Long before Mises and Rothbard, Lao-Tzu introduced libertarian ideas to China with the Tao Te Ching. Selections from that ancient book of philosophy illustrate the wisdom that would shape American policy under the administration of President Ron Paul.
From Chapter 17 of the Tao Te Ching: “In the highest antiquity, the people did not know that there were rulers. In the next age they loved them and praised them. In the next they feared them; in the next they despised them.”
Since 9/11, George W. Bush has run the gamut. Just after 9/11, he was loved and praised (by a country desperate for leadership); later he was feared (by Americans concerned about tyranny, not to mention the people of Iraq); and today he is despised by most of the world and the majority of his country. Lao-Tzu describes this process of degeneration over vast ages of history — for Dubya, it took about three or four years.
Chapter 17 continues: “How irresolute did those (earliest rulers) appear, showing (by their reticence) the importance which they set upon their words! Their work was done and their undertakings were successful, while the people all said, ‘We are as we are, of ourselves!'”
Ron Paul believes in liberty, letting people be as they are. One consequence of liberty is the free market, in which every individual is permitted to make his or her own choices. Free people will find better solutions than even a “beloved” ruler can impose, and Congressman Paul knows it. Every vote he casts in Congress proves the depth of his belief in this principle.
Chapter 30: “He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Tao will not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a course is sure to meet with its proper return.”
This immediately evokes the famous Ron PaulRudy Giuliani confrontation over the motives for the 9/11 attack. If Giuliani has no time (or stomach) to read Blowback, or the 9/11 Commission Report, perhaps he could at least be persuaded to look over these short verses. America’s decades of attempting to “assert its mastery” over the Middle East “by force of arms,” at least as far back as 1953, brought the inevitable “return” on 9/11.
Or, to put it in Sir Isaac Newton’s terms, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is as true in politics as in physics.
Chapter 30 continues: “Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up. In the sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.” Congressman Paul wants to see an end to the policy of maintaining bases in more than a hundred countries around the world, which has yielded “briars and thorns” in the form of resentment and hostility against America. Ironically, a remarkable number of American citizens seem unaware that their own country possesses this empire of foreign bases, which sometimes prop up oppressive local regimes.
However, if we were attacked by a foreign nation or entity during a President Paul administration, what might the consequences be? Verse 30 continues: “A skilful commander strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery.”
This reflects the military policy of a Paul administration: Use all force necessary to protect the country, but not more. Do not attempt to intimidate or dominate the world. Congressman Paul takes the value of human life, and therefore the wastefulness of war, very seriously. Besides, haven’t we suffered enough vanity, boastfulness and arrogance from the White House in recent years?
Chapter 57: “A state may be ruled by (measures of) correction; weapons of war may be used with crafty dexterity; (but) the kingdom is made one’s own (only) by freedom from action and purpose. How do I know that it is so? By these facts: In the kingdom the multiplication of prohibitive enactments increases the poverty of the people; the more implements to add to their profit that the people have, the greater disorder is there in the state and clan; the more acts of crafty dexterity that men possess, the more do strange contrivances appear; the more display there is of legislation, the more thieves and robbers there are.”
Probably unique among American politicians, “Dr. No” has a long history of resisting the temptation to intervene and regulate. Students of Austrian economics already well understand that government intervention rarely achieves its ostensible ends, while inflicting a host of damaging side effects and unintended consequences. Government schools are consciously designed to suppress learning and thinking ability. FEMA not only didn’t help Katrina survivors, it worked hard to prohibit local workers and private charity from mounting an effective relief effort. Drug prohibition increases violent crime (without reducing drug use) and enriches criminals. And so on, and on, and on.
This is further addressed in Chapter 58: “The government that seems the most unwise, Oft goodness to the people best supplies; That which is meddling, touching everything, Will work but ill, and disappointment bring.” (I am personally annoyed at this translator’s occasional attempts at rhyme). It continues: “The (method of) correction shall by a turn become distortion, and the good in it shall by a turn become evil. The delusion of the people (on this point) has indeed subsisted for a long time.”
Congressman Paul, a scholar in the area of economics, understands that attempts at public good rapidly become public evil. It is simply impossible for a president or a legislature to decide what is best for every single member of the population — far better to let individuals decide for themselves. Even if successful centralized decisions were possible, how many politicians would actually choose public interest over lobbyist money? I can name one.
However, many people continue to call for state regulation as the first and only method to address any problem that arises. The “delusion” that the government is here to help “has indeed subsisted for a long time” — and continues to subsist millennia after those words were written.
Then there is the famous Chapter 60: “Governing a great state is like cooking a small fish.” One must take care with a small fish; a little too much heat will burn it, a little too much poking will destroy it. Again, Lao-Tzu and Congressman Paul agree on matters of government policy (although I’m not sure how Dr. Paul cooks his fish).
Chapter 61: “What makes a great state is its being (like) a low-lying, down-flowing (stream); it becomes the centre to which tend (all the small states) under heaven.”
(Apparently I’m using a British translation.)
Dr. Paul prescribes a humble foreign policy, in which we do not attempt to coerce other nations to obey our will. He endorses the approach of Thomas Jefferson: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” This policy would both increase America’s number of friends and enhance its standing in the world, while removing the motives for anti-American hostility. Furthermore, a noninterventionist foreign policy would save taxpayers many trillions of dollars, money that is sorely needed here at home.
Finally, Chapter 75: “The people suffer from famine because of the multitude of taxes consumed by their superiors. It is through this that they suffer famine.”
Ron Paul is the only candidate who consistently points out that Americans suffer not only direct taxation, but indirect taxation through debt and inflation. As a longtime public opponent of the Federal Reserve, he stands for sound monetary and fiscal policy.
And that’s the Tao of Ron Paul. For those who doubt a principled man who tells the truth can reach the White House, just remember Chapter 78: “There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong, there is nothing that can take precedence of it.”
June 27, 2007