Daulat – a quibble about words?




Clive Kessler, New Mandala

Just a quibble about words? A gift to knaves?

On being shown an early draft of this analysis, a leading Malaysian lawyer responded that he doubted whether giving the term daulat the deep cosmological connection and venerable historical relevance that this present analysis explores may help us to differentiate the two ideas, necessary as that task is.

Politicians, he continued, who want to use the power of the rulers will use whatever they find at their disposal. Proffering this kind of academic analysis, he continued, only gives legitimacy to that modern political appropriation. It endows daulat with greater meaning and a deeper significance than it really has and properly conveys. “Daulat to me,” he maintained, “is no more than an aristocratic fiction that is now totally displaced”.

My reply to this was to say that the point was taken. But then, I continued, I still wonder as a scholar, academic and cultural analyst (which is how I approach this question) what this fiction called daulat is that these people assiduously invoke and are so keen to deploy.

More, if they can deploy it and do, what is it that they seize hold of by doing so, and what is its force?

Necessary fictions: equal and identical?

In other words, the matter cannot be simply dismissed as irrelevant or inconsequential.

There remains here a serious problem —— that in political debates and in the constitutional documents off which they in part feed one may read about “sovereignty”, or sovereign power, in the modern English sense and also find the same thing habitually rendered, or “glossed”, in no less authoritative Malay text versions as daulat and kedaulatan.

Both these things, “sovereignty” and daulat may ultimately be “fictions” —— meaning socially functional and politically necessary abstractions —— but they are not quite the same fiction. That is the point, and one that needs to be made. It is a distinction that urgently needs to be pinned down and clarified.

Fictions are fine, it has been further suggested, so long as they serve some useful purpose,(26) and making a clear distinction between different fictions is, in cases such as this, indispensable.

Yet doing so may also entail (or so I was advised by those who urged a prudent silence upon me in 2009) an enormous risk. By insisting that daulat is not sovereignty one may, against one’s own best intentions, end up simply providing new scholarly arguments and academically augmented justification to those —— and this kind of thinking, or disingenuous sophistry, is becoming increasingly prevalent and influential these days in Malaysia —— who simply refuse to accept sovereignty in the modern constitutional sense.

Such people will seize upon daulat and the cultural and historical explication of the kind offered in this analysis to impugn and reject constitutionalism, meaning modern constitutionalism as it is generally understood.