Developing Nations:

Social Argumentation

by Mr. Nguyễn Trần Bạt

Chairman, General Director of the InvestConsult Group

Hanoi, Vietnam


In our life, Social Argumentation is every day’s activity and it helps people make right decisions and behavior. In science, argumentation is a means for researchers to acquire universal truths. In social life, it is an indispensable means to build a democratic society. Social argumentation is not new and has been long an effective instrument to promote democracy, political developments of many advanced countries in the world. In the modern time, social argumentation is still an important factor that requires further studies especially for countries that are trying to promote democracy.

I. Social Argumentation is a Scientific Activity  

Social argumentation determines the scientific features of the human actions before decisions are to be made. Without it, human actions are not socially appropriate. It is a political term, a typical expression of the democratic life. In a democratic society, it is “a type of reactions” (should not be confused with any reactionary things). It goes hand in hand with actions.

In our society, there are always groups of different interest with different objectives to be pursued and achieved in different ways and by different means. Argumentation creates discussions that may lead to agreements among these groups. Argumentation helps to make political, socio economical behavior more objective. It means conflicts among groups of different interest are done away with through discussions and agreements.

A society, say, a non democratic one is where decisions or actions are to be made without argumentation. It must be realized that every political action should be made in harmony with the political trends. A political action is made to meet with the requirements of life balancing the social needs and aspirations. In my own life within my organization I always encourage argumentation to have all actions properly done in the best scientific ways possible. That is why argumentation is therefore very socially important and is an objective requirement of life.

Briefly, argumentation is an expression of the natural reactions in the society where ones can freely express themselves. It helps to balance economic, political and cultural trends and to make them more scientific and more appropriate and closer to life.                         

Till now in many places with different political regimes, Argumentation and its true meanings have not been defined or fully understood. Of course, in societies under any political system, people’s aspirations and wills cannot be ignored and policies are therefore to be made to meet with these aspirations and wills. However, we cannot get the true reflections from the people through an unprofessional referendum. Argumentation is a scientific activity and not a question requiring “Yes” or “No” answers. Argumentation is different from referendum in nature. Referendum is to ask for people’s wills and aspirations but Argumentation is to let people raise their own voices on the issues. These voices will truly reflect people’s aspirations and wills in having actions made in the desirable ways. By its political nature, the right to argumentation is the freedom of speech and expression, the right to make ones’ voices heard. If argumentation is not promoted, referendum just leads to “Yes” or “No” answers involving no discussions that may include counter statements. Speech or expression of ones’ thoughts is a civil activity but it is not such simple if it is not done professionally.

If referendum is to look for and find out simple agreements, argumentation is to look for and find out the scientific agreements. It is the difference between argumentation and referendum. To have correct policies we should rely on social agreements as reflections of people’s wills and aspirations. To achieve social agreements we should establish an institution for argumentation. We cannot have referendum on democracy when people have no ideas about it. In a non democratic society, what will be when we ask people for opinions if they do not fully realize their roles and responsibilities?. It is also a reason for politicians to overlook people’s opinions. There have been still no social agreements in the underdeveloped countries because people have not really understood the difference between argumentation and referendum. All policies to be made should be carefully considered whether or not they are viable. It is time consuming if we only conduct non-professional referendum for the so-called social agreements.

II. Argumentation and Opposition                               

As said above, argumentation is a professional process of discussions. It is therefore necessary to establish a culture for discussions as without this culture, argumentation will not have its own culture either and it may means “oppositions”. It must be understood that argumentation is not opposition. Not allowing or avoiding argumentation is the act of encouraging oppositions.  Oppositions could grow into public harassments and disturbance and at higher degrees into revolution. Freedom of speech and expression could help to expose all weaknesses of life. Without freedom of demonstration and speech or expression, people have no means to speak out their minds. Demonstration and speech or expression is the two abilities for people to test state’s policies to different extents. Demonstration is people’s reaction; speech and expression are the reactions of a professional part of the society that are reviewing the impacts of the policies. In the non democratic societies, people do not have freedoms of speech, demonstration or associations to raise their voices on the issues that are vital to their life and developments due to the negative impacts of policies. Even when people are not fully provided with these rights, people’s reactions and argumentation are never killed off. They are there and accumulated and at some point they explode as a social revolution. Social revolution is not a political revolution. Political revolution is only the surface of a social one and it is well organized and stimulated.  Politicians have turned Social revolution into political one when the latter comes to the boiling points beyond its limits.

