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Studying modern political theories in Vietnam today

Assoc. Prof., Dr. PHAM MINH SON
Dr. VU THANH VAN
 
Academy of Journalism and Communication

 (PTOJ) - The formation and development of political theories are associated with specific political, economic, social, and cultural contexts. Political theories are not only the abstractions and generalizations of practice, but also the summation and conclusion of the laws of social movement. Each political theory, doctrine, or school is usually associated with an author or a group of authors who in most cases are philosophers, thinkers, political scientists, sociologists, or economists. The study of modern political theories has important theoretical and practical significance, which is to absorb the quintessence of human knowledge and contribute to shaping theoretical awareness, especially in the context that Vietnam strengthens research work and raises the level of Party theory. This article identifies modern political theories from around the world and suggests an approach for research in Vietnam.
 

Actively renewing and improving the quality of political theory books, ensuring diversity in forms and rich in genres - Photo: tuyengiao.vn

1. Identification of modern political theories in the world

Modern political theories from around the world are emerging theories, especially those that emerged and were influential after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Modern political theories focus on issues such as power, development models, freedom, democracy, justice, equity, equality, human rights, and the legitimacy of political parties and governments, etc. These theories often aim to help states and ruling parties determine appropriate development models and approaches to problems such as poverty, injustice, overpopulation, resource scarcity, conflict among individuals and organizations, etc.

The political theory that a state or ruling party follows tends to influence its actions and policies accordingly.

One of the main approaches in the study of political theory is to divide it into ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary theories, or to divide it based on the geographic regions where the theories emerged. The division of political theory by time and space is relative. In this article, the identification of modern political theories will be based on the milestones of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The specific political theory may have appeared before the collapse of the Soviet Union and continued to be developed, updated, and supplemented thereafter. The political theory may also have emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its influence on world politics.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the United States became the sole superpower and established a unipolar world order. At this time, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote the book “The End of History and the Last Man” (1992). This book emphasizes and clarifies the views he made earlier in the article “The End of History?” published in “The National Interests” magazine in 1989. In this article, Francis Fukuyama argued that the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of history in the sense that “it is the endpoint in the development of human thought and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the ultimate form of human rule”(1).

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist system in Eastern Europe created a shock in world politics, brought victory to capitalism, and at the same time caused doubts about socialism. This political event has strongly influenced the formation and development of modern political theories. The political theories of socialism went into decline until the 15th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in September 1997 proposed the theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. Meanwhile in the West and the United States, theories of freedom, democracy, justice, equity, and human rights emerged as universal values.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the world witnessed the emergence, popularization, and influence of the thoughts of philosophers, political scientists, political economists, and sociologists such as Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917), Max Weber (1864 – 1920), Friedrich Hayek (1899 – 1992), Talcott Parsons (1902 – 1979), Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975), Milton Friedman (1912 – 2006), David Easton (1917 – 2014), John Rawls (1921 – 2002), Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984), Noam Chomsky (1928), Amartya Sen (1933), Robert Nozick (1938 – 2002), Francis Fukuyama (1952), etc. Researchers Ian Adams and RW Dyson in their 2003 book Fifty major political thinkers (2003) ranked Hannah Arendt, Max Weber, Friederick Hayek, Michel Foucault, John Rawls, and Robert Nozick in the list of 50 of the world’s major political thinkers(2).

The theory of Justice by John Rawls, the theory of the state and the “minimum state”(3) by Robert Nozick, the theory of power by Michel Foucault, the theory of freedom by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, the theory of democracy by Noam Chomsky, the theory of development and equality by Amartya Sen, etc., not only attracted the attention of academia but was also applied in the political practice of some countries, shaping the development path and policies of some governments. For example, Milton Friedman became an economic adviser to US President Ronald Reagan with the view that the government should be lean and limit public spending(4). Amartya Sen’s thoughts on development and “capacity” are used to build the United Nations Human Development Index.

Around the world, the political theories of the above-mentioned authors are studied through their works, articles, lectures, etc. These scholars often develop a cross-cutting system of views on a specific issue such as democracy, freedom, justice, equity, equality, etc., as their own separate theory. Their thoughts and views are exploited and applied by political parties and governments to guide policies and build development models. International and domestic studies often focus mainly on the basic content of political theories.

