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Neo-feudalism of the Cybernetic Malays: Deconstructing ‘Divine Rights of Kings’

I propose we question the history that glorifies our forefathers. True patriots of any nation are those who dissent and offer better interpretations of their own history. As I have said in my writings we have a brand new Malay dilemma: of mental colonization.

But the problem lies not in the here and now but in the past; one that needs to be deconstructed and reconstructed. It lies in the Malay psyche. It lies in the notion of hegemony as it relates to political-economy of totalitarianism and controlling interests that continue to cement the master- slave narrative/relationship of the ruler and the ruled.

That master-slave narrative has become a technology of psycholinguistic control and institutionalised as “culture”. The Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, and British colonialists succeeded because the fertile ground of the slave mentality is already prepared historical- materialistically. We can see this mentality in the idea that Malay political leaders must not be challenged (such as in the case of the presidency of the Umno) and this is a manifestation of this neo- feudalism hypermodern inner construct of the Malay in the Age of Cybernetics.

This brief essay, crafted from a Gramscian perspective, analyzes the concept of hegemony in the Malay culture and how the psychological structure of mental control is maintained through  the notion of “divine rights.” I discuss this within the scenario of contemporary Malaysian politics as it relates to race relations as well.


Let us analyze this psychological contradiction, using the current perspective of hegemony the Malays must learn to use in order to move beyond this non-issue of Malay politics. The “Either-Or” illusion/dimension of even the then Mahathir-Abdullah problematique is not the issue. This is merely a manifestation of the shadow play of the “winners of history”, and in what French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would term as the “habitus” and the ‘disposition’ of the neo-feudal Malay mentality that will require a Lacanian (postmodern psycholinguistics) analysis.

The common Malay does not need emotional outbursts or a Cold-War-ish ‘amuk’ as a tool of analysis, rather they need an excellent view of their own socio-psychological history and tools of analysis of their own realism,  to establish an even better foundation of a new society. At present, because of the moral bankruptcy of their own leaders, the poor common Malay is unfairly carrying the image of a ‘silently-reproduced’ people who are betrayed by their own ‘nationalists’ all in the name of Takkan Melayu Hilang di Dunia . (‘The Malay Shall Never Perish from this Earth’): a leitmotif of thought-control that masks the historical-material-political-economic nature of structural violence.

The non-Malays must understand the predicament from an intellectual perspective and must learn to arrive at a common ground to help each other progress to eradicate poverty and restructure society. We might have misunderstood each other based on selective historicising that have been produced as artifacts and historical facts and disseminated to each generation. The only history we know in short is the history of the ruling class. At every epoch in history it has been such. The winners write history, the losers write poetry or study anthropology, as the cliche goes. Even the non-Malays have their own master-slave narrative and their own history of ‘mental enslavement’ the they need to reflect upon, revolt against, de-construct, and reconstruct so that only the signs, symbols, significations that are truly ‘humanising’ will be allowed to flourish.

Divine rights

The Yap Ah Loy (Chinese ‘kapitan;)  symbolism of the ‘founder’ of Kuala Lumpur is a convenient mask of history that hides the structural violence embedded in the war over the control of tin mines in the days of British Malaya. The history of the indentured servitude of the Indians in that period is presented as ‘facts’ and seldom as narratives of human suffering and bondage in the historical march of progress of the American automobile and canning industries. But how have the Malays been hegemonized and mentally imprisoned by their own rulers? We need to look at what ‘hegemony’ means; a term usually popular in international relations but ought to be extended into the realm of psychological construct in the analysis of cultures.

Writings on the idea of hegemony, with its Greek root word ‘hegemon’ meaning ‘lead’, have mainly been popularly attributed to the work of the Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci. For him, ‘hegemony’ represents a moment in history, or a ‘historical bloc’ in which the leader (in this case Mussolini,) gains acceptance based on his ability to lead, morally and intellectually, even in fascistic circumstances, as in the case of Mussolini, a Fascist Italy. The status of civil society is achieved when the masses or the people accept the ideas of the ruling class (the regime and its doctrine) as common sense. The circumstance of the acceptance of this condition, according to Gramsci, is made possible with the dominance of ‘Fordism’ (the ideology of the modern system of production based on the influence of Henry Ford’s automobile industry) as a common-sensical ideology; of which man’s creative instincts are controlled, through a rationalisation process ideologised by Fordism and Americanism.

Common sense allows the Malays to accept politically whatever fate has dictated for them to behave. Historically however, the idea of hegemony is certainly not new. Religion, myth, and the supernatural have played their hegemonic role in maintaining a common-sensical view of how human beings should be cast and ordered on the ladder of existence and how to behave or be controlled socially and politically.

