Throughout history, it can be argued that at the core of the majority of successful societies has stood an effective allocation of leadership. Accordingly, in their respective works “The Tao-te Ching” and “The Prince”, Lao-Tzu and Machiavelli have sought to reach a more complete understanding of this relationship. The theme of political leaders and their intricate relationship with society indeed manifests itself within both texts, however, both Lao-Tzu and Machiavelli approach this issue from almost entirely opposite positions. Lao-Tzu appears to focus the majority of his attention on letting problems or situations take their course and allowing good to prevail. On the contrary, Machiavelli advocates the necessity for a successful leader, or prince, to take control of his endeavors, and the skills or qualities necessary to maintain power, at any cost. Since these thinkers both make an inquiry to what is essentially the same dilemma of effective leadership, it becomes almost a natural progression to juxtapose the two in an effort to better understand what qualities a prosperous leader must possess. In this sense, when we utilize the rhetorical strategy of compare/contrast as a vehicle to transport us to a more enlightened interpretation of Lao-Tzu and Machiavelli’s conclusions, it becomes apparent that Machiavelli’s effort is much more successful as his practicality serves its purpose much more effectively.
Although they share some similarities in ideology, these parallels are greatly overshadowed by the concepts in which Lao-Tzu and Machiavelli diverge. Their primary distinction lies within their view of human nature and it’s role in governing. Lao-Tzu maintains that if we promote a system of governing to the least possible extent, then human nature should manifest a favorable temperance and dictate the direction of society. In fact, Lao-Tzu asserts numerous attempts to illustrate his point that if leaders, “Stop Trying to control” (§ 57, 35), then there is no desire (§ 37, 24), he dwells in reality (§ 38, 29), and “the world will govern itself.” (§ 57, 35) Although this is an extremely optimistic and beneficial ideal, the main problem with Lao-Tzu’s entire philosophy is exactly that, it can only be viewed as a philosophy. Because it appears under the section entitled “Government,” I...
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...d this consequently deducts from the validity of his advice.
As he begins to conclude, Machiavelli states that the prince: “should think about avoiding those things which make him hated and despised.” (Mach 48) Although these lack any withstanding moral values, they are effective in the sense that they better serve their purpose. Machiavelli was seeking to display a way to hold political power by any means possible not a utopian state. This may mean malicious acts, imprisonment, and torture, or it may mean the utilization of power to achieve a common good. Machiavelli doesn’t elaborate on this. He concentrates on a realistic approach towards government, as he remains concerned with the establishment and protection of power.
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
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