Learning to live with political dynasties

William Safire, political lexicographer, defines “dynasty” as the “recurrence of political power in generations of a single family; previously, the passing of power among a small group of political elite.”

For his study of “American Political Dynasties,” Stephen Hess chose, according to Safire, the following families: Adams, Lee, Livingston, Washburn, Muhlenberg, Roosevelt, Harrison, Breckenridge, Bayard, Taft, Frelinghuysen, Tucker, Stockton, Long, Lodge and Kennedy.


What gives rise to a political dynasty? It’s a natural phenomenon no different from when a banana plant begins to age and one or two shoots spring up beside it. Do political dynasties rise up from political heavyweights? Not necessarily. Sociologist C. Wright Mills points out that “throughout US history, well over half of the American political elite have come from families not previously connected with political affairs. They come from families highly placed in terms of money and position than political influence.”

Establishing a political dynasty, history attests, is a very human craving that very few can resist or not find ways to implement. A story is told—apocryphal, of course—of Roman Emperor Caligula, one of the most vicious madmen in history. Caligula did not want the family dynasty to end with him. The problem was he had no kinsman to pass power to as earlier he had all of them murdered to avert any plot to replace him prematurely, or when he was not yet good and ready, through his assassination.


Was Caligula fazed by this problem? Not a bit. The guy may have had episodes of madness, but he was no fool; he could weave fantastic solutions to unimaginable political problems. Just like our politicos. So how did Caligula solve the problem of preserving his dynasty with no one to whom he could pass the torch in sight? Simple.

He marched to the royal stable and named his favorite horse senator and heir!

Dynasty: We just have to learn to live with it even if our dynasty-creating, power-kapit-tuko politicians insist on passing on positions and pelf to their dumb horses.

Or worse, to their submoronic children.

Now, before some dumb guys jump at my throat for being on the wrong side of history, condoning what everybody and his uncle see as evil, I say, Hold your horses. Calm down and think for a while: Is a political dynasty absolutely bad news? Is the birth and flourishing of a dynasty a natural evolution and is trying to stop it a futile act, like trying to stop the river’s flow from rushing to the sea?

If you come right down to it, dynasties are not all that bad, are not that simple to dismantle, and do provide a lot of pluses in terms of stability and administrative efficiency to the political subdivision where they hold sway. And, just like any force or power center, they can become obsolete or exhaust their potency and usefulness and, in time, fade from the scene voluntarily—or they can get thrown out by the people through the ballot or through the unique Filipino invention for getting rid of politicians who have become undesirables: People Power.

We have had a number of recorded dynasties in the past 100 years or so. The Josons of Nueva Ecija; the Laurels, Rectos and Levistes of Batangas; the Remullas and Revillas of Cavite; the Dys and Albanos of Isabela; the Osmeñas, Cuencos and Duranos of Cebu; the Singsons of Ilocos Sur; the Ortegas of La Union; the Marcoses of Ilocos Norte; the Espinosas of Masbate; the Villafuertes of Bicol; the Buluts of Apayao; the Cuas of Quirino; the Ejercito-Estradas of San Juan; the Binays of Makati…


These are the dynasties that I can call to mind at the moment. There are many more. If that’s so, why is Vice President Jejomar Binay made the poster boy of political dynasties?

There is a move in Congress to banish dynasties from our political system. I think this effort is a waste of time, and furthermore, such a move, if successful, infringes on the right of the people to choose who they want to serve them. If the people love the brand of service of the Binay clan, in power for the last 30 years, and choose to keep its members in the saddle for another 30-year run, why frustrate the people’s wish?

Opinions about a political dynasty, especially as it relates to well-known Filipino families, are difficult to synthesize as some of them are, if not self-contradictory, a study in confusion not very unlike this quote from former US president George Bush:

“I have opinions of my own—strong opinions—but I don’t always agree with them.”

Gualberto B. Lumauig ([email protected]) is past president of the UST Philosophy and Letters Foundation and former governor/congressman of Ifugao.

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TAGS: Binays, Caligula, History, political dynasties, politics
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