Philosophy of Power

Listening to the Wind, by Ma Lin

~ Listening to the Wind by Ma Lin

1.  On the origins of power

The art and knowledge of power affects all, but is known to few. Lao Tzu said, “Those who speak do not know. Those who know do not speak. Sincere words are not fine; fine words are not sincere. The master of one is not a jack of all; the jack of all is master of none.”

Power stems from the people and yet power is the authority and control over people. This is the paradox of power. A Spartan king once said, “The man who wants to rule many men must fight many.” The throne on high is distant and paved with daggers. A good leader is one with his people, and yet, alone.

2. On governing large numbers.

To govern many seems more difficult than to govern a few. Yet the principles of good governance remain one and the same. Sun Tzu said, “The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.” The secret to govern many is in the delegation of authority to those that are worthy of power and responsibility.

Good governance involves the delegation of power. There is a limit to what one can accomplish alone. Once power is delegated, a good leader sets the general course of things and ceases to interfere in the details. Lao Tzu said, “Governing a great state is like steaming a small fish.” Know the details but do not interfere, do not over-govern lest you bring harm to yourself.

3. On the foundations of good governance.

The Great Learning states, ‘Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.’

The individual is the foundation of a society. To neglect the individual is to neglect the roots of the society. When one neglects the roots the whole society will decay. The art of governing lies in delegating the right amount of authority to the right people. Those who are worthy must be given authority in proportion to their abilities. Therefore, good governance consists of the proper education and training of its citizens.

The Great Learning states, ‘Things being investigated, knowledge become complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families regulated. Their families being regulated, their States were rightly governed. Their States being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.’

Let the pursuit of knowledge be a virtue among your people. Educate and train them in the arts and sciences. Teach them to channel their thoughts and energy towards the possible and practical. Remember that good governance of the state comes from good governance of its individual citizens.

4. On the responsibilities of a good leader.

In a society, everyone must do his duty. Confucius said, “Let the ruler be ruler, the minister be minister, the father father, and the son son.” Just as the leader governs many, so his duty extends to many. A good leader is never corrupted by power and he never forgets his obligations to his people.

A good leader is one that does service to his state while doing his duty to himself. Lao Tzu said, “One who values himself as much as he values the world may be entrusted with the stewardship of the world. One who loves himself as much as he loves the world may govern the world.” Hence, a good leader never neglects his education and training. Likewise, he will not neglect the education and training of his people.

In general, people hate death and take pleasure in life. A good leader does not deliver death to his people easily. He weighs the choices available to him with proper consideration for he knows an error in his judgment will bring widespread suffering. Tai Kung said, “Spare people from death, eliminate hardships, relief misfortunes, and sustain the people.”

5. On the virtues of a good leader

A Chinese proverb state, “When the king makes a mistake, all the people suffer.” A good leader is an imperative for the good of those who are governed. It takes one bad leader to destroy the good works of ten generations. Hence, the selection of a leader is of utmost importance to the state.

A good leader sees beneath the surface of things. Just as he uses his pair of eyes to look at the actions of others and form judgments; he also remembers that many pairs of eyes are watching his behaviour. Therefore, the good leader leads by example. He cultivates a sense of shame for wrongdoing among his people. Therefore, a good leader does not stand in the shade when his people are in the sun. He does not drink and eat before his people are allowed to drink and eat.

A good leader governs by this principle, ‘What does not benefit the bee does not benefit the hive.’ Tai Kung said, “A great leader reduces his desires and constrains his will. He allots to himself little so that the taxes and services required of his people are few.” The good leader treats his people as an extension of his own family.

Lao Tzu said, “In dwelling aim for stability, in thinking aim to be profound, in speaking aim to be polite, in governing aim to be just, in accomplishing aim to be capable, in undertakings aim to be timely.” By these principles, a leader achieves good governance.

6. On foster meritocracy

Justice is easy to pronounce but difficult to define. Good governance comes from recognizing the worthy, and elevating the worthy. By entrusting authority and control to the worthy, one ensures that capable people from afar will come to your state and you retain those who can serve the people. Justice in governance comes from giving people what they deserve based on their merit.

Confucius said, “Do not be concern when others do not acknowledge your merit; rather be concern when you do not acknowledge the merit of others.” The recognition of the worthy is hard for the untrained eye. Tai Kung said, “In selecting men, evaluate their abilities, ensure that the reality of their talents match the authority granted to them.

Raise the worthy and employ the talented. Tai Kung said, “Elevate the worthy, and place the unworthy in inferior positions. Choose the sincere and trustworthy, eliminate the deceptive and artful. Prohibit violence and turbulence, stop extravagance and ease.” By doing the above, you will ensure good governance.

Tai Kung said, “Anyone who shares profit with all the people under Heaven will gain the world. Anyone who monopolizes its profits will lose the world.” A good leader fosters meritocracy. He promotes the worthy and shares his authority with them. When all the leaders in the state are worthy, good governance will surely follow.

7. On rewards and punishments

To foster a meritocracy, a good leader must employ rewards and punishments fairly without discrimination. Tai Kung said, “Rewards are the means to preserve the encouragement of the good, punishments the means to display the rectification of evil.” Great harm can be done by encouraging bad behaviour and punishing good governance.

To achieve the above, ensure that the laws of the state are clear. Rewards and punishments for each action must be set forth and enforced. To let an evildoer escape punishment is to encourage many to do evil. To fail to reward good governance is to punish good behaviour and encourage slack and sloth.

Beware when you carry out rewards and punishments. Tai Kung said, “Rewards and punishments should be implemented as if being imposed upon yourself. Taxes should be imposed as if taking from yourself.” A leader that cannot lead by example is harmful to the state.

8. On governing a state

A good leader is a bringing of order and not an agent of chaos. He recognizes that chaos among the populace stems from inability to live life peacefully. Confucius said, “To rule a country, there must be reverent attention to business, and sincerity; economy in expenditure, and love of men; and the employment of the people at the proper seasons.”

Of the prerequisites of a strong and prosperous state are three treasures. These three treasures of a state are agriculture, industry, and commerce. Confucius said, “The requisites of government are that there be sufficiency of food, sufficiency of military equipment, and the confidence of the people in their ruler.” A good leader enriches the people first before educating them.

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