A Little Bit of Thai History: Driver Conflict; Installation Not Complete
As we all know, I have a sacred debt driving me to give you all a weekly post regarding the history of Thailand. (If not, read my earlier posts. S’fun!)
As I discussed earlier, the Siamese kingdom was modernizing itself rapidly. It was that, or become another colony, basically. Starting with a modern army (fancier naval vessels, Western training and guns, guns, guns) industrialization and commercial investments (buying guns requires money) and a more efficient administration (corruption creates waste, incompetence creates even more waste) and of course unifying the Siamese people into a comprehensive nation (those colonial powers loved using divide and conquer to get new territories). One way Siam accomplished this was hiring foreign advisers and experts but that only got you so far. So as well as building schoos and academies for Thai speakers the royal family and nobles at court would send their young family members abroad to study at Western universities, and officials and diplomats to study the actual societies. They tried what every fairly wealthy but less developed part of the world from Japan to Egypt was trying as well: To “hack” the Western code. How the HECK did they get a head like that?
As well as some ideas from local opposition I mentioned last time (you know, guys with enough gall to become intellectuals before having been nobility for ten generations first) the king got ideas that would not just be progress but more or less turn Siamese society on its head. The memorialists were a group that collectively wrote a memorial (think of it as a fancy royal court version of a memo) saying Siam should go Western all the way. ” According to Western belief, in order for a society to maintain justice it must be based on popular consensus…”. That’s right. Democracy. An elected cabinet government, a paid bureaucracy based on actual skills and merit rather than high birth and who your cousin was, freedom of speech… Oh, and an actual constitution. You know, rather than the word of the King being law.
The king took a long hard look at the memorial and expressed the Royal Thai version of “You know what? I’m good on Western influence for now, thank you very much”. As well as being admirers of Japan, another country in Asia copying Europe and going the whole nine yards they had taken to the liberal ethos and traditions of Europe’s intellectuals. The royal person pointed out that all these liberal traditions had grown out of the process of revolutions. All the countries with these progressive ideals, he put forth, were previously stagnant and ruled by absolutist despots until the people overthrew their selfish unenlightened rulers. Admittedly, evidence was on his side. Also, the king being Buddhist, and trained and groomed to rule in the interest of the people, he was the binding element of the Siamese people that a constitution would be in a Western country. For effect he executed one of the memorialists and had another publicly dishonored (yes, that was an actual thing in Siamese royal court) and exiled. And so an actual constitution and cabinet goventment was not to come until the 20th century.
His son did a more elegant job putting forth a “kings thought”, or a royal philosophy: The king rules, paternally, like a father rules his children. Meaning the king exists as much for his subjects as they do for the king. This seems to work, as the royal family is as revered in contemporary Thailand as in 19th century Siam. But more on the kings of Thailand next time!