Monday, April 28, 2008

Was Lao-tzu a libertarian?

Lao-tzu was a Chinese philosopher who lived in the early sixth century BC and served as a resident scholar at the royal court of the Shou. Taoism, the religion based on his teachings, spread over much of Asia.

Lao-tzu wrote:
“If I keep from meddling with people, they take care of themselves,
If I keep from commanding people, they behave themselves,
If I keep from preaching at people, they improve themselves,
If I keep from imposing on people, they become themselves.”

When I first read that last year I was surprised that such a liberal viewpoint had once been influential in China.

So I went looking for more of the writings of Lao-tzu and found the following:

If you want to be a great leader,

you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,and people become honest.
I let go of economics,and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass (Toa Te Ching, 57 (here).

When I looked further I found that some high ranking Chinese officials have recently called for the wisdom of ancient Taoism to be adopted to help build a harmonious society in China (here).

It seems to me that western political leaders could also learn a great deal from Lao-tzu.

1 comment:

KJ said...

I had just come across those four lines and searched to find who wrote them. When I read them the first thing I thought was "How libertarian!"

Great to see that this posting was near the top in my Google search.