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  • Reply to Yuri Pines
  • John A. Rapp

I would like to express my thanks to the editors of CRI for giving me the opportunity to respond to Yuri Pines’s critical review of my book Daoism and Anarchism, and also to Pines himself for pointing out parts of the book he admires and also for pointing out the unfortunate typographical errors and other mistakes in translation and transliteration in the first part of the book and one appendix. I have to say, however, that most of Pines’s criticism is a classic case of missing the forest for the trees, in that his review somehow fails to mention the main thesis of the book, a thesis that I could be more fairly criticized for repeating excessively throughout every chapter.

In this book, my attempt is not to look at antimonarchical critiques of the state in general or at utopian goals of full equality. Instead the book’s main thesis is that the basic idea at the root of all types of anarchism is that the state rules for itself when it can, not on behalf of an aggregate of individuals (as in classic liberalism), a complex web of interest groups (à la liberal/pluralism), society as an organic whole (e.g., Tory conservatism and perhaps Confucianism), or dominant private economic classes (orthodox Marxism). The thesis of the book (which I anticipate may be heavily criticized by Euro-American anarchist-influenced scholars and activists) is that anarchism does not have to be any one type, for example, socialist, revolutionary, and/or movement oriented. Instead, the true radicalism of the anarchist idea lies in its critique of all states as inherently ruling for themselves. In this sense, many Chinese writers from at least the late Warring States period through the Tang dynasty, whether or not one labels them Daoists, clearly used the language of the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi, as well as other texts such as the Yang Zhu chapter of the Liezi, to raise anarchist themes.

I did not contend that all those using language of the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi were anarchists or that the true meaning of all parts of those texts were anarchist, only that one could find this original idea of the state ruling for itself in the earliest versions of these texts and thus that the Wei-Jin anarchists did not distort the classical texts. In the second part of the book, I looked at Chinese writers and intellectuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) era who likewise criticized the state as ruling for itself, in this case by using heterodox ideas within the Marxist tradition. Again, in this book, I do not just look at when Chinese thinkers criticized particular rulers or types of rule, or called for more humane types of rule that would supposedly eventually lead to a stateless utopia, as in the Da tong or Taiping traditions (see below), but when they denounced or tried to subvert the whole idea of rule itself. The chapters in the book, including in the first part, on which Pines focused almost all of his review, were not ordered haphazardly but in a deliberate way in which I tried to build carefully on the argument that this main anarchist critique has existed through large swaths of Chinese history. [End Page 387]

One would think it would have been easy to see how anarchism, when thus defined, whatever other many differences may exist among anarchists, is quite distinct from other kinds of utopian or antimonarchical thought. The main point of a true anarchist critique is that any attempt to limit or control the state through state action itself is doomed to failure, a point Western (and twentieth-century Chinese) anarchists made most trenchantly in their critique of Karl Marx’s idea of the supposed withering away of the state in the final stage of Communism, as I pointed out in the interlude chapter. Marx was, of course, no anarchist, even if, similar to some exponents of the Da tong tradition, he claimed that his ultimate ideal was a stateless society. As I tried to show in the second chapter on utopianism, which the review also largely...