On The Art Of Governing And The Need For Civil Disobedience

When the Master governs,
the people are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done, the people say,
‘Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!’

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 17, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

“I heartily accept the motto, – ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, – ‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” – Henry David Thoreau – (from his treatise “Civil Disobedience”)

I was made to read “Walden” back in high school. That is what we are all expected to remember Thoreau for. And, I like “Walden” very much. It is filled with quotable quotes. But it is his treatise “Civil Disobedience”, which I didn’t stumble upon until as an adult, that lights my fire. As far as I am concerned, nothing written before or since has equaled it. And, it is as relevant today as it was in its day. I recommend that every one of my followers read it at least once in their life time; but, once a year would be even better. To that end, I am including this link to a page which divides it into three separate pages: http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html

I could end my commentary with your promise that you will soon avail yourself of this opportunity to delve into it. But I do feel the need to further explain myself. So, here is one more line from Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”: “Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.”

Today’s commentary is my own frail attempt at doing just that.

Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter, gives me exactly the kind of government which would command my respect. And then he lists in declining order the ones we must think we deserve. I want the Master to govern. When he governs, people are hardly aware that he exists. He doesn’t talk, he acts. Just that alone sets him apart from the whole lot of them. But Lao Tzu goes on to explain what he means about the way in which the Master acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves.” Yes, that is the kind of government that would command my respect. The kind of government that respects me. That trusts me. I want the kind of government that leaves me alone to my own devices.

Once again, I am compelled to quote Thoreau. “Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.” If I could have my wish, we would have no government at all; just for the simple reason that governments cannot avoid being inexpedient, at some time. In speaking of the American government, Thoreau said, “this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.”

But, I ask then, when, since Thoreau’s day, has it ever gotten out of our way? Okay, just one last quote from Thoreau: “For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it.”

Yes, I encourage you to abandon my commentary, at once; and get busy on reading “Civil Disobedience” in its entirety.

What? You’re still here? Well then, I suppose I should go on. The reason that the people can say correctly, “we did it, all by ourselves”, when the Master governs, is for the very reason that the Master, with great alacrity, lets them do it, all by themselves. He trusts them. He leaves them alone. Sure, he leads. He provides an example. But the people hardly notice him; what they see is the example. He trusts them. And, you know what? They are proven worthy of that trust.

That is the kind of government that would command my respect. Thoreau just says it much more eloquently than I.

Most people think that governments are a necessary evil. Why do they think this? Because they don’t believe people can be trusted. They believe we deserve the kind of governments we have. And, Lao Tzu also lists the kind of leaders that we must think we deserve. For if we believed we deserved better, wouldn’t we demand it? I am talking about leaders who may be loved; or, they may be feared; or worse, they may be despised. I won’t try and explain what could possibly cause anyone to love these kinds of leaders, who don’t measure up to the example set by the Master. I might forgive this, if we are talking about their mothers. Otherwise, shame on you. Oh well, there is no accounting for taste, I suppose. But I can certainly understand why these kinds of leaders are feared and despised. If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy. We fear you. We despise you. Why? Because you don’t trust us. And if the truth were ever to be acknowledged by the likes of you – you fear and despise us, too. But, it is you, who have made us untrustworthy. It’s all on you!

Well, that was fun. I hope you enjoyed it. But, please do set aside some time to read “Civil Disobedience”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *