilisation in the first place? He attributes it to a special human quality which he calls ASABIYYA. It means GROUP SOLIDARITY but it takes different forms and meanings at DIFFERENT stages of civilisation. It is initially generated only in the desert among BARBARIAN tribes. In fact, it can ONLY be generated in the desert. In the Arab context, it HAD to be the desert…What Khaldoun means is that asabiyya has to be built up through HARDSHIP and GREAT austerity…Though Ibn Khaldoun wrote of the nomads WITH detestation as DESTROYERS of culture and NOT its creators, he ADMIRED their ASABIYYA— their COURAGE, TOUGHNESS, their SELF-RELIANCE and above all their SOLIDARITY and FELLOWSHIP.
 …The men with asabiyya, headed by a great leader or Prophet, then taking over a DYING civilisation and thus begins a sedentary culture — a city culture. Khaldoun makes clear while the desert generates asabiyya, only the city can create civilisation. As long as the spirit of asabiyya PREVAILS, the FIRST GENERATION ruler exercises power JUSTLY and WISELY. The law is fairly applied…The ruler, says Khaldoun, does NOT claim anything exclusively for himself because such an attitude would DESTROY group solidarity. Given this kind of ruler, order PREVAILS and art and learning FLOURISH. OUT of the ashes of the OLD civilisations a GREATER and MORE vibrant culture EMERGES.
    The next FOUR stages are one of PROGRESSIVE DECLINE. The EASY democracy of the first stage VANISHES as the new ruler claims TOTAL authority over his people. Authority is NO LONGER shared. He becomes a TYRANT demanding subjects who MUST manifest servility and unquestioned obedience. The asabiyya is being DRAINED out of them. DISCONTENT and RESENTMENT dissolve group solidarity. The tyrant is SUCCEEDED by VAIN-GLORIOUS rulers also lacking in asabiyya. THEY BUILD MONUMENTS AND PALACES TO TESTIFY TO NOTHING. They HIRE mercenaries to PROTECT themselves from a people they NOW fear and NO longer trust. NEPOTISM and CORRUPTION become the rule of law. The BURDEN of taxation GROWS and the INCENTIVE to CREATE WEALTH consequently DIES. Then COMES the ruler ‘who is content with what his predecessors have built’. Since his civilisation has LOST ITS CAPACITY FOR GROWTH, the ruler TRIES to ARREST its DECLINE by REVIVING and ADHERING strictly to OLD RITUALS and MEANINGLESS TRADITIONS.
    And finally the death pangs of a great civilisation. Here I can do no better than quote Khaldoun himself:
    ‘The FIFTH stage is one of WASTE and SQUANDERING. In this stage, the ruler WASTES on PLEASURES AND AMUSEMENTS (the treasures) accumulated by his ancestors through (excessive) GENEROSITY to his INNER CIRCLE at their parties. Also he acquires BAD, LOW CLASS class followers to whom he ENTRUSTS the most important matters (of state) which they are not qualified to handle by themselves…(In addition) the ruler seeks to DESTROY the GREAT CLIENTS of HIS people and FOLLOWERS of his predecessors. Thus they come to HATE him and to CONSPIRE to refuse support for him. (Furthermore) he LOSES a number of soldiers by SPENDING THEIR ALLOWANCES on HIS PLEASURES and by REFUSING them access to his person and not supervising them properly…Thus he RUINS the foundations his ancestors HAD laid and TEARS down what they HAD built up. In this stage the dynasty is SEIZED by SENILITY and the chronic disease from which it can hardly ever RID itself, for which it can find NO cure, and, eventually, it is DESTROYED.’
    He might well be describing with deadly accuracy the state of many nations in 1979.
    He goes on to add that the END of the dynasty is CLEARLY in sight when the HARD-UP ruler, UNABLE TO SQUEEZE his subjects any further, TAKES PART in trade and commerce and tries to MONOPOLISE it to the DETRIMENT of his trading subjects.
    By then, the ASABIYYA, bred in the desert, has been drained of its LAST drop. The CITY, the soil of true civilisation, has become WASTELAND.
    What happens then? A new lot of desert nomads bursting with asabiyya take over the dying city to once again RESTORE vigour and once again to suffer the same fate.
    In a way, Singapore was built by nomads, though none of us came from the desert. Our forefathers had asabiyya and this has seen us through for a little over the 120 years that Khaldoun allotted a dynasty. On second thoughts, he was NOT all that wrong because it took that many years for the British dynasty to retreat from Singapore.
World civilisation is too pervasive for it to collapse and vanish totally. In the 21st century there may be collapse of individual states which have not woken to the facts of life about the 21st century. But those who are awake to it and do not squander their asabiyya or virtu in the pursuit of wealth and progress can break the circle that Khaldoun said could not be broken, although at times he had wished that it could be.
By telling us in his enthralling Introduction to History how and why civilisations suffer mortality, he has also offered a prescription for its immortality. IF YOU KNOW WHY YOU WENT WRONG YOU COME CLOSER TO DONG THINGS RIGHT.

    …For Singapore the next two decades will be a matter of learning to steer safely through FORTUNA — the capricious play of world forces. To steer successfully we need what MACHIAVELLI called VIRTU, what Khaldoun called asabiyya and, if I may add a widow’s mite, a future-oriented outlook …”
  Note: Fortuna decreed that S Rajaratnam, thinker, historian and writer par excellence, should live beyond 2000.
  Extracted from a speech, pg 231-240, truncated for brevity, made by S Rajaratnam, Senior Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, titled Political Developments Towards the Year 2000 at a seminar organised by the Singapore Association for the Advancement of Science on December 20, 1979, from S Rajaratnam – The Prophetic & the Political, edited by Chan Heng Chee & Obaid Ul Haq (Graham Brash 1987; ISBN 9971-49-041-2: 540pg),


Anonymous,  16 December 2014 at 15:24  

Dato, thank you and Sumpitan Emas for this splendid article.
Where are our great readers, thinkers, debaters, writers, speakers? Stifled by political will, monstrous legal/ unreasonable roadblocks set up by our govt policies? We have this huge loss in ourselves that we do not know or comprehend this loss. This is our sorrow and our curse brought about by human greed.

p/s Dato, who is Raja's niece in Malaysia?

Mr Bojangles 16 December 2014 at 16:57  

"Where are our great readers, thinkers, debaters, writers, speakers? Stifled by political will, monstrous legal/ unreasonable roadblocks set up by our govt policies?"

The answer ca be paraphrased from Dato's earlier post that the BN "hasn’t lost any opportunity to expand the tentacles of government to strangle the lives of the people."

Sumpitan Emas,  16 December 2014 at 17:31  

My sincere apology as I actually meant to say 'nephew', Datuk Dr S. Vijayaratnam, who passed away in 2008. His father S. Seeveratnam was Seremban Barat Member of Parliament (DAP), and younger brother of S. Rajaratnam.

They were from Seremban and not Kuala Lumpur.

Anonymous,  17 December 2014 at 19:21  

Not a single UMNO leader will be able to comprehend this article. Nay, they would not even have heard almost all the great thinkers mentioned in it.
This country is run by idiots. They are not fit even to untie Rajaretnam's sandals

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