Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Daoist Liberalism

In comment #14 in this thread, I suggested that “parts of the Zhuāngzǐ are committed to a form of political liberalism, on which all individuals should be allowed to live, without government interference, in a way that comes naturally to and pleases them, provided they allow others to do so as well.”

It occurred to me that explicating this claim might make for an interesting post.

The Chinese political tradition is generally regarded as authoritarian, in cases even totalitarian, in both theory and practice. This view is one basis for certain claims about differences between traditional Asian and contemporary Western political cultures, which have sometimes been cited as grounds for resisting liberal democratic reforms in Asian countries.

According to the “Asian Values” rhetoric of the 1990s, for instance, Chinese political culture is traditionally authoritarian and communitarian. It supposedly emphasizes respect for authority and prizes social harmony, cohesion, and stability. The self-identity of people who live in this political culture is understood to be constituted, at least partly, by their relations to kin, community, and state. Individuals are expected to subordinate their interests to those of the social groups to which they belong, for the good individual life largely just is life as a contributing, cooperative member of the family, clan, community, or state.

These features supposedly contrast with the emphasis on equal respect, individualism, and pluralism embodied by liberal democratic theory and institutions. Liberalism tolerates or even encourages pluralism and individual expression and accepts reasonable disagreement about comprehensive conceptions of the good as a normal feature of political society.

I think the above generalizations about authoritarian and communitarian tendencies in Chinese political thought are a roughly accurate description of certain strands in the Chinese tradition. They are largely true of Xúnzǐ’s 荀子 political philosophy, for instance.

But some of them, at least, are certainly not true of all strands of traditional Chinese political thought. In this regard, I think the example of the Zhuāngzǐ 莊子 is particularly instructive, as it presents a recognizable form of liberalism that dates all the way back to the formative period of Chinese philosophy. (I think related claims can be defended about the Dàodéjīng as well, but I won’t do so here.) Zhuangist liberalism seems to me especially significant for two reasons. First, it is a clear counterexample to any claim that traditional Chinese political ideology is uniformly authoritarian and places little emphasis on individual liberty. Second, it has a distinctive character that sets it apart from familiar Western versions of liberalism. Specifically, Zhuangist liberalism is not grounded in either descriptive or normative individualism — as, for instance, certain versions of liberalism rooted in Kant’s or Mill’s philosophy are. We might call it, instead, a form of communitarian liberalism.

My arguments for these claims are complex and can’t be presented in full here. (Some preliminary arguments are presented in this paper.) But let me point to a few Zhuāngzǐ passages that provide especially direct grounds for them.

Consider, for instance, the second through fourth sections in book 7 of the Zhuāngzǐ, each of which touches on the topic of “governing” (治) the world. (These passages can be found here. For a better English translation, try here.)

  • Section 2 criticizes a Xúnzǐ-like approach to governing, on which the ruler sets models and standards to be emulated by all, thus guiding their ethical “transformation” (化) into obedient, harmonious members of society. The text dismisses this approach as “fake ” (欺德) and indicates that it is as impractical or ineffective as trying to walk over the ocean. The implication is that, contrary to Confucian and Mohist political thought, actively imposing ethical guidance on people — whether through “moral charisma” or other means — cannot succeed as a strategy of political rule. (I’ll omit discussion of the passage’s positive recommendations, which are less relevant to my purpose here.)
  • Section 3 characterizes the proper approach to governing as one in which the ruler “follows how things are in themselves, without allowing any personal attitudes [of his own]” (順物自然而無容私焉). The ruler is not to impose his personal values or view of the good on those ruled, but instead to follow along with their inherent tendencies or patterns of life.
  • Section 4 characterizes the rule of an “enlightened king” as, among other things, contributing to society while minimizing interference, such that his accomplishments seem not to issue from him personally (most likely, because they fully align with the needs and values of those he assists). Such a ruler creates circumstances in which “things” (including people) are “joyful in themselves” (使物自喜). That is, individuals achieve a form of self-fulfillment.