The idea of the ‘divine rights of kings’ in the Middle Ages, is illustrated in the classic example of France’s Louis XIV, ‘The Sun King’ who ruled for 72 years from the age of four, or universally, as in the case of the feudal monarchs in China, Japan, and India. In Karl Marx’s later writings, the analyses centered around the relationship between the development of classes to the maintenance of the ideology produced by the ruling class through hegemonic formations that correspond to the mode of economic production. In a similar vein, the French Enlightenment thinker Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote about hegemony in his idea of the ‘social contract’ in which the ruler and the ruled are bound by a covenant that would facilitate the maintenance of an orderly society.

In modern times, the media, especially television, plays its role in maintaining the hegemony of advanced capitalism. In the case of the Malay society, the idea of hegemony or ‘political common sense’ can be traced to the myth of the covenant between Sang Sapurba (the mystic/ philosopher-king) and Demang Daun Lebar (the ruler/representative of the people) in which the myth states that as long as the leader is just, the people will not depose him. Hegemony is also achieved through the installation, imposition, and inscription of the British colonial mode of production that put the class of colonial serfs or indentured slaves (paddy farmers, tin miners, and rubber tappers) in an orderly and appealing master-serf relationship.

The Algerian thinker Albert Memmi would term this as a classic colonizer-colonized relationship. Daulat , which connotes ‘the divine rights of the Kings’ is the hegemonic state of political being-ness wrought upon the Malays, especially during the Melaka sultanate spanning to the present day of the reign of the constitutional monarch and the nine hereditary rulers. Hang Tuah was too blind a hero. If in the days of the Sultanate of Melaka, daulat played its role as a hegemonizing strategy similar to that of the concept of the ‘divine rights of kings’ in modern Malaysian political context, the modern state or the kerajaan (a synthesis of the concept of kingdom and statehood) operates to maintain that hegemony. The idea of daulat is cleverly inscribed onto the consciousness of the Malays. A good citizen is defined as one who is law abiding, God-fearing, and one who pays total allegiance to the Malay sultans or raja and the constitutional monarch such that to question the supremacy of the rule of the ceremonial king would be culturally prohibited.

Popular symbol

In many an analysis of the transformation of the Malay society from the times of the Melaka Sultanate to the emergence of the Malay nationalism we find the conclusion of the idea of a good Malay subject is one who surrenders total obedience to his or her Ruler (the sultan or the Raja). The king is said to be ‘(Allah’s) representative on this earth’ and is thus bestowed with the Divine Rights. Social status is calibrated based on the sophistication of the signs and symbols of the Malay sultanate. For example, royal awards are presented yearly to those who have demonstrated good service and relationship to the constitutional monarchical system. Upon receiving these awards, some recipients would even be given honorific titles. Many will use their honor to dishonorably gain economic privileges. The notion of the daulat or the ‘divine sanction’ still continues to this day.

The concept of a hero in Malay society is enshrined in Hang Tuah, the most popular symbol of the warrior-class in Malay history; the good ‘polyglot’, the magical-mystical Malay hero who pledged blind loyalty to the Sultan. The image of the warrior-blind loyalist is well-inscribed into the literature and consciousness of the Malays. Today, enshrined, is the modern-day doctrine of allegiance to the ruler in the form of the Rukunegara or the ‘Principles of the Nationhood’. The myth of Hang Tuah, arguably, together with his friends Hang Jebat, Hang Lekir, and Hang Lekiu has been inscribed into the consciousness of the Malays and forms the foundation of the master-slave narrative.

The ideological state apparatuses are employed to advance the economic development of the nation as well as to maintain social order so that the state can continue to pursue its development projects along the lines of state-sponsored capitalism that is increasingly taking the character of the corporation nation-state colored by politics of race; a system that continues to prosper via a tight nexus between politics and business. The then Mahathir-Abdullah problematique and the continuation of power struggle today is a Malaysian dilemma that signals a breakdown in the political economic system; one that reduces the multiculturally impoverished into statistics of the New Economic Policy and its derivatives and glorifies individual political leaders as ‘captains of industry’ and ‘nationalists’ drowned in the wave of globalisation.

I believe the history of the peoples of Malaysia, and especially of the Malays, must be revised and even rewritten in order for the marginalised, the enslaved, the colonized, and the wretched of the Earth to be allowed to speak up and tell us what a more progressive historicizing means. But first, let us continue to question our forefathers and their historical intentions as the latter passed down as “Official Knowledge” to subsequent generations.

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DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.

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