When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists…When his work is done, the people say,

“Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!” – Dao De Jing, Chapter 17

A man is rich in proportion to the things he can afford to leave alone – Henry David Thoreau


Daoism and libertarianism: the two great philosophies of freedom. And who doesn’t like freedom…for themselves? The desire to be free to live as one chooses is culturally universal across time and space, being advocated even in the Dao De Jing.

The Dao De Jing (aka Tao Te Ching) was written in ancient China during the 4th century BC. ‘Dao’ means Way, ‘De’ means integrity, moral wholeness, or holiness, and ‘Jing’ means book. This Book of the Way of Holiness neither explicitly advocates nor opposes any modern system of political beliefs. Rather, Daoism is a philosophy of a way for people to live in unity with all things. Because government is a group of people, and because it is good for this group of people to live in unity with us, then the Dao De Jing advises government how to have healthy and integrated relationships with people.

Similarly, libertarianism is a philosophy about a political relationship, the relationship between the citizens of a nation and the group of people who create, judge, and enforce the rules of that nation. This philosophy advocates the value of protecting human life and the property or resources used by them. Libertarianism is also about allowing people to live according to their own values insofar as they are not using, stealing, damaging, or destroying the lives and property of others without their permission. Having respect for a person’s life and the things that person uses to benefit their life is fundamental to any healthy relationship.


Dao De Jing, Chapter 58

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.

A person must be moral, but part of being moral means letting go of the desire to control the morality of others. Governing with tolerance does not mean approving of the morality of the people, rather, it means allowing them to practice their morality insofar as they are not using force to prevent others from doing the same.

A moral person is capable of doing immoral things. If they do not let go of the desire to control others, then when this person obtains a position of power, they will risk abusing that power. A moral person who abuses power commonly represses others in the name of morality, which then decreases their own morality and removes any justification for desiring to control the morality of the others.

Even a moral leader, who does not attempt to control the morality of the people, cannot make everyone happy. Particularly in a country like the U.S., in a large nation there are many different kinds of people with different values and desires, and these often conflict with the values and desires of others. Therefore, attempting to please all of them all of the time will anger all of them because they will observe the leader attempting to please those whose values and desires conflict with their own. This is why a leader in a populous and diverse nation must let go of controlling and pleasing, and let people be themselves insofar as they are not using force against others.


Chapter 60

Governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking.

The fish will be edible if you just leave it be. It isn’t going anywhere, and there isn’t anything wrong with it being fried.

Likewise, there isn’t anything wrong with letting the people live their lives in the absence of a meddling government. And, if the government does not meddle, then they will not likely go anywhere, because people who are free to live their lives are content with where they are. This is why immigrants in any nation tend to originate from countries with lower levels of freedom.


Chapter 61

When a country obtains great power, it becomes like the sea: all streams run downward into it. The more powerful it grows, the greater the need for humility.

If a nation is centered in the Way, if it nourishes its own people and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others, it will be a light to all nations in the world.

Image by Darvin Atkeson

The more power a nation has; the larger its navy and army, the more police patrolling the streets, and the more surveillance and spying it conducts, then the more it is perceived as a threat. This is likewise true for individuals. To foster peace, a powerful nation or person must demonstrate a lack of attachment to their power. They must show that they are tolerant of others having power also. If a nation or individual fears the power of others, then how will they treat others when they attempt to obtain power?


Chapter 31

Weapons are the tools of violence; all decent men detest them. Weapons are the tools of fear; a decent man will avoid them except in the direst necessity, and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint. Peace is his highest value.

Weapons are like vaccines, or divorces, or prisons; they are shitty ways to solve shitty problems. Sometimes weapons are needed to solve the problem of violence. But, like the Force, they should be used only for defense, never attack. If using a weapon, a person must always keep in mind that the goal is to secure peace, and any use of any weapon that fails to secure peace is a wrong use of that weapon.

Fear is contrary to peace. Peace cannot be secured with fear, and the two cannot coexist. Using a weapon to invoke fear is a wrong use of that weapon.


Chapter 75

When taxes are too high, people go hungry. When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit. Trust them; leave them alone.

Ever notice that paying higher taxes is good only for other people. A few people say they want to pay more taxes, but their words contradict their actions; they deduct all they can from their taxes. Of course, practically everyone is willing to give some of their money to government. But, if the purpose of giving money to government is to support the people, and we are the people, then we might as well just keep most of our money. This way, we, the people, can decide how it is spent.

The reason some people do not want other people to keep most of their money is because they distrust those people. They prejudge those people to be selfish simply because they belong to a particular demographic. They assume those people will spend their money in ways that cause harm or fail to cause good. And, naturally, it is always other people who cannot be trusted to keep their money.

Voters who distrust others will vote for politicians who likewise distrust, because we vote for politicians who are like us. But, a government that distrusts the people will not be a government that acts for our benefit. So, if too many voters distrust other voters, then we will have a government that fails to act for our benefit. It will intrude into our lives in various ways using policies supported by people who distrust us. Eventually, we will lose our spirit, and losing our spirit will be reflected in a decrease in voter turnout.

So, unless someone is destroying, damaging, or otherwise using the life or property of another without their consent, then government should leave them alone, because “If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy”.


Chapter 77

Those who try to control, who use force to protect their power, go against the direction of the Way. They take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who have far too much.

Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham

Greed for power leads to theft of the freedom of those with little. Governments hold great power, and too commonly it is never great enough. When governments steal in an effort to obtain more power, they dare not steal from the powerful; they need the powerful to support them–to unite with them. Thus, they steal from those with little power, and who have little ability to protect themselves. Since they desire union the powerful, then the governments that steal share with the powerful that which had been stolen. When a government steals from both the weak and the powerful, then only the government will hold that power.


Chapter 57

If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Way. 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.

Leadership  There is nothing wrong with attempting to influence people, but the desire to control people who have sound mind and body comes from a place of fear. With family, friends, and romantic partners, and especially in politics, too many people are held captive by a deep fear of loss that they put great effort into denying others the freedom to live their own lives.

Prohibitions  Those whose freedom is restricted do not magically become virtuous; the sin continues, and in secret, where no one who loves them can see it and help them.

Weapons  A fear of being denied freedom motivates some to threaten others with their own might, metaphorically puffing up their own chest by stockpiling weapons. Then, when others see that massive force of arms, they develop a fear of their own, and react aggressively. Self-defense is justified, but if a person lets fear hold them captive, then their desire to defend themselves will be expressed in a manner that motivates others to attack them.

Self-reliance  ‘Spoiling’ is not a phenomenon unique to children of wealthy parents. All children can find psychological value in working for a reward. Work builds discipline and strength, and is an opportunity to overcome challenges. When a person is given too much without laboring for it, then they miss these opportunities. They become weak, cannot overcome challenges, and demand that those who have developed strength lift them out of the hole into which they were thrown.


Some say that my teaching is nonsense. Others call it lofty but impractical. But to those who have looked inside themselves, this nonsense makes perfect sense. And to those who put it into practice, this loftiness has roots that go deep. – Tao Te Ching, Chapter 67