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An Exploration of Ideal Government and Leadership

The topic of leadership and governments has drawn global interest in the recent past. Human rights advocacy has proved the actions of political leaders to be unethical; such actions continue to raise concerns for the governed and the led. Keohane asserted that government and leadership issues and concerns have existed from historical times and are bound to exist for a long time (190). Moreover, loopholes in political leaderships and government have continued to be dynamic over time. Although ancient philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato and Machiavelli among others had their ideals of leadership and government, the scenario has been changing with changing government policies. However, some policies on governance and leadership have borrowed heavily from the ancient philosophers’ views and are as divergent as their initiators.

Plato, Greek philosopher, believed in having a government and leadership that was either “good or bad” (Wren 59). He believed that a good leader and government was the one that pursued justice and fairness for all. In addition an ideal leader was the one who could conceive eternal and unchanging things. The leader was also supposed to lead and govern people without pursuit of individual interests and welfare while in office. Plato’s work on ideal leadership and government were recorded as dialogues in his book “The Republic”. He did not believe in democracy.

On the other hand, Machiavelli, an Italian philosopher, in his writings in “The Principle” described an ideal leader as one that could be “good and bad at the same time while striking a balance on when to practice either or both of the principles” (Wren 45). He seemed to promote tyranny and immorality. This paper thus discusses the works and beliefs of an ideal government and leadership as propagated by Machiavelli and Plato.

Machiavelli’s Ideal Leadership and Government

Bernard cited that Machiavelli perceived leadership as either a pattern of behavior or the quality of a person (81-82). In both cases, the leader is expected to exert influence on the followers so as to achieve the desired goals. In his book “The Prince”, Machiavelli proposed that good leaders (Princes) would break their promises for practical reasons, meaning they were to be “virtuous and vicious at the same time” (Holliday 60). In his view, an ideal leader was the one who would provide a country with the much desired security and holds power in his hands. A united princedom would be attained only if the prince acquired and preserved power at all times. This was because a government and management would not “stand the test of time” if it did not have powerful leaders (Unger 224).

Machiavelli insisted on practicality of leaders as being the basis of forming successful leadership character and conduct. From Simon and Bowie’s studies it was found that there was no guarantee that other people would follow the leaders who remained moral irrespective of the idealistic notions that were adopted as principles of private morality (132). Machiavelli argued that virtuous leaders were disadvantaged in the real world and hence had to learn what, how and when to do what a bad man would do. In his argument, blame and praise from fellow human beings counted in the public domain than private morality, which only got divine approval and abstract duties. Therefore, Machiavelli was of the thought that a leader should have had “a good reputation” while doing a wrong that was imperative to get a lasting solution to a problem (Bernard 85).

To further rub in Machiavelli arguments, he thought that an ideal leader should seem generous while in essence spending his money wisely. This entailed appearing compassionate while ruling armies ruthlessly and remaining cunning while integrating integrity. According to Holliday, this meant that a leader was supposed to be “loved and feared at the same time” (66). Machiavelli insisted that it was safe for a prince to be feared by the people he ruled.

In addition, a good leader needed to work hand in hand with advisors who would tell the prince what action to take and when to do so. In Unger’s view, to be an effective prince, one needed to have practical skills on how to choose advisors (220). The prince was supposed to have instincts in choosing advisors who would offer honest advice in response to specific problems. They were also supposed to carry out state businesses selflessly and for such actions they would be rewarded with power, wealth and honor to remain devoted to the prince. According to Wren, this made the prince the overriding authority that would decide the fate of advisors whom he thought were not acting in accordance with his commands and wishes (60). Machiavelli believed this was a true measure of how much power the prince exercised on those he deemed his juniors in the authority rank.

Although man’s destiny was determined by sheer luck, he had the responsibility for what remained. Machiavelli argued that “it was not enough for leaders to be skillful”; they needed to take full control of their actions as they also lived in harmony with fate or fortune (Unger 225). Therefore an ideal leader has to be the one who was “skillful enough to boldly calculate possible eventualities of actions taken” (Simon and Bowie 136). With his belief that a perfect leader was the one who could carefully use military to gain power, he was of the thought that a leader would only succeed in achieving a state of power if he was capable of distinguishing the kinds of forces that he would acquire. Such leader was expected to have known the advantages and disadvantages of every action since only this way would the prince have the discretion to gauge the outcomes of an action for example a military advance.

In Machiavelli’s view, a prince was to inform the people he ruled of his decisiveness. According to Keohane, this is proven by being irrevocable in a leader’s judgments so as to maintain a reputation and high esteem among the ruled so that no one would have a chance to deceive or get around him (191). If a prince was highly esteemed, there would be no conspiracies against him since reverence from the ruled would supersede all such thoughts.

In addressing governments, Machiavelli believed that all governments were either principalities or republics. He argued that people were either subjects to “managing their own affairs that interested them or accepting the leadership of a prince” (Holliday 58). This meant that the best leadership in government was that which the prince inherited from people close to the prince’s family. Even if the previous republics had had vitality, the governed would either be ruled carefully or destroyed by a resident prince. This was the essence of a careful use of military forces by a prince.

