Liberalism in Indonesia: Between Authoritarian Statism and Islamism

David Bourchier, Windu Jusuf

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    It is hardly surprising that liberalism has been neglected in studies of Indonesian political thought, with most scholars focusing on nationalism, communism, conservatism, populism, and Islamism. The term 'liberal' has long been a byword for the kind of naked individualism and dog-eat-dog capitalism against which mainstream Indonesian nationalism has contrasted itself. This article argues that liberalism has, nevertheless, been present as a counter-narrative throughout Indonesia's modern history and should be considered as a distinct political tradition. Liberal ideas inform Indonesia's legal, economic, and political structures and have thrived in sections of the media, the professions, academia, and civil society organisations, reaching their apogee in the unique circumstances of the immediate post-Soeharto period. Repeated efforts to establish overtly liberal political vehicles, though, have gained little traction in a political environment dominated by nationalist and Islamist parties. This article argues that despite the rapid growth of the economy, Indonesia's middle classes are still relatively weak and dependent, and have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to ally with authoritarian statism when their interests are threatened by populist movements from the left or the right.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)69-87
    Number of pages19
    JournalAsian Studies Review
    Issue number1
    Early online dateOct 2022
    Publication statusPublished - 2023


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