Cover of Dignity, a brilliant, little-known on moral and political philosophy written by Vu Xuan Minh, a self-trained philosopher in self-trained English. The book was published by Hanoi-based The Gioi Publishers in 2011.
The concept of separating powers in a political system to prevent abuse and autocracy should have four, not three, “branches”, writes Vu Xuan Minh, a self-trained philosopher.
Minh, who has a doctorate in technology from the Kiev Polytechnic Institute in Ukraine and another one in physics and mathematics from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia, has published a book to expound this and other ideas.
In Dignity, an ambitious, challenging book on moral and political philosophy written in English (another self-trained capability), published in limited numbers as a reference text by Hanoi-based The Gioi Publishers in 2011, and praised by the same for its “meticulous research”, Minh calls the fourth, or to him, the first, branch of power the “self-determinative” power.
It is through this branch that the people maintain their check on the legislative, executive and judiciary.
The “self-determinative” branch, the head of which he calls the “head of the nation” and is elected by the people, reserves the right to veto the legislature’s bills, supervise the executive and judiciary, and reconcile the differences and impasses between the other branches.
If the head can’t bring a reconciliation, they may appeal to the people - the ultimate authority in all cases - for a referendum whose result will be final.
Regular elections are the way to keep the powers of the self-determinative branch in check.
Minh writes that, in general, a combination of the self-determinative branch with a limited exercise of referendums can guarantee the best exercise of this power.
He says in the West this pure idea of four separate branches is corrupted into a three-branch system which may not work as effectively and easily lead to abuse when transferred to fledgling nations.
In the US, for instance, the self-determinative branch is merged with the executive, giving birth to the president, a powerful man who can veto the legislature’s bills.
To keep this office in check, the Constitution aptly gives Congress the final power to override the president’s veto.
This system possibly works in the US because the two main political parties, the Republicans and Democrats, only differ on specific policies but otherwise share the same ideology and easily reconcile with each other.
So even if one party holds both the presidency and the legislature, it does not have the motivation to eliminate the other party to take control of the nation.
Minh explains that in many countries the three-branch system quickly collapses because political parties cannot reconcile. They resort to violence which leads to chaos or dictatorship.
But even in the US the three-branch system has revealed its Achilles’ heel, with the legislative and executive branches deadlocked over budget bills and causing some government offices to shut down.
This happens when Congress refuses to approve the administration’s budget plans or when the president vetoes Congress’s budget proposals.
Often these two branches are in an impasse over gun control. The lives of citizens are threatened everyday and we don’t know when this stalemate can be resolved.
With a self-determinative branch whose responsibility is to protect the “integrity” of the people’s rights and will, this stalemate can be resolved quickly, Minh reckons.
While there is obviously no guarantee that the four-branch system will be abused or subverted, Minh attempts to push the checks-and-balance system a little further to curb the human tendency toward abuse.
Dignity’s four-branch separation of power also includes another important thought about the ideal legislature that seeks to prevent political parties from controlling this important branch.
Minh says at the moment no country in the world has a mechanism to control political parties in the legislature. In fact, the situation is just the opposite: political parties control law-making.
Freedom of speech and periodical elections are means by which citizens can keep a check on parties to a certain degree.
But such a practice is a far cry from Minh’s idea. Though there may be other models, Minh suggests three basic ones to ensure parties don’t control the legislature.
Of these three, the one that completely eliminates the possibility of party control and ensures genuine equality between non-party and party voters separates these two types of people and puts them into two different houses: the lower house, or the House of Representatives as it is commonly called, and the upper house, which Minh instead calls the House of Elects.
The purpose of the lower house is to protect the interests of voters. The purpose of the upper house is to protect the interests and development of the entire nation.
This way, parties do not have to compete for individual votes during each election but instead, concentrate on the expansion of their parties to compete for seats with other parties in the upper house, making the political atmosphere more sanguine and lively.
Though different countries can take from it what they need, Minh says in Dignity
he simply lays down general principles rather than analyze or critique particular cases.
Vu Xuan Minh, a self-trained philosopher who has published Dignity, an ambitious book on moral and political philosophy. He is currently writing another one in which he will present a new philosophical approach to the field of economics.
Besides the four-branch political system, Dignity provides a comprehensive study of other concepts and their evolution in history, and offers new definitions when necessary.
For instance, he redefines rights, moral rights, and human rights and creates an original -- which he calls “dynamic” -- definition of democracy.
Minh also has brilliant ideas about justice in an ideal democracy, especially ideas about a just market economy and industrial justice which our current global capitalist system could take a cue from.
On first reading, Minh’s thoughts might sound a bit too rationalistic and optimistic, especially in our skeptical, postmodern context in which all grand narratives break down. Such premises as, for instance, there are “permanent universal truths”and “a human body is a perfect dynamic evolutionary system.”
He goes on to claim that for a human society to be a perfect dynamic evolutionary system like a human body, it must “imitate the natural characteristics of the progressive self-evolution of a living human organism,”and what is made of flesh and blood ages and dies, but what they create by imitating some principal characteristics of their own bodies (and mind) - such as a human society - could exceed what is being imitated and last.
Yet, on a closer reading, one can’t refute Minh’s premises for lack of evidence. Quite the contrary. Minh emphasizes that his approach is strictly empirical. This is somewhat shown in his arguments and writing style - very logical and to the point, without indulging in ostentation, like a philosopher with a strong science background would.
Permanent universal truths, or eternity, aside, one has to consider Minh’s thoughts in his context.
Despite what he says about not analyzing contemporary or particular cases, Minh is a fundamentally practical thinker who is influenced by the context in which he lives, whether or not he is aware of it.
His political thoughts are particularly useful for many countries still in search of an effective political system.
And what is his next destination? It is the all-important field that every country is interested in these days: economics.
Minh is currently writing another book about a new philosophical approach to economics.
He says he will finish it within a couple of years and would like to publish it abroad to hear about it from international scholars.
Minh, who worked at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology in Hanoi for over 30 years, says the reason he loves and pursues philosophy is because he believes philosophy is the foundation of all progress.