Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Power, Confidence, and Authority


Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790):


You would not cure the evil by resolving that there should be no more monarchs, nor ministers of state, nor of the gospel; no interpreters of law; no general officers; no public councils. You might change the names. The things in some shape must remain. A certain quantum of power must always exist in the community in some hands and under some appellation. (emphasis added)



Federalist No. 26 (Hamilton) (1787):


The idea of restraining the legislative authority, in the means of providing for the national defence, is one of those refinements which owe their origin to a zeal for liberty more ardent than enlightened. We have seen, however, that it has not had thus far an extensive prevalency; that even in this country, where it made its first appearance, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are the only two States by which it has been in any degree patronized; and that all the others have refused to give it the least countenance; wisely judging that confidence must be placed somewhere; that the necessity of doing it, is implied in the very act of delegating power; and that it is better to hazard the abuse of that confidence than to embarrass the government and endanger the public safety by impolitic restrictions on the legislative authority. (emphasis added)


They [who supported the Glorious Revolution] were aware that a certain number of troops for guards and garrisons were indispensable; that no precise bounds could be set to the national exigencies; that a power equal to every possible contingency must exist somewhere in the government: and that when they referred the exercise of that power to the judgment of the legislature, they had arrived at the ultimate point of precaution which was reconcilable with the safety of the community. (emphasis added)


Huang Tsung-hsi, Waiting for Dawn: A Plan for the Prince (1663):


Final authority always rests with someone, and the palace menials, seeing the executive functions of the prime minister fall to the ground, undischarged by anyone, have seized the opportunity to establish numerous regulations, [and] extend the scope of their control . . . . (emphasis added)

Seth Barrett Tillman, Power, Confidence, and Authority, New Reform Club (Feb. 17, 2024, 6:59 PM), <>;

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Understanding Head-of-Government Succession


Chapter 80: Romance of the Three Kingdoms


Xu Jing spoke, “The late Emperor of the Hans has been slain by Cao Pi. You, O Prince, will fail both in loyalty and rectitude if you do not assume the succession and destroy the wrong-doers. The whole empire requests you to rule that you may avenge the death of the late Emperor, and the people will be disappointed if you do not accede to their wishes.”

The Prince replied, “Although I am descended from the grandson of Emperor Jing, I have not been of the least advantage. If I assumed the title of ‘Emperor’, how would that act differ from usurpation?”

Zhuge Liang pleaded with him again and again, but the Prince remained obdurate. Then Zhuge Liang bethought that where argument failed a ruse might succeed. So having arranged the parts his several colleagues were to play, he pleaded illness and remained at home. Presently it was told the Prince that his adviser’s condition was becoming serious, wherefore Liu Bei went to see him as he lay on his couch.

“What illness affects you, my Commander-in-Chief?” asked Liu Bei.

“My heart is sad like unto burning, and I shall soon die.”

“What is it that causes you such grief?”

But Zhuge Liang did not reply. And when the question was repeated again and again he said nothing, but just lay with his eyes closed as if he was too ill to speak.

The Prince, however, pressed him to reply, and then with a deep sigh Zhuge Liang said, “Great Prince, from the day I left my humble cottage to follow you, you have always listened to my words and accepted my advice, and now this western domain, the whole of the two River Lands is yours just as I said it would be. But this usurpation of Cao Pi means the annihilation of the Hans and the cessation of their sacrifices, wherefore my colleagues and I desired you to become Emperor in order to crush this upstart Wei and restore the Hans. We all worked for this end, never thinking that you would refuse so obstinately to accede to our wishes. Now the officers are all annoyed, and they will drift away before very long. If you are left alone and Wu and Wei come to attack, it will be difficult for you to hold on to what you have. Do you not think this sufficient reason for me to feel grieved?” 

“Unless I refused, the whole world would blame me. I am afraid,” replied the Prince. 

Quoting Confucius the Teacher, Zhuge Liang replied, “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.’ In other words, if one be not really straight, people will not speak of one favorably. O Prince, you are straight, and people speak of you favorably. What more is there to say? You know when Heaven offers and you refuse, you are certainly to blame.”

“When you have recovered, it shall be done,” said the Prince.

Up leapt Zhuge Liang from his bed . . . .

Seth Barrett Tillman, Understanding Head-of-Government Succession,’ New Reform Club (Feb. 6, 2024, 6:12 AM), <>; 



Sunday, February 04, 2024

Chapter 17: Romance of the Three Kingdoms


Romance of the Three Kingdoms


Chapter 17


The army marched away. In the course of the march they passed through a wheat region, and the grain was ready for harvesting but the peasants had fled for fear, and the corn was uncut. Cao Cao sent proclamations to all villages and towns:

“I am sent on the expedition by command of the Emperor to capture a rebel and save the people. I cannot avoid moving in the harvest season; but if anyone trample down the corn, he shall be put to death. Military law is strict without exception, and the people need fear no damage.”

The people were very pleased and lined the road, wishing success to the expedition. When the soldiers passed wheat fields, they dismounted and pushed aside the stalks so that none were trampled down.

One day, when Cao Cao was riding through the fields, a dove suddenly got up, startling the horse so that it swerved into the standing grain, and a large patch was trampled down. Cao Cao at once called the Provost Marshal and bade him decree the sentence for the crime of trampling down corn.

“How can I deal with your crime?” asked the Provost Marshal.

“I made the rule, and I have broken it. Can I otherwise satisfy public opinion?”

Cao Cao laid hold of the sword by his side and made to take his own life. All hastened to prevent him.

Guo Jia said, “In ancient days, the days of the Spring and Autumn Annals, the laws were not applied to those of the most important. You are the supreme leader of a mighty army and must not wound yourself.”

Cao Cao pondered for a long time. At last he said, “Since there exists the reason just quoted, I may perhaps escape the death penalty.”

Then with his sword he cut off his hair and threw it on the ground, saying, “I cut off the hair as touching the head.”

Then he sent messengers to exhibit the hair throughout the whole army, saying, “The Prime Minister, having trodden down some corn, ought to have lost his head by the terms of the order; now here is his hair cut off as an attack on the head.”

This deed was a stimulus to discipline all through the army so that not a person dared be disobedient.

from: Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor, trans., 1925) (first printed version circa 1522). 

Seth Barrett Tillman, Chapter 17: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, New Reform Club (Feb. 4, 2024, 9:07 AM), <>;