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Libertarianism in Ancient China

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 by Murray N. Rothbard

[This article is excerpted from "Economic Thought Before Adam Smith".]

The three main schools of political thought: the Legalists, the Taoists, and the Confucians, were established from the sixth to the fourth centuries BC. Roughly, the Legalists, the latest of the three broad schools, simply believed in maximal power to the state, and advised rulers how to increase that power. The Taoists were the world's first libertarians, who believed in virtually no interference by the state in economy or society, and the Confucians were middle-of-the-roaders on this critical issue. The towering figure of Confucius (551–479 BC), whose name was actually Ch'iu Chung-ni, was an erudite man from an impoverished but aristocratic family of the fallen Yin dynasty, who became Grand Marshal of the state of Sung. In practice, though far more idealistic, Confucian thought differed little from the Legalists, since Confucianism was largely dedicated to installing an educated philosophically minded bureaucracy to rule in China.

By far the most interesting of the Chinese political philosophers were the Taoists, founded by the immensely important but shadowy figure of Lao Tzu. Little is known about Lao Tzu's life, but he was apparently a contemporary and personal acquaintance of Confucius. Like the latter he came originally from the state of Sung and was a descendant of lower aristocracy of the Yin dynasty. Both men lived in a time of turmoil, wars and statism, but each reacted very differently. For Lao Tzu worked out the view that the individual and his happiness was the key unit of society. If social institutions hampered the individual's flowering and his happiness, then those institutions should be reduced or abolished altogether. To the individualist Lao Tzu, government, with its "laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox," was a vicious oppressor of the individual, and "more to be feared than fierce tigers." Government, in sum, must be limited to the smallest possible minimum; "inaction" became the watchword for Lao Tzu, since only inaction of government can permit the individual to flourish and achieve happiness. Any intervention by government, he declared, would be counterproductive, and would lead to confusion and turmoil. The first political economist to discern the systemic effects of government intervention, Lao Tzu, after referring to the common experience of mankind, came to his penetrating conclusion: "The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished — The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be."

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Roderick Long on Rothbrad

Roderick Long questioned some of Rothbard's assertions, here:


In light of the fact that constitutions don't effectively restrain the state, how is a limited state achievable?

I discovered Lao Tzu and the

I discovered Lao Tzu and the tao when I was in my early twenties, about 40 years ago. I read the Tao Te Ching many times, in every translation I could find. Highly recommended.

Ĵīɣȩ Ɖåđşŏń

"Fully half the quotations found on the internet are either mis-attributed, or outright fabrications." - Abraham Lincoln

Good stuff. Jive you never

Good stuff. Jive you never cease to amaze me with your depth of knowledge. I really respect you and love your music and youtubes.

Who is John Galt? Vote ███ ███ 2012!

Lao Tzu => Ludwig von

Lao Tzu => Ludwig von Mises
Confucius => John Maynard Keynes


Napolitano: "We need Ron Paul now!"

Freiheit: Agreed!

Lao Tzu = Mises

and definitely NOT Rothbard; regardless of the fact that he wrote the article or not.

Rothbardianism is built off of Owner-Sovereignty whereas Mises builds his model off of Consumer-Sovereignty.


Rothbard's unparalleled

Rothbard's unparalleled advocacy of liberty warrants his thought as the last best hope for a future of abundance and oportunity for all.


Marlow: Sham-wow *blinks*

Advocating "liberty" does not mean your philosophy will bring it -- since it hasn't we must agree it is "un-tested"

Rothbardians typically use Somalia, Ancient Iriquois, Ancient Ireland, and the Wild Wild West as examples of where "propertarian-anarchy" or "voluntary courts" have worked.

In each instance, rather than Anarcho-Capitalism they were Tribal-Anarchy.

Meaning there was no rule over the various tribes or clans, yet within those tribes or clans there was "rigid law" -- mostly a communal type of existence.

My argument is Rothbardianism would lead to Tribal Anarchy -- which are very easy models for a Statist country to overthrow; because there is no unity between clans or tribes; they succomb to back-biting and selling out.

That's how all of them died out -- that and military conquest was nearly effortless.

The other glaring contradiction is that they are all "ancient" -- I mean the WWWest was not "anarchist" at all. The President ruled over the govenors and the govenors controlled "the guard" -- The Sheriff ran the posse and militias; and there were taxes and duties -- there were courts that had the authority to kill, kidnap, and steal property (seize it).

The examples one choses to show how their philosophy works is very tell tale of how well thought out said philosophy is.

The Bible says there only ONE LAW ruling men; when that is ignored men will create 10,000 upon 10,000 laws to try to "manage it's absence"

Regardless of religion we need a transition (Consumer-Minarchism) to determine and maturize over this "one law" -- what is it.

All religions teach individualism -- Rothbard is an Owner-Sovereignty advocate -- Mises was a Consumer-Sovereignty advocate.

Which one benefits all the people? It's obvious, not everyone is an owner and ownership implies magnitude of strength; the greater the property-assets the greater the power / influence. Or are you ignoring all of human history?

This is why we need to transition and time to gain maturity in regard to liberty.


In that order.