A republic of virtue

Our vice-chancellors are not elected from the pool of experts from other races although our student population is of a multi-racial mix. The concept of ‘affirmative action’  that emphasises policies to promote diversity is almost non-existent. There is no virtue in such a practice in our public universities.


Azly Rahman


Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains – Jean Jacques Rousseau

There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents – Thomas Jefferson

Malaysia is approaching a mid-life crisis. This age is characterised by bipolarism, schizophrenia, amnesia and illusions of grandeur.

In essence, we are a troubled nation, hyper-modernised by half-backed sense of democracy, paying lip service to the idea of a civilised society and insincere in our pledge to create equal opportunity for all.

Consider some of problematic phrases we are living with: Keris-wielding sandiwara. Altantuya brutal murder. Scorpene-Agosta submarine purchase. Kampong Berembang demolition. Istana Zakaria. Hypocrisy of Islam Hadhari. Monsoon Cup inquiry. ASLI-NEP calculation controversy. The Perak Constitutional Crisis. Continuation of The Internal Security Act. 1Malaysia. Port Kelang Free Port Area. Cow-head protesters. Kugan. Teoh Hock Beng. Ketuanan Melayu. Biro Tata Negara. Missing Fighter Jet Engines.

These and many others are unresolved. The essence of these lies in the erosion of virtue.

We no longer have virtuous leaders in our political system. We have many who are corrupt to the bone and in their souls, interested only in plundering the national wealth in order to survive the next general election. We also have leaders who still do not understand what ‘development’ means. And we continue to breed new leaders who think that politics is about buying votes and selling the nation.

Virtuous leaders are made and not born. They are created out of good religious/moral upbringing and a clear sense of altruism – prioritising needs, not wants, and certainly not greed. Economic conditions too can create virtuous leaders. It is a question of Man and the environment, Man and his circumstances, or Nature versus Nurture. But religion is the driving force of virtue.

Oppressive institutions

If every family reflects upon the beauty of each religion they were born into, it would preserve the tenets of religion and use these to guide their children. But this requires a strong family that is not fragmented and destroyed by poverty. If families are busy working two or three jobs because of economic designs (conjured by a dehumanising political ideology that dictates so), how would ‘virtuous children’ be raised?

Even if one does not believe in God and its existence, one can be as ethical and virtuous as defined by Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Buddha, Lao Tzi or Einstein.

Master Kung (Confucius) often talks about the breeding of the chuan tze or ‘the gentleman’ and the importance of respect. The ‘Bhagavad Gita’ speaks of the beauty of the self and for one to follow dharma. Islam speaks of the beauty of the self in relation to its contribution to a peaceful and just society. Sufism, Buddhism, Jainism, Hassidism, and many a path to deeper spirituality promote the development of the ‘just and virtuous self’.

These cultural philosophies and religious doctrines attempt to bring human nature closer to God and Nature.

But we are living in a world designed by greedy human beings who themselves do not know their own true nature.

One might ask: does ‘true nature’ exist? Or will we be comfortable living a life of the Epicurean – eat, drink and be merry? Or, is our good life guaranteed of happiness determined by market forces? Even if allow market forces to dictate our spirituality, do we know who owns the means of creating markets and producing goods?

Greed and materialism are the prime motivator of the destruction of family values. We are primarily reduced to homo economicus essentially and less of homo spiritus. We spend time either making ends meet or making our millions multiply. We keep making decisions that alter and transform the economy and impact the lives of millions who are at the disposal of those who own the means of economic and intellectual production. With our wealth, we oppress each other as we build oppressive institutions of power and control.

We have created a matrix of complexities and a rat race of no winners; a rat race of Chinese complexities as the informational scientist Alan Turing would term it.

Seeds of destruction?

Our society seems to be heading towards destruction. The seeds are rapidly germinating. Sometime ago we saw even the Malaysian police force threatening ‘to vote for the opposition’. We are now puzzled: who do the police serve? Who will protect the citizens then? Do we then need to set up a non-partisan or a neutral police force?

We are seeing public universities becoming more and more politicised. There is no virtue in the way they are run. They have become a complex and well-funded system of hegemonies that is revolving at different transitionary stages. This simply means that our public universities, paid by the taxpayers of all races, are serving the interests of the political parties of the day.

