A competent person has to be effective in conducting his or her job. The definition of good or effective in different careers or lines of work may vary because of the differences in standards and expectations. The issues of being good in politics is one that has resulted in significant debate through time with different ideas being highlighted because of the nature of being political leaders. Plato and Machiavelli present varied views on what makes a good political leader with issues such as justice and focusing on the needs of the masses being considered at length in their discussions. This paper focuses on the discussions of good political leadership in by Plato in the Republic and Machiavelli in the prince. The ideals highlighted by Machiavelli and Plato on the political organization of any country present different courses of action. The focus of the industry and fortune in the polity is also highlighted by political philosophers and are different based on the situations in the polity. Issues such as conquering new lands and re-conquering lost territories also determine the political ideals. Strategies that the leader should use in maintaining order and ensuring that the economy remains robust also influence political philosophy (Kishlansky, 1998).
The issues of moral goodness and legitimate authority in political leadership present significant. Many scholars writing books on advice to rulers or kings felt that political power had to be used by leaders who were virtuous in order to ensure that the people were led morally. According to Machiavelli in the prince, there is no moral basis for leadership. The prince does not have to be a moral person in his conduct of different issues. The person with power has the freedom to command and this command is not achieved through goodness since virtue does not necessarily enhance power. Acquiring and maintaining power are only key concerns for a ruler according to Machiavelli.
The ruler has the freedom to determine what is more essential for the populace and be flexible to provide it. This means issues such as telling the truth are relative and the ruler has the freedom to determine when the people deserve the truth and when they should be told lies to facilitate the rule of the prince. The leader does not require integrity in order to be effective in leadership but he has to appear to have it in order to gain the support of the populace. Flexibility is all about considering what the people need the most and ensuring that it is provided. The means used should not be an issue as long as the end is beneficial to the community.
Machiavelli in the Prince presents ideas on how a monarchy should be run in times of peace and times of war. He also presents significant ideas on how a ruler should conduct himself in order to retain territories that have been conquered. He presents three strategies that the leader can use to rule a city or territory that is used to its peace and liberty. The leader can decide to accept them, destroy them, or let them remain as they were. Benefits should be provided to the citizens in little bits in order to ensure that they enjoy them. The support that a ruler has from the populace also determines how he should govern. It is clear that the ruler who takes over other territories using non-violent means has to follow different rules. The ruler has to determine ways of maintaining friendship with the populace, which is easy when people ask for nothing more than to be protected from oppression. Machiavelli believes that it is more beneficial for a leader to be feared than to gain love from the populace. This is because people love at their own will, but they fear at the control of the ruler. The ruler has a higher ability to control people who fear him than those who love him (Lane, 2010).
According to Plato, the government has a duty to ensure justice for all citizens. The government also regulates all essential aspects of the lives of the citizens such as life, marriage, education, children, and property rights. The government controls these aspects strictly in order to ensure justice and a virtuous city that enhances provision for all. As a result, Plato argues that the leader should have adequate control over the people he rules. He has to be capable of manipulating their actions on different issues including the ownership of property and family life. The government has to ensure that the polity is virtuous by ensuring the development of four virtues. The virtues of temperance, courage, and wisdom come from each of the three groups in the community with the fourth virtue, justice, coming from harmony in the community and collaboration of the three other virtues. The government has to ensure that all people are just, and they fulfill their part in the state. This is only achievable when the ruler can do what is right without considering the opinions of the public. Plato focuses on the formation of a moral polity thus moral crusades should not be limited by public opinion.
Machiavelli argues that people should be left alone if the leader expects their continued support for his rule. The state exists in order to serve the citizens, and thus the government has to be flexible in handling issues to ensure that the strategies taken are beneficial to the state. The government has a purpose of protecting the state from attack by outsiders. Politics is taken to be a cruel game according to Machiavelli, and the ruler is allowed to lie and manipulate the people for the benefit of the state. The ruler has to be responsive to the needs of the people and flexible in implementation of different policies and strategies. Machiavelli was a realist who focuses on realistic ways of achieving the goals of the state even when they may seem unfair or unjust. Good laws and good arms are the foundations of a good government. Although public opinion was given some room by Machiavelli, the ruler has to focus on the state first and manipulate the populace in order to ensure effective leadership. The leadership has to ensure that the government is respected and feared by the people in order to avoid its limitations in influencing the actions and decisions of the people. Plato focuses on morality and virtue more than Machiavelli does. Plato gave a lower level of regard to public opinion in a political leader than Machiavelli did.
Justice is viewed by Plato as being in the interest of the beholder and people who are just are likely to live better lives than those who are not. He formulates the ideal state where people benefit each other through their varied skills. He focuses on democracy and dividing the people in order to ensure efficient allocation of resources and provision for everybody. According to Plato, the government has to ensure that the upper classes (the guardians and the auxiliaries) are well educated to enable the leader to make informed choices (Kishlansky, 1998). The good of the nation gets the key concern from the leaders in both situations. Plato thinks that the leader has to be virtuous and just in order to inspire the same virtues in the populace. The focus of Machiavelli in relation to virtues in the leader is less severe than that of Plato. He considers a level of flexibility concerning virtue and the leader is not expected to be extremely virtuous in his actions. The leader has to be realistic and focuses on strategies to prevent the leader from being corrupted by power. The leader has to do what is good for the state before focusing on himself.
