Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. (Michael Corleone, “The Godfather Part II”)

You should always keep the person who always criticizes you near you. Since his/her job is to criticize you, they will point out every minute flaw inside you. This way you can improve yourself and you become more clear and pure than you would with soap and water. (attributed to Kabirdas, a 14th century poet from India)

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, in battle you will never be in peril; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will sometimes win and sometimes lose; but if you do not know your enemies or yourself, you will always be in danger of defeat. (Sun Tzu, “The Art of War,” Chapter III)

The warrior understands that discipline is vital because it makes an army confident of victory. But the strategist understands that discipline is vital because it allows his forces to fight with confidence even when their defeat appears inevitable. This is because, from a strategic perspective, what makes its appearance may be deceiving.

When is the enemy more vulnerable than when he exalts in the aftermath of victory? An army that can give the impression of collapse, here and there, without ever losing control of itself, can be deployed to create this moment of vulnerability. A general who has forged such a disciplined force can, in effect, place himself at the head of his enemy’s forces. He can tantalize them, here and there, with the appearance of victory until they are properly disposed to meet the forces he has reserved for the celebration of his triumph over them.

Of course, a good strategist can achieve the same result more directly if he manages to find one of his friends in a position to affect the disposition of the enemy’s forces on his behalf. This requires that he understand the ironic implication of Godfather’s famous maxim: That the best place for your friends is near, or in the midst of, your enemies. There they can best serve as your informers.

In a tyrant’s court the society of his courtiers (in respect of one another) is not unlike a battleground. This is especially true if the tyrant understands the wisdom of Kabirdas. An honest critic kept close at hand is like a friend who continually supplies you with information about what your enemies think to be your failings and vulnerabilities. Thus supplied, you can be better prepared to thwart them, as Sun Tzu predicts. An enemy, appointed to some position close at hand, then surreptitiously observed, is like a friend, planted in the enemies’ camp, informing you about their preparations for your demise. If you consider the consequences of his advice and activities, from every point of view, the role he plays may help you avoid the fate your enemies long to inflict upon you.

If they are wise, what this means for the tyrants’ close enemies is this: Though they must outwardly greet every appointment he offers them as a welcomed honor, inwardly they must ponder the vulnerabilities he means to create or expose by conferring the honor. If they have good reason to suspect that the tyrant stands in opposition to their goals, they should consider the possibility that he means to remove their most effective advocates into positions where they are publicly required to advocate the tyrant’s priorities. This will effectively weaken their ability to pursue other priorities, hitherto more important to them. This is why senators in ancient Rome would sometimes support the appointment of their most effective adversaries in the Senate to positions that removed them from participation in its proceedings.

In this respect, elevating someone to be the head of some ministry or other in the government may remove him as the head and focal point of legislative initiatives the tyrant would rather neglect or discard. The appointments process can thus be made to correspond to the advice Thrasybulus, the tyrant of ancient Miletus, gave when Cypselus, tyrant of Corinth, sent him a messenger to inquire how best to maintain his recently established rule. Indicating that the messenger should follow him, Thrasybulus went strolling through a wheat field, breaking off the heads of the tallest stalks of grain. After doing this for a while, he turned to the messenger and said, “Tell your master what you have seen me do.”

After an election, people and groups who have reason to hope for preferment from the victor are liable to interpret every appointment as a favor. They do not stop to consider that preferment is a two-edged sword if preferring someone to a position of honor in some executive department removes him from a position of effective advocacy in the legislature. Of course, this may be of little or no importance if the legislature has already become a rubber stamp or figurehead for a tyrannical faction. This is what the ancient Rome’s Senate became, once the Imperial clique consolidated its power.

But as things now stand in the United States, couldn’t that transformation to tyranny become, as it were, a self-fulfilling prophecy? What if people who would otherwise be the backbone of the movement to sustain Congress’ constitutional independence are induced, by the semblance of favor, to surrender their role in asserting it? And if this removes from our Congress the most effective voices against the coalition of quisling Republicans and Democrats that kowtowed to Obama, will that coalition’s ability to continue tearing down our nation’s constitutional self-government increase or diminish?

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