Our vice-chancellors are not elected from the pool of experts from other races although our student population is of a multi-racial mix. The concept of ‘affirmative action’  that emphasises policies to promote diversity is almost non-existent. There is no virtue in such a practice in our public universities.

We are seeing people getting edgy and agitated – higher crime rate, more robberies, snatch thefts, hideous crimes related to merciless kidnapping, our youth of all races getting high on all kinds of depressants and stimulants that all religious upbringing has taught us to avoid.

Virtue is eroding even at the highest level of public office. We set up all kinds of bodies to combat corruption. But what has been the success rate so far if we are still trapped in a complex political-economic system that is producing more and more creatures of greed that plunder the nation’s wealth.

‘Virtue’ itself is a corrupted word these days. People are finding it difficult to be virtuous. They want to be pragmatic and rational economic beings that rationalise everything in the name of profit, at the expense of the moral development of the generation we are to leave behind.

We can understand why there are now a growing number of snatch thieves in Kuala Lumpur. They want to emulate the lifestyle of our local robber barons. The culture of materialism has tempted us all – from the untouchables of the upper class to the silenced poor who labour for the world’s aristocrats.

Our politics, our economics, our culture, our institutions and our language have been internally laced with the language of competition.

We cannot escape from the idea that there ought to be winners and losers, whether it is in the way we give grades to students, design economic policies, organise the political system or, ironically, even in the way we understand religion and God and how these relate to what Mohandas Gandhi would call the harijan (children of God).

The continuing issues of succession plaguing the leadership of the major components of all the ruling parties, for example, reflects a virtue-less leadership. It even reflects the system of dictatorship and authoritarianism that we have allowed to take root in all parties. We are seeing the development of another dangerous excess of authoritarianism – the development of political dynasties. We continue to see this culture in the Malay and Chinese political parties as well.

Ethnicity and poverty

If all that energy is used to design a better system of participatory democracy and philanthropy, and to reach out to other ethnic groups to collaborate in solving the issue of poverty, we, as Malaysians, will become a miracle nation. Poverty is not the problem of Indians or Malays or Chinese alone  – it is the problem of Humanity.

How can the rich be saved if the poor are multiplying in large numbers? We will have a society that will need more sophisticated surveillance system in order to reduce robbery, kidnapping, etc.

The poor look at rich and ask themselves: “Am I poor because I am lazy? Or is he rich because he works a hundred times better? Or is it the system we build that will continue to make the rich richer and the poor poorer?”

What resources do the rich and their children have vis-à-vis the poor to compete in a world that is increasingly technological and technicist and informational? We have created a system of ethically-based structural violence. It is a complex problem but one can certainly make sense of it all.

We need to bring back ‘virtue’ to the forefront of our political philosophies and into our economic paradigm, and next use it to design a virtuous foundation of our economic system. From a virtuous foundation we will then see a healthier characterisation of how we design and reorganise our lives as economic beings.

Education, and education alone, though slow and tedious as a process of transformation, will be the most powerful tool of cognitive restructuring and the teaching of virtue. Education for peace, social justice, co-operation, tolerance and spiritual advancement will be the best foundation of this mode of operation.

How do we even begin creating a republic of virtue if we do not yet have the tools of analysing what a corrupt society is and how corrupt leaders are a product of the economic system created to reproduce more sophisticated forms of corruption?

We must engineer a revolution of our very own consciousness. From the revolution in our minds, we move on to the revolution of our consciousness, and next to our collective consciousness. Gradually, as we realise that a better collective consciousness can be created, we will be aware of the oppositional forces that are making real human progress disabling.

We must now become makers of our own history and help others do the same. We must first learn to deconstruct ourselves and draw out the virtue within ourselves, even if the process can be terrifying. We must then each create a manifesto of our own self and de-evolve from then, until we tear down the structures within and outside of ourselves and reconstruct the foundations of a new republic.

In 2010, we will become ‘independent’ for 53 years. Are we a republic of virtue yet? Are we emotionally stable enough to be one? Or  has our freedom come without responsibility?

Malaysians of all races, you are all created equal. No one race is superior than the other. Let us establish a republic of virtue; founded on peace and justice for all — beginning with a revolution in our mind. 


While the opinion in the article is mine, the comments are yours; present them rationally and ethically.