In this short series, lessons will be gathered from classical works on politics, and the parallels between ancient and medieval political texts and their modern contexts will be analyzed. The text is thousands of years old, and the meanings are not always clear, but the closest relevant meaning in English will be gleaned for application.

The second will also focus on the text, 群書治要, a collection of political wisdom compiled by political advisors in China for the emperors. A handful of quotes will be selected.

The first chapter of Part 2 is 鑒戒, jian jie, which means warnings from the past, learning from history

Verse 320, Quote: 古人有言曰:「人無于水鑒,當于民鑒。」【古賢聖有言,人無於水鑒,當於民鑒也。視水見己形,視民行事見吉凶。 】今惟殷墜命,我其可弗大鑑?【今惟殷紂無道,墜失天命,我其可不大視為戒也。】

English interpretation:One must not only use a mirror to analyze one self, the values and usefulness of a person are also measured by their contributions, standing and place in society. Thus, we can also learn from others’ success and their mistakes. If, for instance, one man falls, it is inherent on everyone to try to understand why and learn so that they do not repeat his mistakes, otherwise they bear their own responsibility.

Application:There is no question as to the value of history. And in politics, lessons should always be remembered, not only of war, but of the fall of states, usually through a degradation of the values that make them whole. In recent times, there seems to be a romanticization of the power of reactionary politics, strong governments being decisive, to the point that authoritarianism is sometimes glossed over when the ends justify the means. This is treason to the very values that make democracy so great. There is a distinction between the statements Therefore, the United States, Taiwan, and all democracies should remind themselves of the value of democracy.

The second is 邪正, xie zheng, which means irregular governance 

Quote: 口能言之, 身能行之, 國寶也; 口不能言, 身能行之, 國器也;口能言之,身不能行,國用也;口言善,身行惡, 國妖也。治國者敬其寶, 愛其器, 任其用, 除其妖。

English interpretation:A leader responsible in words an actions is a worthy one; those leaders who can act responsibly without words make good administrators, those leaders who can speak responsibly but can not be trusted in action can serve as good advisors, but those leaders who use sweet words to cover ulterior motives are evil. A ruler must me able to discern the differences between their advisors, to keep those those to can act well acting, to keep those who are knowledgeable advising, and to weed out those who would seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the state from rising.

Application:In modern Donald Trump’s America, the president’s utter inability to separate out the sycophants, grafters, liars, and incompetents has been utterly obvious. The failure of his administration to accomplish even the most basic of his aims without illegally overriding congress has been a consequence of his naivete and shocking lack of people skills. He is lied to and deceived by foreign leaders and his advisors alike, who routinely disobey his orders to prevent his mercurial nature from triggering war. He is mistrusted by his closest allies, who see him as childlike and easily manipulated to the point that no agreement with him is sacred, he will simply be swayed by the last person who spoke to them. Woodward’s 2018 book, and the recent revelations about Mattis lay testament to this. To be a great leader, a president firstly needs to be a good judge of character, and secondly, needs to promote talent, not “friends” who aim to use him for their personal benefit. The president is both socially challenged, with most of those involved in his circle of friends and family deeply involved in immoral and criminal acts (tabloid publishers, gangsters, fraudsters etc.), and deeply compromised. This is why his administration has failed at achieving its most basic aims: there is no coordination or will to accomplish. Everyone in the White House is out for themselves, and therefore, the administration does not rule, it simply reacts in what appears to be a desperate act of survival constantly teetering on the verge of an implosion.

The third  is 人情, ren qing, which in this context means human feelings

Quote: 聖王深識人情, 而達治體, 故其稱曰: 「不以一眚掩 大德。」又曰:「赦小過,舉賢才。」又曰:「無求備於一 人。」

English interpretation:Great leaders understand not only policy, but public opinion, the feelings of the people. They then say you can not let small mistakes destroy the momentum of larger positive change. Forgive small faults when they come from great people, this is a sign of virtue. Often in these decisions, the responsibility should not be born by one person anyways.

Application:This has major relevance to modern politics. All humans err, but there is such a wide line of acceptable transgressions, between countries, parties, and even people, that there is no clear answer about which incidents are small enough to be forgiven, and which are disqualifiers. Are Biden’s hugs and embraces more or less of a moral grievance than the crop of presidential candidates who have committed infidelity? Were the photographs taken by Al Franken more or less disturbing than Mark Sanfords misuse of public funds to visit his mistress in South America in contravention of marital vows? How much does party affiliation play in our role to dismiss some acts as inconsequential but call for the resignation of others? In a healthy democracy, these are debates that should be held publicly, and some consensus should dictate the outcomes, rather than a partisan polarization about the morality of each particular transgression. The same rules should apply to everyone.

What should also be noted is that this reminds us to take stock of how we vote, with one policy “mistake” potentially disqualifying a candidate. This is each voters individual choice, but we should also be aware of our own individual biases. Most voters have a small handful of issues that will affirm or end their support for a particular candidate. We should be frank with ourselves about what those are, and make efforts to push politicians on these issues, rather than being passive, and simply sitting out elections because a party’s candidate’s views collide with our own. This is the first step to transforming politics.

Staff writer: Ari B


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