Passages such as these provide sufficient grounds, I think, for attributing a form of liberalism to the Zhuāngzǐ. But what’s particularly interesting is the basis for this liberalism. The ruler is to “follow how things are in themselves” not out of respect for them as individuals, but out of an understanding of their place, and his own, in the various patterns that make up dào 道, along with an appreciation of the justification for their way of life, which may be as strong as that for his own. Interfering with the “self-so” (自然) way in which his political subjects live is bucking the flow of the holistic dào of which he, they, and other things are parts. For the same reason, the common people should refrain from interfering with each other. Ideally, dào connects (通) everything together into a “community” of 德, the “power” in us exercised in adapting to and flowing along with the changing patterns of dào. (In the metaphysics of book 25 of the Zhuāngzǐ, the analogy of a “community” 丘里 is used to characterize dào; in the deeply romantic political theory of book 9 — which I take to be distinct but related to that of book 7 — people are depicted as living in “shared ” 同德.)

So I think it plausible to call this Zhuangist political vision an indigenous, Chinese form of “communitarian liberalism.” I’m curious to hear what other people think.

March 18th, 2010 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Daoism, Taoism | 8 comments

8 Responses to Daoist Liberalism

  1. Phil H says:

    It’s hard to get past (a) the scraps in modern times over what “liberal” means; (b) the absolute refusal in the passages you cite to talk about agency, particularly the agency of anyone other than rulers; and (c) the constant analogies with animals, which are a bit insulting.
    But even if we allow all that… I’m still not sure that any understanding of liberal could really be stretched this far. It would depend a bit on who the target audience was. If you maintain that the readers were only going to be rulers, then this could be read as an admonition to let the ruled do whatever was in their dao. But to anyone other than a ruler, it also reads a bit like a strong warning not to get too uppity: The man who studies and works hard is a “drudging slave”.
    It’s also quite hard to read this as communitarian, because there doesn’t seem to be much of a community. Everything finds its own enjoyment; (personal) views are to be excluded from social exchanges. This seems significantly less communitarian than Confucianism.
    In book 25 the animal analogy is pushed even futher, turning a whole community into a single horse. This reads to me like a desire for harmony so strong that the author feels compelled to deny humanity, to turn ordinary people into animals or parts of animals, because this is a model that he thinks is harmonious – or natural, or in the dao, or with its own 天理, however you want to put it. This isn’t an embrace of communities, it’s a rejection of them in favour of a mechanism, organic but inhuman.

  2. Steve Angle says:

    I think there is enormous value, both scholarly and political, in bringing out ways in which the Chinese political tradition is more diverse than the Asian values argument claimed. So I am very sympathetic to your general approach, Chris. Still, there are a lot of questions that come to mind.

    Methodologically, I gather your idea is that there is a strand of the text that (1) makes sense to treat as a unit for independent reasons, and (2) pretty consistently supports the political view you’re articulating. Would you agree that there are other strands of the text that are quite apolitical — or which, to the extent they have a political upshot, don’t give us a strong reason to do anything other than accept whatever authority is in place?

    Isn’t a key assumption behind finding the view you articulate in the three passages you cite that individuals are the best judges of that they are in themselves? That is, it seems to me that one could ground a quite authoritarian politics on these three passages, so long as one believed that a king or sage knew better than did his subjects what the subjects were “in themselves.” There is a difference between being misled by personal attitudes, which such a king or sage would avoid, and not making one’s own judgment.

    It would also be helpful to get clearer about the kind of liberalism you’re talking about. To me, “political liberalism” means the views Rawls develops in his book of that title, which are now widely discussed. The core idea (as I’m sure you know) is finding an overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines, which grounds a particular basic structure for the society without requiring any broad agreement. This is different from a society committed to liberalism as a comprehensive doctrine, in which case there will still be room for “private” differences about the good life, but requires a deeper and broader consensus on values than does the merely “political” idea. Insofar as the Zhuangist idea you’re developing is something like “let people alone because that leads to a flourishing community” — which I take to be a specific vision of the good — then it seems to me that your idea is closer to liberalism as comprehensive doctrine than to Rawlsian political liberalism. Do you agree?

    There’s certainly more to say, but that’s a start!

