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Vietnamese communitarianism through cultural and development perspective

(LLCT) - The article defines the concept of “Vietnamese communitarianism” and affirms the ability of Vietnamese communitarianism to address many cultural and development issues. Vietnamese communitarianism is one of the core values of Vietnamese traditional political culture. It was formed and developed throughout the history of construction, defense, and expansion of the nation. Today, in the context of globalization and international integration, it is necessary to fully realize and promote Vietnamese communitarianism in order to mobilize social forces and capital to have optimal solutions for the relationships between the individual, community, and the entire nation; between the nation and international community; between the past, present and future; as well as between survival and development.

Keywords: Communitarianism, Vietnamese communitarianism.

1. Concept and content of Vietnamese communitarianism

Communitarianism is a concept that originated in the late 20th century and was derived from the word “community”. Communitarianism was introduced because of the need to oppose extreme individualism and to support a civilized society. The focus of communitarianism is shifting attention away from individuals and towards community and society.

Worldwide, communitarianism is associated with the names of great politicians such as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Fritz Kurt Schroder. Among the contemporary philosophers who developed this concept, there were Professor Michael Walzer of Princeton University, Professor Michael Sandel and Professor Robert Putnam of Harvard University, Amitai Etzioni, Robert N. Bellah, Alasdair MacIntyre, Jacek Kurczewski from Poland, and Lee Kuan Yew from Singapore.

In Vietnam, there has not been any authors who used the term “Vietnamese communitarianism” to describe the characteristics and values of Vietnamese political culture. Instead, most researchers refer to “Communityism”, which is recognized as a dominant Vietnamese cultural feature. Meanwhile, “communitarianism” in the world has been based on certain philosophical foundations and platforms. In comparison, we can see the “communityism” characteristic that many authors refer to when studying Vietnamese culture is similar to the implications of “communitarianism” and provides a more solid meaning.

The theoretical and practical basis of Vietnamese communitarianism as well as in the world is a method of existence based on community. First of all, community is integral for humans to engage in production. In production, people need to exchange and share goods with each other through communication. Communitarianism is a characteristic of humankind, just as K. Marx commented: In its reality, man is “the sum of social relations”. On the other hand, the unity of individuals to become a community creates a force multiple times greater than that of an individual. While living together, man needs to solve a series of issues to implement community management, in which the most important issue is to solve the relationship between community and individuals.

Vietnamese communitarianism not only addresses that issue, but also deals with other fundamental relationships. It associates the existence of separate communities and minor communities within the existence of the national community. The national community of Vietnamese people exists in a common understanding of ethnic origin and in a land with a very special geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-cultural position located at the crossroad of civilizations, next to a huge empire of Han chauvinism. Therefore, the Vietnamese communitarianism does not only reflect common connotations but also reflects how Vietnamese people overcome territorial annexation in addition to national and cultural assimilation to protect and develop our own identities. That characteristic is our mode of existence and governs the choice made in each individual’s behavior, forming an action tendency of individuals and Vietnamese society as a whole in the development process.

Cultural researcher Huu Ngoc was very careful when saying: “We can classify Vietnamese culture as a community-based culture. Regardless of the concept of communityism, in any sense, ‘communityism’ is considered as a trait of Vietnamese culture”(1). He also concluded: “Vietnamese researchers all agree that the main cultural value of Vietnamese people is community spirit with the meaning of national community spirit”(2). According to Huu Ngoc, communityism is also enhanced through lifestyle, language, philosophy, beliefs, and symbols (including myths) which creates the brilliant and unique wet rice civilization that still exists today.

Prof., Dr. Tran Van Phong uses the concept of “Community awareness” to depict the unique characteristic of Vietnamese people: “Community awareness can be understood as the whole of ideals, views, moods, habits, behaviors, etc. that show the attitude of people and social groups toward the community. In other words, it is the attention and behavior of each person, each social group, and each organization towards the surrounding community”. “The community awareness is a common characteristic of humankind, but in Vietnam, it is also a specific result of Vietnam’s socio-economic situation and becomes a vital condition, an eternal survival strength of the nation in dealing with challenges”(3).

It can be considered that the above analysis of Vietnam’s community awareness fully enfolds the content of Vietnamese communitarianism.

Hence, Vietnamese communitarianism is a sum of values, ideas, philosophy, and standards of conduct which promote community for the community’s sake. This enables the Vietnamese people to consolidate into a collective power that is able to solve problems raised in social life, and create synergy to protect, build, expand, and develop the country; as well as share and preserve common cultural values as the basis for the existence and development of each individual and the entire nation.

Therefore, when mentioning Vietnamese communitarianism, the following major content needs to be mentioned and considered:

- The community awareness about lineage, community origin, and national origin;

- The community and national cohesion;

- The method of community and national cohesion (house - village - nation);

- The optimal management of relationships between the national community and its minor communities; between community and individuals;

- The management of relationships between the national community and the international community.

