Introduction: Political Development in the Pacific

By Statham, E. Robert, Jr. | World Affairs, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Political Development in the Pacific


Statham, E. Robert, Jr., World Affairs


INTRODUCTION

The militant assertion of custom comes before any specification of custom. Indeed, the general concept has difficulty surviving such specification. But few can doubt that the enormous popular appeal of the concept of `Volk', the ethnic group, the power of romanticised ethnicity to break through reasoned calculation and constraint. In fact the clash between universal and particular concepts of Good and Right is as old as recorded human thought

--Alan Ward (1)

The crisis of our time is one of public philosophy, of the role of reason in political life. (2) It reveals itself most poignantly in the resurgence of ethnic national self-determination, separatist movements in general, and group-based international terrorism following the end of the cold war. We are in the midst of a "postmodern" age in which Enlightenment rationality and classical reason are under attack. The relativism and emerging nihilism of our age were certainly anticipated by thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, but the political ramifications and implications of our plight we are experiencing here and now. (3) With all of the technological sophistication of our time, we are faced with the disintegration of political regimes and orders from the inside out. Martin Heidegger was right in observing that "most thought-provoking in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking." (4) Nowhere is this more evident than in the political sphere. The primal, atomizing passions of ethnic, racial, and cultural factionalism now dominate much of our lives, in no small part as a result of the discarding of universal understandings of Justice, Good, and Right that are ascertained and upheld by human reason.

The articles that follow address issues of political development in the Pacific. The reader will notice that the problems analyzed and evaluated are symptomatic and symbolic of the global, systemic crisis outlined above. A. Peang-Meth provides a detailed overview of indigenous self-determination, with particular emphasis on the Pacific region. His analysis points toward the intricately complex and difficult nature of reconciling efforts of indigenous self-determination with political order, national unity, equality, and human rights. He notes that recent coups in Fiji and other parts of Oceania serve to reinforce the understanding that indigenous movements are often at odds with democracy and the role of law. And his understanding that migrations and cultural adaptations are eternal and dynamic leads to his important conclusion: "indigenous rights are not special rights or prerogatives of the descendents of pre-colonial peoples," but are "human rights," grounded in the universal principle of human equality.

Donald Denoon provides a cutting-edge assessment of recent political developments in Papua New Guinea and, in so doing, raises the question of whether the crisis that nation is experiencing is "acute or chronic." He begins by describing the recent student protests in Port Moresby in which three students were killed by shooting and which were followed by looting, arson, more violence, and curfews. The political instability of Papua New Guinea has steadily increased since independence in 1975 to the extent that "no government has ever survived the full five years of a parliamentary term." And even though the "Lincoln Talks" produced an agreement for permanent peace (August 2001), the consequences are grave in the form of "death, trauma and destruction; divisions among people," as well as "militarization" and "the development of a culture of violence.

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