  3. kaimarchal says:

    Dear Chris,

    I agree with Steve that comparing/approaching these two strands of thoughts is of enormous value. And, indeed, Zhuangzi and liberalism do share a certain family resemblance, in agreeing on a generally non-interventionist attitude toward political affairs. Mou Zongsan, in fact, makes a very similar claim when he writes that Daoism (in particular Zhuangzi) is “the philosophy most strongly opposed to communism, while closely resembling the spirit of liberalism” (最是反共的一種哲學,很合乎自由主義的精神, see his Zhongguo zhexue shijiu jiang 中國哲學十九講, Taibei: Xuesheng shuju, 2002, p. 107). Living in Taiwan, I often have the intuitive feeling that a lot of people sharing Daoist values also show certain liberal views on the market economy, family values, the democratic regime, etc. However, what would you do about the strong tension between the natural and the political sphere which, since Hobbes, is characteristic of liberal thought? I.e. the idea that human beings shall “create” (voluntarily and artifically) their political community? Trying to engage with Zhu Xi (who undoubtedly was strongly influenced by Zhuangzi’s/Guo Xiang’s ideas about the “self so” 自然), I find it extremely difficult to connect his “naturalism” with modern politics based on the separation of family and public sphere, on a strong notion of individual freedom, on the rule of law, etc. This said, I am very sympathetic to your notion of “communitarian liberalism”… (And it would be great to have a “communitarian-liberal” party in Taiwan or Hong Kong!) But I fear Daoist liberalism would be very different from any form of liberalism common in Europe or the US…

    to attribute a kind of liberalism to Zhuangzi (and other Daoist thinkers)

  4. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Chris,

    1. In your paper you attribute to the text the view that (1) whenever we act on any value distinction, explicit or implicit, “we respond to some potential grounds for action while overlooking others that might be equally well founded in the features of things. (2) We thus neglect, and are perhaps even blind to, features of the world that are as real and potentially useful as those we act on. (3) So any practice we follow or values we act on are both “complete,” insofar as we have recognized and acted on them, and “deficient” or incomplete, in that they inevitably exclude other practices and values.” (numbers added)

    The significant part of the passage seems not to be the final conclusion (3), which looks pretty empty, but rather the quantitative phrase “as potentially useful” in (2) — seeming to echo, if not draw an inference from, the “equally” of (1). That quantitative judgment looks potentially relevant to the reasonableness of reconsidering one’s own values and plans (and hence open-mindedness about one’s own affairs), grounding that reasonableness in the value of usefulness. Two questions then come to mind.

    First, since the (2) applies to all possible values and practices, it seems not to weigh in favor of reconsideration and open-mindedness. For it says that no matter what values or decisions you end up with, they’ll have this very same deficiency. Reconsidering won’t help with that. What would be relevant to whether reconsideration and open-mindedness are worth the trouble would be the likelihood (not the possibility) of doing better by reconsidering. That topic is simply not broached here (except insofar as the quantitative “as” and “equally” sort of suggest that doing better is a false hope). What have I misunderstood?

    Second, I wonder what conception of usefulness you have in mind. Instrumental service to the values one currently holds? One’s own well-being otherwise understood? The good of a larger whole?

    2. You say that according to parts of the Zhuangzi, “all individuals should be allowed to live, without government interference, in a way that comes naturally to and pleases them, provided they allow others to do so as well.” Here you seem to say that the Zhuangzi offers a norm that is not agent-relative. But the paper you link to seems to stress that the Zhuangzi (the same part of it?) rejects the possibility of such norms. For example, on page 16: “The patterns agents follow in distinguishing shi-fei may be grounded in mind-independent features of things. But an action-guiding distinction is constituted as such only by agents’ taking it as a basis for action, just as a way is formed only by being followed (2/33). In this sense, shi-fei and thus values are partly dependent on our judgments and practices.”

    Similarly, your paper attributes to the Zhuangzi the view that “no norm for discriminating shi-fei can be ultimately or universally correct.” But your post attributes to the text the view that “the proper approach to governing” is to minimize interference, and that “the common people should refrain from interfering with one another.” Do these norms not count as universal? Or perhaps these norms do not count as “universally correct” because non-interference can’t be one’s whole life-project, because it leaves many practical questions open? Or perhaps these norms do not count as “universally correct” because they are not entirely without cost?

    3. The ideas you find in the Zhuangzi: do you also find them reflected in any significant strand of “Chinese political culture” or “the Chinese political tradition” – I mean, outside the text? I’m wondering because the ideas seem pretty subtle and the reading seems hard to arrive at.

    The Analects strikes me as closer to liberalism as a serious enterprise. I think a society keeps liberty only if it sees political activity as a responsibility or at least a high vocation, and sees justice as an objectively authoritative value. The Analects emphasizes the vocation of public service, the norm of respect, government by deference/yielding, learning from others, reciprocity between ruler and ruled, the ineffectuality of punishment, proper limits of governmental demands on the people, the value of listening to those below, etc. These points are not hard to see in the text, nor woven through a parade of the fantastic. Alas that they have not had more influence on institutions.

