Different philosophers approached the concept of governance from specific angles. Specifically, Niccolò Machiavelli approaches this topic from the practical and cynical standpoint by implying, “any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good” (Machiavelli and Marriott 38). This statement can be interpreted as a recommendation to the leaders to refrain from good deeds in an intention to execute excellence. As Machiavelli considers, the majority of people are far from being good or are able to manifest excellence. Consequently, an individual, who managed to achieve a high level of moral excellence, will become a threat to others. Machiavelli advises the leaders to learn how not to be good and use knowledge only when it is required in order to retain authority (Machiavelli and Marriott 38). Machiavelli has a cynical approach to governance by claiming that good people usually lose to the wicked ones, as their methods and abilities are limited. According to this approach, bad people have a huge advantage over the good ones since they are able to do whatever it takes to attain their goals.
Lao-Tzu’s approach is radically different. Lao-Tzu developed Daoism that fostered the principles of attaining virtue, harmony, and happiness through constant work, self-improvement, and patience. The philosopher believed that the path of a Daoist is difficult but possible and, while not all people are able to attain absolute harmony, they have to invest all of their efforts in self-improvement. Lao-Tzu’s approach is idealistic, as he considers that the leaders must become the example for the followers by manifesting perfect ethical code of conduct and constant self-improvement. The philosopher considered that the evil intentions root in people’s attempt to live in accordance with their nature instead of improving themselves and eliminating temptations (Lao-Tzu 49). Consequently, Lao-Tzu will not support Machiavelli’s approach to governance and leadership. Today, gun control remains a controversial topic today, as the proponents of gun ownership are opposed to the political forces that want to restrict gun ownership among private citizens. However, despite the differences in argumentation in Lao-Tzu and Machiavelli, it is argued that both of them would protest against the ownership of guns by private citizens due to completely different reasons.
Machiavelli would support gun control by banning private citizens from buying them only for retaining authority. In “Prince”, Machiavelli virtually supports the tyranny and the concentration of power in one leader. The philosopher recommends the leaders to retain the authority by almost any means possible. In this case, the restriction of gun ownership supports his position since it will eliminate the possibility for ordinary people to oppose the tyranny and protect themselves against the attacks of the authority. The intention of Machiavelli’s leaders did not stem from the intention to prevent gun violence but rather to ensure that only the government authorities and military obtain the guns. For example, in “Discourses”, Machiavelli claims, “for it is enough to ask a man to give up his arms, without telling him that you intend killing him with them; after you have the arms in hand, then you can do your will with them” (Discourses 29). The possibility to retain authority for Machiavelli is more important than the good of the people. The philosopher would have supported the current intention to disarm the citizens or to restrict the use of guns.
Lao-Tzu would support banning the guns because his philosophy is opposed to violence. In one of his statements, the philosopher claimed, “weapons are the tools of fear; a decent man will avoid them except in the direst necessity and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint” (Lao-Tzu 27). The philosopher also added that peace is the highest value and it is critical to preserve it (Lao-Tzu 27). If the philosopher observed the outcomes of gun ownership in the U.S. today, especially taking into account gun violence and mass attacks, Lao-Tzu would support the restriction or banning guns among private citizens. His considers that people can use guns only when it is particularly necessary. Due to the overwhelming number of mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and accidents involving guns among private citizens, gun ownership would be considered dangerous to the lives and wellbeing of people. Consequently, it is possible to speculate that Lao-Tzu would support gun control by the government.
The main position of Machiavelli and Lao-Tzu on gun control stems from their personal approach to governance and leadership. For example, the Machiavelli presumes that the leader is the only authority that has to retain power. Lao-Tzu, however, thinks that the leader is the person who attained excellence in all aspects, from ethics to leadership, consequently, his intention will be to retain peace in the country. There is a major difference in the positions of both thinkers, thus, their justification of the decision to control guns will be based on distinctive notions. Idealistic point of view developed by Lao-Tzu would consider that the leader is idealist himself and, thus, incapable of inflicting damage. According to his philosophy, “he [leader] doesn’t wish them personal harm. Nor does he rejoice in victory” (Lao-Tzu 48). His leader is focused on preserving peace and retaining harmony, which could be attained by controlling guns and preventing harm among the public. Machiavelli would consider that the leaders are driven only by the intention to preserve power and continue to rule. In this case, the leader is motivated by egocentric intentions. Machiavelli’s position is based on cynicism, although he considered that his ideology roots in realism. The philosopher considers that all leaders are bound by the intention to retain power and control the followers as they please. In this case, gun control is crucial in order to prevent riots or rebellions.
At the same time, in other instances, Machiavelli supported an intention to arm the nation in case of the foreign threat. In “The Art of War”, the philosopher implied that disarming the nation can become a critical disadvantage of the nation against the foreign enemies and the leader has to preserve guns in the private citizens in case of the threat (“The Art of War” 14). This controversy in points of view shows that Machiavelli’s concern regarding gun control does not stem from the desire to prevent violence inside the country but to prepare for war. Lao-Tzu’s position is clearer concerning guns, as the philosopher does not support any harm to others. He does not contradict his thoughts and insists that the leader has to avoid war and ensure that people are safe.
The current essay argued that Lao-Tzu and Machiavelli would support gun control as a result of completely different reasons. Machiavelli would support gun restrictions because he equals leadership and authoritarian law. Lao-Tzu would argue in favor of gun control due to his idealistic views and the desire to retain peace and harmony in society. The positions of both philosophers roots in their personal approach to leadership and governance. Despite Machiavelli’s controversial statements regarding guns, his desire to restrict the use of arms stems from the egocentric ideas. Both philosophers have different arguments in favor of gun control showing that they chose a different interpretation of leadership.
Lao-Tzu. Tao Te Ching. Counterpoint, 2015.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. Discourses. Penguin Classics, 1994.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Art of War. Da Capo Press, 2001.
Machiavelli, Niccolò, and W. K. Marriott. The Prince. The Floating Press, 2008