Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon itself.
The Master does his job and then stops.
He understands that the Universe
is forever out of control,
and trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t seek others approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 30, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
For the longest time I treated my libertarian thinking as strictly political philosophy. Entirely separate from the rest of my life. It was something I thought about as elections took place. And then, I filed it away; since I wouldn’t be needing to pull it back out, dust it off, and use it again until the next election. I have considered myself a libertarian for as long as I have been familiar with the term (30+ years). But, I was very slow to grasp that personal and political philosophy are not separate things.
I always like it when we have a chapter like today’s chapter where Lao Tzu once again is talking about the art of governing. But just when I start to get all excited about being able to explain how Lao Tzu was the very first libertarian, I am reminded that there is a reason that I tag each chapter’s blog posts with #libertarian. And not just the ones where he is bringing up governing. The art of governing is not something separate from the art of living. The two are one and the same. Yes, Lao Tzu spends a great deal of time speaking directly to those who would be leaders among us. But his words for leaders are no different from the words he speaks to us all. And, would be leaders seem particularly adept at ignoring what Lao Tzu has to say.
Much of the time now, I think calling myself “libertariantaoist” is a bit redundant. Not because you can’t be a libertarian without being a taoist, nor because you can’t be a taoist without being a libertarian, but because for me, personally, I can no longer separate the one from the other. But, I am going to keep my url just the way it is, hoping to teach libertarians about philosophical taoism; and, philosophical taoists about libertarianism. I want to demonstrate that your personal and political philosophy can’t really be two separate things. That the one informs the other. And, it matters little which you think is doing the informing. I am a taoist because I am a libertarian; and, I am a libertarian because I am a taoist. What? You think it matters which came first?
Lao Tzu wants us all relying on the Tao. In everything that we do. That is what the art of living is all about. Relying on the Tao. Being in harmony with the way things are. It matters not whether you are a leader or a follower, you need to rely on the Tao. That makes your world a whole lot better place for you to live. But today, Lao Tzu does specifically address the art of governing. And the advice holds firm. All you leaders and would be leaders, you governors of men and women around the world, if you were relying on the Tao, you wouldn’t be trying to force issues. And, the very fact that you are so blatantly trying to force issues everywhere you turn, is all the evidence in the world that anyone should need to surmise that you aren’t relying on the Tao.
What is force? It is an attempt to control. Oh, how you like to be in control. You manufacture enemies by your use of force and then seek to defeat those enemies with more force. The force of arms. And everybody who isn’t you, knows what is going to come of this. It is very elementary physics that we have learned from an early age. Where were you when you should have been learning this? For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon itself. This is stuff our parents and teachers taught us when we were children dealing with others in the playground. What? Do you think you have outgrown the lessons of our childhood? That you are somehow more sophisticated than all that? That you are privy to some special knowledge that violates the laws of physics and gets away with the violation? Because, nothing could be further from the truth.
But you don’t let the truth get in your way. You are in a position of power. A position you craved from the first time you didn’t like being told “no” I am sure. And your so-called exalted position of power renders you immune to the laws that the rest of us must live with. You, and you alone, can control and dominate events. I would pity you if you weren’t wreaking such desolation in your wake.
And, how very different is the Master. This one relies on the Tao in everything that he does. He does his job and then stops. How very odd. To do your job and then stop. What? No grasping for something further? No, he does what he needs to do and then stops. And leaves the rest to the Tao. He understands. Something our faux leaders either can’t or won’t. He understands that the Universe is forever out of his control. This is the beginning of wisdom right here. Understanding first, that you can’t do anything about a whole lot of things.
He understands that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. The current of the Tao is an important concept for us to understand. We talk all the time about going with the flow. About wearing ourselves out trying to swim or paddle upstream. But, that metaphor doesn’t really convey what Lao Tzu is getting at with the current of the Tao. It is much more pervasive than trying to navigate a river. Sometimes, with a river, you very much need to get upstream. Going further downstream, even if it is going with the current is going to end with disaster.
It helps me to think of the Tao as being both ubiquitous and liquid. It is everywhere and comprises everyone and everything. You can’t escape it. Forget your hopes, your fears. They aren’t of any use to you. The current of the Tao is going to bring you through the cycle of life from the Source to the End (which incidentally, is a return to the Source). We have hopes and fears that make us resist that. Some have a will to power. They want to control, to dominate. But this simply cannot be. The way things are is the way things are.
So, what separates the Master from so many that aspire to govern us? It may come as a shock, but I think our so-called leaders, their rightful name is rulers, have a very little… Well let’s just say they are compensating for something. Okay, I am not really meaning some physical thing. I am talking about something a lot more internal than that. They don’t actually believe in themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t always be trying to convince others of how right they are. And even if they believe in themselves they are never content with themselves. Which is why they are always seeking others approval. They want the whole world to accept them. But don’t realize that because they can’t accept themselves no one can accept them.
I would despair if I thought that we were always only ever to have rulers like these. But I see something just round the next bend. I can’t fully describe it, it is still off a distance. But, it spells the end for our present system. And a chance to make things all right again. A return to the Source? Perhaps. But this advice from Lao Tzu is going to come in quite handy then, as it is now. Even if the so-called powers that be never change, their end draws near. Then, as now, we need to believe in ourselves. Be content with ourselves. And, accept ourselves; just the way the Tao has forged us.