Among the favourite arguments of G25 – an argument, which they almost invariably advance in the opening offensive of their attacks on the current state of Malaysia – is this: that the Rukun Negara is an inherently liberal document and that Malaysia is founded on their ideas of liberalism.
By saying this, G25 hopes to establish that conservatism has no place either in the Rukun Negara, or in our nation as a whole. As a Burkean conservative, I find that this is a crude factual misunderstanding.
It is so crudely misunderstood that I would even go so far as to say that the Rukun Negara itself is a premier example of a conservative statement and not a liberal manifesto as G25 so claims.
Now what is conservatism? Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective. An adjective, chiefly sustained by a body of sentiments founded in the love of place, customs, and traditions.
It is plain as a pikestaff therefore that the line quoted by G25 can clearly be reconciled by Burke’s conservative emphasis on politics which organizes society around the rational pursuit of liberty through preservation and not through the liberal ideals espoused by G25. Simply put, a conservative is a person who finds permanent things more pleasing than chaos and bedlam.
It was precisely to escape the chaos and bedlam of 1969 that the Rukun Negara entered into Malaysian history. The resulting vertigo of that annus horribilis forced Malaysians to grasp tightly the values they cherished which was of course nothing but love of place, customs and traditions to form a national loyalty, permanent and reassuring, supposedly shared by government and opposition alike, and the electorate as a whole.
Let us look now at the principles of the Rukun Negara and not just one line of its preamble taken out of context to see how it squares with the liberalism promoted by G25. I will for the sake of brevity touch upon only one of the five principles.
“Belief in God” - it is perfectly obvious that a liberal, believing in individual “freedoms” cannot subscribe to this. Why? Plainly because liberalism affords unfettered freedom of thought to an individual, that is to say even the freedom to reject belief in God and become atheist. Conservatives on the other hand, as I will mention later, believe in a moral order authored by God and based on natural law and religion.
Thus, I throw down this gauntlet to G25 – you ought to either say that atheists cannot be good Malaysians as per the Rukun Negara, or that you waive your right to have recourse to that one line of its preamble (taken out of context, clearly) as you would have to deny its first principle. Liberals, as the members of G25 claim to be, cannot have it both ways when it comes to quoting the Rukun Negara.
The benefit of conservative values
Having dispensed with the notion that the Rukun Negara is a liberal document, I will now go on the offensive by saying that it is conservative values and not liberal ones that bring the greatest benefit to our country.
Firstly, a conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent. This order signifies harmony.
Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since conservative became a term of politics.
Our 20th-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the rise of liberalism and its mantra “This is my body and I shall do with it as I please, because I am free”, and the subsequent collapse of belief in a moral order in the Western world. Go out on a Friday night around the public houses in London and one would find vomit everywhere, people wallowing in their own urine and refuse, and women with their pants/skirt undone.
God forbid this should happen to Malaysia. Malaysians thus have a right to fear this disastrous effect of liberalism, which will lead to a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites.
Secondly, the conservative believes in prescription, customs, and prudence. Our modern liberal world gives proof at every point that it is far easier to destroy institutions than to create them.
Yet, a conservative urges prudence. Many on the side of G25 (although not G25 members themselves) argue for the abolition of the muftis and Islamic fiqh in our country all the while, scarcely thinking of its ramifications.
I return to the UK as an example. Islam is undoubtedly on the rise in the UK. Yet unlike Malaysia, it lacks a central authority to govern it. Thus we have characters who differ wildly from terrorist-supporting Anjem Choudary to libertines like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who both claim to believe in the true version of Islam.
This can only sow discord among the believers and encourage radicalism. Only an office that has the authority to issue binding edicts can curb this discord.
Thus a conservative, by way of a society linking the dead to the unborn in the manner extolled by Burke, intends to defend institutions such as religious authorities and the values it stands for in order to pass it on from generation to generation.
And for this very reason it arouses the hostility of liberals like G25, who are constantly and imprudently scouring for areas outside the institutions, prescriptions and customs of a local place.
Hence in Malaysia, while conservatives leap to the defense of local values and customs wishing to maintain its integrity and enforce its law, liberals advocate transnational initiatives, international courts and western “human rights”. all of which they believe should stand in judgment over our country and hold it to account.
Conservatism is a philosophy of inheritance and stewardship that does not squander resources but strives to enhance them and pass them on. Therefore, it is the best philosophy to strengthen our country, Malaysia.
As a final word, the real reason people like me choose to be conservative, is because we love. We love our institutions, our laws, and our customs and we want to preserve them from abuse and decay.
We love our family, our friends, our religion and our immediate environment, both the cherished dead and the yet to be born. We have made a lifelong distinction between the things that nourish and the things that threaten our security and peace of mind.
We are conservative because we love Malaysia, imperfect as she may be because we know from history that the utopia G25 intends to establish will not be perfect as they claim but might be even worse. And even more worryingly, can only be reached across a sea of blood.