LIX – “In ruling the people”

In ruling the people and in serving heaven it is best for a ruler to be sparing.

It is because he is sparing

That he may be said to follow the way from the start;

Following the way from the start he may be said to accumulate an abundance of virtue;

Accumulating an abundance of virtue there is nothing he cannot overcome;

When there is nothing he cannot overcome, no one knows his limit;

When no one knows his limit

He can possess a state;

When he possesses the mother of a state

He can then endure.

That is called the way of deep roots and firm stems by which one lives to see many days.


To be sparing means not to act at the limit. Furthermore, overcoming (the limit) is attained by acting sparingly, from within the limit. This is mysterious but it expresses the effortlessness of success. You can experience it in running, in the simple adage, “train don’t strain”. By continually training within your limit, your limit actually expands. By bursting at the seams, you become tired and injured.

From the perspective of others, acting sparingly, from well within your limit, leaves them to guess where that limit may be: there is a depth that can only be guessed at, like diving down into a lake to the point where it becomes dark and intimates limitlessness.





LVIII – “When the government is muddled”

When the government is muddled

The people are simple;

When the government is alert

The people are cunning.

It is on disaster that good fortune perches;

It is beneath good fortune that disaster crouches.

Who knows the limit? Does not the straightforward exist? The straightforward changes again into the crafty, and the good changes again into the monstrous. Indeed, it is long since the people were perplexed.

Therefore the sage is square-edged but does not scrape,

Has corners but does not jab,

Extends himself but not at the expense of others,

Shines but does not dazzle.


The text says many things. Firstly, the opposite of muddled is alert. And, governance is not simple.

Secondly, bad luck and good luck belong together: good luck rides on bad luck. Bad luck lurks beneath good luck.

Thirdly, the straightforward exists, even when it has turned into the crafty, like the good becoming monstrous, like bad luck rising from beneath good luck.

Fourthly, the sage is not round and soft – but he does not scrape and jab like a streetfighter. He will enlarge his space, his borders and boundaries; but not by violating others. His authority can be clearly seen but it is not blinding.

It is long since the people were perplexed.



On a hope

For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? (Rom. 8:24)

It is about a hope, not just hope. What is the hope it is about? Our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, the freedom of the glory of the kingdom of God.

It was formulated by Paul the Apostle in response to the destruction of the temple, the expulsion of the Jews from Judaea, and the expectation of the Parousia. It’s not the hope that the crop will be good this year, that my son will return from war, that my wound will heal.

Assuming it isn’t an airbrush cartoon of Jesus coming on a cloud with a lamb in his arms and everyone being on Prozac for ever, it is the hope for a peaceful society. Does anyone hope for this? You saw what happened to the Soviet Union. And, I can’t get on with anyone so what chance does “society” have?

What do I yet hope for?



At home

Hurts hang within me, moth-balled.

The metaphor says open the doors,

Clear them out, hang fresh thoughts.


A sticky layer of thick dust,

Hot sun baking on the carpet,

Choking sick, black candy floss.


Cut off air to consciousness

Cut off in a room

My eyelids do not breathe.


It will get dark and light again.



IV. Of human bondage. Definitions (D5-6)

D5. By opposite affects I shall understand, in what follows, those which pull a man differently, although they are of the same genus – such as gluttony and greed, which are species of love, and are opposite, not by nature, but accidentally.

Gluttony and greed: when a child asked another, how many have you got left?… To the point where they doggedly refused to eat their last one.

D6. I have explained in IIIP18SI and S2 what I shall understand by an affect toward a future thing, a present one, and a past.

But here it should be noted in addition that just as we can distinctly imagine distance of place only up to a certain limit, so also we can distinctly imagine distance of time only up to a certain limit. That is, we usually imagine all those objects which are more than two hundred feet away from us, or whose distance from the place where we are surpasses what we can distinctly imagine, to be equally far from us; we therefore usually imagine them as if they were in the same place; in the same way, we imagine to be equally far from the present all those objects whose time of existing we imagine to be separated from the present by an interval longer than that we are used to imagining distinctly; so we relate to them, as it were, to one moment of time.

Also many sad memories are too near.



LVII – “Govern the state by being straightforward”

Govern the state by being straightforward; wage war by being crafty; but win the empire by not being meddlesome.

How do I know it is like that? By means of this.

The more taboos there are in the empire

The poorer the people;

The more sharpened tools the people have

The more benighted the state;

The more skills the people have

The further novelties multiply;

The better known the laws and edicts

The more thieves and robbers there are.

Hence the sage says,

I take no action and the people are transformed of themselves;

I prefer stillness and the people are rectified of themselves;

I am not meddlesome and the people prosper of themselves;

I am free from desire and the people of themselves become simple like the uncarved block.


It is important for a ruler to be free from desires: not to want anything from the people  to whom (s)he rules. In particular one must not want to rule (not want to not rule): to be straightforward means to rule. War might be unavoidable: to be straightforward here is to be crafty in avoidance.

In general, if I do not want anything from the people, or from neighbouring peoples, I will not meddle.

So do not forbid; but do not arm and train the people in the accomplishment of desires.



IV. Of human bondage. Defintions (D1-D4)

D1. By good I shall understand what we certainly know to be useful to us.

Certainty and usefulness: not a religious understanding of good at any rate. Let’s say water.

D2. By evil, however, I shall understand what we certainly know prevents us from being masters of some good.

For me to call something evil, I have to certainly know that it is hindering my attainment of something I certainly know is useful to me. It is not only not passing me the water, but actively hindering my access to the water.

D3. I call singular things contingent insofar as we find nothing, while we attend only to their essence, which necessarily posits their existence or which necessarily excludes it.

There is no water on Mars.

D4. I call the same singular things possible, insofar as, while we attend to the causes from which they must be produced, we do not know whether those causes are determined to produce them.

In IP33S1 I drew no distinction between the possible and the contingent, because there was no need there to distinguish them accurately.

It is possible, so to say, that even if there were the conditions on other planets conducive to water, there may be no water on other planets.