April 8, 2002
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" (§ 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 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" (§ 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...