Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The blog's motto

After yesterday's exegesis on the DPJ's manifesto (parts one and two), I am taking today off from serious blogging.

But I do want to call your attention to the blog's "new" motto, which is not altogether new. I have heard the occasional question about the Latin phrase in the banner — which I had originally put there without giving much thought to how it would appear to readers — and so I have decided to replace the Latin with an English translation.

The quote is from seventeenth century Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna, who, when his son was heading to Westphalia to represent Sweden in peace negotiations in 1648, sought to calm his son's nerves with the advice, "Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" I have been struck by this quote since I first encountered it, and I found it appropriate for an ongoing discussion of Japanese politics, which every day seems to provide more evidence in support of Oxenstierna. Indeed, Aso Taro seems to reaffirm the value of this motto with each passing day.

Oxenstierna's warning provides a useful reminder to all of us that national leaders are not nearly as in control of events as often appears, that far from being omnipotent and omniscient, our leaders — especially our democratic leaders — are just trying to keep their heads above water.

7 comments:

Martin J Frid said...

Excellent advice. Just excellent. Another reason why I do keep coming beck to this blog.

snakenuts said...

I agree, very insightful and anecdotal! Cheers Big T!

matt at anarchyjapan.com said...

“That government is best which governs least.”

--Henry David Thoreau


"The [classical] liberal, of course, does not deny that there are some superior people -- he is not an egalitarian -- but he denies that anyone has authority to decide who these superior people are."

-- Fredrich August von Hayek

"Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.”

-- Karl Popper

Good government is surely an oxymoron.

Armchair Asia said...

Young man,

I believe you do miss the point of the author's irony in saying "my son."

Wolf said...

Ah, how I dig old Axel.

former DPJ member said...

Foolish as Japanese pols are, they don't govern the world, and as you point out often, voters don't want them to. Surely the world is governed by wiser people, like those who ended Iraq's civil war, and those who turned an impoverished autarky into a G2 superpower within three decades. Did you mean to contrast "democratic leaders ... just trying to keep their heads above water," with China, which appears to be certain about its leadership through 2023?

Tobias Harris said...

I wasn't consciously making a comparison to the CCP, but I suppose the argument can be made. Even so, I find that political leaders are more often than not victims of circumstance — even the CCP, despite perhaps having a long-term plan for China, is effectively trying to stick to that plan despite being battered about by events outside their control.

In any case, I certainly can't disagree with the idea that wisdom is not completely absent, but there is rather little of it in most places. Meanwhile, I don't think the opposite of wisdom is necessarily stupidity. Rather too often wisdom and prudence are replaced by greed, cravenness, mindless passion, and so forth. The well-intentioned — so convinced of the rightness of their cause — may be particularly susceptible to having their wisdom give way to less noble qualities.