Societies may have become products of political systems if these systems do not realize the fact that is “like systems like societies”. Societies cannot be products of the political systems forever but their forms are impacted by political systems. For example, there have been societies where people blindly follow their senior ones’ instructions. If this is on and on it will badly impact the societies and as a result such societies will not look to changes, developments. So what do we want?. As a force of the society, we should point out clearly what we want and the governments should do so, too. It means a process of discussion and argumentation should be established. Without discussions or argumentation between groups of different interest, there will be no social argumentation as a good habit of a society. Then, the abilities the society should have to make argumentation for viable political decisions are replaced by social oppositions. Social oppositions and social argumentation are the two ways to show the political difference between the society and the state. Argumentation is a friendly activity combining the intelligence of the society and that of the system to make the correct and right political policies. Oppositions which are extreme reactions to different extents always exist and go along with the wrong political decisions. If social argumentation is not professionally promoted, the argumentation will be turned into opposition. When such opposition is accumulated or built up together with an increase in the wrong political moves will lead to an inevitable revolution.

Social argumentation is a method to avoid social opposition, or in other words it is necessary to replace quarrels with freedom of speech and expression. In Britain, in the Hyde Park, people are allowed to criticize or speak ill of the Queen or the Prime Minister. People can freely speak out their minds. People always want to have such occasions to so express themselves. Conflicts of interest among groups always create quarrels. The point here is to turn the quarrels into professional discussions of which the best form is argumentation that may help to secure stability and development of a society.

III. Conditions for Social Argumentation to become a Scientific Activity                                                  

To promote social argumentation, the desires for and habit in having discussions should be encouraged. Freedom of speech and expression should be provided to involve the whole society in discussions about all social issues.  This will help to strengthen the argumentation capacity of the society for other more important political issues. Therefore, the first condition is the freedom of speech and expression. Argumentation is a professional expression of the freedom of speech and without it there would be no argumentation as people are not allowed to speak out their minds. It is not good for a society to be led or guided by imposing policies that will no doubt bring about no positive results. So, freedom of speech and expression is the key to balance all the trends, the key to different sources of information that could be useful for policy making. The nature of freedom is the right to all available options. To have more options, ones should have the freedom of expressing themselves. Freedom of speech and expression is the basic condition for people to make their choices.

Secondly, Social Argumentation is a professional process of discussions and therefore it requires the participation of the two sides. One includes professional speakers and the other the professional thinkers. Professional thinkers are intellectuals and professional speakers are media people. Social argumentation is the professional discussion between different social forces or with the rulers to make correct political decisions, policies or guidelines. So without the participation of these two sides, there would be only social reactions and no social argumentation.

The key question for the under-developed countries is to have a strong intellectual force. Why? Because such countries can not produce advanced intellectuals. It a shame but it is a feature of the slow developments. It will be signs of developments when intellectuals make themselves available as people’s servants or their allies in the ways of thinking. The Play “Nguyen Trai in Dong Quan” by Nguyen Dinh Thi of 30 years ago indicated that the intellectuals should represent the people. However, it is not enough to set up an agreeable society if people do not raise their own voices and they should be guided to do so by the intellectuals.

Intellectuals should not be happy with their own gains but they should think of people’s achievements first. The French intellectuals at certain period are bright examples as being available as people’s servants. The French government was once after Diderot, Montesquieu and Voltaire who in their hiding wrote many books on freedoms. So, the middle class (with intellectuals) of the society in the under-developed countries is very important for its developments.

