Monday, April 19, 2010

On Authority, Sovereignty and We the People

First posted on September 13, 2009

On August 16 , 2009 we published an essay written by Dr Sam Halliday entitled "The 'American Manifesto'". As a sequence we are posting today his "The Mandate of Heaven". Enjoy!

Earlier articles and essays from the pen of Sam Halliday posted on Politeia, are available on the Articles file of the Armiger Cromwell Center, a non-profit organization aiming to contribute to more effective and efficient policies in international relations.

The Mandate of Heaven

In the Chinese tradition the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ has long been associated with legitimacy. It confirms the authority of a ruler; it withdraws legitimacy from a despot or tyrant. A loss of the Mandate of Heaven necessitates a change in governance.

As a practical matter the Mandate of Heaven argues for the removal of incompetent or despotic governmental officials, and provides an incentive for officials to govern well, justly, and for the common good. It can also be invoked to curtail the abuse of power.

In America this same idea is expressed in the motto ‘In God We Trust.’ Legitimacy comes from something superior to humans. There is no agreement on what this superior authority is; those who accept this concept only agree that it gives legitimacy to the laws, procedures and practices of Secular Authority.
Secular Authority is created and administered by humans within governmental structures; however, it is The Mandate of Heaven, which gives Secular Authority legitimacy. When those in government usurp Secular Authority in order to advance their own interests—rather than to protect, preserve and advance the interest of all citizens—it can be claimed that the Mandate of Heaven has been lost. Then the alteration or abolishment of that regime can be justified.

The Mandate of Heaven at the Founding of the United States of America

The Founding Fathers never used the term Mandate of Heaven, but they acknowledged it in their reference to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” in the first paragraph of The Declaration of Independence. This is in keeping with English common law that “man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything” and the will of “his Maker is called the law of nature.”

This view is repeated in a reference to unalienable Rights being “endowed by their Creator” in the second paragraph. And again they acknowledged it at the end of that document: “with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

The Mandate of Heaven is both similar to, and different from, the European concept of the Divine Right of Kings. Both sought to legitimize rule through something superior to human made laws, rules and procedures. However, the Divine Right of Kings granted unconditional legitimacy, something the Founding Fathers rejected--just as does the Mandate of Heaven.

Both the Chinese concept and the view of the Founding Fathers are conditional on the behavior of the regime maintaining a climate of order and satisfaction. Revolution is never legitimate under the Divine Right of Kings, but a revolt might be justified after the fact under the Mandate of Heaven--a successful revolt being evidence that the Mandate of Heaven had been lost. The Founding Fathers expressed their view on this in the Declaration of Independence.

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station ….

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
In the Chinese concept the words Mandate and Heaven have meanings different from the common usages of these words in the English language. It is not a message that a religious zealot claims to have received from God. Mandate does not mean a command from a superior to an inferior; it means legitimacy, or approval to establish and administer Secular Authority.

Heaven is not the abode of God with the angels of the after life. It is not a Supreme Being, i.e. a God in the Western sense. Heaven is an authority which judges mortal behavior, in this life and the after life, and which directs the forces of nature.

The Mandate of Heaven is an unwritten agreement that proposes a set of mutual obligations between rulers and ruled; in China it was used by authoritarian regimes to maintain a “harmonious society”.

The Rise of Those Who Do Not Accept the Mandate of Heaven

Since the 18th Century many Americans have not accepted, or have ignored, the views of the Founding Fathers. Also today many do not recognize Sacred Authority as being equal to Secular Authority. They want laws, legal procedures, and legal practices determined by humans to be supreme and unchallengeable.

- Caption: b/w photo of the Supreme Court
by Andrew Prokos

In fact today most lawyers, politicians, professors, and pundits think the Supreme Court has unchallengeable authority, i.e. the equivalent of the Divine Right of Kings. As a result the United States has become increasingly like countries that preceded it with struggles among factions, the centralization of power, and growth of bueaucratic government. The new form of governance that the Founding Fathers envisioned has been increasingly ignored.

