It all boils down to the need for as many people as possible to agree to be good dancing partners for everyone else
Literally: ceremony – leisure – punishment – government **but see below!
Alternately: The four pillars necessary to maintain good social order. This is essentially an acronym: the four characters represent 礼節 (reisetsu, “decorum”), 音楽 (ongaku, “music”), 刑罰 (keibatsu, “punishment [for crimes]”), and 政令 (seirei, “government ordinance”). In modern terms, perhaps this translates into civility, the arts, a justice system, and regulations.
This phrase comes from our friend, the classical Confucian text the Book of Rites (Japanese 『礼記』 = Raiki). One of my sources aligns 礼 with 礼儀 (reigi), “politeness,” although I don’t want to read too much into any nuance here given the necessary blurriness that comes from multiple steps of translation and centuries of temporal separation.
The most interesting part to me is the inclusion of music: the chapter in the Book of Rites that this phrase comes from is even 楽記 (gakuki), a treatise on music theory. My personal assumption is that this is not just because song and dance are a universal social-bonding activity across human cultures, but specifically because of its use in religious and court rituals, echoes of which we see preserved in modern Shinto practices in Japan.
The most frightening part to me is that while today’s Republican party in the US would certainly appreciate Confucian (patriarchal, hierarchical) ideas about social structure, in terms of these four pillars of social order they’re actively opposing and working to undermine every single one..