Lao-Tzu Vs. Machiavelli

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Lao-tzu vs. Machiavelli Government is the essential authority of a country or state, which directly affects society because it provides key securities. How directly involved should the government be in the personal lives of society? To answer this I will look to the ideas of Lao-tzu (sixth century B. C. ), believed to be author of the Tao-te Ching, and Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), author of The Prince There are few ways in which they are similar, but have very opposite views and ideas of government.

Lao-tzu’s view is government should not have optimal power over the people He feels as though the less people know they are being governed, the happier they will be. 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) In Lao-tzu’s writing he refers to the governing body as master. If things happen as nature intends them there will be no need for the Master to make promises he cannot and does not intend to keep.

For instance line 16 verse 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 takes into consideration the individuals and what they can do for themselves, not what they can do for the master. The Master completes the task at hand and does not brag on himself. When this is done the people will think they have done the thing on their own and be proud. 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 he does not. Therefore theft will be nonexistent. Lao-tzu does not believe in the use of weapons, man should have no enemies. We are all human and should not bring violence to others. Violence is only “approved” of in the most urgent situation. If you must kill a man you should not be grateful, but regretful all that follow the Tao value human life. Too much government will lead to ill will toward the state and oppression of the people.

When government doesn’t over burden its people, they are content. As Lao-tzu end 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) Machiavelli, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite of Lao-tzu. Machiavelli refers to the governing body as the “Prince. ” 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. 40) Machiavelli believes a man should always be armed. It makes more sense for an unarmed man to follow the orders of an armed than the opposite. If the prince does not educate himself in military affairs not only will he not be able to trust his soldiers but they will not follow his orders.

The prince must appear to be good but behind the scenes he really is not. In order for him to appear generous he should display his wealth whenever possible. He will use his own resources first, then do everything he can to collect the money from the people. In doing so, his subjects will 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. ” He should not worry himself with this. Eventually he will prove he is not as greedy as he was thought to be.

Once this is evident he can protect himself and wage war without raising taxes and stressing his subjects. Machiavelli thinks it is better for the prince to be feared than loved. 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) 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. According to Machiavelli, a wise Prince will not keep his word if the circumstances for which he made a certain 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. 48). At any point being deceitful will benefit him, he must do so, but not so obviously he will be found out. He will do something for the state and brag on himself as opposed to Lao-tzu, who would let the citizens think they had done such a great thing.

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 thing 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. Where in Machiavelli’s idea of government the prince only thinks of himself and what he can gain; Lao-tzu’s master thinks of the citizens and what will work best to keep them happy. Though these two great thinkers are very different they do have one thing in common. This, generally speaking, at the end of the day as long as the state is maintained by the governing body everyone is happy. 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.

I feel if these two types of government came together as one, with little government involvement, but authority when needed the world might be a little bit better place Works Cited Jacobus, Lee A. "LAO-TZU Thoughts from the Tao-te Ching. " A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006. 21-31. Print. Jacobus, Lee A. "Niccolo Machiavelli The Qualities of the Prince. " A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006. 37-52. Print.

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Lao-Tzu vs. Machiavelli. (2017, Sep 11). Retrieved March 5, 2024 , from

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