October 12, 2008

Getting into detail

It is not often that The Economist adds to the political literacy of a situation. Like the Wall Street Journal, certain fixed ideas direct interpretation in such a way that the nuances of a political struggle are reduced to the reflexes of western capital interest. The nébuleuse probably believe these publications are the most direct form of communication with Big Capital. Afterall, the mastheads of these esteemed tribunes are said to process global intelligence as if it were from God Himself (God with a capital M)

Allow me to draw attention to a recent article in The Economist on Thailand's turmoil. Instead of the lazy and repetitive mantra that has been bandied about in various newspapers and online that PAD is purely fascist and that it wants a parliament composed of 70% selected delegates (a position which changed a month or so ago), The Economist has rightly recognised PAD'S diverse make up. Yes, there are virulent rightwing streams in the organisation, but it also has a strand of "royal liberalism", which the Economist defines as " the idea that a powerful crown can act as a check on rapacious politicians." In the Thai literature the king has been called the Supreme Ombudsman.

I am of the opinion that the current struggle in Thailand is full of contradictions, and the position of royal liberalism is only one part of that contradictory whole. The point about royal liberalism, as it has developed in Thailand, is not that it defines the role of the monarch at all times, but rather it idealises what the monarchy might be in the face of corrupt electoral democracy. As a social force, royal liberalism is an attempt to direct the institution of the monarchy to a particular role. It neither countenances a Cambodian-style politicised monarchy, nor one completely identified with national security complexes. The Thaksin regime - in eroding the 1997 constitutional settlement - challenged both a liberal and conservative establishment.

I have written about this in "Article of Faith: the failure of royal liberalism in Thailand" in Journal of Contemporary Asia, 2008, 38, 1.

As long as the western media sees what is happening in Thailand as a struggle between a democratically elected government and a reactionary social movement with establishment backing, it will continue to interpret the events as if they were happening in Washington, Canberra or London. They are not. They are happening in Thailand.

Recognising that there is some tension in the anti-Thaksin movement is an advance. The next advance, given that the reactionary and undemocratic nature of some of PAD's support base has been well established, is to recognise the extradordinary reactionary and undemocratic nature of elements of the pro-Thaksin camp.

Post edited for clarity and to remove rhetorical excess: on Sunday night at 7 PM.

1 comment:

Fabian said...

Thank you for "daring" to criticise some of the western media coverage of the situation in Thailand.
It is interesting that a lot of people, and even some academics (especially the blogger type!), seem to treat the foreign media as if they were some sort of NGO whose main goal is the promotion of human rights, democracy and other noble causes.
But the fact is, most of foreign media, like WSJ, Econ Times, FS, NYT, etc are just big, wealthy and very powerful corporations. Their aim is of course, first and foremost, making profits which is mainly through advertising revenue paid to them by other big, powerful corporations.
So I do think people should be more discerning, and academics especially should not quote foreign media as if they are very reliable, unbiased sources. Otherwise, the public forgets that media, whether local or foreign, is nowadays the main machinery of propaganda (and thereby, oppression) by those in power, whoever they are.