09 May, 2006

Dong Zhuo and a rule of virtue

In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel, the tyrant Dong Zhuo takes power after the death of the controlling eunuchs and Emperor Ling. He announces that he rules according to the wise principles of governance, that he rules with virtue, that he appoints men of worth, etc. Of course this is all jingoistic crap, he appoints his relatives and friends to office, he rules cruelly, for temporary personal benefit and quickly receives the hate of the people, the officials and the warlords. After his rule is challenged, he shows further virtue by torching the capital at Luoyang and flees to Chang'an where he is quickly deposed from within. An unsurprising end, since those who rule poorly are prone to a misfortunate end. What is more interesting is the need to characterise one's rule as virtuous(not that this is any less uncommon). That a ruler would praise himself on appointing men based on worth, while openly giving positions to relatives and friends, or that one would praise himself as another Yao or Shun, while engaging in wanton cruelty and disregard for government and hoarding wealth is a rather interesting phenomenon. At first of course, it provides some cover, but after a ruler has near absolute power, is there any reason to rely on worth knowing that the people don't buy it and knowing that the ruler doesn't give a shit? Still it goes on... Totalitarian regimes rename themselves as a "democratic republic," imperialists blather on and on about "liberation," theocrats yell "religious freedom" as loud as possible, knowing that they only mean religious freedom for themselves. What would happen if Saudi Arabia announced tomorrow that their state was a repressive theocracy? What would happen if the Bush regime announced tomorrow that it doesn't give a shit about "liberating" Iraq? What would have happened had Dong Zhuo announced that he was a tyrannical, nepotistic, hedonistic bastard who doesn't give a fuck about the stability of the state? Realistically, apart from some talk of outrage, nothing would happen, and no one would be shocked by these "revelations"(though they'd be shocked at the honesty); Saudi Arabia would still do what it does because the international community wants its oil and money, no one would challenge Bush anymore than now, and Dong Zhuo would still have the military and bureaucratic power that would keep him happy. So why these futile declarations? Perhaps because no person or state wants to think of themselves as acting or being without virtue? Perhaps its just ego. Though if anyone proposes that the U.S.A be renamed to the Liberating Democratic Republic of Religious Freedom, its time to panic.

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