井底之蛙

3/23/2009

Bad Daoism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:35 pm

Calling Sam Crane. Apparently Laozi is the best way to understand modern American Conservatism.  Original here. Favorable notice here. It is nice to know that Laozi’s praise of water which does not strive is very much like those who praise capitalist competition, and that those who willinging take the lower position are much like those who want to “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran.” I suppose I could do a long snarky post on what a silly comparison this is but I guess I will in part leave it to Master Crane.1 I will say however that this seems to be an example of how while a good application of Ancient Knowledge to the present can be enlightening, a really bad one can go beyond being wrong to being utterly pointless.

  1. Who I hope also has better things to do. []

14 responses to “Bad Daoism”

  1. I liked Hilzoy’s response, “well, I think that conservatism is more like motor oil, or peanut butter….”

    I have to think about whether to mention this contemporary use of Daoism to my Early China students….. maybe not.

  2. slowboat says:

    It is nice to know that Laozi’s praise of water which does not strive is very much like those who praise capitalist competition, and that those who willing take the lower position are much like those who want to “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran.”

    didn’t see any mention of Iran in the linked-to piece.

    if you’re going to trash the idea and spend more than 50 words doing so, you might at least take the effort to make a logically coherent trashing of the idea.

    full disclosure: i am not a conservative.

  3. Alan Baumler says:

    Slowboat,

    Bombing Iran was one of the things John McCain was at one point in favor of. He was, until the day after the election, the leader of America’s conservative party. I also failed to provide any evidence that Republicans are in favor of capitalism, for which I apologize.

  4. slowboat says:

    Alan,

    i still don’t see the logic.

    none of these statements convince me any more than your first statement that:

    (1) something true of a constituent (or, re. your mention of John McCain: a constituent of a constituent) is necessarily or even probably true of the whole; or that

    (2) exceptions to an ideology as practiced negate the philosophical principles on which the ideology was founded.

    among other things.

    i don’t mean to snark, but it strikes me as poor form for academics to abandon so easily, in the interests of pedestrian political ideology, the benign disciplines of logic and/or rhetoric.

  5. hanmeng says:

    Americans who label themselves conservatives have many differing and even conflicting ideas. Some of them, who could also be called “classical liberals”, believe in small government, unlike either Barack Obama or George W. Bush. And as Laozi says, “Governing a big country is like cooking a little fish” 治大國若烹小鮮。But most politicians believe they know better than their constituents and ought to “do something” and intervene left and right.

  6. Alan Baumler says:

    Slowboat,

    As I said in the first post, I find the comparison between conservatives and Laozi’s ideas about water not just wrong but useless, so I don’t seem much point it talking at length about it. Of course not all conservatives are Republicans nor do all Republicans agree on everything. Unless conservative ideology is completely empty and vacuous, however, (which I guess might make them Daoists) there must be some things they tend to share in common. I thought it non-controversial that Republicans tend to favor capitalist economics and have for most of my life, been fairly aggressive in their ideas about the use of the military. You apparently disagree.

  7. slowboat says:

    I thought it non-controversial that Republicans tend to favor capitalist economics and have for most of my life, been fairly aggressive in their ideas about the use of the military.

    Alan,

    i don’t disagree at all. much to the contrary, in fact.

    i do, however, disagree with the sleight of hand that rejects a comparison between “Conservatism” and the principles of the Dao by denouncing Republicans.

    Republicans today are to Conservatism (a largely political philosophy founded as a reaction to the French Revolution and, later, Liberalism) as Chinese alchemists are to the Dao: each of former was inspired by, but deviates in practice from the the principles of the latter.

    i understand that you “find the comparison between conservatives and Laozi’s ideas about water not just wrong but useless.”

    but i had also read your initial post as dismissing a comparison between Conservatism (*not* “Republicans” or “conservatives”) and the Dao rather than between Republicans (*not* Conservatism) and the Dao.

    whatever. this is your post. i don;t want to harangue you any further about the matter.

    but as useless as the original comparison may be (which is not immediately apparent to me), how much more so is a criticism thereof which conflates a 200+ year-old philosophy with a discreet group of its present-day semi-adherents, namely Republicans?

