A Comparison of Leadership views in The Prince and Tao-Te-Ching
History is rife with influential individuals with ideas on how society and its institutions ought to function. These notions came at a time when leadership was beginning to take hold with those in power seeking the best ways to rule their subjects and remain in control. Leadership emerged as an integral part of society due to its role in determining success or failure. Exceptional leadership qualities were essential in making provisions for an ideal environment where all the citizenry would thrive. Moreover, they would also be adequately prepared to confront any challenges that may come their way and mitigate the possible effects. Nicolo Machiavelli and Lao-Tzu are two historical figures who wrote extensively about governments and the importance of astute leadership. Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat during the Renaissance period and was famous for creating a manual for administration. He lived during an epoch full of political intrigues where influential families such as the Florentine Medici’s sought to consolidate their power. Machiavelli’s ideas on leadership were famously put together in his 1513 edition of The Prince where he explicitly discusses techniques that leaders should employ to guarantee control over their subjects. On the other hand, Lao-Tzu was a Chinese philosopher who lived in the 5 B.C.E during the Warring States period. He wrote his Tao-Te-Ching as a philosophy on how the government ought to exercise its power for it to have total control over its people. In this essay, I will provide a comparison of the views held by these figures on government, obligations of the leader and the role played by the state.
Machiavelli is popularly known for the extreme approaches he recommended to leaders for them to effectively control their subjects. He was particularly vocal at urging leaders to use all means possible to remain in power. In The Prince, unethical behavior was acceptable and was even deemed permissible in practicing politics. It was for this reason that his book gained infamy amongst leaders who claimed that he was perpetuating sheer evil. Untrustworthiness to the people is provided as useful for any leader, whose intention was to outsmart all those around them, therefore maintaining influence. He is responsible for the idea of creating a citizen’s army where a government is ruling a conquered people would enlist the services of pheasants who would serve as mercenaries. Methods employed by the government, under the Prince had to be extreme and would often be at odds with members of the public. An active leader was expected to learn all the dynamics of war as it was the only antic that the government was to uphold. Central to leadership was the ability to wage war to stay in power (Machiavelli and Goodwin 27). It is a technique that will benefit the government together with all those participating in the campaign as it would be easy for ordinary men to rise to positions of power and influence. On the other hand, Lao-Tzu proposes a liberal approach in matters that concern the government’s role to its people. In essence, he supports a laissez-faire government as most useful where there exists a state of understanding between the country and its people: “If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself” (Laozi and McDonald). Central to his philosophy on governments was according to freedoms to the public while avoiding dictatorial tendencies aimed at controlling the subjects. By so doing, a state of mutual respect will exist between a government and its people while avoiding any unnecessary conflict.
Machiavelli is particular about the conduct of leaders and suggests a dichotomy between how they behave in the present and how they ought to live. The advice provided is that leaders need to understand all the rules of conduct when dealing with their subjects. He suggests that wrongdoing was a means of achieving an elaborate political. Leaders were therefore not expected to show any sympathy to their subjects in situations where they sought to accomplish a particular set goal. They were supposed to apply principles that would guide them in leadership, different from how they led their lives (Machiavelli and Goodwin 42). Moreover, he emphasizes the importance of engaging in activities that will bring a good reputation. Leaders were therefore expected to behave in an outward manner practicing generosity while ensuring that their subjects were well aware of them. They were also supposed to keep the country’s coffers and avoid engaging in economic activities that would overburden the public. On the flipside, the subjects were to remain loyal to their government to the point of being ready to die for it. The leaders were therefore only expected to avoid ruthless measures when their subjects proved that they were patriotic and prepared to defend the republic. In comparison, Lao-Tzu believed that the leaders were expected to limit their involvement in their subject’s lives. Virtues were inherent in every single leader who will be manifested to them over time. Rulers were also expected to tolerate their subject’s behavior with their primary objective being their needs while focusing on matters that would improve their life. These leaders would, therefore, succeed in avoiding conflict with other countries for them to channel these energies in their citizen’s welfare. Trust between these two parties is integral if they are to make any social progress: “If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy” (Laozi and McDonald ). Governments were therefore expected to seek legitimacy rather than impose their will on the people then proceed to label these people unruly.
In conclusion, Nicollo Machiavelli’s The Prince is a manual on leadership that underscores the importance of wickedness and belligerence in seeking to maintain a firm grip on one’s subjects. The book’s setting is during the formation of republics in the Italian peninsula and the reason why this treatise was vital to leaders whose intention was to conquer other city-states. His advice borders on the extreme as he expects the leaders to employ unconventional methods in dealing with their subjects as long as they remained in power.
Nonetheless, Lao-Tzu insists in Tao-Teh-Ching, that a leader must embrace simplicity while avoiding external validations for acts that they ought to be performing for their subjects. The government is also expected to respect the freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. Lao-Tzu was, in essence, urging non-interference in the subject’s lives to create a balanced society devoid of conflict. Therefore, both authors produced politically involved works based on the subtleties of human nature.