Community awareness and community solidarity are the most valuable traditions of the Vietnamese nation. These values and traditions are deeply rooted in the country’s mode of survival and development. Over thousands of years of building and defending the country, the spirit of community and solidarity tradition have been formed and become one of the core cultural values. This is an incredibly valuable tradition serving as the most important foundation of patriotism, as well as the basis and source of vitality and internal development power of the country.

Community awareness today has shifted beyond the awareness of the village community, and now includes the ethnic community as well as the community of humanity. The Vietnamese communitarianism expressed in President Ho Chi Minh’s political thought on strategies to gather national forces to deal with the tasks of the revolution led by the Communist Party. Early in his career he made a statement: Solidarity, great solidarity - Success, great success.

Vietnam’s tradition of solidarity today is reflected in the Party’s guideline of building national unity and social consensus with the spirit of reconciliation, putting national interests first, joining together and helping Vietnam be able to take advantage of new opportunities, overcoming new challenges of changing times, and building the prestige of the country’s position in the international arena. It is the promotion of Vietnamese communitarianism, a core political and cultural value of the Vietnamese nation in facilitating these new conditions.

2. The process of formation and development of Vietnamese communitarianism

a. Awareness of the origin

Talking about the awareness of the origin of the Vietnamese, we need to base the origin on archaeological and biometric studies, as Prof. Nguyen Van Huyen did in the book “The Civilization of Vietnam” written in French and published in 1944. However, in social life, awareness of the origin is less noticeable and affected by this information. Moreover, immemorial anthropological and biomedical data are no longer available. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese proudly explain their origin story as the children of a dragon and a fairy. The father is Lac Long Quan the Dragon Lord and mother Au Co the Fairy Goddess. Legend has it that Vietnamese people are from the lineage of the emperor, symbolizing two sacred creatures with magical power and angelic beauty. The community awareness had arisen from the early days of ancient Vietnamese as the Au Viet (Ouyue) and the Lac Viet (Luoyue). The legend of A Hundred Eggs is said to be a legend about the Bach Viet (Baiyue) people. Today, Vietnamese people consider it to be an explanation of their origin. On this basis, the Vietnamese call each other “compatriots” (people from the same pouch) and uphold the philosophy of treating each other as siblings, no matter where the person comes from, whether it be the mountainous area or near the sea.

It is rare for any nation to have a shared philosophy, culture, and spirituality like Vietnamese people who are “compatriots” born from the same parents. This belief became the worship of Ancestors and the Hung Kings. When recognizing the worship of Hung King as a representative intangible cultural heritage of mankind, the UNESCO Decision (December 6th, 2012) stated: Worship of Hùng Kings shows respect for ancestors and thereby raises national pride and community cohesion.

b. Community and national cohesion

The spirit of community and national cohesion of the Vietnamese people is connected by three main factors: (i) The conquest of nature for existence and development; (ii) The geographical location is a melting pot of the world’s major cultural flows, and (iii) The need to fight against foreign aggression to protect independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

First of all, the conquest of nature began with the unity of the ancient Vietnamese people. They realized the need to live together and rely on each other for collective strength to deal with the natural harsh conditions of the country. They gathered together to build dams, fight floods, and prevent saline water intrusion. At the same time, they built irrigation works, such as digging canals to bring water into the fields and overcome drought, etc. These works required more will and strength than just some people can offer instead they need thousands of people together to “build thousands of kilometers of dikes and regularly prevent floods and droughts, and then expand towards southern lands and double the cultivated land area of the country. How could such a great work be successful without the power of the community?”(4).

Secondly, because our country is located at the crossroad of cultural lines, where the North meets the South, and the West meets the East, the Vietnamese people must have enough bravery and cultural identity to exchange, integrate, and defend. In the process of combating foreign enemies, there were enemies with much stronger economic and military power, those who had the tactics of assimilating and destroying Vietnamese culture. Despite those enemies thanks to nationalism and Vietnamese communitarianism, our people were able to create and keep a long-standing wet rice civilization, a brilliant civilization with a unique House - Village - Nation structure.

Over thousands of years, Vietnamese communitarianism has developed from endogenous value while also having learned from exogenous values. Hence, the Vietnamese communitarianism has created a unique ideological community of pluralistic ideology and religion based on national community interest.

The combination of folk beliefs and the philosophy of Three teachings harmonious as one are a product of Vietnamese communitarianism. Communal temples - pagodas - temples - shrines are subjects of communitarianism. For example, communal temples to worship village guardian gods (ancestors), pagodas to worship Buddhism, temples to worship saints, and shrines to worship Gods and Goddesses, etc. The unity of communitarianism contains the pluralism of ideas. While monism is the Vietnamese community and the interests of the Vietnamese people; pluralism is a variety of philosophical and thinking bases, from the worship of ancestors, worship of Hung Kings, worship of saints (national heroes), worship of Goddesses, etc., to the ideas of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. All these “pluralistic” elements do not have any other function but to serve the material and spiritual life of the Vietnamese community.

