Quietism and Activism

On Twitter I have many friends that I wish I could meet in real life and talk things over with for awhile. Some of them are the sort that refuses to deal with politics at all and want to withdraw their “consent” to be governed by the evil state in any peaceful manner than they can find to do. Others seem to want a revolution to bring down the evil central state and save the world from the U.S. Empire and its murderous military. I was reading a few tweets the other day and both kinds of friends were expressing their views when I thought of Raymond Smullyan and his little book that is a whimsical guide to the meaning and value of eastern philosophy to westerners.


I am a big fan of  Raymond M. Smullyan‘s book called The Tao is Silent and sometimes I think I like it even better than many of the Murray Rothbard books I have read. (high praise for Smullyan indeed) In one chapter of the book he wrote about the difference between the quietists and the activists.

Smullyan wrote:

There is one ethical philosophy which might be characterized as “letting things go their own way, not interfering, not imposing one’s will on nature, letting things happen of their own accord, not trying to reform the world, not trying to ‘improve’ the world, but simply accepting things as they come.” Such a philosophy is, I believe, called “quietism.” This philosophy is intensely irritating to many people called “activists” who believe this is the worse course possible and is in fact responsible for most of the evils in the world. They would say that the last thing we should do is to let things go their own way; if we do that, things will go terribly! It is up to us to prevent the bad things in the world from happening! I cannot think of any philosophy more irritating to some than quietism! Indeed, many will say that quietism is the perfect philosophy for the “purely selfish individual who has everything he wants in life and to hell with the others!”

In opposition to the activists, the quietist quietly points out (or sometimes actively points out) that the trouble with activism is that people who go forth trying to “improve” the world — even those with the best intentions (at least on a conscious level!)—usually “bungle” matters, and only succeed in making things even worse than they already are. The quietist reminds us, for example, that revolutions often establish even worse tyrannies than they overthrow.

It is not my function here to take sides in the quietism-activism controversy. I admit that my personal bias is towards the quietists—I trust them more than I do the activists. But I do not believe that most efforts to improve the world are “bungling” rather than helpful. Some are bungling, and some are helpful, and I do not have enough statistical data to decide which are preponderant. But, as I said, my sympathies lie more with the quietist. …

The above was typed in by hand from my old dead tree book as I don’t know how to copy anything from my Kindle e-book so any errors in transcription would be entirely mine. (If anyone out there wants to educate me on how to use my Kindly, my iPad, or my cloud reader to copy excerpts for my blog I sure would be thankful.)

Like Smullvan, I tend to side with the quietists and I often abhor the activists. But Stoval, I thought you were an activist! No, I try to educate people and am at most a rabble rouser. I am a Taoist and that may explain my total fascination for the American polymath’s book. I think that everyone should read that little gem of philosophy.

I tend to think that we should speak out against the state and try to educate the masses on the nature of the state and why it is an evil institution that can not be useful to us. Voluntary cooperation is the only path that leads to mankind living in peace, prosperity, and harmony. In many ways, Voluntaryism is exactly what the ancient Taoists were advocating.

I find that I would be a total Quietist except that the state is attacking me at all times by its very existence. So, I am “activist” enough to want to find a way to end the aggression against me. That means I am in the middle someplace but far, far closer to a quietist than an activist.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s