Sitting in Zhazha Cafe on Nanluoguxiang, working off the wireless here. Let's see how long it lasts before it crashes....
Alan, over at Frog in a Well, called me out the other day, asking for a response to a blog post that invokes some Daoist imagery, water in particular, to describe conservatism. Obsidian Wings does a funny repost. Andrew Sullivan apparently like the original post.
Now, I don't know much about how conservatives fight with each other to reclaim and refashion their ideology in the post-Bush era. But Daoism I know (or, don't know, as the case may be). And there is something rather amusing and wrong-headed when conservatives try to claim Daoism.
It's true that some Daoist sensibilities have some resonance with certain conservative ideas. Less government: the Daodejing moves in that direction. Just letting people do their things: to the extent that libertarianism is a part of the incoherent mish-mash that is contemporary conservatism, sure that's kind of like a Daoist orientation. But here's the big problem for conservatives: Daoism is not, and cannot, operate as a political ideology.
The original post, comparing conservatism to water, by Stewart Lundy, wants us to believe that conservatism is not an ideology:
Conservatism is “formless” like water: it takes the shape of its conditions, but always remains the same. This is why Russell Kirk calls conservatism the “negation of ideology”....
I wonder what country he's been living in for the last eight years. Perhaps this is what conservatives have to do now, to purge Bush from their midst: argue that it's no longer about ideology when, for two painful presidential terms it was about nothing but ideology. But I digress.
The real question here for a conservative who invokes Daoism, as Lundy does, is: how far are you willing to go? Yes, Daoism is about "being in the world." And it does tell us to move through Way and life like water, taking on the form of the circumstances that surround us. But for Daoism this means the impossibility of generating or applying any general principles to use as moral guidelines or means of assessment and judgment. Is that a conservative idea? To give up the creation and propagation of clear standards of right and wrong (which
Zhuangzi wards us off in order to avoid "mangling" ourselves and taking us away for our natural experience in Way)?
No. After the facile first impression of "wow, Daoism kind of supports a free market," conservatives, when they come to realize the amoral implications of the Daodejing and Zhuangzi will run for the exits.
There's another problem for Lundy as well. He, like so many conservatives, wants to have God in the picture. And that's fine. But it's definitely not a Daoist thing. At least not a philosophical Daoist thing (and religious Daoism is not monotheistic). I suspect that this would make it rather difficult to get up at the CPAC convention and sing the praises of Zhuangzi and the Daodejing.
So Alan was right. At the end of the day, it's just bad Daoism......
The Zha Zha connection turned out to work pretty well (it crashed once as I wrote this). It's a very pleasant spot here. And, apparently, "zha" means magpie, and their logo is a bird. I'll leave you with it: