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.
This will 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 8 is 尊賢, zun xian, which can be interpreted as respect for excellence
Verse 26, Quote: 有不世之君，必能用不世之臣；用不世之臣，必能立不世之功。
English interpretation：A leader can’t act one or see one’s knowledge as superior to all, one needs to surround oneself with the best views, even if they are contrarians, in order to succeed.
Verse 38, Quote: 尊聖者王；貴賢者霸；敬賢者存；嫚賢者亡。古今一也。
English interpretation：Respect those who are already respected, and respect established wisdom in order to survive, ignore advice and make enemies and it will be your downfall.
The second is 納諫, na jian, which means understanding reason
Verse 39, Quote: 欲知平直，則必準繩；欲知方圓，則必規矩；人主欲自知，則必直士。
English interpretation：To measure straightness, use a rope, to measure roundness, use a standard ruler, for a leader to know his own performance, find an honest person
Verse 22, Quote: 仁君廣山藪之大，納切直之謀。
English interpretation ：A benevolent leader is large like a mountain, and in their greatness can accept sincere ideas a strategy.
Application：Having competent advisors and respecting their words is absolutely necessary if one is to survive in a political system. Creativity and good ideas do not belong to only one person, and it takes competence and wisdom not one to see things differently and approach problems from different angles, but to speak up in front of a leader and critique the status quo, as this is a dangerous but necessary task. Not having sufficient points of view, or trying too hard to buck the powers that be and make a radical shift, even if correct, when done too quickly will likely cause power struggles, hurting one’s ability to lead effectively.
The best example for all political incompetence is again Trump. A man who surrounds himself with political allies and so called friends who either use him and the office or worship him can get no good from his advisors. He needs honest opinions, needs to be told the best course of action and when he is wrong, and most importantly, he needs the humility to not only accept his mistakes, but to be able to change course when he is wrong and accept the best action possible for the good of the state instead of following his ego.
The third is 杜讒邪, du chan xie, which means preventing malevolent slander
Verse 49, Quote: 聞言未審，而以定善惡，則是非有錯，而飾辯巧言之流起矣。
English interpretation：One need not judge the good or bad of the truth, but must be aware of the sycophants and those who will say what the leader wants to hear instead of what the leader ought to hear.
Verse 25, Quote: 用賢人而行善政，如或譖之，則賢人退而善政還。
English interpretation：Slander or rumors against officials bent on good governance can destroy the very system, beware of wild words.
Application：Leaders must may more attention to others to the truth or lack thereof in the facts they use to guide their governance and the words they say. Credibility is fragile, and a reputation for not only dishonesty, but of spreading rumors, secrets, or slander can irreparably damage trust. American president Trump’s repeated accidental leaking of classified information is a perfect example of this, and how it has now damaged the ability of the US government to procure foreign intelligence because some agencies are now frightened that the leader might inadvertently release information, name sources, and jeopardize intelligence operations. A leader too must focus instead only on the truth, and the truth that needs to be heard, in order to preserve order and the good name of the state.
The third is 法律, fa lu, which means law
Verse 271 Quote: 人之性有仁義之資，非聖王為之法度，不可使向方也。因其所惡以禁姦，故刑罰不用，威行如神矣。因其性，即天下聽從；咈其性，即法度張而不用。
English interpretation：Even though humans are by their nature good and cooperative, they have no natural tendency to create order, nor follow it. To create this order, a system with consequences must be put into place to constrain this behavior, though it need not be cruel, it needs to be credible and universal, like it were instituted by the heavens. Because it is opposed to human nature and desire, law can be difficult to institute, imperfect, and can be painful to enforce, but this is the nature of law.
Application：In global politics, some of the hottest issues of late are abortion, extreme forms of punishment, and the rights of animals to life. The abortion bill passed in the US, capital and corporal punishment cases in Indonesia for crimes other than murder, and a spate of cases in the US and UK recently where healthy animals were euthanized so that they could be interred in their owners’ graves have opened up questions about the role of law in sanctifying life in different circumstances. These are not easy questions to answer, but there are certainly inconsistencies in both the left and right’s viewpoints. How can an unborn fetus’ life be precious, but a repentant criminals life be a burden to be ended by the state? How can one say animals have a right to be free from harm, yet say that the suffering of death is a punishment that can be capriciously inflicted on any animal as if those rights were never absolute.
Rights must be universal and consistent to be legitimate. There are different conceptions about the value of different animals lives, human lives, lives of the unborn, but the values must be reconciled, lest the entire order and value of human life itself collapse. If all lives are precious and god given, as the religiously conservative half of the world population believes, then they must justify their convictions in their support of contradictory policies. Lethal injection has cruelly masked the horror and finality of death, murder an irreversible and the darkest of acts. Punishment and legal systems sometimes require harshness, but need not be abhorrent. When religious justification is used on one hand for some punishments in obeyance of some medieval line of scripture, then those who call for those punishments neglect other rules out of convenience, they themselves display hypocrisy. The old testament may have called for the death penalty for murder in ancient Israel, but they also called for adulterers to be stoned to death as well, and that includes the very president of the United States.
When the law becomes a tool to express one’s beliefs instead of a tool for justice, it is corrupted, and the entire nature of our order, what keeps up from following our most basal instincts, too, threatens to be extinguished. Chaos is not far. This should be remembered.
Staff writer: Ari B