Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

20
Conceptions of State and Kingship
in Southeast Asia

Robert Heine-Geldern

At a time when the whole political system of South‐ east Asia seems to be in a new cycle of development, dominated by native forces, an inquiry into the ideological foundations of native government will not be out of place and, perhaps, will even be of more than purely theoretical interest. What were the religious and philosophical conceptions which underlay and shaped the states of Southeast Asia? Are they still living forces with which we have to count or are they dead and gone? Is it possible to inoculate new ideas into old traditions, thereby avoiding a complete break with the past, a dangerous uprooting of oriental thought and culture?

In view of the limited space I shall confine myself to a discussion of some fundamental conceptions of state and kingship in those parts of Southeast Asia where Hindu-Buddhist civilization prevailed.


Macrocosmos and Microcosmos

The primary notion with which we shall have to deal is the belief in the parallelism between Macrocosmos and Microcosmos, between the universe and the world of men. According to this belief humanity is constantly under the influence of forces emanating from the directions of the compass and from stars and planets. These forces may produce welfare and prosperity or work havoc, according to whether or not individuals and social groups, above all the state, succeed in bringing their lives and activities in harmony with the universe. Individuals may attain such harmony by following the indications offered by astrology, the lore of lucky and unlucky days and many other minor rules. Harmony between the empire and the universe is achieved by organizing the former as an image of the latter, as a universe on a smaller scale.

It is well known that this astrological or cosmo‐ magic principle, as we may call it, originated somewhere in the Near East. It was well established in Babylonia in the 3rd millennium B.C. and there are indications that it may go back there at least as far as the middle of the 4th millennium, and possibly farther. Again, we have indications that it existed in Northwest India in the second half of the 3rd millennium. It influenced Europe in various ways and at various times, especially during the periods of Hellenism and of the Roman empire and in the Middle Ages. It is difficult to tell when it first reached China. Anyway it had developed there into a highly specialized system during the Chou and Han periods. It came to Southeast Asia by way of India as well as of China, and this double influence may account for its prominence there and for the strong hold it had on the minds of the peoples of Farther India and Indonesia. Its long life-span and its spread over vast regions with divergent cultures, and even more so the fact that it had to adapt itself to the locally dominant religions, to various forms of paganism as well as Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, and occasionally even to Christianity and to Islam, naturally resulted in the development of numerous variants with often widely differing traits. It is with the special aspect of the cosmo-magic principle as expressed in the organization of Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in Southeast Asia (and to some extent in their Mohammedan successors in Malaya and Indonesia), that we are here concerned.


Relation between State and Universe

Whereas speculation pertaining to the relation between state and universe formed an important subject of ancient Chinese literature, we would look in vain for a theoretical treatise on this topic in the various literatures of Southeast Asia. 1 Yet, there is overwhelming evidence of the cosmological basis of state

____________________
From Robert Heine-Geldern, Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia Program Data Paper No. 18 (Ithaca: Cornell University, April 1956), pp. 1-13. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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