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Chasing Freedom

The Philippines’ Long Journey to Democratic Ambivalence

In the Series
Asian & Asian American Studies

A PhD graduate from the University of Sydney, Adele Webb is Adjunct Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in Brisbane, Australia. Her research focuses on democratic theory and its application to political histories and contemporary political dynamics in Asia. She has published on topics that include populism, the middle classes and democracy, and colonial legacies in contemporary democratic politics.  

How did Rodrigo Duterte earn the support of large segments of the Philippine middle class, despite imposing arbitrary authority and offering little tolerance for dissent? Has the Filipino middle class, heroes of the 1986 People Power Revolution, given up on democracy?

Chasing Freedom retells the history of Philippine democracy, employing a genealogical approach that makes visible the forms of power that have shaped and constrained understandings of democracy. The book traces the attitudes of the Filipino middle class from the beginning of American colonization in 1898, to the present. It argues that democracy in country has been, and continues to be, lived in an ambivalent way – a result of the contradictions inherent in America’s imperial project of ‘democratic tutelage’. Humiliation of the colonial past fuels the imperative to search for more authentic self-determination; at the same time, Filipinos are haunted by self-doubt over the capacity of its people to correctly manage the freedom that democracy provides. This simultaneous ‘yes’ and ‘no’ has persisted after independence in 1946 until today; it is the masterful mobilization of this democratic ambivalence by authoritarian populists like Rodrigo Duterte that helps to explain the effectiveness of their political narratives for middle-class audiences.

The Philippines is a bellwether case with lessons of global importance in an age when disenchantment with democracy is on the rise. While ambivalence may result in failure to meet a democratic ideal it may, nevertheless, be one of democracy’s safeguards. This work is at the forefront of recent debates about middle class-led ‘democratic backsliding’, with scholars unable to reconcile the appeal of authoritarian populists amongst those who have historically been expected to be democracy’s vanguard.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-78976-043-9
Hardback Price: £75.00 / $84.95
Release Date: Jamuary 2022
Page Extent / Format: 240 pp. 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


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