Lao-Tzu vs. Machiavelli Essay

Government is the essential authority of a country or state, which is directly, affects society because it provides key securities. Two of history’s greatest thinkers Lao-tzu, authors of the Tao-te Ching, and Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince have similar but very contrasting ideas of government, and how people should be governed. Lao-tzu was born in the Chinese state of Ch’u. He spent most of his life working in the library of the Chou dynasty. Once he decided to leave a gate keeper convinced him he would write down his thoughts, Thus creating the Tao-te Ching.

Lao-tzu’s view of government is the master should not have optimal power over the people. He feels as though people should be ignorant of government. A good leader will not try to impose power of his people. There is a plan already set for the universe. No human can change that, so you should not try to control your own destiny. In the end what is destined to happen will and life will be much easier if you let it do so. For example, in the Tao-te Ching Lao-tzu states, “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” (Verse 57). Another example holds true in line 16 verses 29 of the Tao-te Ching, “The Master sees things as they are, without trying to control them. / She lets them go their own way, / and resides at the center of the circle. ” Lao-tzu believes the master should be honest, but there is no need to make empty promises. If things happen as nature intends, there will be no need to make promises that will not be kept. As opposed to Machiavelli who will only keep a promise when the outcome is relevant and will benefit him.

Lao-tzu takes into consideration individuals and what they can do for themselves, not what they can do for the master. The master is on the same level as his subjects. They are so blissfully ignorant to his accomplishments they believe them to be their own. When this situation occurs the people will celebrate, because it is not necessary for the master to brag on himself. Lao-tzu believes people will do the right thing. Wealth and possession of lavish material things are of no concern. In a sense let go of desired things rather than needs.

As Lao-tzu sees it when one person has no more than his neighbor he will not desire to have what does not belong to him. Therefore theft will be nonexistent. Lao-tzu does not believe in the use of weapons. It is unfortunate for a man to have enemies, we are all human and should not do harm unto others. Violence is only “approved” of in the most urgent situation. Of you must kill a man you should not be grateful and celebrate a victory, but regretful and mournful as if attending the funeral of a dear friend, all who follow the Tao should value human life and never wish to take it away.

Machiavelli, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite of Lao-tzu. The prince should gain and maintain power by any means necessary including the use of brute force. Unlike Lao-tzu, Machiavelli believes the prince should consider nothing other than war. If he is not at war then he should be thinking of scenarios in which he and his army would protect themselves should an attack occur. Not doing so could lose the state for him as Machiavelli states, “it is evident that when princes have given more thought to personal luxuries than to arms, they have lost their state: (p. 0). Machiavelli believes a man should always be armed, For he feels as though it makes more sense for an unarmed man to follow the orders of an armed than the “for man to make a vocation of being good at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good” (p. 42). Though the prince would rather be considered generous than a miser, he shouldn’t concern himself with either. In order for him to appear generous he should display his wealth whenever possible. He will use his own resources first, and then impose taxes. Doing so, will lead his subjects to be exposed to poverty.

This will cause them to distrust the prince and may lead to an uprising. To avoid such a catastrophe he must come across as a “miser. ” Eventually he will prove he is not as greedy as eh was thought to be. Once this is evident he can protect himself and wage war without raising taxes and stressing his subjects. Therefore, it is actually better for him to be miserly than generous. Machiavelli thinks it is better for the prince to be feared than loved. For a prince who is loved will be compassionate towards others, mainly his soldiers.

When danger is at bay his men will hold him in the highest regard. Should an attack occur they will very quickly turn their backs on him. He may be viewed as weak and untrustworthy, thus easier to overtake. As he explains, “And men are less hesitant about harming someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared because love is held together by a chain of obligation which, since men are a sorry lot, is broken on every occasion in which their own self-interest is concerned: but fear is held together by dread of punishment which will never abandon you” (p. 46).

If he is loved rather than hated he can never keep an army of soldiers under his command. However, he must not be so feared to the point he is hated to do so he must not take what does not belong to him, and keep his hands off the wives of his subjects. According to Machiavelli, as wise Prince will not keep his word if the circumstances for which he made that promise are no longer relevant. Machiavelli uses the following statement to defend this reasoning, “but since men are a sorry lot and will not keep their promises to you, you likewise need not keep yours to them” (p. 8). At any point being deceitful will benefit him he must do so, but not so obviously he will be found out. The prince must also keep himself from being despised and hated, As stated above the things that would make him despised the most would be: if he were to steal money, land and women from his subjects. Machiavelli lists other things which will make a prince despised, “What makes him despised is being considered changeable, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly, irresolute. In other words if the citizens feel the prince is quick to change at the will of another, appears that things aren’t important to him, stressed or afraid his subjects may begin to think he is not worthy of being their prince. The prince must always “pretend” he is something he may not be. Too much government will lead to ill will toward the state and oppression of the people.

When government does not over burden its people, they are content. As Lao-tzu ended the Tao, “If a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. / They enjoy the labor of their hands/ and don’t waste time inventing/ labor-saving machines. Since they dearly love their homes,/ they aren’t interested in travel. / There may be few wagons and boats,/ but these don’t go anywhere. /There may be an arsenal of weapons,/ but nobody uses them. / People enjoy their food,/ take pleasure in being with their families,/ spend weekends working in their gardens,/ delight in the doings of the neighborhood. / And even though the next country is so close that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dog barking,/ they are content to die of old age/ without ever having gone to see it. (Verse 80, Tao-te Ching) On the other hand, not enough government may lead to opposition or over throw. Such as not having military or police force in Machiavelli’s eyes this makes one appear weak. Though these two great thinkers are very different they do have one thing in common. This is they wish to keep their subject content, such as not imposing taxes, in Lao-tzu case this would lead to one being more wealthy than another, leading to jealousy and thievery: or Machiavelli’s which would lead to oppressing the people and making himself more wealthy leading him to be despised.

Be it with little or no government at all in Lao-tzu’s opinion or Machiavelli’s with the brute force of military and deceit. In conclusion, though it may seem impractical. I feel if we were to combine the ideas of these two great thinkers and implement them into our own government and around the world we may have a better place, using Lao-tzu’s laid back influence and Machiavelli’s military approach, without one overpowering the other all nations might be able to tolerate on another more peacefully.