Chuang Tzu: The natural disposition of man is Political Anarchism

Chuang Tzu

I just read this great article on ‘Anarchism and Taoism’. I find the Taoist case for anarchism extremely compelling. They sought after the harmonious nature of spontaneous order, the Tao, and internalized it into a tremendously rich personal philosophy of life. It makes me wonder: can a person ‘live’ a Libertarian life? Libertarianism is mostly regarded as a political philosophy in the west, but can it, like the Taoists believe, be regarded as a way of life that is most fulfilling on a personal level as well? These are questions that I still have to find out for myself.

After reading the article on Anarcho-Taoism, I’d like to share a small part of Chuang Tzu’s thoughts on the natural disposition of man here:

Horses live on dry land, eat grass and drink water. When pleased, they rub their necks together. When angry, they turn round and kick up their heels at each other. Thus far only do their natural dispositions carry them. But bridled and bitted, with a plate of metal on their foreheads, they learn to cast vicious looks, to turn the head to bite, to resist, to get the bit out of the mouth or the bridle into it. And thus their natures become depraved.

As with horses, so it is with human beings. Left to themselves they live in natural harmony and spontaneous order. But when they are coerced and ruled, their natures become vicious. It follows that princes and rulers should not coerce their people into obeying artificial laws, but should leave them to follow their natural dispositions. To attempt to govern people with manmade laws and regulations is absurd and impossible: ‘as well try to wade through the sea, to hew a passage through a river, or make a mosquito fly away with a mountain!’. In reality, the natural conditions of our existence require no artificial aids. People left to themselves will follow peaceful and productive activities and live in harmony with each other and nature.

In an essay ‘On Letting Alone’, Chuang Tzu asserted three hundred years BC the fundamental proposition of anarchist thought:

There has been such a thing as letting mankind alone; there has never been such a thing as governing mankind. Letting alone springs from fear lest men’s natural dispositions be perverted and their virtue left aside. But if their natural dispositions be not perverted nor their virtue laid aside, what room is there left for government?

9 thoughts on “Chuang Tzu: The natural disposition of man is Political Anarchism

  1. I must admit I’m partial towards Taoism if for no other reason that I am happy to see the case for liberty made by a non-westerner. Awhile back a friend and I were discussing how we felt, at times, outcasts from our ethnic communities by being libertarians since the ideology is seen as monopolized by affluent white males. To see the basic arguments for liberty made in China before the common era is as such joyous.

    As for the question of whether one can live a libertarian life – maybe? I’ve played around with the idea of political identities becoming ethnic identities. What would it mean though?

    • I’m happy to see that the case for libertarianism has been made in other parts of the world as well. 🙂 In the West, I’ve unfortunately had courses in mainly western Philosophy. I’m still too ignorant about the world… but I think it has so many more enriching ideas to offer.

      Your question of how political identities become ethnic identities is extremely interesting. Every human being is eventually influenced by the political system he lives in. Are we in the end not all political animals? Sometimes I feel it’s unfortunate that I’m working full-time as a Software Developer. If not, I could’ve put more effort and time in finding out answers to such questions in great depth.

    • I’m going to interrupt this conversation so I can point Chhay Lin in the direction of Michelangelo’s post on the ethnic libertarian idea (here), and also to his post on nationality (here). Both are worth reading, Chhay Lin.

      Michelangelo: your thoughts on being an outcast deserve a more thorough treatment. Why don’t you write up a couple of posts about it? (I know you’re a busy man.)

  2. “In reality, the natural conditions of our existence require no artificial aids. People left to themselves will follow peaceful and productive activities and live in harmony with each other and nature.”

    Interesting philosophical statement. I doubt that it would withstand the scrutiny of paleontology.

    • Paleontology? Are you on some sort of a dinosaur kick lately or something? 😉

      PS: Can’t wait to see you guys again (in the Pac-12 championship game).

    • Nah, I’m waiting for Jurassic World to show up on cable. UCLA in the Pac-12 championship? What sport, beach volleyball? 😀

    • I have no idea what the Pac-12 championship game is… But your comment has brought me on the following idea: why don’t we at Notes on Liberty add each other on Facebook? You can find me by the name “Chhay Metheus”. 😀

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