The identification of modern political theories is based on the following criteria: The first criterion is time. These are new theories, especially those that appeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union or appeared before the 1990s but continued to be developed, supplemented, and updated afterward. This criterion will help to identify and select the prominent political theories that mainly appeared around the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century. The second criterion is the scientific and practical significance of the theory. The theory is developed into a system of strict and reasonable views on the basis of summarizing and generalizing the laws of social movement. Theories have been tested in practice in a number of countries and proved their theoretical and practical significance. In other words, these theories have been accepted by politicians and researchers around the world. The third criterion is the extent and scope of influence. Theories are applied in building development models, making policy, and influencing the political practice of countries such as the US, UK, Germany, France, Russia, China, and some other countries around the world. This is an important criterion for identifying influential theories not only in the academic field but also in practice. In fact, there are many different political theories, but not all of them are used by the political community.

2. The necessity of studying modern political theories in Vietnam

Theoretical research in general and the study of modern political theories in particular have particularly important theoretical and practical significance. In current-day Vietnam, researching and elevating the Party’s theories to unify understanding and action, and to develop the country quickly and sustainably in the direction of socialism, is an objective and urgent demand. Some scientists say that “the important significance of studying the history of political theories is manifested in the ability to recognize progressive or reactionary ideological values from which to build a rational theoretical system in order to use it to contribute to the transformation of the social regime”(5).

Studying modern political theories not only helps to explain the development and trends of the contemporary world, but also contributes to protecting the ideological foundation of the Party, fighting against false, hostile, and reactionary claims. The systematic study of modern political theories in the world helps to apply the progressive and appropriate views of these theories to the practical context of Vietnam in order to improve the combat strength and leadership capacity of the Party. The necessity of studying modern political theories is reflected in the following aspects:

Firstly, studying and elevating the Party’s theories to unify understanding and action, and to develop the country quickly and sustainably in the direction of socialism is an objective demand.

The 13th National Party Congress determined that the process of industrialization and modernization poses many problems that need to be solved in both theory and practice to bring sustainable development to the country. The study and improvement of theory is especially necessary in the work of the Party’s ideological construction. The Congress pointed out: “Promoting practical summaries, theoretical research, and perfecting the theoretical system on the Renovation path, socialism and the path to socialism in Vietnam. Linking practical summaries with theoretical research, policy orientation, and so on. Focusing on updating results of practical summaries, theoretical research; promptly come to conclusions on mature and clear theoretical issues to develop and perfect the guidelines and policies for the construction and defense of the Fatherland”(6).

Secondly, the international political, economic and social context with complicated, unpredictable developments and potential uncertainties, especially the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic since the end of 2019 created a demand for understanding, interpreting and predicting the movement of contemporary politics and economics.

Since the 1990s, the world has experienced profound economic and political events, fluctuations and crises: the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001; the global economic crisis in 2007 - 2008; colour revolution in Eastern European countries in the 2000s; Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa; In particular, the outbreak of the corona virus since the end of 2019 has pushed the world into a serious, unprecedented global pandemic in the 21st century. The world’s political, economic, and social context affects all countries, including Vietnam. The study of political theories will contribute to explaining the development and movement of the world, thereby opening up lessons and directing Vietnam’s development.

Thirdly, studying modern political theories not only helps to explain the development and movement trends of the contemporary world, but also contributes to protecting the ideological foundation of the Party, fighting against false, hostile, and reactionary claims.

Since Vietnam implemented the Renovation policy, economic opening, and international integration, the building of a socialist-oriented market economy, the country has gained important achievements. However, the sabotage of hostile and reactionary forces, the downsides of the market economy, economic and social hotspots, the surge of cultural invasion, etc., has also became more complicated. Taking advantage of the development of technology and social media, hostile forces intensified their attacks on the Party’s ideological foundation, distorting and denying Marxism-Leninism, Ho Chi Minh Thought, and the Party’s policies and guidelines.

In this context, it is extremely important to build political arguments to affirm the correctness of the development theory and protect the ideological foundation of the Party. Studying modern political theories not only helps to improve theoretical capacity but also contributes arguments to protect the ideological foundation of the Party.

Fourthly, the systematic study of modern political theories in the world helps to apply the progressive and appropriate views of these theories to the practical context of Vietnam to improve the combat strength, leadership capacity and legitimacy of the Party.

