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Government Response Paper Utopian or Reality?

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John McLaughlin

April 8, 2002

ENGL 110

Government Response Paper

Utopian or Reality?

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" (Ð'§ 57, 35), then there is no desire (Ð'§ 37, 24), he dwells in reality (Ð'§ 38, 29), and "the world will govern itself." (Ð'§ 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 feel as though I am disposed to analyze it as a possible effective form of governing. I believe Lao-Tzu's glaring weakness is that he drastically underestimates the potential problems of human nature, especially in the sense that he places us in what is essentially a society void of any possible laws or regulations. Perhaps in his time Lao-Tzu viewed that his interpretation of human nature was entirely possible, but as far as the twenty-first century is involved, the idea that if societies are left unattended we are able to "Trust them" (Ð'§ 75, 59) is absurd. It can be argued legitimately that Lao-Tzu's concepts have been applied and in fact have proven to be extremely effective. For example, a capitalistic, laissez-faire approach to governing, particularly the form advocated by American Republicans. However, cases of removing regulations and adopting the leadership standards Lao-Tzu advises have been strictly applied to market economics, not to each and every facet of government.

Refraining from absolute negativity about Lao-Tzu's work, the Tao does have many redeemable qualities. The emphasis Lao-Tzu places on the attainment of individual happiness is extremely honorable, however this doesn't detract from the ineffectiveness Lao-Tzu encounters, as he is unable to come to well-grounded conclusion on the means for effective leadership. His advice to politicians is to only interfere when it is an absolute necessity; yet he takes this to a radical extreme advising leaders to pretty much do nothing. His ideas are taken to an extent where if human nature falters, which it has proven to do time and time again, then his approach advises to let things "go their own way." (Ð'§ 29, 16) It seems that in some cases third party intervention becomes a necessity, a side of the story that Lao-Tzu conveniently fails to mention.

On the other hand, Machiavelli provides what I feel is a much more realistic approach to government as he takes account for the disposition of human nature to lean towards negativity, as opposed to an inclination to do good as a matter of principle. However, just as Machiavelli prescribed an informed knowledge of history to properly exercise the mind for the role of prince, an insight into the political environment and motivations that surrounded Machiavelli as he wrote becomes a necessity in understanding his philosophy. Machiavelli, born in 1469:

Was a privileged aristocrat whose fortunes wavered according to the shifts of power in Florence. Renaissance Italy was a collection of powerful city-states, which were sometimes volatile and unstable. When Florence's famed Medici princes were returned to power in 1512 after eighteen years of banishment, Machiavelli did not fare well. He was suspected of crimes against the state and imprisoned. Even though he was not guilty, he had to learn to support himself as a writer instead of continuing his career in civil service. (WI 35)

What resulted from his ostracism was an attempt in "The Prince" to win over Lorenzo de' Medici and restore his prominence in Italian political society. Through his efforts, Machiavelli was explicitly advising Leonardo of the urgency to grant what was his one ultimate goal: an Italy that remained unified politically as a defense against the ever-growing threat of invasion from its powerful neighbors: Spain and France. Over the years, Machiavelli had developed a cynical attitude towards the political leadership Italy was experiencing. Accordingly, much of Machiavelli's cynicism was a direct result of his abhorrence for the Roman Catholic Church which "by maintaining a series of temporal states, helped to keep Italy divided." (pg 765 En) Because of his intensity in creating a distinct support of the end justifying the means, my contention is that Machiavelli's lack of moral encouragement is an implicit reproach of the Catholic Church. If the Church's policies



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