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 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)
I know I really went out on a limb with yesterday’s post tying philosophical Taoism together with anarchism. Some of my friends who are into Taoism may be questioning whether Lao Tzu was really expressing anarchism. And some of my anarchist friends may be not so sure about this whole Tao thing. I am going to content myself with sitting out on this limb until such time as Lao Tzu comes along with a saw and cuts off the branch. I actually think I am sitting on a firm branch. The tree has been growing in my mind for sometime as I have been going through the Tao Te Ching. Today’s chapter is yet another which makes this particular branch sturdy.
I guess the first objection that is going to be raised by those that doubt the validity of the marriage of anarchism with philosophical Taoism is that Lao Tzu keeps talking about governing. Aren’t anarchists opposed to all governments?
Of course, today’s chapter is just a continuation of the previous one. Haven’t they all been? I mention that, not just because I am stalling on answering the previous paragraph’s question. I talked to some new people today, who may or may not be looking at my blog for the first time. Chapter 57 wouldn’t be the ideal place to start this journey with me. And chapter 58 isn’t any better. You’d really have to go back to the beginning. To chapter one. But even then, that wouldn’t be enough. I have been traveling through the Tao Te Ching now for so long. When I get to chapter 81, I am not really at the end. And chapter one really wasn’t the beginning for me. I just know that I have really felt like I have been making real progress as I have been going along through this particular cycle of the Tao Te Ching. I hope my regular readers – you guys are out there, aren’t you? – have been picking up on that.
But now back to the present question. Aren’t anarchists opposed to all governments? Well, that is easy enough to answer. No. Anarchists come in all shapes and sizes – and ideological persuasions. But I have yet to meet one that is opposed to all governments. What we are opposed to is the State. The State is a particular form of government that all anarchists oppose. And sadly, most governments end up being the State. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Today’s chapter affords me the opportunity to explain better this marriage of philosophical Taoism with anarchism and address the problem of governing from that perspective. Yesterday, I entitled my blog post: “Anarchism! Because I believe the world can govern itself.” Except for that controversial word, anarchism, I took that line straight from Lao Tzu. He said in yesterday’s chapter, that the first lesson to be learned by someone who wants to be a great leader, is to stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.
The only question that is really up for discussion is whether we believe that or not. I do. I believe the world can and will govern itself, if we will just let go of the will to power. The need to interfere. That ties in very nicely with today’s chapter. In which Lao Tzu specifically refers to the will to power. He very neatly lays out the difference between a country that is governed with tolerance and a country that is governed with repression. It makes all the difference between whether the people are comfortable and honest, or the people are depressed and crafty.
And this difference relates to when the will to power is in charge. It is the difference between a government that anarchists would not oppose, and the State, which anarchists will always oppose. The will to power is the defining mark of the State.
When the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. The State may say its goal is to make people happy or to make people moral. Those are certainly high ideals. But the results, to put it as bluntly as possible, suck. Does the State make people happy? No, it makes people miserable. Does it make people moral? No, and Lao Tzu covered this quite well in yesterday’s chapter. No matter how high your ideals, people can’t be made to be what you want them to be.
Which is why the Master is content to serve as an example. This is the very opposite of making anyone be anything at all. She isn’t interested in imposing her will. Lao Tzu, in previous chapters has intimated that she actually has no will of her own. Instead, she has mastered the art of being content. The will to power is never content. And it isn‘t just because they don‘t want to be. It is, by definition, impossible. This is important to understand because many people mistakenly think that the problem isn’t the will to power, it is that we just don’t have the right people wielding that will to power. If the right people were in charge everything would be different. But that is folly. The problem isn’t the people. People are all the same. The problem is the will to power. That is the problem. It has always been the problem. And, it will always be the problem.
The Master understands this. She sees the eternal reality. She is in harmony with it. It is that harmony with the eternal reality that enables her to see the illusion for what it is. And, she is content with the way things really are. This is the mark of a truly great leader. This contentment. When you are content, the people who follow you will be content. Leaders, at least the great ones, serve as examples of how to live. They are pointed, but they don’t pierce. Straightforward, but supple. Radiant, but easy on the eyes. Great leaders don’t make us anything at all. Great leaders work with the mind of the people. They understand human nature for what it is, instead of wishing it was something entirely different from what it is. And the people? We just are. And the world governs itself.