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Reviewed by:
  • On Liberalism and the Postcolony: Thinking the State in 20th-Century Philippinesby Lisandro E. Claudio
  • Walden F. Bello (bio), Tomas Larsson (bio), and Lisandro E. Claudio (bio)

The Philippines, liberalism, nationalism, the "Diliman Consensus", Camilo Osias, Salvador Araneta, Carlos P. Romulo, Salvador P. Lopez, Rodrigo Duterte, Isaiah Berlin, Richard Rorty

On Liberalism and the Postcolony: Thinking the State in 20th-Century Philippinesby Lisandro E. Claudio. Singapore and Loyola Heights, Quezon City: NUS Press and Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2017.

Review Essay I: Walden F. Bello

Lisandro Claudio's most recent work, Liberalism and the Post-Colony, is a welcome take, from one of the country's leading young historians, on a subject that is none too popular among some sectors of the Filipino intelligentsia: the liberal tradition in the Philippines. In an intellectual atmosphere that has been greatly influenced by what Claudio calls the "Diliman Consensus", such an enterprise is bound to be controversial, for that school, he claims, has consigned Philippine liberalism to the intellectual, political and ethical wilderness. 1

Challenging the "Diliman" Consensus

Indeed, to many in the intelligentsia, Philippine liberalism carries the stain of having been formed under the influence of the United States during the nearly half a century that the country was an [End Page 677]American colony. The politics of that period has been seen as a shameful parenthesis between the glorious revolution of 1896 and the nationalist revival and struggle against dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s. The "sin" of the liberals of the colonial era and immediate post–Second World War period was to be seduced by the political vision introduced by the colonizers, even as the latter made the local economy into an appendage of the U.S. economy and a springboard for the projection of military power.

Claudio seeks to bring Philippine liberalism in from the cold, characterizing its being dismissed as a "colonial mentality" as a product of binary, black-and-white thinking that conceals the constructive role that it has played in the formation of Philippine political culture. He adopts a historico-biographical methodology, focusing on four individuals whom he considers paradigmatic liberals—Camilo Osias (1889–1976), Salvador Araneta (1902–82), Carlos P. Romulo (1898–1985) and Salvador P. Lopez (1911–93)—and on their interaction with the national and international trends of the times in which they lived.

Claudio treats his subjects with sympathy and assesses them with nuance. He draws from a wealth of sources, including the testimonies of contemporaries. He contends that, far from being cat's paws of the West, the four men were not only nationalists but also in fact liberal internationalists who did not hesitate to identify with American and Western values and saw no contradiction between their internationalist orientation and their nationalism. Claudio's command of his sources is impeccable, but his is not, as he acknowledges in the conclusion, a detached approach. It is partisan, one that seeks to rescue what he considers a much-maligned but valuable intellectual and political tradition.

Claudio offers careful, measured portraits of these individuals, especially Romulo and Lopez, as people trying to hold fast to the liberal values of human rights and democracy in a twentieth century world threatened by the extremes of communist insurgency on the one hand and right-wing authoritarianism on the other. They are, in his view, non-utopian, cautious and averse to short cuts and to [End Page 678]radicalism. Claudio does not hesitate to point to these men's flaws, especially their lapses into hypocrisy in the face of power, but he sees them as role models. Their contradictions are, in fact, part of their attraction for him. They were, in his view, the Filipino counterparts of Arthur Koestler, George Orwell and, in the case of Salvador Araneta, John Maynard Keynes, though, of course, he does not claim for them the intellectual depth of those towering figures.

The Elephant in the Room

I admire Claudio's perspective engagée. It is from a similar standpoint that I shall engage this good friend and respected colleague. What I find problematic is that his careful portraits are presented without adequate attention to "background", especially...


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