The mass media in the under-developed countries also have their own problems. Due to many reasons they are fussing about things by making things more important than they actually are and this is a negative side of the mass media. I hold that it is not fair to ask the rulers who have been very much influenced by the past for quick changes. However, it is sensible for us to put forth social requirements for gradual changes, ones by ones. We are establishing democracy by making people’s basically indispensable rights available first. All rights that both people and the rulers want to have. People’s needs are theirs. In other words between people and the rulers there should be political compromises and agreements and this should be the objectives that mass media’s activities should aim at.

Many people think that functions wake up social inspiration and social views of the mass media. However, mass media do not have enough freedoms and as a result the society cannot free itself from this closed circle. This is not quite right either as ones should make the most of the freedoms they are entitled to. The louder you speak the less effective in some cases it may be. The importance is to make the most of the conditions with patience. It is totally wrong if we take politics to be some kind of a struggle and it means we do not understand fully the true values of the political life. Politics does not mean opposition, contradiction or struggle. It is a social process of convincing each other to move forward. Social Argumentation is one of the ways to carry this process on.

In our time, class struggle should not be seen as a driving force for developments but the intellectual standards of people are the impetus. We should train people to be good citizens first before we provide them with high quality political knowledge. It is because there are more people who would rather want to become good citizens than to be politically active. Politics should be determined by people’s qualities, not by the politicians’. A thousand good politicians cannot make a good society with 1 million bad people. On the contrary, a good society can be well built by a million good people and not by 10 good politicians plus 90 bad ones.  The August Revolution is a bright example of such view. Politicians at that time made the most of the good qualities of the society then to carry out the revolution. So, to guide people to do good political work, we need to turn them into good people first. This is my view in offering the mass media my social argumentation. Mass media should adjust its voices regarding democracy and related issues to wake up the society so that later on we may enjoy full democracy.

IV. Institution of Social Argumentation             

Civil society and its Argumentation and Arbitration roles

A civil society is a self balanced one. The self balancing of the society makes up a state and especially puts together its functions and responsibilities. In different time, under different political systems, at different development levels, the nature of the civil societies is also different. Recently, talks about civil society are always made associated with other independent organizations such as NGOs. I once pointed out my disagreements with this at a conference in Singapore as NGOs are elements of a civil society only at certain periods of developments.

A Civil Society is a Non State Society

Civil Society co-exists with the State. It has its own cultural norms to contain extremes, activities against public interest. In the every day’s civil life, State is not important for people as they have NGOs to represent the communities. They create social harmonies. As the Eastern people have not fully understood the value of the civil society, they do not have a correct definition of the civil society. The civil society as defined by us is the one that has the full respects for people but no respect for the harmonies of the society. In some countries, States are above all and thought to be the only means to do all the things that the civil societies are thought unable to. The fact that the Law does not accept the ideas of the non- existence of the States in a number of social issues deprives the civil society of the conditions to develop.

It must be emphasized that the nature of the civil society is its independence. It means it can deal with all its own problems. The state is just a part of the society and helps to do the strategical things but not all things of the social life. The civil society is the self-governed society and the State is needed for areas the civil society is incapable of. In other words, the State is an additional part of the civil society taking care of the things that the latter is incapable of.  

There would be no social argumentation if the civil society is not respected or if it does not have the legal role. Because, firstly, argumentation is a natural right and is the voice of the civil society. If the society has no legal role, this right is not legal either. So what should be done to promote social argumentation? Secondly, the society is also the arbitrator of the argumentation or more exactly that of different views or trends in the discussions. All are viewed whether they are supported or not by the society. Is argumentation affective if the society is not respected or has no legal roles?. So the question is that we should determine clearly the roles of the civil society and promote these roles within the legal rights to wake up the society and at the same time make it sure that the legal roles of the civil society is respected.