    I have other questions, especially about the sort of Kantian line you sketch in the paper; but I’ll stop here for now.

    • Chris Fraser says:

      Hi Bill, regarding your first item, the gist of point (2) is that alternative values or practices will have different strengths and deficiencies, which may make them more or less advantageous in different particular contexts. They’re alike in all having deficiencies, but not the same deficiencies. By “usefulness,” I meant potentially any of the three suggestions you make, depending on context. Another sense of “usefulness” might be by the standards of some new value we adopt on the grounds of an existing value or of overall well-being.

      Regarding your second item, I’d say that “minimizing interference” is indeed not a “universally correct” norm in the sense at stake, for two reasons: it is a higher-order guideline concerning the general manner in which to proceed, not a first-order standard of shì-fēi (there is no specific type of action that counts as “following what’s self-so for people” in all cases), and any particular way we might unpack it or spell it out will be subject to the completion/deficiency relation.

  5. Chris Fraser says:

    My thanks to Phil, Steve, Kai, and Bill for these interesting and challenging comments. It’s important to address the sorts of issues their comments raise if we are to take Daoism seriously as a tradition of ethical and political thought (as I think we should). In the following, I’ll try to tie together a few key issues from each of their posts.

    A good place to begin is by clarifying what I meant by “liberalism.” I was using the term in the thin, minimal sense of a political view that advocates giving individuals a high degree of negative liberty. Daoist texts express this sort of stance by advocating that the sovereign avoid interfering with people’s “self-so” (自然) way of life and refrain from imposing a comprehensive conception of the good on them. Liberalism as I’m construing it here contrasts with views that advocate extensive control of individuals or that would impose a comprehensive conception of the good on them. In response to Phil, I think it’s not much of a stretch to apply the term “liberalism” in this sense to the Zhuāngzǐ.

    By “political liberalism,” then, I meant simply a liberal political stance in the above sense. I didn’t intend to allude to Rawls (and I don’t think we should tie the phrase “political liberalism” to just his particular position). But I did intend to follow Rawls in characterizing a specifically political form of liberalism. In response to one of Steve’s questions, then, I did have in mind liberalism as a political doctrine, not as a comprehensive conception of the good. This reply may seem surprising, so I should expand a bit. I think the Zhuāngzǐ presents a range of conceptions of the good that are, in Rawls’s terminology, “comprehensive” (or at least inclined that way). That is, these conceptions include an overall view of value, tied together with certain epistemological views and metaphysical views about the nature of persons. (I take some initial steps toward articulating one such Zhuangist conception here.) Some of these conceptions of the good are intertwined with the political stance I tried to articulate in the original post. But I think the political stance is sufficiently detachable from them that one need not endorse a Zhuangist conception of the good life in order to endorse the Zhuangist political stance. One need only endorse certain core commitments that support the political stance. From the Zhuangist standpoint, someone committed to embodying the Ruist ideal of the jūnzǐ 君子 (gentleman) in his personal life could without practical contradiction endorse and participate in a Zhuangist political society. (I could be wrong about this, but I think these claims can be sustained.)

    My suggestion here parallels the case of contemporary political liberalism, which rests on a narrow core of shared moral values abstracted from broader, more comprehensive versions of liberalism. In Charles Larmore’s political liberalism, for instance, the core values are equal respect for others and a commitment to solving problems through rational dialogue from neutral premises. The analogous core values in the Zhuangist case might be acknowledgment of dào 道 other than one’s own as part of the holistic “Great Dào” of nature, acknowledgment of other persons and creatures as part of the “Great Dào,” and a commitment to interacting with others by finding ways that converge with theirs.

    Steve raises a methodological question about how the passages I cited on political issues relate to other parts of Zhuāngzǐ. If I understand the question properly, perhaps I can clarify this way: Various Zhuāngzǐ passages explicitly address the issue of “governing” (治). They don’t all express exactly the same views about it, but a prominent normative theme seems to be that government should avoid interfering with people’s “self-so” ways of life. Other parts of the Zhuāngzǐ address eudaimonistic concerns (how best to conduct one’s own life) and moral ones (how to interact with others), among other topics. Some of these other discussions might be wholly apolitical. But the moral views (such as liǎng xíng 兩行) I think tend to cohere with and support the political themes I’ve tried to articulate. The views about the good personal life treat (among other points) the question of how to cope with “the inevitable” (不得已), which might include the unjustified actions of an authoritarian or tyrannical ruler. In such contexts, the texts might discuss how best to accept and cope with (possibly illegitimate) political authority. But I think that’s a separate issue from the normative political stance I sketched.

