William Marina: Bush Has Lost the Mandate of Heaven

Roundup: Historians' Take

William Marina, at the website of the Independent Institute (Oct. 3, 200):

[William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University.]

Since at least the epic of Job described in the Bible, humans have tried to understand why their God has inflicted cruelties upon believers. Many years ago, I recall my daughter of almost four, after we had been in an auto accident which injured my year-and-a-half-old son, asking my mother what had he done wrong to deserve such punishment from God?

Empires, such as that here in America, exalted by the neoconservative faithful such as William Kristol, are especially in need of rationalizations to explain the awful things happening abroad such as global “terrorism,” as well as the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add to that the most unusual hurricane season in decades, where such entities as “Ivan” don’t easily die, but are reborn and circle back, and some may ask what has America’s fundamentalist leadership under George W. Bush done to make God so angry at this nation?

The Chinese Empire, even as its elite outgrew primitive religion millennia earlier, was still faced with answering this same question. Since they had no intention of doing away with the institutions of empire, their only answer was to regularly replace specific emperors. Thus was developed the concept of the “Mandate of Heaven,” which linked nicely with the dominant neo-Confucianism of the Empire.

The Chinese believed that good things happened to the people and their Empire when the leaders lived lives of “truth” and “virtue.” When they did not, they had lost the “Mandate of Heaven” and needed to be replaced. Whether or not George W. Bush ever had such a “Mandate of Heaven,” even if he believes that he has—perhaps it was “bestowed” upon him by the Supreme Court certifying his election in 2000—he certainly seems to have lost it since then.

Now blathering on by Bush in speeches about virtue, or writing about it by the sanctimonious, compulsive gambler, William Bennett, or praying about it (or is it preying?) as do other U.S. leaders, is not a substitute for virtuous behavior.

These Chinese ideas, having filtered back to Europe in the 18th century Enlightenment, played a role in the discussions by American leaders in the founding of the republic. Thomas Jefferson was especially taken with them, talking about a “natural aristocracy of talent and virtue,” and an educational system of government schools which as the sinologist H.G. Creel noted, was clearly borrowed from China.

As the great economist Lord Bauer once mentioned to me, Alexis de Tocqueville, that insightful observer of America, when he saw these developments in early 19th century France, called it, “le system chinois (the Chinese system),” and the Japanese, in the late 19th century, searching for Western models, adopted the French educational system. What irony, Confucianism by way of France! Nations may “clash,” but civilizations tend to borrow from each other.

It was the usually dour John Adams, who in their correspondence, questioned Jefferson’s verbal constructs. He noted that there were all kinds of talents, not just the intellectual/academic ones favored by Jefferson, even a king’s mistress displayed certain talents, but most importantly, “how do you teach virtue?”

There is only one answer to Adams, as Confucius understood. Virtue is taught, or not taught, by the young emulating the behavior of their parents and elders, and by the people observing the actions of their leaders.

In this regard, has the U.S. reached new depths of degradation in pursuing an unprovoked war in Iraq and the declaration of perpetual war globally? Certainly, George Bush has lost the “Mandate” of most of the rest of the world, outside of a few client states and toadies; the President’s recent reception before the U.N. made that quite evident....

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