The State and its Functions in Managing Social Argumentation                  

As said above, argumentation represents democracy. Only powerful countries fully recognize people’s rights to take part in the political issues. It is an expression of inability or interference of the State if these rights are not respected. However, when these rights are respected and people are not interested in or do not make the most of these rights, there would be very slow political developments of the society. In such cases the State is not to be blamed. The rights to participate in the political life should be managed by the State if not there would be no social stability. If the State is too hard on it, the natural developments will be hindered. It means that the State should play its roles in promoting appropriate developments. It is totally wrong to think that the participation of people in political process would bring about instability. It must be understood that the active participation of people in political process under the reasonable management of the State will give an impetus to social developments. To carry out all political roles ensuring social stability, some States have in some way hindered the developments. So it is necessary that the State should be fully aware of the areas (not all areas) it is responsible for in term of State management.

Recently, in our society, there appear many opinions and views on argumentation. On its part, the State has had macro policies to promote social argumentation. The Vietnamese Fatherland’s Front is tasked to promote social argumentation. It is a positive signal. It should be now considered whether the Fatherland’s Front is the right one for the job?. As said, social argumentation is a natural activity of the society for its natural rights. The Fatherland’s Front has no legitimate or scientific roles to perform argumentation. It can guide the activities of argumentation but is not an organization to do it. Argumentation is the way the society raises its voices for shaping up policies for social developments and the Fatherland’s Front can not help with this as it is also part of the State. It is correct to say the Fatherland’s Front is supporting the state in organizing and guiding the argumentation activities, which is consistent with the present political system.

V. What are Solutions?

To catch up the nowadays developments is a motivation for all scientific researchers. We are trying to work out practical solutions. These solutions should be for the sake of freedoms. The study of argumentation is that of freedom of speech and expressions, one of the basic rights without which there would be no other rights. As explained, speech and expressions are freedoms to choices and observations and the society is not a free one without these freedoms. So in the process of organizing and promoting democratic   argumentation, social argumentation should be made a social, popular right. Also as explained, the society should have the rights to raise its voices while the state has its own means to manage these rights to ensure social stability. The question here is how we can achieve all under the circumstances. I think that to find out best solutions we should appreciate the roles of the civil society and the dialectical relationships of the developments of the civil society and the structures of the state.

For long, we have been used to the fact that the State is a historical phenomenon. The state will no longer exist when there are no classes. My view is that State is there forever together with the society. The civil society exists forever and the management of the society is the responsibility of the State which also exists forever. State exists with the mankind. I do not agree that the more the society develops the fewer roles the state should have. As life has its many faces, one is the State when it is a normal one and the other is when it sinks deeply in crisis. Under the normal developments, the State may have fewer roles but under crisis it has more roles. For example, in the USA we saw that under administration of President Bill Clinton, the state is a normal one. All basic rights of people were respected and fully guaranteed. However, under President Bush’s administration, and after September 11 the society was in crisis and the American government had to change its policies toward some granted rights of the civil society. Private telephone calls were tapped for the sake of national security. So, measures were made to cope with situations for security reasons not to deprive the civil society of some of its rights. So there are no rules of law that the more developed the fewer roles the State may have. In other words, the scope and scale of the State’s activities and its responsibilities develop along with the requirements of the life. There are no contradictions in saying that the roles of the State should follow and meet with the requirements of the society. State is a political system which is changed according to developments.

According to results of a survey, at present in the developed countries, the states have to settle or manage 350-450 issues. Some countries like China have about 1200 issues to tackle, Vietnam 6000-6,500. This can be said that there would be less work to do in the developed countries than in the under-developed ones. It is not really so as the more developed the countries are the more important issues they have to tackle. The studying of the roles of the states is that of the developments of the society not that of the developments of the states. The developments of state are those guiding the developments of the society not changing it.  I think that in the more developed countries, the State has bigger roles as it is no longer a simple machine for the simple work and it is the core for social developments. This is also the target for all states.

