The political attitudes of Filipinos have become a focal point in discussions of problems hindering the Philippines consolidation of democracy. Over the past 30 years, the country’s democratic outlook has swung from moments of intense optimism and promise to troughs of despair, so it is perhaps easy to imagine why this is the case. Using a critical, historicised study of the Philippines, and employing a genealogical approach, this thesis makes an intervention in the way democratic dispositions, in the Philippines and around the world, are identified, interpreted and evaluated in the orthodox democracy literature. Looking beyond pejorative assessments of cognitive unsophistication or failed agency, the thesis retells the history of Philippine democracy in a way that denaturalises the political attitudes of the present. By exploring the languages through which democracy has been and continues to be lived by the middle classes, it makes visible the implicit forces and forms of power that have shaped and constrained the formation of identity and meaning, and reveals the way that contemporary democratic imaginaries bear the weight of the conflicts and contradictions of the past.
Centrally, the study argues that one of the most striking, but to date unacknowledged, legacies of the American colonial project of ‘democratic tutelage’ in the Philippines is the entanglement of radical aspirations for freedom and independence, with constant self-examination and a sense of self-doubt as to the innate democratic capacity of the Filipino subject. This entanglement, the thesis finds, became embedded in a middle-class imaginary of democracy, manifesting itself in an ambivalent disposition towards democracy. At various moments and critical junctures during the 20th century, up to and including the present, two contradictory impulses – one defiant, one submissive – have appeared within the middle-class language of democracy, and acted as drivers of political attitudes and behaviour. It is the masterful mobilisation of this democratic ambivalence by elite political actors, from Manuel Quezon to Ferdinand Marcos and most recently, Rodrigo Duterte, that helps to explain the effectiveness of their political narratives for a middle-class audience, and makes sense of what otherwise appear to be incoherent fluctuations in the middle-class commitment to democracy.
In theorising the contradictions within democratic attitudes in the Philippines, the thesis develops an original concept of democratic ambivalence, the applicability of which is universal. The democratic ambivalence concept reframes the way we think about the significant gap between the political aspirations, visions and promises that are propagated by the democratic ideal on the one hand, and the lived constraints of democracy on the other. Rather than operating as a temporary deviance or as a state of exception, unmet aspirations and unfulfilled promises are intrinsic to the experience of living democratically. They are in fact nurtured by democracy. Ambivalence, it follows, is not a pathology of democracy or a failure of democratic agency, but rather a rational way of mediating between promises and ideals on the one hand, and the actual exercise of democratic power on the other.