  8. What slowboat says is right, at least in representing my article.

    It’s probably helpful to know that I am an anarchist and a Taoist. My redefining conservatism is in essence drawing others to Taoism gently by appealing to its conservative ideas such as longevity, inaction, ignorance, and so forth. Taoism is NOT modern conservatism. I think it SHOULD be.

  9. Alan Baumler says:

    Stewart,

    Good luck on creating a Taoist conservatism distinct from all the modern versions of conservatism. I wish you well. Have you read Allen’s Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue? It may help you some with the water metaphor, if you have not read it already

  10. lirelou says:

    Damn, what happened to Frong in a well China? It used to be a blog that discussed Chinese scholarship, dropping tidbits of information that inspired rank amateurs like myself to delve deeper into Chinese history and politics. This sounds more like Frong in a well Korea, which aspires to be a political blog about Korea, but fails to match such fare as The Marmot’s Hole or GI Korea. Who gives a damn about American Republicans, Democrats, or even Anarchists on a blog about China?

  11. Actually, there’s a lot of overlap between anarchism (some versions, anyway; definitional consensus can be a challenge) and daoism (which defies positive definition): minimalism, rejection of categories, anti-government, pro-poverty, anti-competitive, absurdly optimistic about human nature, etc. I don’t see an analogue to Burkean conservativism — which is really gradualist not traditionalist — in the Chinese tradition, because all of them (with the exception of Legalism, which is radically pragmatic and anti-conservative) assume that a return to the imagined past is the best that could be hoped for. There are versions of modern conservativism which are more like Daoism and Confucianism in their retrograde approach to the world, and even some that share the totalitarian impulse of Legalism.

  12. Sam says:

    Thanks for the call out but, yes, at the moment I do have better things to do. I’m in China running around catching up with friends and students. I might try to circle around and pick up this thread next week when I’m home (and looking to avoid grading). In the meantime: what Jonathan said above…
    an

  13. I echo the suggestion that “if you’re going to trash the idea and spend more than 50 words doing so, you might at least take the effort to make a logically coherent trashing of the idea.” You might also read the article and the site on which it was posted, rather than just react to the buzzword “conservative.”

    Mr. Lundy’s site, Front Porch Republic, was created to help restore “concepts such as human scale, the distribution of power, and our responsibility to the future” to “the public conversation.” It stands athwart “the political and economic centralization and atomization that have accompanied the century-long unholy marriage between consumer capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state” and against a “flattened culture and increasingly meaningless freedoms.” Its contributors are “convinced that scale, place, self-government, sustainability, limits, and variety are key terms with which any fruitful debate about our corporate future must contend.”

    That seems pretty Taoist to me, and not very “conservative” in the Bushevik sense of the word, but it doesn’t fit into the “two ideological veal crates” (to use paleoconservative Bill Kauffman’s term) that the contemporary American political lexicon offers, and is thus not easily understood.

    I think a little “rectification of names” is required here. The words “conservative” and “liberal” have lost any meaning they ever had. Stewart Lundy et. al. are what are called “paleoconservatives,” as opposed to Bush and his “neoconservatives” (a battle goes all the back to the 1930s*). The paleos were among Bush’s fiercest critics long before the War in Iraq even started. As Kirkians, they have no “paleoconservative ideology” to adhere to, but they tend to be non-interventionists (both in economy and foreign policy, unlike both neoliberals and neoconservatives) and radical decentralists.

    *The story is documented by Justin Raimondo, the openly gay editor of Antiwar.com who gave Pat Buchanan’s nomination speech in ’92 (when the candidate was running against Gulf War), in a 1993 book entitled “Reclaiming the American Right.”

  14. […] are much like those who want to ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran’” — Bad Daoism. The author proves himself to be very much a “frog in the well” (井底之蛙), to […]

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