It is the nature of human beings to live in communities which are commanded by leaders. Usually people endeavor to become great and admired leaders to their subjects. Scholars have attempted to suggest how to become good leaders in each era of existence. Machiavelli is among the educated people who have put forward suggestions on how to become great leaders. He suggested the methods of becoming a powerful prince through many illustrations and a narration of Kings who lived in the past. Lao Tzu on the other hand suggested different methods of becoming great leaders. The writings of the two scholars indicate that they disagree strongly on the perceptions of how a government should run. Machiavelli believed in a government controlled by a prince who acted more in terms of expediency and maintaining power through brutality than through moral principles. Lao Tzu on the other hand took a more idiosyncratic and lighthearted approach believing that a leader would be loved and respected if he handled issues in a more diplomatic manner and reduced violence in his rule (Boltz, 1993).
Although correspondence between Machiavelli and Lao Tzu’s ideas maybe difficult to notice, there are some instances whereby they tend to concur. Their views are both very extreme as both of them seem to have an unambiguous point of view on how a government should be run. They suggest that people in power must not strive to make everyone happy and should also not be considered unmerciful. Both of them also suggest that leaders ought to believe that their subjects are happy with the way they handle their issues even if they are not happy in real sense. They also tend to agree that every leader should avoid being despised. They believe that a despised leader would fall from power quickly since people would rebel against him and demand for a new leader.
The major distinctions between their contrasting approaches were their proposals pertaining to war, mercy and fortune. According to Machiavelli, war should be part of prince’s profession and all his priorities should be given to combative activities. He added that a prince should be heavily armed since a lack of arms would make him despised and underrated. On the other hand, Lao Tzu on the other hand stated that violence usually rebounds upon oneself whether it is good intentioned or not. He therefore suggested that a good leader should not force anyone since it usually results into revenge. This suggestion was attributed to his belief that if a person does not harm other, he will also not be harmed as well.
Machiavelli encouraged for training during the time of peace while Lao Tzu did not mention anything about preparing for war. The two had varied views on how to spend money (Kaltenmark, Tzu and Taoism, 1969). As Machiavelli encouraged for maximizing on the savings so as to be used for war, Tzu suggested that money should be spent on the subjects and taxes should also be reduced to improve the living standards of the subjects. The last major difference about the two was on issues related to mercy. Machiavelli encouraged the leader to become cruel when need arises. He however suggested that a leader should be considered merciful but the mercy should be limited since excessive mercy would have dire consequences. In contrast to that, Tzu proposed that a leader should not be cruel to his people but should ensure that his people are properly controlled to become more honorable without proscription. This ensures that he is always loved by his people.
Machiavelli’s approach is more realistic as it attempts to ensure that law and order which is one of the main functions of a government is maintained regardless of how people would receive it. When people are left in a state of carefree environment as suggested by Lao Tzu, it would be very difficult to maintain laws and order. People have to be controlled in order to ensure a successful system of governance. This can best be achieved through being stern and in some cases using force to make them appreciate the government in place (Machiavelli, 2002). A good leader should be able to protect his people and this can only be achieved when the leader is adequately prepared for war as suggested by Machiavelli.
Throughout history, it can be stated that at the helm of most of the successful societies, there has been an effective and efficient allocation of leadership. The two writers have attempted to come to a more comprehensive explanation how a successful leadership can be attained. The relationship between the political leaders and their subjects matter a lot as far a successful leadership is concerned. Machiavelli gives the issue a combative approach while Lao Tzu gives the issue a more individualistic approach. Both writers have varied opinion and there seems to be no middle ground between their views. However, a compromise between the two suggestions can lead to a more successful leadership/governance.
Boltz, William G. Lao tzu Tao te ching. In Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide, edited by Michael Loewe. Berkeley: University of California, 1993.
Kaltenmark, Max. Lao Tzu and Taoism. Translated by Roger Greaves. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1969.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. Hill Thompson. Norwalk: The Easton Press, 2002.
The Prince, and Other Political Writings, tr. Stephen J. Milner, London, 1995