El filibusterismo in 2009

I just thought this was really excellent in El filibusterismo and had to share. It’s a bit long but I can’t get over how RELEVANT it is. And this was written in 1891, halfway across the world. For context purposes, this exchange is between a student and a lawyer, the former of which is trying to convince the latter to support their cause: the building of a school in the Philippines which teaches Spanish, so that Filipinos may understand the laws that are imposed upon them. Meanwhile, opponents of this proposition refuse to allow it for the same reason.

[Lawyer] “That’s exactly the quid, as is vulgarly said. It’s clear that it is laudable to aid the government, when one aids it submissively, following out its desires and the true spirit of the laws in agreement with the just beliefs of the governing powers, and when not in contradiction to the fundamental and general way of thinking of the persons to whom is intrusted the common welfare of the individuals that form a social organism. Therefore, it is criminal, it is punishable, because it is offensive to the high principle of authority, to attempt any action contrary to its initiative, even supposing it to be better than the governmental proposition, because such action would injure its prestige, which is the elementary basis upon which all colonial edifices rest.” Confident that this broadside had at least stunned Isagani, the old lawyer fell back in his armchair, outwardly very serious, but laughing to himself.

[Student] Isagani, however, ventured to reply. “I should think that governments, the more they are threatened, would be all the more careful to seek bases that are impregnable. The basis of prestige for colonial governments is the weakest of all, since it does not depend upon themselves but upon the consent of the governed, while the latter are willing to recognize it. The basis of justice or reason would seem to be the most durable.”

The lawyer raised his head. How was this—did that youth dare to reply and argue with him, him, Señor Pasta? Was he not yet bewildered with his big words? “Young man, you must put those considerations aside, for they are dangerous,” he declared with a wave of his hand. “What I advise is that you let the government attend to its own business.”

“Governments are established for the welfare of the peoples, and in order to accomplish this purpose properly they have to follow the suggestions of the citizens, who are the ones best qualified to understand their own needs.”

“Those who constitute the government are also citizens, and among the most enlightened.”

“But, being men, they are fallible, and ought not to disregard the opinions of others.”

“They must be trusted, they have to attend to everything.”

“There is a Spanish proverb which says, ‘No tears, no milk,’ in other words, ‘To him who does not ask, nothing is given.’ ”

“Quite the reverse,” replied the lawyer with a sarcastic smile; “with the government exactly the reverse occurs—” But he suddenly checked himself, as if he had said too much and wished to correct his imprudence. “The government has given us things that we have not asked for, and that we could not ask for, because to ask—to ask, presupposes that it is in some way incompetent and consequently is not performing its functions. To suggest to it a course of action, to try to guide it, when not really antagonizing it, is to presuppose that it is capable of erring, and as I have already said to you such suppositions are menaces to the existence of colonial governments. The common crowd overlooks this and the young men who set to work thoughtlessly do not know, do not comprehend, do not try to comprehend the counter-effect of asking, the menace to order there is in that idea—”

“Pardon me,” interrupted Isagani, offended by the arguments the jurist was using with him, “but when by legal methods people ask a government for something, it is because they think it good and disposed to grant a blessing, and such action, instead of irritating it, should flatter it —to the mother one appeals, never to the stepmother. The government, in my humble opinion, is not an omniscient being that can see and anticipate everything, and even if it could, it ought not to feel offended, for here you have the church itself doing nothing but asking and begging of God, who sees and knows everything, and you yourself ask and demand many things in the courts of this same government, yet neither God nor the courts have yet taken offense. Every one realizes that the government, being the human institution that it is, needs the support of all the people, it needs to be made to see and feel the reality of things. You yourself are not convinced of the truth of your objection, you yourself know that it is a tyrannical and despotic government which, in order to make a display of force and independence, denies everything through fear or distrust, and that the tyrannized and enslaved peoples are the only ones whose duty it is never to ask for anything. A people that hates its government ought to ask for nothing but that it abdicate its power.”
Locations 2243-81

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