Back when the country was in peacetime, the feudal state still had an active role, and when there was a brilliant King, citizens were gentle, the country was unified and prosperous, the peasants lived honestly, naively, and diligently doing farm work, paying taxes, and participated in public labor work and military service. Some other people joined the army and militia teams. Those people were the grassroots armed forces, existing under the premise “farmers while peaceful, soldiers while battling”. When the country was at war, peasants were the largest force to join state army or militia groups with the awareness that “everyone is responsible for the fate of a nation”. They fought the enemy and kept their village and country safe and sound.

With such communitarianism, the Vietnamese nurtured talented men in villages, so that when they were needed, they went directly to the King and helped the country. Talents were not being distinguished by classifications such as origin, social class, or age. Vietnamese communitarianism has created endless talent. That is the reason why Nguyen Trai once proudly said, “there is never a shortage of heroes”.

Thirdly, community cohesion during the struggle against foreign invaders is an ancient tradition of the Vietnamese nation. It can be said that Vietnam is a rare country because it features the largest number of wars against aggression and anti-colonialism as well as has the longest combined time of those wars in the history of the world. Vietnam is also the only country that has always defeated the most powerful empires in human history. As a result, Vietnamese people are aware that they belong to a community and a nation; aware of how to live, to build, to protect, and to expand the country, as well as acknowledge their rights and obligations for the destiny of the nation. That makes our people strongly unified.

The awareness of the Vietnamese community is also expressed in the will to unify the territorial integrity of the nation. Reuniting the country becomes a need of morality and affection, a condition of the independence and happiness of the entire people. Vietnamese people soon realized that the whole country can only be liberated when the entire community of people living in that territory is liberated. Therefore, all compatriots have united to fight and are determined not to let enemies invade and eradicate the Vietnamese people.

Vietnamese communitarianism has existed since the origin of the Văn Lang state with the union of 15 tribes into a unified state.

The historical changes in ancient times, though shadowed in legendary mist, still show us the community’s aspirations, the intense vitality of the Luoyue and Ouyue community, whereby this community was one of the rare communities of Baiyue. These people lived south of the Yangtze River and rather than being assimilated, they gained independence and developed into a nation of ethnic community that can be seen to this today.

c. Method of community cohesion (house - village - nation)

House - village - nation are three social entities with three different levels of socio-economic space that are closely related. The unity between house - village - nation has created a great power to bring Vietnam through many ups and downs to stand firmly after many invasions of strong enemies such as the Northern feudal dynasties, the French colonialists and the American empire.

In Vietnam, the relation of house - village - nation is a unique relationship that plays a pivotal role in Vietnamese general culture and political culture in particular. The house - village - nation is where the most interference between “non-political” and “political” things occurs between the state and the self-governing community. The traditional Vietnamese communitarianism addresses all community issues in the house - village - nation relationship. There is an existence of a relationship that is united, intertwined, and still contradict. At the time of the foreign invasion, the nation’s interest was placed first, but on normal days, the king’s rules could be practically overruled by the village’s norms.

Professor Nguyen Van Huyen said, “Family is the basis of our society”. Houses gathered become a village and there is always a village before a nation. A nation is formed on a village basis, it is actually a “super village”. Everyone is attached to the village and the nation. Building and protecting villages is also building and protecting the nation. If anyone is opposed to the village, that person also against the nation, because no one loves the country without loving the village. The village - nation relationship is so strong that even in times where the country was losing in history, the village still stood.

The Vietnamese village is a great strength of Vietnamese society, it is an autonomous administrative organization located within a country (nation). The village must have a duty to pay taxes for the country and manage all things related to the life of the villagers from birth to death. The government gives self control to the village and the families (those were recognized by the state). The government only intervenes at the request of the village or in necessary cases. The village is very organized and complicated according to age and class relationships, as well as according to some state regulations. “In the eyes of the government, village is a personality and has its own characteristics... The village can be considered a small state, governed by a spectacular council of dignitaries, educated and successful people, chief or deputy chief of the village, and elders, etc”.(5). In addition to such an official structure, there are also cooperative associations and supporting societies (such as fellow citizens, entertaining teams, handicraft teams, etc.), along with the system of community aids on the basis of using public fields’ yield to create a system of “social capital” and ensure the village’s welfare. Professor Nguyen Van Huyen commented “Thus, in Vietnamese villages, in addition to official administrative organization, there are countless groups with clear relationships. Because of their supportive spirit, these groups play a virtuous role in this poor country”(6). When dealing with village affairs, local communitarianism uses a mechanism called “closer to the ideal of assistance and solidarity”, which is to combine organization, ritual, personal sentiments and interests with laws and village rules, together with religion and folk beliefs.

