Philosophy Behind Soeharto’s New Order; The New Order (Orba)

“When we talk about The New Order; should we grieve or be happy?”

Before you read this essay any further, please note that we are not going to talk about the history of PKI and its affiliation, or play-side who is more right or wrong, but we will discuss the philosophy behind The New Order (Orba) instead. Furthermore, we will talk about relationship between The Political concept of Carl Schmitt and Soeharto’s regime on his New Order.

First Cup of Coffee: The Political Concept

Carl Schmitt is a German political theorist/political philosopher that soon became one of the most influential political philosopher in the 20th century. Carl Schmitt’s course/views on politic is political existentialist, which in a nutshell means that every points he made in his book must be understood in their concrete and existential sense, not as metaphors or symbols, not mixed and weakened by economic, moral, and other conceptions, least of all in a private-individualistic sense as a psychological expression of private emotions and tendencies.

“The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy. . .The antithesis of friend and enemy corresponds to the relatively independent criteria of other antitheses: good and evil in the moral sphere, beautiful and ugly in the aesthetic sphere, and so on. . .The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. These can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral third party.” The Concept of the Political (Ch.2, 26-27)

“Sovereign is he who decides on the exception. Only this definition can do justice to a borderline concept.” Political Theology (Ch.1, 5)

To simplify what he said, there are two points to create a stable society. First, to understand the nature of human being, which is conflict. Therefore, the state should make a clear distinction between friend and foe. Second, sovereignty.

From two of Schmitt’s book, which is Concept of the Political and Political Theology, I am going to propose the connection between Schmitt’s The Political concept that is intentionally or not, may have been Soeharto’s guide to become a ‘great‘ leader on his New Order. But, whether Soeharto use Schmitt’s The Political concept or not, “The New Order” may have be the real example of a state that qualified Schmitt’s The Political concept.

Now take a break for a moment and contemplate those two points, and remember the essence of Soeharto’s New Order.

Second Cup of Coffee: Friend and Foe

Schmitt said that it is human nature to seek for an “enemy”, or in Schmitt’s words, the “other”. For him, it is necessary for a state to define who the main “enemy” is to protect its citizen from that same enemy. Furthermore, the state itself must control the relationship between its enemy. Even though the enemy itself doesn’t have to appear morraly evil or have any negative pressence, the state must make the enemy as the “public enemy”. The relationship between them doesn’t have to be at war, and the enemy must not to be or get defeated. Although if a war is necessary for a state to unify its people, then it is not prohibited.

Schmitt also give us an example from Plato’s Republic, where Plato distinguish between public enemy (Hostis) and private enemy. “A public enemy is one with whom we are at war publicly. . . . In this respect he differs from a private enemy. He is a person with whom we have private quarrels. They may also be distinguished as follows: a private enemy is a person who hates us, whereas a public enemy is a person who fights against us.

Schmitt believes that when human doesn’t have a common goal to defeat the same enemy, society will tear apart. Human will keep looking for an enemy, and when the enemy is gone/defeated and can’t find another enemy, they will start fighting each other, thus bringing destruction to the society. Therefore, the state should make a clear distinction between friend and foe. Creating distinction between friend and enemy is what happened in Soeharto’s New Order. The state which at that time was controlled by the army created the public enemy: PKI and its affiliation.

Schmitt also think that it is wrong when the state is trying to focus on inequality or social issues. Inequality in society is inevitable and it is not the job of politics to fix it. Instead, the state must maintain the order for each class with a strong sovereign. This is also what happened on Soeharto’s New Order, instead of caste, Indonesian people that day divide into parties, and the main party were PNI (Indonesian National Party), Masyumi (Consultative Council of Indonesian Muslims), NU (Rise of the Islamic Scholars), and PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia). There was a lot of parties out there, but Soeharto were successful to maintain these parties into one class. Even though the parties still held their own goal on politics, the parties (besides PKI) merged into one society with one goal: to disband all of PKI member and its affiliation. If one was not on board with Soeharto’s regime, then a bullet will meet on one’s head, or if one was lucky; into a jail (although it depends which better; get killed or going to jail as tapol*).

Third Cup of Coffee: Sovereign Entity

Schmitt said; Sovereign is he who decides on the exception. The state of exception is any kind of political emergency, or anything that the state precedes as a threat to its existence. This is what makes Sovereign an important part of making a stable society. It is necessary to envoke danger in order to unify the people behind the leader, and it can justify its action “for a greater good”. Sovereign itself can happen in any country, and it is a inevitable part of politics. But, in this essay, I will pursue the sovereign that happened in New Order.

