My favorite political philosopher

June 24, 2009

Several years ago I was watching one of the “debates” they held during the Presidential primaries, and one of the questions was “who is your favorite political philosopher?” Most of the candidates (this was a Republican “debate”) said “Jesus Christ,” but I don’t really think that works. When I read Christ’s teachings in the New Testament, I see a teacher totally focused on how we should act as individuals, and not on our collective behavior. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said, and when questions with political implications arose—the tribute money, or the woman taken in adultery—he changed the subject or evaded the question. (Note that this argument also applies to politicians on the other side of the aisle who try to claim Jesus as some kind of radical reformer or “community organizer.”)

So who would I pick? I think I’m going to go with Lao Tzu, even if my copy of Tao Teh Ching (translated by John C. H. Wu, Shambhala, 2003) says in the forward, “Though Taoism by its nature is not a philosophy that could well be carried out in government, …”

Here are some examples:

The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When you are lacking in faith,
Others will be unfaithful to you.

The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words.
When his task is accomplished and things have been completed,
All the people say, ”We ourselves have achieved it!”

(That’s chapter 17.)

Bend and you will be whole.
Curl and you will be straight.
Keep empty and you will be filled.
Grow old and you will be renewed.

(From chapter 22. Now I’ll jump to chapter 75.)

Why are the people starving?
Because those above them are taxing them too heavily.
That is why they are starving.

Overall, I’d summarize as “Don’t trust in your own cleverness. Don’t try to force things to happen. Don’t meddle; let people choose their own way.”

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5 Responses to “My favorite political philosopher”

  1. Jad Says:

    Good stuff. One more . . .

    Ch. 57
    The more prohibitions there are, the poorer everyone will be.

    The more weapons are used, the greater the chaos will be in society.

    The more that people seek “knowledge” for its own sake, the stranger the world will become.

    The more laws that are made, the greater the number of criminals.

    Therefore the wise person says:
    I do nothing, and people become good by themselves.

    I seek peace, and people take care of their own problems.

    I do not meddle in their personal lives, and the people become prosperous.

    I let go of all my desire to control them, and the people return to their natural ways.

  2. Tim Says:

    Is Ann Coulter a political philosopher? Seriously, I like that Lau Tzu stuff, but I still think I’d have to go with James Madison.

  3. Annette Says:

    That sounds good to me!

  4. Rachelle Says:

    What about: “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves??”


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