Tao Te Ching III – “Do that which consists in taking no action”

This passage (1.3.10) sets out the Tao Te Ching as a political treatise, for the education of rulers, like Plato’s Republic: but unlike Plato’s Republic it is neither idealist nor idealistic. There is not a transcendent good, true or beautiful idea or ordering of society to be attained: it is through practising non-action that one governs best, that order prevails, that society is harmonious.

In governing the people, the sage “keeps them innocent of knowledge and free from desire”. This shouldn’t be taken to mean, “pull the wool over their eyes and carry out repression”. Rather we should consider afresh the terms innocent of knowledge and free from desire.

Quickly we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden. The rebellion of Adam and Eve should not in the first place be considered as being a rebellion against something metaphysical (“God”), or as an explication of how “the human condition” lost its original goodness, innocence etc.

The act of disobedience is a political act and the myth serves primarily to give a lesson in governance. The ruler is represented by the figure “God”, who has power; the people are represented by Adam and Eve.

Desiring in the first place and then eating from the tree (of the knowledge of good and evil) was precisely the action which disturbed the natural order. The ruler’s enemy is this desiring,the knowledge it wills, the rebellion it inspires. The ruler reacts by restoring order – he punishes and ameliorates through legislation, and finally effects reconciliation and restoration.









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