However, the First Amendment of the Constitution explicitly recognizes the Mandate of Heaven concept: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In other words, there is something superior to human laws.

However, the original intent of the Constitution has been eroded by many interpretations of the courts.  If “In God We Trust” means anything, it means that the legitimacy of government and Secular Authority (so called “rule of law”) are both subordinate to some higher authority. It is time to return to the principles and ideals of the Founding Fathers.

Why the Mandate of Heaven Is Important

Secular Authority must be conditional if those in government are to be prevented from taking unto themselves the authority of the sovereign. In the United States of America the citizens are the sovereign. The citizens are not subjects of the government.

When those in government usurp the authority of the sovereign and attempt to dictate what should or should not be done, or to transfer the sovereign’s authority to some supranational organization, they are no longer legitimate—they have lost the Mandate of Heaven.

It is then appropriate for the sovereign, i.e. the citizens, to remove those attempting to usurp their authority. It is the duty of the security forces to support the sovereign in re-establishing the Mandate of Heaven through a new regime.

All governance is some combination of centralization and decentralization. Centralization goes from oligarchy to authoritarian to the extreme of totalitarian. Decentralization goes from representative republic, to pure democracy to the extreme of anarchy. In practices the forms of governance are mixed.

Thus the despotism of a totalitarian regime cannot survive in the long run, just as anarchy, in which many refuse to be ruled at all, cannot last. The extremes tend to create their opposite. Anarchy usually results in a call from greater authority to maintain order, and when a totalitarian regime falls there are demands for greater individual freedom.

Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization, self-help, and the acceptance of responsibility can arrest a tendency toward centralization with authoritarian rule by an elite controlling all positions of power in the government. Such a movement can only be successful if the security forces (police and military) support it.

A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which an all-powerful executive is supported by a compliant judiciary and an ineffective legislative. And one in which the executive retains control of the security forces. In effective centralized regimes the people are subjects who do not have to be coerced, because they accept their servitude. In a servile state even the most centralized regime retains the Mandate of Heaven.

- Caption: "Chinese Emperor Han Wudi, the fifth emperor of the Han dynasty
(156 BC–87 BC) - 

Extreme centralization of power is the outcome whenever Secular Authority (the rule of law) is the supreme, and unchallengeable, authority. This is because the method of decision-making is the dialectic, which is the struggle of thesis versus anti-thesis producing a synthesis.

This is the path to what Hegel called the World Spirit. Those who follow Hegel’s method consider the human created State the final and perfect development of political institutions. They assign to the State an importance greater than the individual. For them the State has “the highest right over the individual, whose highest duty in turn is to be a member of the State”.

This was not what the Founding Fathers wanted to create. They wanted power decentralized as much as possible. They wanted citizens to be the sovereign, and for governmental officials to be beholden to the citizens.

This is only possible when Sacred Authority is separate from, but equal to, Secular Authority. Sacred Authority provides an inner compass to individuals so they can make judgments between good and bad, between right and wrong, and between virtue and sin.

- Caption: Washington enforces British surrender at Yorktown, by Eugene Hess (1824-1862) - 

Sacred Authority provides a check on Secular Authority, and thus it discourages the self-serving excesses of governmental officials; it encourages the removal of incompetent or despotic governmental officials; it provides an incentive for officials to govern well, justly, and for the common good; and it curtails the abuse of power by officials.

Throughout history demagogues, heading political factions, have destroyed States and Nations in order to create some Utopia which they hold dear; true believers have used rhetoric, inflated views of themselves, and raw power from militias, gangs, enforcers, and the security forces (police and military). America is now at a crossroads and patriotic Americans must determine which road is to be taken.

Questions to be Answered

Are today’s Americans as unwilling to accept servitude, as were those who founded the United States of America in the 18th Century? Do they consider themselves free citizens who are the sovereign, or do they consider themselves subjects of an all-powerful government who will determine social justice for all?