According to Plato, a good citizen is one who ensures that all aspects of the society are well provided. The people have to be virtuous in their actions and ensure benefit for all people. The leader has to ensure that the state is protected through any means necessary. This means the leader has the freedom to oppress people if it is for the benefit of the state. The people were viewed as being there to serve the state and thus the state always comes first. According to Machiavelli, the continued existence of the state is essential for the citizens and the ruler. Self-interest of the ruler may only be pursued when they are in line with those of the state. The state is meant to serve the people by ensuring them security and other necessary things. The politician has to avoid extreme forms of oppression on the people for the benefit of the ruler. The duties of the ruler are to ensure that his actions are beneficial to the state. They should not undertake any actions that may have a negative impact on the state, even if those actions are beneficial to him. Response to public need is a significant aspect in Machiavelli’s ideals and the ruler can subject the people to a brief reign of terror to enhance control (Machiavelli, 1532). Plato’s idea of the polity does not respond to public need but only to the virtue highlighted by the ruler.
Plato’s polity does exclude many of the corrupting aspects in society such as music and art. The noble lie presents a significant aspect of the leader in enhancing his rule through differential portrayal of issues. This is meant to enable easy understanding of the different issues by the masses. Commitment to the truth is not compromised by this because the focus is to ensure that people are virtuous and dedicated to the propagation of his rule and the state of the polity. Threat to the rule of the leader have to be eliminated by all means thus subtle acts of deception to the populace meant to maintain his rule are allowed. According to Plato, issues such as property ownership for the auxiliaries was forbidden, but it was allowed for the lowest classes of people in society because they were the providers of essential commodities such as food. Plato focused on the control of all aspects of the private lives of the citizens in order to ensure virtuous and moral states. Private property rights were supposed to be abolished for all individuals and replaced with common property rights among the rulers. The nature and willingness of people to own and private property was viewed as having the possibility to corrupt and reduce justice. Ownership of property by the state meant that the state could ensure utilization of the same for strategies that were beneficial to the society (Jha, 2010; Allen, 2006).
In Machiavelli’s view, the ruler has to consider the nature of human beings in any actions taken. This includes respecting people’s need and willingness to own private property. To ensure the support of the populace, the leader has to leave many of their customs and behaviours. The masses are also considered interested in security, and they would respect the ruler if he can ensure the security of their property (Machiavelli, 1532). This only occurs if they have property rights and the ruler leaves their customs and traditions untouched. By not touching their property, the ruler can ensure popularity and enable the wealth of the polity to progress because people have a commitment to their property. This highlights flexibility in handling issues and ensures that the government has control over the actions of people because of their commitment and love towards the rulers (University of Mumbai, 2011). Their hold on private property is protected and enables the polity to be self-sufficient because they will ensure productivity for their own benefits.
Plato focused on the significance of virtue in the polity with all people expected to act virtuously in relation to the state and their fellow citizens. Just political body was built on the provision of all necessities for all citizens, but it did not require all individuals to have economic equality. This is because issues such as property rights and the duties accorded in society were divided along the lines of class. The issue of moral corruption among leaders is a negative aspect that would resuce the effctiveness of the leaderand his legitimacy among the people (Allen, 2006; Jha, 2010).
According to Machiavelli, the mark of virtu is not nobility or economic equality but contributing to the common good. This means the government has a duty to ensure that all individuals are well served and that the state is protected from enemies. The leader is also required to ensure that all people get their fair share of the state’s wealth without reducing the power of the state to protect itself. The politicians may have to engage in actions that seem ruthless for the sake of the nation. Actions that may seem ruthless at first are later seen as being kind because they were for the benefit of the state. Self-interest may diminish the power of the leader because he may lose sight of the welfare of the state (Machiavelli, 1532). Economic equality was not a necessary condition in the formation of a just state. The state exists to serve the people, but if ensuring equality among people would reduce the effectiveness of the state in serving others or protecting itself, that goal can be foregone (Jha, 2010).
In conclusion, the two philosophers Plato and Machiavelli hold different views on the qualities of a proficient political decision maker. A leader or politician is a public figure who must master the art of playing the cards well in order to win the confidence of the people and maintain their power or influence. Plato holds that a good leader is the one that is trained to virtue and holds high standards of moral integrity that will enable him resist the wave of vice. Such moral standards should shield this leader even from his personal appetites and passion, which are the cultivators of bad leadership and poor political leadership. Political and personal greediness ruins good leadership, and has influences political mistakes that turn to be grievous and costly both to the people and to the leader. Plato argues that the rule of majority, sometimes does not hold principles of virtue, but a presentation of the peoples appetites, which may be for self-interest and chaotic.
On the contrary, Machiavelli holds a different opinion on what can make a good political leader. According to Machiavelli, a competent political leader is one who can do what needs to be done to maintain order and power. He represents his leader as one who can blend circumstances using both virtue and vice to the desired goals. However, Machiavelli points that the use of evil should remain unknown to the people. He further supports the devotion to pursue the permanence and glory of polity. The ideas presented by these scholars hold value a good political leader is one who can both hold virtue and maintain his confidence to the people. In both cases, sacrifices may be inevitable to maintain such order.