    Steve asks, might these Zhuangist ideas actually be compatible with authoritarianism? Could a wise ruler be a better judge than individuals themselves of what is “self-so” (zìrán 自然) for them or makes them “joyful in themselves,” such that he could justifiably employ authoritarian means to guide them toward such perfectionist ends? I think the answer is No, not on my construal of “self-so” as a distinctively political concept. On my interpretation, “self-so” is not a normative, perfectionist end to which one could appeal in constructing an instrumentalist argument for an authoritarian political system. I take “self-so” to be a non-normative description, namely, how things are in the absence of external control or interference. (That is, “self-so” or “so-in-itself” 自然 simply refers to the absence of “external force” 外力.) The notion of “following the ‘self-so’ of things” (順物自然) thus excludes interference with the path people themselves take. In reply to another of Steve’s questions, then, I don’t think these views rest on the assumption that individuals are the best judges of what’s self-so for them, and any form of authoritarian control or guidance would by definition fail to be “self-so.”

    I should add that parts of the Dàodéjīng (such as chapter 3) may express a different view, on which the sovereign shapes the environment within which individuals follow a purportedly “self-so” way of life. In that view, the sovereign indirectly guides people toward a particular conception of the good. I think that view is inconsistent with other ideas in the Dàodéjīng and Zhuāngzǐ.

    In raising the issue of how to relate the natural to the political, Kai touches on a gulf between Enlightenment liberalism and certain strands of ancient, Romantic, or communitarian political thought. Views that treat political society as natural, rather than as, as Kai says, the artificial creation of human beings, sometimes tend also to conceive of society as an organic whole, within which individuals are regarded primarily as parts. The state possesses natural authority over individuals, much as parents possess authority over their young children. Such views tend to devalue individual liberty, as individuals’ identity is regarded as stemming primarily from their place within the whole.

    In this context, Kai’s question may be prompted by construing zìrán 自然 as meaning roughly “natural.” I myself don’t interpret it that way, though; I read it as “self-so,” as explained above. So I’d approach Kai’s issue by considering the relation between either tiān 天 (nature) or Dào and rén 人 (humanity). The Zhuāngzǐ presents several distinct views on the relation between nature and humanity. One is that we should maintain a balance between the two (天與人不相勝), while recognizing that humanity is fundamentally natural, that our 德 — the “power” that is the heart of the Zhuangist conception of agency — issues from nature, and that the highest exercise of lies in action that flows along with natural patterns and structures. Maintaining a balance between nature and humanity requires that we exercise to “navigate” our way through natural conditions intelligently and harmoniously. I think the link between nature and the political for the Zhuāngzǐ comes with the observation that other people are part of the natural structure of the world and that they too exercise dé, and so we must “navigate” our way with each other. As with all our actions, nature does not fix how we are to do this, but only sets certain general conditions under which we proceed.

    Human beings thus must exercise their own agency to determine how to interact politically. Now it turns out that, like all other classical Chinese thinkers, the only form of political society the Zhuangists envision is a monarchy. But they suggest that the appropriate way for the ruler to interact with his subjects is to follow along with the patterns they themselves are inclined to follow. This advice is directly analogous to the the suggestion, in the Pao Ding story, that the appropriate way to cut up an ox is follow along the natural structure of its body. This approach also allows the members of society to exercise agency (Phil’s worry).

    Can the Zhuangist political vision aptly be called “communitarian”? I agree with Phil that this is a stretch, insofar as the “community” in question is quite different from what communitarians usually have in mind. But we should expect the Zhuāngzǐ to defy conventional categories, and I think there are reasonable grounds for extending the word “communitarian” this way. The Zhuangist idea of community may be more ecological than social, but it is a kind of community nonetheless: people (and other creatures) are disparate, heterogeneous parts of a whole, and both parts and whole flourish when a balance is maintained among the parts and they are allowed to follow their particular “patterns.” (The animal metaphors that bother Phil I take to underscore the continuity between human social life and other parts of nature and the potential variety of “natural” ways of life. I agree that a few “primitivist” passages apply animal imagery to articulate a prelapsarian, romantic ideal of natural harmony that might leave little place for human agency.)

