How to Worship Your Government

by | Oct 27, 2019 | Newsletter | 36 comments

“The President of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven.”

Thus spake Pat Robertson during the recent brouhaha over Syria, where the unthinkable notion that the US might actually pull out of a war zone instead of sending more troops in began to materialize last week.

Now, you might be tempted to dismiss this as just another raving of Pat “God blessed the Gulf War” Robertson, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But still, that’s quite the phrase: The “mandate of heaven.” What does it mean?

Well, it turns out he didn’t just make that up himself.

The “Mandate of Heaven” is an argument for the legitimacy of government that arose in ancient China. Called “天命” (Tianming) in Chinese, the concept rests on four basic principles:

  • Heaven grants the emperor the right to rule;
  • As there is only one Heaven, so there can be only one emperor at a time;
  • The emperor’s right to rule is dependent upon his virtue; and
  • The right to rule is not granted to any particular family line in perpetuity.

Now you might wonder what China’s “mandate of heaven” has to do with America’s presidential system, so let me assure you that they’re closely connected. In fact, the tie-in is so obvious that we never think to mention it except in times of extreme crisis. It takes the form of a question: Where the legitimacy of the government—and our would-be “rulers”—come from in the first place, if not straight from heaven?

Why does this or that person have the right to pass this or that law? What process imparts power to this or that lawmaker? How do governments themselves come about, and what gives them the “right” to rule over a given patch of ground (and, almost as an afterthought, over the serfs living on that patch of ground)? Why does the state exist at all?

If you’re concerned about whether or not you’re properly tithing to the god known as government, you won’t want to miss this edition of The Corbett Report Subscriber. And stick around for this week’s recommended reading, viewing and listening.

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