May 28, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Review: The ideology of the family state

David Reeve reviews David Bourchier’s important contribution to understandings of political thinking in Indonesia


David Reeve reviews David Bourchier’s important contribution to understandings of political thinking in Indonesia 


This is a strikingly original book which will be of great interest to all those interested in Indonesian political thinking and political developments over the last 90 years, as well as to students of corporatist/organicist thinking and practice in other countries. Bourchier writes with clarity and skill, effectively combining analysis of intellectual history with the practical politics on the ground. 

The central originality of this book is to trace the roots of Indonesian ‘organicist’ thinking from the 1930s back to developments in German Romantic nationalism in the nineteenth century. A line is drawn from German Romantic nationalist Adam Muller through Historical School jurists, such as Savigny, to Leiden University scholars and through them to Indonesian thinkers like Supomo. These ideas were strengthened by the Japanese occupation.

David Bourchier argues that later developments from the 1950s – such as functional group (golkar) organisations under Guided Democracy and the New Order – must be seen as particular forms for embodying this stream of nationalist thinking. He shines a penetrating new light on political developments from the 1980s to the 2010s by looking at the continuing force of anti-parliamentary democratic thinking. 

After a chapter setting the stage, the second chapter, ‘Organicism and the Volksgeist’, is a revelation.  Bourchier argues that Anglo–American political science literature has tended to ignore organicist ideas and that contemporary European writers have tended to shun them for their links with fascism and Nazism. Nonetheless, such ideas were a vital component of the thought-world of nineteenth-century European nationalism that affected a range of Indonesian nationalist thinkers. 

Bourchier sets out European organicist discourse in stages: firstly, from before the nineteenth century; secondly, in Germany and Holland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and then through ‘colonial refractions’, through van Vollenhoven at Leiden University from 1901 to 1933, and into parts of Indonesian nationalist thinking. There was, he writes, ‘a Leiden orthodoxy’ whose basic premises and assumptions entered the canon of adat orthodoxy in Indonesia – making a significant contribution to Indonesian nationalism as ‘self-orientalisation’, particularly through Raden Supomo and the Parindra party.

Members of the Parindra party, circa 1930s. (Public domain)

Also fascinating is the analysis in chapter 3 of ‘the allure of Japan’s “family state”’. Bourchier provides a short tour of the world of cultural nationalism in Japan, highlighting some parallels with the Parindra nationalists in Indonesia and the Japanese conservative nationalists who referred to the same body of European anti-liberal and Orientalist thought. He emphasises the impact of Japanese propaganda in Indonesia from 1942 to 1945, including the impact on Supomo, and then in chapter 4 the impact of the Japanese idea of the totalistic ‘family state’. 

Chapters 4 and 5 examine ways in which the integralistic concepts were embedded into Indonesian political practice from 1945. This was largely through Supomo’s major role in influencing and drafting the 1945 constitution, and through the various ways the concepts were kept alive from 1945 to 1956 during a period when parliamentary democracy was the main game. These concepts re-emerged as ‘corporatist antidotes’ after 1956, when both Sukarno and the army came to consider them seriously.

Chapters 6 to 9 examine the ways in which organicist thinking was implemented and defended during Soeharto’s 32 years of power, with particular emphasis on functional representation as an organising principle. 

On the origins of political thinking

From the late 1980s, Adnan Buyung Nasution and Marsillam Simanjuntak were also examining the ‘integralistic state’ and this led to both men publishing on this topic in the early 2000s. In 2001, Nasution’s Aspirasi Pemerintahan Konstitusional di Indonesia: Studi Sosio-Legal Atas Konstituante 1956–1959 (Aspirations of Constitutional Governance in Indonesia: Socio-Legal Studies on Constituencies 1956–1959) was published and, in 2003, Simanjuntak’s Pandangan Negara Integralistik: Sumber, Unsur dan Riwayatnya Dalam Persiapan UUD 1945 (Integralistic Country Views: Sources, Elements and Their History In Preparation of the 1945 Constitution). Bourchier’s study resonates with their thinking, though going further and deeper. However, his book is a stark contrast to a recent attempt to give a highly positive gloss to Supomo’s reputation as a scholar and thinker (Soepomo: Pergulatan Tafsir Negara Integralistik; Biografi Intelektual, Pemikiran Hukum Adat dan Konstitutionalisme [Soepomo: The Struggle for an Integralistic State; Intellectual Biography, Traditional Law and Constitutionalism] published by Pusat Studi Tokoh Pemikiran Hukum [Centre for the Study of Legal Schools of Thought], 2015).

Bourchier also offers sharp criticism of an earlier, now obsolete, study of Golkar and the organicist tradition, by Reeve (1985). Bourchier is critical of Reeve’s attempts to see the roots of organicist thinking in aspects of Javanese tradition. But I think the two approaches need not be placed in opposition. Reeve remains chastised but not contrite.

One of Bourchier’s great achievements is to bring into prominence Supomo and Djokosutono as major, influential Indonesian thinkers. Appreciation of Supomo’s role has been an on-off affair since the 1950s – with his role sometimes promoted, sometimes attacked, sometimes forgotten. Djokosutono has hardly been commented on. But both these men had key intellectual roles, firstly as key advisors to both Sukarno and to Nasution and, secondly, as major figures in the early days of Universitas Indonesia. Even less widely known is their central role in the early years of the Police Academy and the Military Law School, and thus the importance of their thinking in military legal circles should not be underestimated. Other important figures identified by Bourchier include legal scholars Notonagoro and Hazairin, and New Order integralists such as Padma Wahyono, Abdulkadir Besar and A Hamid S Attamimi. 

A fine piece of detective work occurs where David Bourchier shows how marriage brought Nasution in close contact to these sorts of ideas. In 1942 Nasution married the daughter of a Parindra politician who was also a niece of the integralistic pamong praja leader RP Suroso.

When David Bourchier has added so many dimensions, it seems churlish to complain of omissions. But he might have included the influence on the Indonesian nationalist movement of the Theosophical Society, with its ideas of harmony, Eastern wisdoms and strong leadership. Sukarno’s father was a Theosophist, and Supomo was also a member of the Theosophical order Dienaren van Indie. Bourchier might have also included influence from China, in particular from Sun Yat Sen, who in one phase of his career saw the revolution as being led by a single national party, just as Sukarno did in 1945.

In his conclusion, Bourchier argues that it is a great mistake to think that organicism went out with the New Order. Such a view underestimates the important ways in which it was used to sustain the government for over 30 years, and also its continued relevance. Prabowo’s presidential campaign in 2014 incorporated several of the themes of wanting to limit Western-style democracy and to return to more authoritarian traditions. Prabowo gained 46.85 per cent of the vote. In 2017 Indonesia has been independent for 72 years, and of those the authoritarian tradition has been dominant for almost 40 years, just counting 1959 to 1998. There is a particular force when Prabowo speaks of his party Gerindra as being a descendant of Parindra. 

This is a remarkable book, essential reading for anyone who wants to have a thorough understanding of Indonesian political thinking and practice.



David Bourchier, Illiberal Democracy in Indonesia: The Ideology of the Family State, Routledge, 2015.


David Reeve ( is an honorary associate professor at the University of New South Wales. He is author of Golkar of Indonesia: An Alternative to the Party System, Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1985. His latest book is Angkot dan Bus Minangkabau: Budaya Pop dan Nilai-Nilai Budaya Pop, Komunitas Bambu, 2017. 


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