Morality and Leadership in Plato’s "Republic" and Machiavelli’s "The Prince"

Essay, 2021

7 Pages


Plato vs. Machiavelli

Plato's Republic and Machiavelli's The Prince have very different ideas about morality and leadership of a community. Plato asserts that all members of a community ought to be educated and groomed toward a specific occupation, including leaders, by their innate talents and qualities. Machiavelli says that leaders are either born into a family of leaders or they are new. New leaders are of two types, either completely new or the leader of another country that was annexed by the leader. The subject of morality is gone into in depth by Plato. Machiavelli only considers morality in the context of whether it is necessary to leadership.

Leaders in Plato's view should be loyal always even in the face of opposition. They should have the quality of being able to have the communities best interest at heart even if one tries to persuade them to a different viewpoint. The leaders' sole occupation is to lead the community. They are not allowed to have possessions as other members of the community may have. It is difficult to imagine that this would not invoke a desire to have things and a discontent with their assigned occupation (Waterfield, 115-132).

Leaders in Machiavelli's view should always have war and how to wage war as their sole interest. All their time should be spent on this pursuit and nothing else. I cannot imagine that this would be of benefit to a nation. Keeping subjects happy and making policies should also be of concern to a good leader, but Machiavelli addresses those issues as well, but war appears to be the most pressing issue (Machiavelli, ed. Skinner p. 51).

While Plato believes that a community must have a military, war is not a preoccupation to his premise. A well-functioning community is his major concern. What type of government should the community have? What classes should the community have? What type of education system should the community have? These are the concerns of Plato's Republic.

I will first address Machiavelli and then I will turn to Plato. According to Machiavelli, as mentioned above Principalities are either hereditary or new or mixed where a ruler of another county becomes a ruler. A new or mixed principality is a shaky principality according to Machiavelli. This is because the subjects are often ready to change their leader whenever they become discontent (Machiavelli, ed. Skinner p. 5).

Machiavelli believed that it was better to be feared by subjects than it is to be loved. The reason for this is that if a leader is feared people will be less likely to revolt, whereas people would turn on a leader they love if it was advantageous for them to do so. However, he did not believe that the leader should instill fear in his subjects so much that he was hated (Machiavelli, ed. Skinner p. 63).

Regarding morality, Machiavelli is not opposed to lying, cheating, or some other activities that are considered immoral to many because people generally cannot be trusted and will do what benefits them the most with the least consequences. Rational Choice theory seems to be a belief that Machiavelli holds to be true. I tend to agree with his assessment of human nature, however do not necessarily agree that it is an excuse to behave immorally. Whether the actions described are immoral is up for debate.

Plato divided a community into three types of subjects. There are workers, auxiliaries and guardians in a community. Workers consist of farmers, artists, clothing makers, shoemakers, construction workers etc. Auxiliaries are the military. Guardians are the people in charge of making sure the community remains a moral community and functional (Waterfield, pp. 57-69.

The educational system Plato recommends for the community is for each person to focus on the job they will be doing within the community and not be educated in other occupations. The reason for this is that Plato believed that a community would be corrupt if workers tried to do the job of others (Waterfield, p. 70-114).

Plato does not seem to oppose lying, as he describes lying to subjects being a method of explaining why they were chosen for an occupation. He says they should be told that we were created in another world with attributes and brought into this world to fulfill them. This would be a lie. He has a much more complex view of morality than mere actions. He believed that morality comes from usurping your duty to your assigned position in the community (Waterfield, pp. 133-158).

Plato appears to have been an advocate of censorship and dress codes. I agree with him on this point. Social learning theory has quite a bit of evidence to support it. I believe that much of today's problems with crime are due to the media and the expressions made by artists such as writers, actors, musicians. There is much hatred expressed in the media. This would lead to a community becoming dysfunctional and immoral.

There are many layers to Plato's thinking as opposed to Machiavelli's. Machiavelli was very straight-forward. Plato used analogies to get his point across. He believed that the morality of the individual was based upon three different aspects of the personality. These are wisdom, self-discipline and courage. He believed a person could have conflicting emotions about things but gave the most credibility to acting with reason. Following your passions could lead to corruption.

Plato also believed that great wealth or being poor could corrupt a community. If the workers became too rich they may become lazy in their occupation and if they were too poor they could not produce quality products due to not being able to afford the best materials to craft with.

In my opinion Plato's republic is a utopian setting and since it cannot be realized does not have much merit in how to govern. While it is interesting philosophical reading, it is not necessarily prudent to be educated in one career only and to not have a more rounded educational approach.

I agree with most of what Plato expresses about the nature of people. People do tend to be corrupted by the things Plato believed corrupted them. However, I think most people are multi-talented and while I don't believe they should pursue education in fields they are not competent in, I do not believe they should limit themselves to just one pursuit.

Machiavelli was much more practical in his approach than Plato. His main concern was not the morality of the prince, but he was concerned with maintaining the principality. He was not overly concerned with morals at all. I agree with much of what he says if your goal is to maintain the principality. He is very prudent in his belief system.


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Morality and Leadership in Plato’s "Republic" and Machiavelli’s "The Prince"
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morality, leadership, plato’s, republic, machiavelli’s, prince
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Melissa Norris (Author), 2021, Morality and Leadership in Plato’s "Republic" and Machiavelli’s "The Prince", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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