    Bill asks, in his third point, whether the recognition and toleration of alternative values and the emphasis on non-interference that I find in Zhuāngzǐ are in fact prominent in the text and whether they had any impact on the later tradition. The interpretation I give in the paper I linked to is subtle, I agree, because of the complexity of book 2 (Qíwùlùn 齊物論). But these basic themes seem to me prominent and easy to find in the Zhuāngzǐ. Related themes are also prominent in the Dàodéjīng, Guǎnzǐ, and Huáinánzǐ. As to their historical impact, through the Táng 唐 dynasty they have an explicit influence. Beginning in the Sòng 宋 they are partly appropriated, in various ways, by the dào xué 道學 movement and its successors and critics. As Kai points out, motifs such as zìrán 自然 play a role in Zhūxī 朱熹. There are clear influences on Wáng Fūzhī 王夫之 and Lǐ Zhì 李贄. Zhāng Bǐnglín 章炳麟 explicitly lists Zhuāngzǐ among his influences. Reconstructing just how early Daoist themes are reflected in later thought would be an interesting project (Chén Gǔyìng has done some work along these lines). But beyond such influences, I’d underscore a point Kai touches on: certain Laoist and Zhuangist ideas, such as “follow what’s self-so” (順其自然), simply permeate Chinese culture, much as other Chinese values such as filial devotion do.

    As to liberal-like tendencies in the Analects, without disputing the features Bill attributes to the text, I don’t see that it advocates non-interference with individuals’ ways of life. I think it advocates imposing a comprehensive conception of the good on them: All are expected to bend before the force of the ruler’s 德.

  6. Phil H says:

    That’s a pretty impressive exposition. With that reading of “ziran” and the caveat that you do seem to be reading Zhuangzi as advice for rulers exclusively, I can see the how the liberal argument works. I’m still struggling with the communitarian idea, because the exclusion of outside influences that “ziran” implies seems to render any kind of community problematic.

  7. kaimarchal says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks a lot for your comment! Sorry, I didn‘t realize that you had posted a reply to my question until this week.

    Concerning my question about the notion of „naturalness“ (qua “ziran”). In relating Zhuangzi‘s use of “ziran” to the Western notion of “nature”, I was, I guess, somehow thinking of the Aristotelian conception of physis, the natural as what happens usually and for the most part and which has within itself a principle of change and resistance to change (Physics 192b13-14). If no external force comes between, natural beings will follow their characteristic activities. I still think, this is pretty close to a central aspect of the term “ziran” in Zhuangzi (and your reconstruction), i.e. each being realizing its inner patterns/tendencies without interference (or, in your words, “how things are in absence of external control or interference”). Of course, Zhuangzi seems to lack a strong notion of human telos…

    I just got Brook Ziporyn‘s book on Guo Xiang here at the library of Zhengzhi daxue and began reading it. As somebody interested in Zhu Xi, I believe that there is indeed need to investigate Guo‘s influence on the “Four Books” commentary (for example, Zhu frequently refers to budai 不待 and wudai 无待, two key-terms in Guo Xiang). Now, you seem to believe that, following Zhuangzi, we should understand human society as a natural, “organic” being, entirely spontaneous and without any purpose (you refer to”natural balance”, viz. “natural structure”). Somehow, this reminds me of Hayek‘s vision of human society – but this may not be your intention… Still, I wonder how, in your vision of Daoist politics, would human actors „exercise their own agency to determine how to interact politically” (in your words)? How would they act according to their own intentions, without pre-existing purposes, but freely? How would they overcome the restrictions and inequalities imposed by nature (family life, paternal authority, economic needs, etc.)? In one word, how would you describe the “political” element in Daoist politics (“political” in the sense of concerning the status of free and equal citizens of a polis, as Aristotle writes)?

    By the way, the „prelapsarian, romantic ideal of natural harmony“ plays a crucial role in the French Zhuangzi reception (for example in the writings of Jean Levi, but also in Jean Francois Billeter or Jullien). I tend to be quite skeptical of Levi’s highly romantic (and more or less naïve, I think) vision of human communal life (I wrote a critique of his approach to the Zhuangzi that you can find here link to nscnt12.nsc.gov.tw

    Of course, I DO see the positive, utopian value of your Daoist vision. But I tend to be more Confucian on this point: there must be certain common goals for human actors, some notion of the common good which are not spontaneous at all, but results of deliberative, conscious creation: what culture qua cultivation was always about (here, I may sound more communitarian than I actually am)…

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