The Art of Governing: The Practice of Tolerance

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we continue what Lao Tzu began yesterday, a series of chapters on the art of governing. I think of it as a manual for would-be leaders. Yesterday, we talked about the distinction between leading and ruling. People sometimes think that libertarians, in general, and more specifically, anarchists, don’t want any governments. While I don’t purport to speak for all libertarians or anarchists, I think that is a misunderstanding of what it is that we believe. We are opposed to rulers. But true leaders? We will always need those. And, there are acceptable ways to govern. I don’t know of any libertarians or anarchists that are opposed to self-government. And, I would support any government which has the unanimous consent of the governed.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu answered the question of how to be a great leader. First, you must learn to follow the Tao. That means you have to give up your need to try and control. And, you have to let go of fixed plans and concepts. If our leaders don’t interfere with it, the world will govern itself. It is right about here that people ask me, “What, then, is the point of having any leaders? If the world can govern itself, without them.” But, Lao Tzu didn’t say that we didn’t need leaders. He said that leaders need to not interfere with the flow of the Tao. The best leaders are content to be an example of how to follow the Tao. It is when our leaders are content to be an example, that the world will govern itself.

But enough of the recap of yesterday’s chapter, let’s move on to today’s chapter. Today’s chapter addresses the universal laws that we come to understand as we learn to follow the Tao. Following the Tao is simply accepting, and not resisting, universal laws.

Here is one of those universal laws: 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. Would-be leaders can try to deny this universal truth all they want. But, it has been self-evident for all of history. Giving up your need to control and letting go of fixed plans and concepts requires that you be tolerant in your governing. It is that way by definition. If you are being intolerant, you haven’t given up your need to control. It is your way or no way. And, intolerance always leads to repression. Show me anyone who is intolerant, and I will show you someone who will seek to impose their own will. And repression is repression no matter how good your intentions are. Let it be settled, the more tolerant you are, the more comfortable and honest people will be. The more you try and repress people, the more depressed and crafty they will be. Any nation on Earth can be judged by this standard. Are its people comfortable and honest? Then their government is tolerant. Are its people depressed and crafty? Then their government is repressive.

The problem with so many nations is that the will to power is in charge. That is what leads to repression. They may have high ideals. Like, we want the people to be happy. Or, we want the people to be moral. But, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. This is the way the Universe operates. It is a universal law. It is the way things are. You simply can’t ignore this. It makes as much sense to ignore this, as it does to ignore the law of gravity. If you try to make people happy, you only lay the groundwork for misery. If you try to make people moral, you only lay the groundwork for vice.

When the will to power is in charge, you end up achieving the opposite of your good intentions. But, if your intentions were really good, you would have learned to follow the Tao, before trying to govern.

We want leaders who have become masters at following the Tao. Then, they will be content to serve as an example, and won’t seek to impose their will. The Master is our example. She is pointed, without piercing. Straightforward, while being supple. Radiant, yet easy on the eyes. We want leaders who will govern with tolerance.

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