Teo, Acosta, and the degeneration of the elites

/ 05:09 AM May 08, 2018

Last week, I called President Duterte “a lion who thinks he is a fox,” and described Kim Jong-un as “someone perceived as a lion who turned out to be a fox.” I was borrowing the theory of circulating elites proposed by the Italian thinker Vilfredo Pareto, who in turn borrowed his terminology from Machiavelli.

Reading Pareto (very slowly), I grow increasingly convinced that his theory explains the rise and eventual fall of Dutertismo. President Duterte is an example of the leader of a lion-elite which rules by force; former president Gloria Arroyo led, for almost a decade, a fox-elite which governed by cunning. As the scholars John Higley and Jan Pakulski phrase it: “Governing elites embody wide and complex patronage networks and practices, as well as a psychosocial propensity and consequent style of governance tending to rely on cunning and persuasion or determination and force.”


Dutertismo may be best explained as the ascendancy of a Class II elite, where authority is the preferred “instrument of persuasion.” There is a short, straight line between appeal to authority and the resort to force and determination. Pareto names this Class II elite after the lion. Higley and Pakulski write: “Leonine elites act with idealism, intolerance and a strong preference for applying force to achieve and cement social unity.”

Even more instructive is Pareto’s theory of the “circulation of the elites.” He writes: “Changes in Class I [vulpine] and Class II [leonine] residues [his complicated assumptions about “non-logical propensities” that define a particular governing elite] within the two social strata [of elite and nonelite] have an important influence in determining the social equilibrium.” Further on, he adds: “In the beginning, military, religious, and commercial aristocracies and plutocracies … must have constituted parts of the governing elite …. [But] Aristocracies do not last.”


Then, in Paragraph 2054, comes this whopper.

“They decay not in numbers only. They decay also in quality, in the sense that they lose their vigour, that there is a decline in the proportions of the residues which enabled them to win their power and hold it.” Higley and Pakulski identify this as one of three “principal” ways of elite degeneration: “A governing elite’s intellectual and political qualities deteriorate, with key positions held increasingly by mediocrities who have risen to power through family inheritance, cronyism, and sycophancy, and who lack the vigour and wisdom necessary for decisive and effective actions.”

I think this idea of the degeneration of the elites explains the irrational destructiveness of chief public attorney Persida Acosta’s unhealthy obsession with Dengvaxia, which has put many Filipino children in harm’s way, or the deliberate cluelessness of the corruption and nepotism that marks Wanda Teo’s tenure at the Department of Tourism. We can multiply the examples; they show a very early decay in the Davao-led lion-elite which makes up the current governing elite. I expected much better from Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano; the political stunt he and his social media “experts” tried to pull off in Kuwait has jeopardized the livelihood of a quarter-million OFWS, and anywhere between two million and three million dependents. Even Associate Justice Samuel Martires’ stupid insinuations about a robust spiritual life as a sign of mental instability — this is the decay in quality Pareto diagnosed as among the factors that drive the circulation of elites.

* * *

I had the privilege of keynoting two forums last week. At the 2018 Philippine Journalism Research Conference in the University of the Philippines, I spent some time on this question: “What does it mean to be a journalist, or to do journalism research, in the Duterte era?” Among other things, I said, it means “countering the brazen lies about journalism, press freedom, and free speech that President Duterte and his subordinates propagate.” At the World Communications Day symposium, an entire conference held to reflect on Pope Francis’ message on “Fake news and the journalism of peace,” I worried the use of the phrase “protectors of the news” which was used to describe journalists in the English version of his message, and compared them with the Spanish original (“custodian”) and the Italian and French versions (“keeper” and “guardian”). I have posted both speeches on my Newsstand blog.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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TAGS: Dutertismo, john Nery, Newsstand, Persida Acosta, Rodrigo Duterte, Wanda Tulfo-Teo
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