The Breach of Social Contract that Leads to
The Dawn of the Revolution in Burma
SAN OO AUNG in BURMA DIGEST
In the book Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, wrote in 1642 about a minimalist state which was strangely similar to the present day Myanmar and SPDC Junta. Let’s compare that Leviathan State with the Myanmar under successive Military Dictators.
1. The threatened citizens:
- With the civil war with the Ethnic Minorities leading to possible disintegration of the country.
- Or with the foreign invaders leading to re-colonization.
- Disappearance of Bama Race and Buddhist Religion.
Burma (Myanmar) really has the most numbers of the armed rebels for about half a century.
So the Myanmar Military’s claim was even believed and echoed by some prominent ASEAN leaders.
But almost all of those Ethnic Minority rebels supported NLD leader Daw Aung San Su Kyi and are ready to stop the rebellion and give up the aim of separation from the Union if there is a formation of real democratic, secular, federal Union.
2. Hobbes called for a state where effective political power was concentrated in a single authority, the State. And it was in the hands of a minority of rulers or a single monarch. Real effective political power was concentrated in the hands of the ruling elite only. In Burma the Military under General Ne Win, Saw Maung and Senior General Than Shwe control the power very firmly and it is according to Hobbes principle.
3. Hobbes’ constant fear of civil conflict was his highest justification for the creation of this small but immensely powerful state machinery or Authoritarian or Dictator System with total control of the daily lives of ordinary citizens. And the whole population is depoliticized.
In Burma, as long as a person stayed away from politics he could do whatever he likes, but he need to grease the palms of the relevant authorities in every step. This is in accordance to Hobbes’ idea of allowing the public to stay as they like provided they did not meddle with the affairs of state. The State, on the other hand, would interfere as little as possible in the affairs of the masses provided they ‘behaved’ themselves or in Myanmar terms bribed enough to the authorities. But under the excuse of internal security, the Military of Burma dictates control and watches almost all the activities of its citizens.
4. The state that Hobbes envisioned had peace, public order, openness and stability. But actually the power was absolute, centralized and personalized. In Burma there is a “peace agreement” with armed rebels but not with the unarmed NLD. Neither openness nor transparency at all prevails in Burma/Myanmar. The condition is quite fragile in Myanmar. The power is absolute, centralised and Myanmar Military Generals are still in absolute control.
5. The hidden element of Hobbes’ theory of the centralized State was the culture of fear and terror that usually develop if his model actually exists. Yes, that fear is the most important factor in Myanmar now. We all need to overcome that fear.
6. Today we see the real replica in present-day Myanmar (Burma) as if Myanmar could be called a model Leviathan State of Myanmar. Today we have seen the emergence of a powerful State apparatus of the Military in Myanmar, and it practically dominates all sectors of public life.
7. Like the many other blatantly oppressive and dictatorial regimes (such as the Philippines under Marcos or Indonesia under Suharto), the fierce and cruel power of Military dominate Myanmar since 1962 up to the present time.
8. In Burma the relentless intimidation and use of unnecessary brutal military might, combined with frequently changing random arbitrary ad hoc laws effectively suppressed and tamed the socio-political atmosphere. Thus for much of the Myanmar population, hard life continues boringly in slow pace and under constant fear.
9. The Myanmar Military’s promotion of an “open-market economy” has never changed Myanmar public which has been already ruined into to a corruption based black-market lifestyle and leading to extreme materialism.
10. Political activism and any public debate on matters political, cultural and philosophical is practically suppressed. For years, the quality of intellectual life in the media, local universities and the public arena has been stifled thanks to the cumulative effect of laws and regulations which have effectively robbed the ordinary citizens of their rights of free speech, association and assembly.
11. Set against this is a state of Myanmar Military apparatus which has grown increasingly powerful, centralized and personalized. A cult of leadership has been developed in the country, centred on the personality and personal tastes and preferences leading to one man- show of Sr. General Than Shwe.
12. Hobbes ‘Leviathan country’- intimidates and compels citizens to give in and toe the line all the time. The Military in Myanmar has been able to act in a coercive and forceful manner.
13. Hobbes predicted that there is a limit to how far the State can go in its exercise of power. Hobbes social contract which binds the citizens to their State was based on mutual respect for a common concern: namely, to protect the interests of all parties concerned.
14. Hobbes predicted that the citizens would no longer respect and obey the State if the latter was no longer protecting their interests.
The social contract effectively comes to an end when the State exceeds its limits and begins
to abuse the rights of the citizens arbitrarily, such as in cases of blatant abuse of power.
15. At this point, Hobbes argues that, the citizens are no longer beholden to the state and thus are free to rebel.
If we look at the present day Myanmar under the SPDC Junta, this ‘invisible’ limit has been reached, and indeed, breached by the SPDC Military rulers.
In Myanmar today the SPDC had clearly crossed the line of our limit with his brutal cruelties on all the Ethnic Minorities, minority religions and almost all the citizens.
So it is the dawn of a revolution where the dominance of the authoritarian Military rulers is being questioned for the first time, thanks to the NLD under Daw Aung San Su Kyi and all the opposition groups.
The end result of this process will take some time. But one thing is for sure: the climate of fear and obedience which was so crucial in maintaining the system of autocratic centralized rule is now slowly diminishing, and Burmese citizens are beginning to question the legitimacy of the Military that has ruled them for so long.
SAN OO AUNG
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