A weekend reflection on power

hhc-campaigns for rej:acc
In any national debate there are two sides actively campaigning to convince the uncommitted: there are the Pros and the Antis. The purpose of a debate is to put the issue on the table and present the sides for and against the issue. The public in the end is the audience and the one called upon to decide which side wins.

As people ponder the possibility that they will be asked, eventually, to vote “Yes” or “No” to amendments to the Constitution, the motives of opponents and proponents of the campaign are being briskly debated, too. Often lost in the debate as many commenters point out in this blog, is the point of view of the public itself, as differentiated, if possible, from those who have already embarked on their pro or anti advocacy.

Either advocacy has at its heart a particular vision of where the country is and where it ought to be; and of leadership in general and the things that are meritorious or objectionable in our leaders on either side of the fence.We are called upon to clarify, I think, our individual conceptions of three things:
(1.) What kind of nation do we want, and this means, what are the things that require improvement and the things that are already positive about our country? To achieve the former, will it endanger or diminish the latter?
(2.) What are our views considering leadership in its positive and negative aspects, and what are the characteristics that make for positive or negative leadership? And where do we fit in, as followers or supporters of such leaders, or as the constituents to whom all leaders must appeal for political support?
(3.) If there are times that call for great national divisions, how will those divisions manifest themselves in our communities? How do we ensure that we play a positive and not negative role in the great national division -that is, if you even wish to be counted- and just as importantly, how do we ensure the division is not so destructive that it will permanently endanger our communities or so fundamentally alter them, as to endanger whatever positive aspects either side may currently have? This includes whether a national division would be better off postponed to a more auspicious time.

Concerning (1.), let me put forward this parable from The Analects of Confucious:

Tzú Chang asked Confucius, saying: What are the essentials of good government? -The Master said: Esteem the five excellent, and banish the four evil things; then you will become fit to govern.

The Master replied: The wise and good ruler is benevolent without expending treasure; he lays burdens on the people without causing them to grumble; he has desires without being covetous; he is serene without being proud; he is awe-inspiring without being ferocious.

Tzú Chang then asked: What are the four evil things? -The Master said: Cruelty: -leaving the people in their native ignorance, yet punishing their wrong-doing with death. Oppression: requiring the immediate completion of tasks imposed without previous warning. Ruthlessness: -giving vague orders, and then insisting on punctual fulfillment. Peddling husbandry: -stinginess in conferring the proper rewards on deserving men.

Concerning (2.) There are, too, these (famous) passages from Machiavelli’s The Prince.

The first, concerning the aspirations and optimum conditions to sustain of and for one in power:

[Is] it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved… Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely …when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. [The] prince …relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon…

(Note this line: “as long as you succeed, they are yours entirely.” Marcos rephrased it on September 25, 1972 in his diary: “There is nothing as successful as success!” There is a very human propensity to always side with the perceived winner, and to turn victory into its own peculiar and superior kind of virtue)

The second, by what means and through whose support, power is retained and sustained:

[W]here a leading citizen becomes the prince of his country, not by wickedness or any intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow citizens - this may be called a civil principality: nor is genius or fortune altogether necessary to attain to it, but rather a happy shrewdness. I say then that such a principality is obtained either by the favour of the people or by the favour of the nobles. Because in all cities these two distinct parties are found, and from this it arises that the people do not wish to be ruled nor oppressed by the nobles, and the nobles wish to rule and oppress the people; and from these two opposite desires there arises in cities one of three results, either a principality, self-government, or anarchy.

(let me put forward something Bobi Tiglao first put forward as a critique of the Communist Party’s surround the cities from the countryside Maoist model back in the 1980s: which was, that the Philippines was already well on its way, then, to being an urban society, and increasingly is headed there, if not actually there, now; that the political temperament and culture, then, of the national capital will increasingly be reflected in the political cultures of the other great urban cities of the country, except where they are old enough to retain a distinct, provincial culture of their own).

And the third, the public and private characteristics of a leader:

A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about…

But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler…

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them… to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite…

Regarding (3.), this extract from Garry Wills’ Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders:

So far I have been discusssing just two things–leaders and followers. That is better at least, than treatments dealing with only one thing–leaders. But the discussion cannot get far without a third thing–the goal. This is not something added on to the other two. It is the reason for the other two’s existence. It is also the equalizer between leader and followers. The followers do not submit to the person of the leader. They join him or her in pursuit of the goal.

It is time for a definition: the leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leader and followers. In that brief definition, all these elements are present, and indispensable… Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership… The goal must be shared, no matter how many other motives are present that are not shared.

To amplify Wills’ point, let me put forward two quotes I’ve previously mentioned (I’ve ried to put these quotes in the proper context in The soundbite that haunts us). The first quote comes by way of Teodoro M. Kalaw in his autobiography, Aide-de-Camp to Freedom:

The problem with you is that you take the game of politics too seriously. You look to far behind you and too far ahead of you. Our people do not understand that. They do not want it. All they want is to have the present problem solved, and solved with the least pain. That is all.

This a point of practical politics, in which the satisfaction of putting forward and discussing theory and policy must be tempered by asking whether this is relevant to, or a real concern of, the constituencies the theories and policies are supposed to serve.

The second, from this entry dated December, 23 1938 in the Diary of Francis Burton Harrison:

The people care more for good government than they do for self-government…the fear is that the Head of State may either exceed his powers, or abuse them by improprieties. To keep order is his main purpose.

Which in a sense brings us to back to (1.) for there is the possibility that the electorate, the public, is being called to undertake a role for which it is temperamentally disinclined because culturally alien. Which means then that success may be within the grasp of whichever side is able to appeal to other instincts and cravings of the electorate -such as keeping order.

On a final note, while not yet complete, you may wish to review the Diary of Ferdinand E. Marcos (in particular, go to the entries from 1971 to 1973) for a glimpse into how leaders marshal their resources as they try to secure a political objective, while rolling with the punches day to day.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

6 thoughts on “A weekend reflection on power

  1. Another good gem on acquiring power: “Never outshine the master.”

    Vice President Noli De Castro seems to following this quite well and maybe, former Senate President Manny Villar missed out on this one.

  2. Phil Manila,

    “Another good gem on acquiring power: “Never outshine the master.” ”

    too bad for the ‘united opposition’ where:

    everyone’s a master, and
    everyone wants to outshine the master!

  3. The entry by Burton Harrison obviously refers to Americans, and the words apply muich less for Filipinos:
    The people care more for good government than they do for self-government… and the people fearful of the Head of State exceed his powers or abusing them

    Kalaw’s words better portray Filipinos and capture the tinge of dependency pervasive in the culture:
    All they want is to have the present problem solved, and solved with the least pain. That is all.

  4. Side-topic: The United States via Ambassador Kenney is trying to revive the big topic of peace in Mindanao and the ancillary-topic of Constitutional Change. The meddling Ambassador (as well as the meddling European Union) again requested:

    Kenney to gov’t, MILF: Return to talks

    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    First Posted 01:22:00 11/23/2008

    DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Shariff Kabunsuan, Philippines—US Ambassador Kristie Kenney has called on the Philippine government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to silence their guns and return to the negotiating table to stem the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Mindanao.

    “I ask both parties to find their way to declaring a cease-fire so that people can return home… communities can again be reunited and life can go on peacefully,” said Kenney during a visit to an overcrowded evacuation center here on Friday.

    Earlier, the European Union, through its ambassador Alistair McDonald, and various international organizations also made similar calls for peace.

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