Rodrigo Duterte, that saint of the Dissident Right, has made headlines yet again, this time by bragging that once, while the mayor of Manila, he threw a kidnapper out of a helicopter to his death. Or in Duterte’s words: "If you are corrupt, I will fetch you using a helicopter to Manila, and I will throw you out. I have done this before, why would I not do it again?"
Sadly, the boast has been officially retracted, with Duterte himself walking the claims back (although he still insists that he personally killed at least three people, just not via Helicopter). Regardless of the claim’s authenticity, the real significance of it always lied not in its factuality but rather in its plausibility. After all, if the same boast had been uttered by another Charismatic Nationalist like, say, Donald Trump, it certainly would have caused a brief uproar and a new round of hand-wringing from Neoliberal moralists, but it wouldn’t be taken literally. No one would have had thought that Trump possibly could have literally thrown someone from a moving helicopter.
With Duterte on the other hand, we have no such assurances, and this is what makes him such a compelling figure. The fact that, especially in light of his recent actions, personally throwing a man from a helicopter would be completely consistent with everything we know about him. This is the allure of Duterte: however blustery and ridiculous his rhetoric may seem at first; he means every word of it.
From our perches atop the mountain of broken images and social refuse which is the Post-Modern West, we can’t help but take notice of such clarity of intention. We are all, in our own way, like Dennis Hopper’s character of the photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, admiring Kurtz’s ruthless clarity: “He said: If you take my picture again, I'm gonna kill you. And he meant it. “
And he meant it.
The Neoliberal caste of international social workers, however, wasted no time in issuing stark condemnations. With UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein declaring that: “The killings committed by [President Duterte of the Philippines], by his own admission, at a time when he was a mayor, clearly constitute murder...It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer,” Duterte is the source of such particular ire, not simply for his alleged “crimes” (which in this context merely equate to doing what is necessary to preserve the well-being of his nation) but much more importantly because of what he represents: genuine sovereignty.
For as Carl Schmitt taught us in his short but magisterial treatise Political Theology: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception." As Schmitt explains, in the course of every constitutional legal order there will arise circumstances which call for the suspension of said order. The actor who decides just what constitutes such a circumstance (the Schmittian “exception”) and the actions to take after said legal order has been suspended is the sovereign.
The decision is an inherently personal one, as there is no neutral legal framework that he can appeal to for guidance. As Schmitt points out
“Here, too, it is always asked who is entitled to decide those actions for which the constitution makes no provision; that is, who is competent to act when the legal system fails to answer the question of competence...There exists no norm that is applicable to chaos. For a legal order to make sense, a normal situation must exist, and he is sovereign who definitely decides whether this normal situation actually exists.”
Of course, this logic, airtight as it may be, offends the Liberal bureaucrat, that superstitious figure who amusingly believes that he is a representative of a universal moral order hence his constant prattling on about “universal human rights” and other similar fictional concepts. The Liberal seeks to abolish the sovereign, and the exception itself, but the most he can ever manage to accomplish is to temporarily obscure the obvious. Namely, that the norm he fetishizes is, by its very nature dependent on the exception and what constitutes the exception depends on the discretion of the Sovereign.
Thus, we must conclude, with Schmitt, that:
The exception is more interesting than the rule. The rule proves nothing; the exception proves everything: it confirms not only the rule but also its existence, which derives only from the exception. In the exception, the power of real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid by repetition.
Rodrigo Duterte has, wisely, made the decision that the rampant chaos and lawlessness which had reigned in the Philippines ( in large part due to the ravages of the drug trade) caused a situation which constituted an exception. Thus, the precepts of the former legal order no longer applied as the “normal situation” had been suspended.
Though Duterte has never publicly made any statements that would lead one to believe that he is aware of Schmitt’s principles, on a certain level, it is hard not to conclude that he has, somehow, intuitively grasped their essential meaning. As was evidenced by a speech he gave during his presidential campaign in which he stated:
“I will issue 1,000 pardons a day, Pardon given to Rodrigo Duterte for the crime of multiple murder, signed Rodrigo Duterte.”
Does not this statement perfectly encapsulate the essence of the Schmittian exception?
For as Rodrigo Duterte knows and as the soulless bureaucrats at the U.N. are slowly learning:
And Rodrigo Duterte is Sovereign.