Regarding the relationship between house - village - nation, Professor Nguyen Van Huyen commented: In addition to “house”, there are two organizations as frameworks for individuals’ activities, namely “village” and “nation”. The village has administrative autonomy and is a separate organization but is still contained within the framework of the nation and follows the general rules of the country. Though the country is stronger and larger, it cannot overwhelm the village’s privileges. For individuals, the village and the country are two equal organizations and frameworks to follow.

Because of living in the village community, the ancient Vietnamese people perceived the country similar to the village and as an extension of the village. The King is a “parent” of the people, who also worships his ancestors, organizes festivals to pray for crops and weather during hard times... Vietnam’s people-oriented political tradition was certainly not primarily from Confucianism but was because of Vietnamese communitarianism.

Talking about the characteristics of Vietnamese communitarianism through the Vietnamese village model, Professor Nguyen Hong Phong affirmed “Vietnamese village is a prominent phenomenon of Vietnamese civilization and civilization history. The characteristic of Vietnamese civilization is village - nation relationship (instead of nation - house like in China)”. He also compared it with the ancient Greek state, which more clearly shows the characteristics of Vietnamese communitarianism compared to Western communitarianism. In Western communitarianism, the nation (like Ancient Greece) was a union of cities, while the Vietnamese nation was a union of villages. The villages concentrated on agriculture, industries, and commerce. In the village, citizens were not only farmers but also workers, merchants, and soldiers(7).

Because of living as a village, Vietnamese people have a common responsibility towards the village as well as the general affairs of the village - jobs that require collective strength and collective unity - form the consciousness of the village community. Since the fate of the village is tied to the destiny of the country, the awareness of village community has developed into a higher level becoming national awareness.

d. Relationships between the community and individuals, the national community and its minor communities;

It can be said that community is always appreciated and valued more than individuals in daily life as well as in the production of Vietnamese people. Since then, the tasks, responsibilities, common sense of the village and the community are deeply set in Vietnamese people’s minds. Community is promoted strongly not only in the fight against natural disasters, product development, and cultural exchange but is also boldly expressed in the great battle to protect the nation.

Vietnamese communitarianism during the French colonial period strongly confronted Western individualism in the process of Westernization. Vietnamese communitarianism was even negatively affected because of a multitude of mqjor disturbances such as wars, the Soviet collectivism model, and the socio-economic crisis of 1976-1986. Through all these trials it ultimately retained its identity. The Vietnamese communitarianism does not surrender to individualism and always declares war on individualism. It does not surrender to collectivism and soulless mechanization but continues to combine philosophy, belief, religion, and politics into a signature Vietnamese lifestyle. It creates a normative way of life to always place the country higher than the house (once the country loses, then the house dissolves). The interests of the nation and its people are higher than the rights of groups, classes, regions, families, and individuals. However, it should be said that the Vietnamese people’s “priority” in solving issues of the house - village - nation relationship requires balance, flexibility, and qualitative assessments.

For thousands of years, Vietnamese communitarianism has never shown its connotations as it has in the modern period of national history (from 1945 to present).

In the context of the country’s comprehensive reformation, new standards and values are being formed. Therefore, the relationships between the community and individual as well as between house - village - nation - globe must be placed in completely new contexts such as globalization, international integration, and technological revolutions.

These new contexts require Vietnamese people to be fully aware of their communitarianism by having an understanding of community awareness, communityism, and collective spirit. But in addition, Vietnamese communitarianism must arouse social incentives to keep its unique relationships this requires optimal management between the individual the community and the entire nation; between nationalism and internationalism; between the past, the present and the future; and with survival and development.



(1), (2), Huu Ngoc (2010): Thoughts of Vietnamese communitarianism through cultural perspective, http://www.honvietquochoc.com.vn.

(3) Tran Van Phong: Community awareness of Vietnamese people, Journal of Philosophy, Vietnamese Culture and Society, November 2007 edition. More detail at: https://www.elib.vn.

(4) Vu Khieu: Vietnamese culture - Society and People, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 2000, p.64.

(5), (6) Nguyen Van Huyen (1944): La Civilisation annamite (Vietnamese Civilization. Translated from French by Đo Trong Quang), Authors Association Publishing House, 2017, p.95, 107.

(7) Nguyen Hong Phong: Traditional and modern Vietnamese political culture, Culture and Information Publishing House, Hanoi, 1998, p.99.

Prof., Dr. Phan Xuan Son

Dr. Nguyen Thi Thanh Dung

Institute of Political Science,

Hồ Chí Minh National Academy of Politics

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