The Dao of Civilization

The book sets out a prospectus for a new form of civilization patterned at every level to serve and sustain the biosphere. Starting with the deep philosophical flaw at the core of modernity, namely that the cosmos is devoid of ends of its own, it posits, as an alternative axis for civilization, that the cosmos indeed actively seeks its own existence, and that its self-realization is moreover internally structured via an impulse, amongst finite things, towards co-generativity. Termed ‘Dao’ in ancient China and often coded as Law in Indigenous and First Nations cultures, this innate template is here taken as a first principle for economic production in contemporary societies: basic modes of economic production must transition from antagonistic to synergistic – to a specifically biological form of synergy which involves not merely the imitation of natural systems but active collaboration with them. The fact that this first principle is so philosophically alien to the Western mind-set while yet finding strong resonances with Chinese tradition, might encourage China, as an emerging great power, to lead the world in crafting a contemporary form of civilization that is true to Dao.


‘For many of us working in the field of regenerative practice, Freya Mathews is the most important environmental philosopher writing today. In this book she sets out profound insights that challenge existing praxis as well as describing the new ways of thinking that will be necessary to shape an ecological civilization. It is hard to conceive of a more urgent task for humanity, and this book is sure to be one of the most illuminating for those that want to lead on that journey’ ― Michael Pawlyn, co-author of Flourish: Design Paradigms for our Planetary Emergency and author of Biomimicry in Architecture.

‘Freya Mathews has given us The Dao of Civilization, an intellectually stunning work that opens new ways of coping with the existential crises of climate change by uncovering the ancient and untapped earth-based philosophies of ancient Chinese Daoism and Australian Aboriginal thought. Mathews persuades us, in her highly accessible and engaging style, that we are anything but helpless in our confrontation with a dramatically changing environment. This is a trailblazing work that will upend the way we think about the world and our place in it’ ― Thomas Michael, School of Philosophy, Beijing Normal University; author of In the Shadows of the Dao: Laozi, the Sage, and the Daodejing.

You can order The Dao of Civilization: a Letter to China at

The Dao of Civilization book cover

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