Today how many will rally to “Do Not Tread on Me” and “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”. Today will the police and military support the sovereign (the citizens) and the Constitution as it is written, or will they support the Commander in Chief and the Constitution as interpreted by the ruling elite?

Do we want an America in keeping with the vision of our Founding Fathers? Or do we want to transform America into a centralized socialist Utopia in which every one receives the same benefits regardless of their merit, effort, or commitment to America?

What will be America’s future? Will America follow the cycle of past states and nations into decline and decay, or will the citizens reestablish their position as sovereign in keeping with the vision of the Founding Fathers?

Will America return to the principles and convictions that made it great? Will the Mandate of Heaven play its critical role? Only the American people can answer these questions. And they must be answered with actions—not merely words.

Copyright © 2008 Armiger Cromwell Center, Atlanta, GA 30319-1322. 404-201-7374. Permission is granted to forward this article by e-mail to friends or colleagues on a fair use basis. For reprint permission, contact Armiger Cromwell Center at

An online printable version of "The Mandate of Heaven", by Dr Sam Holliday

- Filed on Articles in
"The Armiger Cromwell Center" -


RADM Dusty Miller said...

Dr Holliday is right about who is sovereign in America, but he is incredibly wrong on how that sovereignty should be enforced. He is right, too, in his argument that Sacred authority has an influence on the secular authority that we deem necessary for our gevernance. Hence, the ballot box is our enforcement mechansim, not the allegiance of the military to the "people." And, hence, also, while Sacred authority is a consideration in adopting our rules of governace, it is by no means equal in weight to secular concerns, as those latter concerns represent a far broader panoply of our society than any one group's Sacred views.

RADM William O. Miller, USNavy(Ret.)

Carson Morris said...

The issue as I see it is less the provenance of the divine and more who/what is empowered to “translate” the desires of “the Creator” into human rules of conduct and the origin of the authority granted to humans. If it’s the consent of the governed, does this not fly in the face of representative government and invalidate the authority of the electoral college? And of an appointed vs. elected Supreme Court? Or of a legal system expressed in a language largely alien to that spoke by the Electorate and thus requiring translation by those schooled by holders of letters of law?

Is there not an inherent conflict of interest in allowing lawmakers to be of the same legal trade as those who make their living from the interpretation of laws. The ambiguity inherent in the US Code seems to be an intentional legal commodity instilled to benefit lawyers.

Should not the Supreme Court - more properly the Court of the Electorate – comprise people of mixed ethic rather than solely those schooled in letters of law? And if such trust is placed in those possessing said Letter of Law, should not the penalty for abuse of this ethic be among the most severe for their betrayal of the public trust?

The United States was constituted as a Republic largely because of the logistic difficulties in collecting and collating the will of its dispersed peoples. Such has not been the case since the early 20th century. Should not the popular vote convey the will of the People and the law of the land? With votes having become a purchased commodity by virtue of both hard and soft monies and the propensity of States to disenfranchise those of the Electorate who don’t reflect either of the two major parties, we drift further from a democracy.

Cassandra Troy said...

Admiral Miller has accurately stated the view of the professional military in nation-states for the past 300 years. It's an excellent solution as long as a representative democracy of free individuals exists, but it contributes to disastrous outcomes when the electoral process is subverted by those who seek a socialist collective, as illustrated by Juan Peron, A. Hitler, V. Lenin, F. Castro, H. Chavez, and others.

It is very difficult for the military to maintain a balance between its duty to obey orders from its chain of command and its duty to protect the nation from all enemies foreign and domestic. If either of these duties is considered an absolute there is potential for very unfavorable results. How is this dilemma resolved? Certainly not as Admiral Miller suggests.

We can work to prevent the American military from ever having to face this dilemma; however, recent events suggests that this dilemma might have to be faced in the near future. And the American military is not prepared for that possibility.

B. Keeland, San Antonio, Texas

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