Lao Tzu and Machiavelli’s View of The People.
Azhar A. Sapargaliyeva Professor Hammerbeck Introduction to Critical Issues 18 September 2012 Compare Lao Tzu’s and Machiavelli’s view of “the people”. How does each author’s conceptualization of “the people” affect what kind of government they support? Life experience, culture, language, time of living and many other factors affected Lao Tzu’s and Niccolo Machiavelli’s views on how an ideal leader ought to govern a country. These views, expressed in their texts, reflected on how these writers perceived the fellow men. Lao Tzu is a Chinese philosopher and founder of Daoism.
He is the author of a philosophical document called “Tao-te Ching”. Niccolo Machiavelli, is a 15th century aristocrat and a writer, mostly famous for his political treatise, “The Prince”. This essay will attempt to analyze both authors’ views on human nature and the way these views affected the types of government supported. As mentioned above different lives of Lao Tzu and Machiavelli influenced their images of human nature. Lao Tzu worked in the court of the ruling dynasty and lived a quite stable and peaceful life in around the 5th century B. C.
E. Whereas Machiavelli lived during the time of political turmoil in Italy. He was suspected of conspiring against the royal family and was even tortured for that (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Thus, these different living conditions led both philosophers to think of “the people” differently: Lao Tzu had a positive opinion of individuals, which is contrary to that of Machiavelli’s suspicious and cynical image of “the people”. This is important to analyze because these views in some way determined the way they portrayed an ideal government.
Lao Tzu, in his “Tao-te Ching”, has an optimistic, almost idealistic perception of “the people”. His proposed attitude for the ruler to have toward citizens resembles that of parents toward a child. They treat the child with love and care. At the same time they let go of restrictions and rules, so that he/she learns from their own mistakes and grows up to be self-reliant. The “upbringing” of children can be compared to governing people. Lao Tzu in paradoxical way proposes to stick to the “practice of not doing” (Jacobus 24) and let the things take their natural course.
The author encourages leaders to give “the people” more freedom and rights: “I let go of the law and people become honest” (Jacobus 29). He believes in the good in people and in their ability to choose the morally good paths. He says: “Throw away morality and justice and people will do the right thing” (Jacobus 25). His description of an ideal government resembles a modern day democratic type of government as “democracy” literally means “ruled by the people” (Britannica Online Encyclopedia). “The Prince” reveals an entirely different view of “the people”.
Lao Tzu is mostly concerned with their well being. He advocates politics based on moral considerations while Machiavelli advices the leader not to bother with such things and focus more on practical politics. The latter is a reflection of a pessimistic and cynical view of “the people”. According to the author they are “ungrateful, fickle, avoiders of danger and greedy for gain” (Jacobus 46). The very title of the book, and its form as a handbook for the ruler, a single person, hint at support for monarchic type of government.
Monarchy is a type of political system in which authority is represented in a single person who exercises supreme power (Britannica Online Encyclopedia). Moreover, strictly speaking, Machiavelli basically says that “bad” people need a strict ruler, who would be feared. As a matter of fact “it is better to be feared than loved”, because love is temporal, while fear is constant (Jacobus 46). Therefore, his kingship seems more like an autocracy or even dictatorship. Dictators gain despotic power, which they then maintain through the use of intimidation and oppression (Britannica Online Encyclopedia).
The advice in these two texts, however, might not be as relevant as handbooks for politicians these days. Practice shows that there have not been many prosperous absolutely democratic governments, which at the same time imposed no laws and restrictions whatsoever; neither have there been many despotic monarchs in power to successfully run a country. The views of “the people” by both writers represent two extremes, and seem to be unrealistic and in a way paradoxical.
Reading and understanding both books, however, is still of significant value, because they represent the literary and historical legacy of political thought and most importantly they disc?lse the tw? particular ways of l?oking at the world. On the one side “The Prince” gives an insight of what the w?rld looks like from a dem?ralized and cynical realist’s perspective. On the other hand “Tao-te Ching” expresses utopian perceptions of an idealist. To sum up Lao Tzu in his “Thoughts from the Tao-te Ching”, he advocates the “practice of not doing” as a way to govern people.
One of the reasons for that are the author’s high opinion of and a belief in their ability to adopt a morally right behavior. He proposes for things to take their natural course. Therefore, adapted to modern times, the type of government that Lao Tzu supports resembles democracy. Machiavelli, on the contrary, views ‘the people’ as “simulators and deceivers”. Thus he directs “the prince” to rule by keeping ‘the people’ in awe. He signals his support for monarchy and, possibly, dictatorship. Works Cited Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Democracy. 15 Sep. 012. <http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/157129/democracy> Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Dictatorship. 14 Sep. 2012. <http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/ 162240/dictatorship> Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Monarchy. 15 Sep. 2012. <http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/ 388855/monarchy> Jacobus. Lee A. A World of Ideas. Boston: Bedford / St. Martins, 2010. 925-28. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Niccolo Machavelli. 8 Sep. 2009. 14 Sep. 2012. <http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/machiavelli/>
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