Role of intellectual elites towards Indonesia’s Independence

In 1901, Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands, in her speech formally articulated policy where the Netherlands admit moral obligation to ‘give back’ to native people of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). What is later called Dutch Ethical Policy (Ethische Politiek) introduced modern development of the colony improving three aspects: i) migration, ii) transmigration, and iii) education. The later part opened Western-style education to indigenous Indonesians.

Development of the young colony necessitates people to filling up the ranks to run the colony’s burgeoning bureauracy. While important strategic positions in colonial governments still filled by Dutch people, the colony still depends and maintain friendly relationships with local kings. The Dutch considered handful of locals could be entrusted to fill this ranks such as Priayi, natives with aristocratic background who served as officials in pre-colonial kingdoms. They are absorbed into colonial service and served as able administrator of the colony, seconds only to the Dutch. This privileged elite and the wealthy are the selected few who can afford secondary and tertiary Western-style education.

While the program served its intended purpose, it brought about unexpected and harmful consequences for the colonial government. The program gave rises to intellectual natives who aspired and working towards Indonesia’s independence. dr. Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo, is one of such figure. He came from priayi background and attended STOVIA (School tot Opleiding van Indische Artsen), school of medicine for the natives in Batavia. He is one of the founders of Indies Party (Indische Partij), one of the first political party in Indonesia asserting for Indonesia’s independence.

Hogere Burgerschool (HBS) King William III, secondary education institution in Batavia (1910–1932)

Two proclamators of Indonesia’s independence are two prime examples of this phenomenon. Soekarno, born from Raden Sukemi Sosrodihardjo and Ida Ayu Nyoman Rai. He is a descendant of Sultan of Kediri from his father’s side. His mother is Balinese from Brahmanic (religious elites) caste. Muhammad Hatta is the grandchildren of Datuk Syekh Abdurrahman, a respected Ulema in Batuhampar area. He studied at Rotterdam School of Commerce (currently Erasmus University Rotterdam) and become one of the important figures in creation of Indies Association (Indische Vereeniging / Perhimpoenan Indonesia), one of the first organization composed of Indonesia’s student to campaign for full independence from the Netherlands.

Not counting other figures who played a role in Indonesia’s independence movement, intellectual elites becomes the pivot of these movement. This group is the most reasonable one to lead such ventures with the needed resources, intellectual capital, and racial background means to do so.

On the relationship between needs and motivation

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943) describes five stages of needs which motivates human behavior (from most basic to a higher level needs): i) physiological (food, water, warmth, rest), ii) safety, iii) belongingness & love needs (intimate relationship, friends), iv) esteem (prestige, feeling of accomplishment), and v) self actualisation (achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities). Maslow’s idea suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher-level needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs while not the most scientifically proven is useful model to describe relationship between needs and motivation, one of such is the motivation for independence. It does not mean that Indonesia’s independence relies on wealth or the revolution born out of uprisings of the higher social class but leadership of the movement could be said relies on these so called elite intellectuals.

In accordance with the theory stated above, people from lower social class and wealth having less motivation to think about political rights much less about their nation’s independence. They are bound to work towards their basic needs first before desiring for fullfilment of higher level needs. Self-actualisation (political rights, freedom, will to determine its own fate/independence), is the highest level of needs that can only be considered after their lower level needs could be fulfilled. Elites are social group who have fulfilled these lower levels of needs and move on to these highest level of fulfillment.

The modern context

In the 21th century, where goals of Indonesia’s independence has been achieved, political life has been more practical. It focuses more on nation’s governance and less focused on ideology. Indonesia’s political parties become voter’s machines with catch them all attitude, big tent populism, and more blurred lines between one party’s ideology or position on political spectrum with their legislation policies. While the ‘common purpose’ which unified the country, i.e. independence is lost, the meaning of the independence should not be lost, thus the role of modern intellectual generations. Not promoting elitism or superiority of higher social class but they who get a hold of this privilage, this ‘more fortunate’ people with access to higher education and sufficient intellectual and social capital, should follows what Indonesia’s founding fathers has done in the past.

Some semblance of random antiques born out of the corner of the mind