Plato’s Ideal Leadership and Government

Jayapalan asserts that unlike Machiavelli, Plato belived in a leader who saw beyond the physical realm to what was just and good (8). He was to use the tools of the state to guide the people he led into goodness and justice. In his view, an ideal leader was the one who led by example and an ideal government was that which promoted justice and goodness for all.

In his book “The Republic”, Plato described an ideal state as that which was ruled by philosophers who carried out justice. According to Simon and Bowie, an ideal leader ought to be civilized and rational at all times (133). This was the aristocratic government that was ruled by an aristocratic leader since it exemplified genuine examples of true justice at personal and social levels. In his claims, Plato argued that an aristocratic person arose from harmony in the internal elements of the individual’s soul. In Spielvogel’s view, this implied honesty on the leader’s part; remaining truthful even when it hurts (56-57). In addition, an aristocratic leader accepted bodily pleasures, favorable public reputation and profits of monetary nature only in moderation. However, their main focus was the enjoyment of intellectual achievements by acquaintance to immutable forms. In essence, an ideal leader for Plato was the one who had “educational and intellectual achievements to boast of” (Wren 59). It is only through this the leader was able to stand high before those he governed and tell them to get intellectual knowledge. Through Plato’s lenses, a leader would only pass down what he had. This meant leading was to be done by example. Moreover, action would only be tangible if it was all inclusive and relevant to the individual leader who propagated it.

In Plato’s argument, leadership and government was not to be inherited along family lines, but was to be based on merits. Holliday discovered that education was the basic block of constructing a good society (60). This is because the educated were the ones who would arise to become leaders in strategic positions of the government. Moreover, leaders were to be divided into three groups besides the rulers: auxiliaries, philosopher-kings and workers. He, however, leaned towards the opinion that philosophers had the ability to know absolute truths on how a society would be ruled and hence were “justified to wield absolute power” (Keohane 192). He also was of the argument that irrespective of what the led did, in a society governed by a monarchy, a child would end up becoming a leader if even he were destructive. Spielvogel attributes such cased to the fact that all rulers’ children in a monarchy had high chances of inheriting leadership and becoming rulers in their cities (58).

Plato emphasized the need for “morality in the government as basis of leadership and governance not just of the state”, but of other levels of leadership as well (Jayapalan10). He protested against democracy, citing the fact that it had failed to help Athens to stand as a government. Simon and Bowie assert that Plato viewed the Athenian government as being an amateur government in which citizens pursued livelihoods and pursued decision making in politics concurrently (136). He viewed this tendency of economic self interest as being a drive to benefit the rulers and not the ruled. As such, he rejected self interest kind of rule since he believed that it negatively impacted on leadership quality; it caused leadership degeneration which further resulted to poor welfare for the ruled. He insisted on distinct divide between political power and economic self interest if leadership was to be considered as being ideal. A socialist approach was more preferred, because to Plato an ideal government was the one that used “persuasion on the citizens in a bid to promote those citizens’ welfare” (Duiker and Spielvogel 92). An ideal leader in these governments was the one who was governed by knowledge and reason. These were people with informed minds and lovers of wisdom since that was the only way justice would be attained and passed down to other generations.

The application of Plato’s theory of an ideal government and leadership has been adopted in most countries. Holliday stated that its entire applicability has been marred by its lack of practicability in the current world (63). Most states have so far strived to attain justice as opposed to Plato’s principles of an ideal government and leadership.

In conclusion, leadership and government have remained dynamic with their study becoming more controversial day by day. However, Machiavelli’s immoral and unethical leadership and governments have not been accepted widely in the global arena. In practice however, most national leaders have adopted underhand ways of amassing wealth to themselves and their immediate families. Further more, most leaders especially in Africa have continued many years of bad leadership and governance in which they secretly tax the common citizens to amass wealth and recognition for themselves. Often succeeding in such advances entails the use of police and national armies to fight political opponents. At the same time, instances of preparing members of kin for key leadership positions as a soft way of advancing individual interests in the leadership of states has been common in the modern world. Although government laws mostly disagree to apathy and disregard for human rights, in practice the laws are violated by leaders more than the governed. Similarly, the most leaders often desire to be recognized as powerful men and women at the expense of the wellbeing of the people that are led. This has resulted to falling of States, where leaders ruled for long, coaxing citizens to give them respect that they did not deserve. This follows closely on Machiavelli’s belief of leadership and governments.

The views of Plato on the need for justice and goodness have formed a basis on which most human rights laws are formed. However, there has been varied definition justice by various leaders over time. Much as Plato had a universal definition for justice and countries have adopted his views in making constitutions and laws on governance, it is not universal in practice across the globe. Hate speech has abounded in political campaigns and violence has marred general elections. True justice and fairness is yet to be achieved in any country all over the world.

In my view, an ideal government is that committed to promoting peace, justice and fairness to all, in all sectors at all times. The leaders in this context are those who abide by the laws that are set. However, a truly ideal leadership and government are hard to find, considering that the laws of the land have continued to change and are never perfect in themselves. Therefore, a strict observance of the laws in a way results in flawed leadership and governments.

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