The politics of nation-building

The reality of conflict, not social cooperation, is the starting point of politics. In the difficult terrain of nation-building, Filipinos since the time of Manuel L. Quezon characteristically hold their president responsible for the future of their nation. But changing the status quo cannot be the sole responsibility of one person. As a matter of principle, we have to understand that while we have rights as citizens, we must also realize our basic moral obligations to the state, which include, among others, electing politicians who are worthy of the positions they hold.

We are tempted to ask if nation-building is a question of virtue. After all, Aristotle wrote that the main goal of politics is to cultivate the good character of citizens, to empower them in achieving the ultimate end of any society—human happiness. Self-perfection is nothing but the realization of the potential of each. For Aristotle, each one of us needs society because man is neither a god nor a beast. However, our present state of affairs are a bit more complicated.


We might find it relevant to look into Kant and examine if in fact the unequivocal respect for the autonomy of the person is the foundation of any just society. Human dignity entitles each one of us to a moral claim that serves as the ethical basis for universal rights. It is our self-legislating capacity that determines why we must follow the moral law as a matter of imperative. Human rationality, the Enlightenment tradition says, is at the core in the establishment of a just political order.

Thus, politics for modern liberals is a matter of agreement. Political legitimacy means that people, without coercion, give their consent to the manner in which they will be governed. The basic structure involves a system of rights that intends to broaden a person’s life prospects. Society reflects a people’s aspirations and hopes to live under a political system in which they desire to enjoy their just entitlements as citizens of the state.


And yet, the emphasis on human autonomy neglects the strong claims of community. People may find themselves possessing a social identity by virtue of their beliefs, convictions, shared understandings, and values. The idea of the common good, in fact, may run counter to individual freedom. This is because modern liberalism has disregarded how the particularity of cultures may come to affect the people’s common interests.

In “Elements of the Philosophy of Right,” Hegel teaches us that the life of citizens cannot be abstracted or separated from the dimension of their communitarian soul. Nation-building has to be a reflection of the practicality of politics. The unfolding of history in political movements is something that the atomism of most liberals has never paid attention to. Hence, beyond the idea of a social pact, tolerance for cultural differences means that we must recognize the historical rootedness and unique identities of others.

Our own Apolinario Mabini champions the principle that “the first duty of the government is to interpret the people’s will faithfully.” Ergo, authentic political authority, for Mabini, “resides in the people.” Individual liberty, ultimately, must serve the pursuit of public interest. According to Adriano Reyno Jr., the “Sublime Paralytic” believes that “society is a group of men pledged to render mutual aid to one another for the realization of the common good, which they cannot attain by themselves.”

Nation-building requires that we have faith in ourselves as a people. Citizenship is not just a political thing. It is also tied to a moral mandate. Love of country is a fundamental duty of every citizen. “Power is unjust,” says Jean Baudrillard. Indeed, no politician is a saint, but this should not mean that responsible and law-abiding people must stop doing what is right for their country.

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He is the author of “Ethics and Human Dignity.”

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TAGS: Christopher Ryan Maboloc, Inquirer Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, nation-building, politics
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