Daoist Writings & Primitivist Ideals Pt. 4: Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching has the distinction of being the most venerated anarchist text in history.  And ironically so, since it is written as a guide for rulers.  The Tao Te Ching’s graceful, simple philosophy takes its power from the careful observation of natural harmony.  The author of the text, Lao Tzu, applies his understanding of primal consciousness and natural phenomena to the spiritual, social, and psychological ills that result from authoritarian rule.

I have only reprinted verses I find to particularly resonate with anarchist dialogue, but I assure you the entire text is precious and reading this article alone is like trying to play a piano with so many missing keyes.  I suggest you read the text whole and then dive into the limited comments below.

I hope you enjoy these wise words as though they were spoken by an old friend who left long ago and never returned; that’s exactly what they are.
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Taoist Writings & Primitivist Ideals Pt. 3: The Primitivist Chapters

The Primitivist chapters come from the works of Chuang Tzu, though scholars have concluded that they were written by a later author and were then tacked on to the original Chuang Tzu manuscripts.  These later works are known collectively as the Outer Chapters, the first four of which are attributed to the Primitivist.  From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“[The Primitivist] espouses a viewpoint similar to that found in the Taode jing differing principally in that it is not addressed to the ruler…  Because of their advocacy of a return to a government and social organization [sic] similar to that found in primitive tribal Utopias, [A.C.] Graham has labeled these chapters as ‘Primitivist.’”

The Primitivist Chapters address familiar anarchist themes, such as the abolition of government, laws, and religion (especially attacking Confucian claims of high virtue and sageliness which became the cultural backbone of the Chinese empire; see the first part of this series).  But he goes a step further in clearly identifying domestication as a crime against nature, and always weighing values against their measure of harmony with the natural Way (or the Tao as he would have it).  This firmly fixes the Primitivist in the realm of anti-civilization theory, and my hope is that his writings will hearten us with the knowledge that some have come before us on our rugged trail.
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Taoist Writings & Primitivist Ideals Pt. 2: Writings Attributed to Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu was a Daoist madman, and he loved madmen.  He loved hermits and cripples, those deformed and unruly characters who defy the straightening “carpenter’s square.”  It’s a recurring theme in his writings (or, more accurately, the writings attributed to him) that those things which are flawed are blessed, for humanity can find no excuse to plunder them.  A gnarled tree won’t provide a worthy plank to hew; a deformed man was considered unlucky to sacrifice to the Yellow River.  Thus, being different, they escaped the deluded contrivances of the more civilized, and were allowed, “their years allotted by Heaven.”  Defying the tendency of advancing civilization to homogenize and hegemonize, Chuang Tzu saw in these misfits a relief from the increasingly strict and standardized social order.  Borrowing from the Tao te Ching,

When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
And indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.

(Verse 53)
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