If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.
When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.
Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we began a series of chapters which deal with how to properly govern. I said it is a manual for would-be leaders. I think it is important to understand that governing is an art. And, it is a very different thing from ruling. People sometimes think that libertarians, in general, and more specifically, anarchists, don’t want any governments. I don’t purport to speak for all libertarians or anarchists; but I think it would be wrong to say that is really what we are about. We are opposed to rulers. But there are acceptable ways to govern, which have nothing to do with ruling. I don’t know of anyone that is opposed to self-government. And I would support any government that has the unanimous consent of the governed.
Yesterday, we began talking about how be a great leader. You must first learn to follow the Tao. That means stop trying to control; and, let go of fixed plans and concepts. Lao Tzu said something in yesterday’s chapter which is really the key to everything: The world is fully capable of governing itself.
That may be shocking to some of my readers. Though it shouldn’t be. When you learn to follow the Tao, you will soon find out that the Universe, which is forever out of control, is also governed by, well, universal laws. As you figure this out, you are faced with a choice. You always have a choice. You can either work with, or against, nature. You can either go with the flow; or, try to swim against the current of the Tao. Lao Tzu wants us to have a life of ease. And that life of ease happens when we are going with the flow.
Today, we continue this manual on the art of governing. And the first thing we must understand is the importance of following the Tao. What does it mean to follow the Tao? It means understanding the way things are is the way things are. I know that requires further explanation. I said, earlier, that the Universe is governed by laws. We need to understand how those laws operate. Lao Tzu explains that in today’s chapter.
Here is the first one. If a country is governed with tolerance, the people are comfortable and honest. Before you allow doubt about this truth to creep into your mind, consider the opposite truth. If a country is governed with repression, the people are depressed and crafty. Is it really that simple? A choice between tolerance and repression? I believe it really is that simple. The difference between tolerance and repression is the difference between people being comfortable and honest, and people being depressed and crafty. If you want to judge a government, you need look no further than the people who are being governed. The more tolerant a government is, the more comfortable and honest the people are. The more repressive a government is, the more depressed and crafty the people are. You can doubt this if you like, but it is a universal truth.
And, since I don’t think any leaders really want the people, they are leading, to be depressed and crafty, it would seem that all leaders would choose tolerance over repression. Ah, if only it were that simple. But there is one problem. That would be the will to power. This is where Lao Tzu shares with us another universal law. When the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Watch how this plays out. Would-be leaders, take note. You want happy people, right? But what happens when you try to make people happy? How I wish our leaders could be content to simply let people be happy. But that will to power is in charge; and that means trying to control. That means using force. That means attempting to make people happy. And the end result is that you have laid the groundwork for misery. You wanted happiness you sowed the seeds of misery.
The same is true when you try to make people moral. For leaders want virtuous people, too. And when the will to power is in charge, trying to make people moral, lays the groundwork for vice. The higher the ideals, the lower the results. You often achieve just the opposite of what you set out to achieve. You are free to doubt this universal law, as well. But it is still a universal truth.
The problem is the will to power. We really can’t let it be in charge. That is why it is that the Master is content to serve as an example. That is what great leaders do. They don’t impose their will. They govern with tolerance. Letting the people be free to pursue their own happiness.
This is today’s lesson for would-be leaders. You can be pointed without piercing. You can be straightforward, while still being supple. You can be radiant, yet easy on the eyes. Practice tolerance. And when the will to power rears its ugly head, lop it off.