Political, economic, and social reality is constantly changing, requiring the acquisition, and updating of progressive ideas, in line with the world’s movement and development trends, in order to innovate theory. Theoretical research in general and studying modern political theory, in particular, will contribute to improve the vitality of the Party. VI Lenin pointed out the decisive role of vanguard revolutionary theory. In “What Is To Be Done?” published in February 1902, VI Lenin developed the view of Friedrich Engels on the importance of theory in the social-democratic movement. VI Lenin pointed out that the top task of leaders is “to study, more and more, all the problems of theory; free itself, more and more, from the influence of the traditional old worldview, and never forget that socialism, since becoming a science, demands to be seen as a science, that is, to be studied”(7). The 13th National Congress of the Party also emphasized the need to “continue to summarize practice, study theory about the innovation of content, leadership methods, and the Party’s authority in new conditions”.

Fifthly, the study of modern political theory around the world is closely linked to summarizing the practical experience within the country, contributing to the development of approaches and proposing the construction of the Documents for the 14th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam .

One of the three strategic breakthroughs pointed out by the 13th National Party Congress is “To perfect the synchronized system of development institutions, starting with the institutions of a socialist-oriented market economy. Innovate the national governance in a modern, effective direction.” This is the right direction and needs to be concretized through appropriate guidelines, policies, and solutions, and at the same time it should be implemented on a solid and scientific basis. On that basis, the Document of the 14th National Party Congress will need to continue to clarify, supplement and complete these major directions. The development of Vietnam needs to be placed in the general context of the world, in accordance with the objective laws of history. Therefore, theoretical research and practical summaries, including the study of modern political theories, must be proactive, positive, creative, and boldly put forward breakthrough proposals and recommendations to become the guiding point of view in the Document of the 14th National Party Congress.

3. Approaches to study modern political theories in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the study of modern political theories often focuses on clarifying the history of political theories; the content and ideology of political theories, and the scope and objects of influence of political theory, thereby assessing the advantages and limitations of the theory and proposing the possibility of applying the rational kernels of these theories into practice in Vietnam. Studies on political theory are usually conducted according to several main research approaches such as: (1) general research on political theories; (2) research by problem, group of problems mentioned in political theory, and (3) research by the author of political theory.

Firstly, the research on political theories focuses on the history, development process, and some key content of political theory divided by time or geographical area. These studies are often introductory in nature, providing an overview of political theories.

Secondly, the research by problem, group of problems mentioned in political theory such as development model, morality, freedom, justice, equity, equality, human rights, legitimacy of political parties, etc.

Thirdly, the research by the author or group of authors of political theory. These studies aim to explain how the characteristics of the theory author’s family, background, education, living environment, etc., affect the formation and content of the theory.

However, the study of modern political theories has not been approached comprehensively and systematically in Vietnam. Studies on modern political theories are not systematic or incomplete, appearing mainly in the form of journal articles, conference papers, theses, dissertations, and research topics. These documents do not systematically present the origin, main content, and influence of the theories.

A general review of studies on political theory in general and modern political theory in particular in Vietnam shows some noteworthy points:

Firstly, the study of modern political theories relies heavily on translated texts from English, French, German, Russian, Chinese, and some other languages into Vietnamese. The translation process at a certain level may not reflect the faithful original ideas of political theories. The approach to political theory by foreign philosophers and political scientists in Vietnam is mainly through translations without original references and comparisons between manuscripts. The study of Vietnamese-translated documents on political theories also shows that some translations are still not close to the original. Further, some important political terms have different translations.

Secondly, there is still no consensus on what constitutes modern political theory, leading to varying research scopes of modern political theory topics in Vietnam. Modern political theories are understood as emerging theories, but researchers have different ways of diverging. In this article, the collapse of the Soviet Union is taken as a defining landmark in modern political theories because this event strongly and deeply influenced the world order and the world political context.

Besides, the concept of political values also differs between different countries, political backgrounds, and authors. Andrew Heywood in his book Political ideologies: An introduction (2017) said that concepts such as “freedom”, “equality”, “fairness”, and “justice” are used often but not always accurately(8).

Thirdly, studies on modern political theories lack dialectical aspects. currently, there are no Vietnamese materials or studies that systematically present the circumstances of formation, ideological content, and a comprehensive assessment of the strengths and limitations of the theories, while also providing suggestions and proposals for applying these theories to Vietnam’s practical situation. The study of modern political theories has not considered theory in the process of its formation, development, and completion. This is because the study of modern political theories in Vietnam is mainly done through translated texts, and the study only mentions some of the views of these theories without any comprehensive and deep synthesis, analysis, and evaluation.