To aim for this target, first and most important is to create precedence for it. That is to bring the society out of its backwardness. The state is not to be blamed for the backwardness of the society as the society gives birth to the state. In the backward societies, people have no argumentation or opposition ability to express their dissatisfaction. This makes them politically inactive and is the cause of low developments. There are two reasons for the society not taking part in politics: one is its inability and the other is having no rights. In case if not because of the latter reason, the society without taking an active part in politics should be seen as that of a very low political development. So it is important for a society to overcome its backwardness.

In the studying of freedoms, I think the Eastern societies are less developed than the Western ones because the former are not as free as the latter. The Chinese civilization existed long before the Western one but it took the Chinese longer time to get rid of backwardness as they were not as free as the westerners. In China, there have been only two great poets with their well known poems “about the Moon”: Li Bai and Du Fu. The rest, about 1.3 bil. People have had no feelings for “the Moon” as they have to work very hard to meet both ends of their life. In the film “Fight for life” by Zhang Yimou, the doctor, a victim of the Cultural Revolution died for eating 7 loads of bread given by the man whose daughter had been cured by him. So while people are not free from want and care, they do not think of the “Beautiful Moon”. So freedoms should be given to life and people should fully appreciate these freedoms. And all the leaders in the world should also realize that freedoms are the roots of life, of all mankind’s values, of all developments. Without them, there would be no solutions, no wisdom whatsoever to bring a country out of backwardness and low developments.       


BWW Society member Mr. Nguyen Tran Bat graduated from Hanoi Construction University in 1972 with a degree in Construction Engineering; in 1995 he earned his LL.B. degree from Law Faculty of Hanoi University.


From 1963 until 1975, Mr. Bat served in the army as soldier and Construction Engineer. After 1975 he held positions at the Institute for Transport Science Research, the State Committee for Capital Construction, the National Office on Inventions under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, and from 1987-89 he served as Deputy Director of the Bureau for Promotion and Development of Industrial Properties Activities.


Presently Mr. Bat is Chairman and General Director of the Investconsult Investment Consultancy and Technology Transfer Company, under the National Center for Scientific Research; he previously held the position of General Director. As Chairman of Investconsult, the firm is now one of Vietnam's leading private consulting groups, specializing in law and IP. The firm has four offices in Vietnam, totaling a full time staff of 220 providing consulting services to foreign businesses and investors, ranging from policy advice, legal advice, project advice and post-license services to public relations and intellectual properties services. Mr. Bat has recently established the first private research institute in Vietnam, the Investconsult Development Research Institute, which covers three levels of research: business and services development, Vietnam development, and global development issues. Mr. Bat is also the founder of Vietnam's first consulting service corporation, which since 1987 has assisted more than one-thousand foreign businesses and corporations with their investments in Vietnam; his client list includes numerous Fortune 500 corporations. The consulting group has also been commissioned by WB, IFC, ADB, UNDP, NGOs and foreign embassies to implement donor-funded projects in a wide range of assistance and developmental programs. Additionally, since 1986 Mr. Bat has been involved in the design and construction of major bridges and roads in Vietnam.


Mr. Bat is a member of the Executive Board of the Club for Enterprises with Foreign Investment Capital and is a member of the Australian Economic Development Committee, the Board of Directors of Beta Mekong Fund Ltd., the Vietnam Engineering Consultants Association, and the Nam Dinh Bar Association; he is the Director of International Affairs of Hanoi Lawyers' Association and Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Industrial Property Association. Mr. Bat is a well-known speaker at many important forums and seminars concerning Vietnamese development issues at home and abroad. In his free time, he enjoys studying foreign cultures, religion, philosophy, reading and economics.  Mr. Nguyen Tran Bat was a Featured Speaker at the 2003 International Congress of the BWW Society/IAPGS in Malaga, Spain.


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