1999 | II | 192-237
Article title

Problem „wartości azjatyckich”. Uwagi o koncepcjach Mahathira bin Mohamada

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ON THE "ASIAN VALUES" PROBLEM Remarks on Mahathlr bin Mohamad's Concepts
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From a strictly scientific point of view values truly common to all Asian countries cannot be indicated, since we face there highly differ entiated cultures and traditions. However, Mr. Mahathir's proposal is of a sociotechnical nature: it is a certain theoretical framework for build ing up new national identity in Malaysia where the Malays and the Chi nese predominate. This concept is presented, however, as more general, addressed to other Asian countries that undergo tremendous economic, social and cultural transformations. In this respect it has found no sig nificant support in Asia (with the exception of Singapore where Lee Kuan Yew promotes similar ideas), although it attracted attention. Highly critical attitudes towards this concept in the West are essen tially based on the three suppositions. 1) It aims at the maintenance of authoritarian systems in Asia and contradicts the universal principles of human rights. 2) Asian countries should adopt Western model of de mocracy as a "universal model" (in fact its Anglo-Saxon version, since the Great Britain and the USA are most active in propagating their dem ocratic concepts), 3) The Western democratic political system grants eco nomic and social development as the most developed nations illustrate. Mahathir's open criticism of the Western social and political pathologies and refusal to adopt contemporary Western values based on individual po litical rights facilitated or even provoked these critical attitudes. A “conservative", anti-democratic aspect of such concepts cannot be rejected as entirely groundless. However, one should bear in mind that the authoritarian or semi-authoritarian systems in Asia did not substi tute nor suppress democracy (as this happened in Europe), but consti tute the first step in the nation building process after liberation from colonial or semi-colonial oppression. In numerous Asian countries they created "economic miracles" and promoted modernization that offered to the population "almost Western" standard of life and civic freedoms un known previously. For the time being there is no one country in Asia that reached similar achievements in a democratic way, but numerous which failed, as well as these which initially developed under the authoritarian regimes and only afterwards underwent the process of democratization. Moreover, the democratic systems that works have various peculiar char acteristics and most probably the industrialized Asia will elaborate her own democratic models, more similar to the Japanese one than to the British or American. The insistence of some Western politicians and jour nalists on a blind adoption of their political systems and institutions, which evolved in entirely different individualistic and urban civilization, in fact obstacles the democratic evolution in Asia. The contemporary Euro- and Americano-centric views of numerous Western intellectuals and politicians, as well as their "missionary zeal" in propagating Western values, systems, beliefs, etc. as "universal" is a new manifestation of an old tradition. The Greeks and Romans considered only themselves "civilized"; medieval missionaries and kings in a similar way wanted to baptize "pagans", and the colonial powers considered themselves the "promoters of civilization". Thus Asian nations perceive these contemporary Western efforts as a new form of their enslavement and a continuation of the "spiritual colonialism". In a paradoxical way now the Catholic Church much better understands the need to "root" her religious beliefs and practices in native cultures than numerous Western intellectuals that consider themselves "enlightened" and "rational". In fact, Mahathir does not reject Western values but insists on their different structure in Asia (referring to well known David I. Hititchock studies), with the priority attributed to social, not individual values. He also appreciates their more traditional, “Victorian" version. Similar dis cussions and criticism concerning excessively "liberal" and "hedonistic" values are quite diffused in Asia, one can also find them in the West as well. Thus Mahathir's reasoning and opinions deserve attention and a serious discussion, Now in the entire world "blows the wind of nativism". We can notice it the Muslim world, in India, Africa, and even in Europe and the United States. It is often rooted in religion. Thus it is not surprising that similar tendencies appear in Asia. In the case of Malaysia Mahathir's concept constitutes an alternative to Islamic fundamentalism, not to the "com plete Westernization", that may be welcome merely by few Westernized Asian intellectuals, not by the people. And in fact his concept of "Asian values" aims merely at the creation of the modern Asian cultures that partially inherit native traditions and adopt certain Western values. It is an urgent need in the time of tremendous changes in all spheres of life now experienced by the most advanced Asian nations. Mahathir merely defends the right of the Asian nations to develop their own cultures and values, that is, essentially, a justified claim. In his vision Western and Asian cultures should peacefully co-exist enriching each other. In this respect the Chinese concepts officially promoted by the au thorities (both on the mainland and in Taiwan) significantly differ. They accept the "fusion of civilizations". It is essentially a concept of a new synthesis: of the best Chinese traditions and of the best Western ele ments. This vision implies that a new universal civilization will evolve, since a similar process of "Orientalization" will happen in the West. China appears in this respect a leader of these processes, although the empha sis is put on modernizing and westernizing China, not on her leadership in the world. For the time being suggestions that the West should, for its own benefit, learn from the Asians, are occasionally presented in Taiwan, not in the mainland. Such views are based on the millenary Confucian, universalistic tradition. Thus the economic development of Asian coun tries results in various new concepts that challenge the Western predom ination in the sphere of indeology. As David I, Hitchcock pointed out essential differences of Western and East Asian civilizations concern first of all the structures of their values. The author adds that this also concerns understanding of the values as such and the social attitudes to them. Other problems in this respect are also indicated. Therefore the interrelations of the Western and Asian nations will inevitably be difficult, but their future depends mainly on the Western approaches and policy towards Asia. The debate on Asian values could constitute an important step towards mutual understanding essen tial to the fruitful cooperation of the Western and Asian nations. The problem certainly is of a crucial importance to the future of the world.
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