Fourthly, the study of new modern political theories stops at the process of formation and ideological content but lacks criticism, comparison, reconciliation, and association with other theories. Domestic studies tend to clarify and analyze some views and ideas of the author without sketching the context of their formation, development, and refinement in interaction, and possibly conflict with other political theories. For example, Amartya Sen developed his views on economics and justice on the basis of a critique of John Rawls’ views on justice and equity. Therefore, in order to understand Amartya Sen’s views on social justice, it is necessary to study and compare them with those of John Rawls. Besides, with an Indian background, Amartya Sen has brought into his doctrine the views and teachings of Buddhism and many of his views, including his views on the causes of famine and human abilities stemming from his profound, concrete experiences in India.

Fifthly, there are no recommendations or proposals on the possibility of applying modern political theories to Vietnam’s reality to solve practical problems. Studies and articles on ideas and views of John Rawls, Michel Foucault, Amartya Sen, Noam Chomsky, Francis Fukuyama, and many other scholars mainly stop at outlining the process of forming and clarifying the main contents. In order to make proposals and recommendations suitable to Vietnam’s reality, it is necessary to study modern political theories systematically and deeply, along with a scientific and appropriate approach and perspective.

Sixthly, the approach and perception of domestic researchers on modern political theories lack unity. Domestic studies use different research methods but mainly relies on document and content analysis. The exchange, in-depth interviews, and seminars with foreign researchers who are knowledgeable about modern political theories are still limited. This affects the comprehensiveness of the research results, even in some cases leading to biased thinking in the research process.

4. Suggestions of some research directions on modern political theories in Vietnam

On the basis of identifying modern political theories, clarifying the urgency and approaches to studying political theory in Vietnam today, and specifying the requirements for the study of modern political theory, it can be seen that the study of modern political theories should be continued in the following main directions:

Firstly, research on the approaches and study of modern political theories in order to clarify the concept, nature, and role of modern political theory; criteria for identifying and classifying modern political theories; research methods of modern political theories, etc. This is a basic and fundamental research direction to orient the research and teaching of modern political theories in Vietnam.

Secondly, in-depth study of typical modern political theories along the horizontal or vertical axis. According to the horizontal axis, studies can focus on each theory such as populism, conservatism, liberalism, multiculturalism, etc. Along the vertical axis, studies can focus on a problem or group of problems that different theories cover such as freedom, democracy, justice, equity, power, state, mode of governance, etc. Furthermore, research by author, group of authors of modern political theories should also be considered.

Thirdly, on the basis of analyzing and explaining the main content of political theories, studies need to evaluate the reasonable points and limitations of modern political theories and point out the causes of reasonable points and limitations. To do this, researchers need to build a reasonable analytical framework because any assessment requires a political and scientific stance, and a frame of reference associated with a specific context.

Fourthly, research suggests and proposes Vietnam’s approach to modern political theories such as the ability to apply modern political theories in building the rule-of-law state; building a fair, democratic, and civilized society; power control, etc., in practice in Vietnam. These are the big problems posed today in the context of Vietnam building a rule-of-law state with the goal of a rich people, a strong country, and a fair, democratic, and civilized society.

Modern political theories are the crystallization of the laws of movement, the development of contemporary politics and economics, helping us to understand how the world is moving and how we need to behave in that context in order to maintain political stability, promote economic development and ensure social security.

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Received: January 17, 2023; Revised: March 29, 2023; Approved for publication: April 20, 2023.

Endnotes:

(1) Francis Fukuyama: “The end of history?” The National Interests, No.16, 1989.

(2) Ian Adams, RW Dyson: Fifty major political thinkers, Routledge, 2003.

(3) Robert Nozick: Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Basic Books, 1974.

(4) https://www.forbes.com/sites/pascalemmanuelgobry/2013/06/05/milton-friedman-on-austerity/?sh=265108425628.

(5) Nguyen Dang Dzung, Le Thi Thanh Lai (co-editors): History of political theories, Vietnam National University Publishing House, Hanoi, 2020.

(6) CPV: Document of the 13th National Party Congress, vol. I, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2021, p.181-182.

(7) V.I. Lenin: Complete Works, Vol. 6, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2005, p.34.

(8) Andrew Heywood: “Political ideologies: An introduction”, Palgrave MacMillan, 2017.

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