Was Lao Tzu a Libertarian? Ancient Chinese Passages from Tao Te Ching

I’m not a Taoist, but I was reading Tao Te Ching (aka Daodejing or Dao De Jing) by Lao Tzu, written roughly 400 BC, considered one of the greatest philosophical/religious works in ancient Chinese history. I came across some great quotes that have some libertarian messages. Lao Tzu was a very wise man. It’s astonishing to see libertarian ideas being revered and advocated so long ago, roughly 2,400 years ago.

Translation by Charles Muller. Also, this version translates “The Tao” into “The Way”, whereas some other versions leave it as “The Tao”.

Chapter 57

[…]
The more regulations there are,
The poorer people become.
[…]
The more picky the laws are,
The more thieves and gangsters there are.
 
Therefore the sages say:
I do not force my way and the people transform themselves.
I enjoy my serenity and the people correct themselves.
I do not interfere and the people enrich themselves.
 
I have no desires
 
And the people find their original mind.
 
Chapter 58
 
When the government is laid back
The people are relaxed.
When the government is nitpicking
The people have anxiety.
[…]
 
Chapter 75
 
The reason people starve
Is because their rulers tax them excessively.
They are difficult to govern
Because their rulers have their own ends in mind.
[…]
 
Chapter 29
 
If you want to grab the world and run it
I can see that you will not succeed.
The world is a spiritual vessel, which can’t be controlled.
 
Manipulators mess things up.
Grabbers lose it. […]
 
Hence, the sage shuns excess
Shuns grandiosity
Shuns arrogance.
 
Chapter 30
 
If you used the Way as a principle for ruling
You would not dominate the people by military force.
 
What goes around comes around.
 
Where the general has camped
Thorns and brambles grow.
In the wake of a great army
Come years of famine.
If you know what you are doing
You will do what is necessary and stop there, not daring to use force.
 
Accomplish but don’t boast
Accomplish without show
Accomplish without arrogance
Accomplish without grabbing
Accomplish without forcing.
 
When things flourish they decline.
 
This is called non-Way
The non-Way is short-lived.
 
Chapter 32
 
[…]
And even though a sapling might be small
No one can make it be his subject.
If rulers could embody this principle
The myriad things would follow on their own.
Heaven and Earth would be in perfect accord
[…]
 
Chapter 37
 
The Way is always “not-doing”
Yet there is nothing it doesn’t do.
If the ruler is able to embody it
Everything will naturally change.
[…]
 
Chapter 42
 
[…]
I also teach:
“The forceful do not choose their place of death.”
I regard this as the father of all teachings.
 
Chapter 48
 
[…]
You can possess the world by never manipulating it.
No matter how much you manipulate
You can never possess the world.
 
Chapter 51
 
[…]
Therefore, the Way gives birth.
Its virtue […]
Leads without forcing.
 
This is called “Mysterious Virtue.”
 
Chapter 53
 
[…]
The court is immaculate,
While the fields are overgrown with weeds,
And the granaries are empty.
They wear silk finery,
Carry sharp swords,
Sate themselves on food and drink
Having wealth in excess.
They are called thieving braggarts.
 
This is definitely not the Way.
 
Chapter 59
 
In governing the country and serving Heaven
There is nothing like frugality.
Only by being frugal can you recover quickly.
[…]
 
Chapter 62
 
[…]
Therefore, even though there are great jewels brought in by teams of horses at the coronation of the emperor and the installation of the three princes,
This is not as good as staying where you are
And advancing in this Way.
 
Why did the ancients so value the Way?
 
You can’t say that it was for seeking gain
Or to have punishments to deter crime.
 
Therefore it is the most prized in the world.
 
Chapter 65
 
[…]
If you use cleverness to rule the state
You are a robber of the state.
If you don’t use cleverness to rule the state
You are a blessing to the state.
 
If you understand these two points, you know the proper norm for governing.
To be continuously understanding the proper norm is called Mysterious Virtue.
[…]
 
Chapter 66
 
The reason the river and sea can be regarded as
The rulers of all the valley streams
Is because of their being below them.
Therefore they can be their rulers.
So if you want to be over people
You must speak humbly to them.
If you want to lead them
You must place yourself behind them.
 
Thus the sage is positioned above
And the people do not feel oppressed.
He is in front and they feel nothing wrong.
Therefore they like to push him front and never resent him.
 
Since he does not contend
 
No one can contend with him.
 
Chapter 68
 
The best warrior is never aggressive.
The best fighter is never angry.
The best tactician does not engage the enemy.
The best utilizer of people’s talents places himself below them.
 
This is called the virtue of non-contention.
It is called the ability to engage people’s talents.
It is called the ultimate in merging with Heaven.
 
Chapter 72
 
When the people do not fear your might
Then your might has truly become great.
Don’t interfere with their household affairs.
Don’t oppress their livelihood.
 
If you don’t oppress them they won’t feel oppressed.
[…]
 
Chapter 74
 
If the people don’t fear death
How will you scare them with death?
If you make the people continuously fear death
By seizing anybody who does something out of the ordinary
And killing them,
Who will dare to move?
 
There is always an official executioner to handle this.
If you play the role of the official executioner
It is like cutting wood in the capacity of Master Carpenter.
 
There are few who will not cut their hands.
 

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