In order to decide the sovereign, the state requires a homogeneity within itself. We can see the homogeneity from the friend and foe that Soeharto’s create, where the state politically killed the enemy to ensure its internal homogeneity, thus creating the homogeneity that Schmitt wants.

Supersemar (Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret), although its credibility is questionable, is a letter/warrant from Soekarno that said Soeharto should be in charge for Indonesia and do what he thought necessary for the existence of the state of Indonesia (state of emergency). Besides the army, lots of media were starting a propaganda by saying that PKI killed Indonesian generals (lubang buaya tragedy), portrayed GERWANI (Feminist Organization that later become one of PKI’s affiliation) as a prostitute for PKI, and much more since G30S. After PKI became the public enemy for Indonesian citizen, Soeharto decide what to do for that situation, thus born the strongest sovereign; to disband and ‘hunt’ every member of PKI and its affiliation. The result of the New Order’s sovereign was effective. Indonesian people unified and even they who didn’t have the authority to ‘hunt’ started their own ‘hunt’. There was another operation called PETRUS (Mysterious Shooter) later that year, where people were legally killed and their corpses were left in the public. The propaganda from media also produced a movie called Pemberantasan G30S/PKI, and were played every night on 30 September during Soeharto’s leadership and it became a mandatory for the citizen to watch it.

Why this sovereign is the strongest sovereign in Indonesia? The ‘angry politic’ they used were so effective that it produced an over-going fear/paranoia that still felt by the Indonesian people today. The G30S PKI proganda gave a reason for its people to go to war with PKI for “the greater good”. In a nutshell, The New Order need to make PKI as the public enemy to ensure the safety of the society.

From Schmitt’s book Political Theology, there’s one problem with the sovereign; who decides to make a decision, and who decides not to decide. The sovereign can be decided by the people (society) also by the state (the right leader). There are two kind of sovereign. First, a person who can suspend the law during the state of emergency, and when the emergency is resolved, then the law can be applied again. Second, the kind of dictatorship sovereign, which the person can disband the law and change the law to resolve the state of emergency, then the changed law still applied.

“All law is “situational law.” The sovereign produces and parantees the situation in its totality. He has the monopoly over this last decision. Therein resides the essence of the state’s sovereignty, which must be juristically defined correctly, not as the monopoly to coerce or to rule, but as the monopoly to decide. The exception reveals most dearly the essence of the state’s authority. The decision parts here from the legal norm, and (to formulate it paradoxically) authority proves that to produce law it need not be based on law.” Political Theology (Ch.1, 13)

The sovereign also gives us a paradox of sovereignty. This paradox basically about the sovereign that is inside and outside of jurisdical order. This is also why Schmitt named his book Political “Theology”. Schmitt sees the sovereign as one entity (a god like figure) in politics who has the right to make decisions, and how “the exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology” which can do a direct intervention to the system in a valid legal order.


To underlined Schmitt’s The Political concept, it’s not only suits for Soeharto’s leadership. Maybe there’s another leadership that also suits to his concept. Therefore, I cannot help but to make points that Schmitt’s concept suits well on Soeharto’s New Order. Furthermore, the main idea of Schmitt concept is to maintain order to society, and we can see the effect of Soeharto’s sovereign is still going on until this day, even though the public enemy is becoming the private enemy for every people in Indonesia. It is not a threat for the existence of Indonesia, but the people still sees it as their own threat.

Schmitt’s concept also does not indicate the “good” state. Lots of thinkers and academia still discussing whether Schmitt’s concept can be use or applied on understanding a national conflict. This is because Schmitt is a German nazi and a ‘good’ anti-semit, where it implies that Schmitt wanted a never-ending war for a country to maintain order and unify its citizen.

We all cannot forget that on Soeharto’s New Order, there a genocide. Lots of our people died because of it. Their death is so much that Fact-Finding Commission (KOTI) couldn’t know for sure how many people have died. Also, because it was the sovereign who decided, it could justify its action for the name of “the greater good”. For the winner, it is a triumph for them. But lets not forget that we are not just a winner, but also the victim. A victim of history, where the people who thought they were winning that day taught us to glorify its tragedy. The following question is; when the public enemy is defeated, what will the society do?

In the end, I will leave you with one ethical question. When we talk about The New Order; should we grieve or be happy?

 ©2018 Gregorius Pamungkas. All rights reserved. 


*Tapol= Tahanan politik (Politics Prisoner)

Books and Link

  1. The Concept of the Political — Carl Schmitt
  2. Political Theology — Carl Schmitt
  3. Power and Political Culture in Suharto’s Indonesia — Stefan Eklöf

  4. Carl Schmitt on Political Power — Jurgen Braugardt

With help from Bernardino Rakha Adjiebrata and edited by Bartolomeus Delphito

Artwork by Andrea Ucini

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