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Why Citizens in a Republic Must Cultivate “Stillness” & “Emptiness”

By Stan Szczesny

“So still he seems to dwell nowhere at all; so empty no one can seek him out.” —Han Fei Tzu, chapter 5, translated by Burton Watson

To retain their freedoms, the ruling masses must be still and empty.

In theory, this is possible, but it is exceedingly difficult. Crowds are naturally not still.

The reason of a crowd reaches no higher than the average of its collected capacities, but its passions escalate in the direction of its most ardent members.

The anonymity that crowds provide allows their members to pursue these passions without shame. They are full of fears which are easily fanned into panics.

The ruling masses are like an unruly stallion. His wild behavior is easily predicted by astute trainers.

His passions and fears ultimately allow him to be broken, and they become the bit and the reins by which he is steered.

If only he were still and empty! The trainers would always approach him with caution, not knowing what to expect.

He could submit according to his own will. Trainers would not be able to discern whether he was broken or not. With his animal might, he could shake them off at any moment that suited him.

The ruling masses in republics must cultivate stillness and emptiness.

Representatives who sincerely desire the freedom of the masses may be discerned by the degree to which they encourage stillness and emptiness.

Only when the ruling masses are still and empty will they be ruled with that confidence which the strength of their numbers justifies.


About Stan Szczesny

Several years ago, I walked by Encyclopedia Britannica’s “Great Books of the Western World” set and realized that I was about to graduate from college without having read any of the authors listed there. So I dropped out of school and set a goal to read all of those books. The goal took eight years.

Along the way, I found schools that supplemented my change in approach to education. I completed a B.A. at George Wythe University and an M.A. in Eastern Classics at St. John’s College.

Now, I’m moving forward. I drive a 1976 van. I have a wife and 4 children under the age of 7. We don’t have much, but we stay happy talking about Francis Bacon and Confucius.

You can connect with me by reading my Great Books blog.


  1. Stan, your last two articles have been extremely high on the epiphany scale for me. Thank you for your contributions.

  2. Thank you Stan. I agree and had never thought of it this way. It seems you are suggesting that they must be silent and empty to the controlling decision makers, those who would bridle the people to their ends.

    Yet the people must continue to be the powerful beast and this would likely entail running in the wind and with bold expression. It seems to me that this best happens in a personally local atmosphere of interaction and decision with sometimes broad reaching impact and event in the global context.

    I think it is and will be difficult for people to not want their opinions to be popular and accepted by what they perceive as a possible majority and to feel that if they aren’t associated in this way this would subsequently make their opinion of less worth, not having sufficient impact the whole body.

    People traditionally feel that their opinions must be tested through the filter of the media and big institutional mob-like groups to see if they will hold up under pressure.

    This topic strikes at the very core of legitimation (getting public buy-in). I firmly feel that legitimation as society has known it through freedom of speech and public policy is changing and becoming ironically illegitimate or rather unligitimatable. Legitimating, getting the buy-in (“consent”) of ‘the people’ does not seem to fully justify broad action from our leaders when it compromises the unique and increasingly fluid purposes of the different facets of the body. The question is being asked; How is the traditional ‘rule of law’ and ‘social contract’ being adjusted to meet the needs of a populous that is globally affected by local actions and threatened by the natural blindness of specialization?

    I believe that a new stillness and emptiness as you say fostered by the up and coming internal interactions from the new personal-relations centric internet-media and this resulting new public anonymity can be an increasingly critical part of the solution.

  3. I just found a new favorite website and author.

    Thanks for this! Keep rockin till the break of dawn. So have you ever heard of the LIFE Opportunity? You mentioned finances.

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