Considering Realism of Ancient Theories about Leadership Qualities


Mustafa Akın
ENG 102 – 69
Aynur Kadıoğlu
Essay / First Draft

Essay Subject: Do you think Machiavelli’s and Plato’s theories are still valid?


Considering Realism of Ancient Theories about Leadership Qualities

Leadership qualities and the ways of determining a leader has always been questioned from philosophers to regular people. From the ancient times, a Greek philosopher’s named Plato’s idea of an ideal system remained still by his book Republic. Plato did not only offer the way of determining a leader, he also offered a new system with social classes, heavy and long term education and peace. Although his theory affected many leaders, in contemporary time, his theories cannot be applicable because his theories are utopic, in other words very hard to be implemented in real word. As another theory from past which still exists today, Machiavelli has presented serious recommendations the princes, some of them can be easily applied to the modern leaders, because they are realistic, and nevertheless, some of Machiavelli’s suggestions cannot be seen in modern context because there are situations that don’t fit with Machiavelli’s opinions.

Plato, in his book Republic suggests a new type of order and a way to determine leaders, however, his ideas cannot be valid today. There are several reasons to understand why Plato’s ideas are utopia for contemporary world. Firstly, leaders are selected through a heavy education system and people are divided into classes like guardians and working class (1). Plato claims that only “special human beings” who are philosophers overcome material interests and only care about benefits of the citizens and the state can be leaders (1). Even though this sort of leader idea seems perfect, in this money-oriented world, it is impossible to find a person that fits Plato’s principles. There is no such leader that has overcome his or her material interests in the world; all the leaders and ex-leaders are living in prosperity that most ordinary people can never achieve regardless of regime. In addition, another reason of abundance of materialistic leaders is that physical assets of people are their key to enter the politics. However, Plato emphasizes the importance of good education including poetry and drama for leaders (1), not wealth. As one can really challenge this idea, it is not certainly hard to see leaders in today’s realm with inadequate education to fit Plato’s ideals. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, money can cover up lack of training and education which both refute Plato’s two moralities. However, if Plato’s education system could be applied, there is no doubt that leaders with enough knowledge and experience would arise and society would definitely evolve.

Another approach of Plato’s suggestion which strictly requires breaking off emotional bonds with family (2) can also be contested. In every area of governing, trade contracts are made with relatives, the important positions are given to family members, in bureaucracy, if you have any acquaintance with the manager, your job is done before everyone else’s and there are many resigned leaders been mixed up in stealing national treasury with their family. Additionally, an Italian philosopher Machiavelli in The Prince states that bonds established by love can be easily broken (Chapter 17, 2). As a common example from Roman Empire, relatives can betray each other like Caesar and Brutus. Plato’s suggestion to break off emotional bonds is strictly needed for better leaders. Nonetheless, because of human nature, almost no one wants to break bonds with his family and wants to stay close to them as much as possible. So leaders’ judgment is affected by their emotional ties. Shortly, there are enough examples to prove that Plato’s ideas are utopia for modern society, due to human’s materialistic interest and emotions which both are a result of human nature.

In medieval times, Machiavelli came up with a realistic approach in leadership. In his book The Prince, he offers suggestions about leadership and gives real examples in history to the princes who are successors of the throne. Machiavelli states his ideas in a more realistic way compared to Plato. In The Prince Chapter 18, Machiavelli suggests that a prince to disguise his character to keep people’s faith in him (1). He asserts that it is impossible for any person to hold all virtues but it would not be a wrong approach to seem like have them all to preserve the confidence of people in him (2). Although this may be considered as dishonesty because of concealing the truth, Machiavelli emphasizes that unity of the state is more vital (2). In modern world, one can see the example of Monica Lewinsky scandal which has led to impeachment of former president of USA, Bill Clinton. Although, he was being considered as a great leader, the scandal has impaired his image on American people and he was accused of many charges which may be considered as aspersions, to agitate his governance. If he could disguise his character as Machiavelli suggested the princes of Medieval and hide the scandal from public, people would still have faith in him and no one would question his leadership qualities as much in today and he still would be known as a great leader.

Another aspect of Machiavelli’s theories suggests princes to eliminate hesitation in punishing without being hated (Chapter 19, 2). Many examples may be given to prove this idea, but as the closest one to our history, “Istiklal Mahkemeleri” can be a great example. In the Turkish revolution, which were performed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the beginning of the 20th century, these revolution courts as helped the revolution process since the opponents of revolution and criminals were punished without hesitation and those who were found guilty were set an example to the rest of society and the revolution has succeeded. However, if Atatürk could not control the balance of cruelty and clemency, he would be likely to be considered as a bad leader and cursed by people as Machiavelli states in Chapter 19. As an example to a leader who has lost the balance and become hated, Adolf Hitler was one of the cruelest leaders in the history. He commenced a great army, people around the world were afraid of Hitler and Nazi Germany. However his acts on Jewish and innocent people and unfair invasion over Europe made him hated and hatred has played a significant role in his failure of World War II. In essence, although Machiavelli’s theories of leadership were suggested to princes of his time, the reflections of most of his ideas can still be seen in modern world’s leaders and many are still applicable.

Although Machiavelli’s ideas seem realistic for the contemporary social order, there are some contradicting examples to his ideas. Machiavelli suggests reasonable cruelty without being hated (Chapter 19, 1); nevertheless there are so few leaders that are cruel and the only ones are found in tyrannies. Nearly in all countries, right of punishment is not in the hand of a leader and any cruel action on humans is forbidden by the Article 5 of the Universal Human Declaration of Human Rights where specified “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Some interesting discrepancy occurs here. Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq was also one of the cruelest leaders in the world and even if he did not accept Human Rights, he ruled Iraq for more than 30 years by at the same time being hated by many. Even though he used biological weapons on Kuwait, went an endless war against Iran, tortured many women and children and murdered innocent, he could only be taken into a trial in 2004. From time to time, hated leaders can remain leading for many years; which contradict Machiavelli’s theories at certain points.

In conclusion, Machiavelli’s and Plato’s theories have affected many people around the world and their ideas are still being questioned. Medieval times’ Machiavellian theories may seem valid today in most points like being reasonably cruel, disguising characteristics and avoiding hated, even if cruelty works perfectly, most leaders cannot be cruel today and the ones that are cruel have lost the balance of cruelty and clemency and became hated and they can remain leading for years. On the other hand, Plato’s theories are mostly utopic for world because almost every people are being more materialistic every day, wealth can help one to be a leader and emotional bonds cannot be broken; leaders act according to their emotions and as Machiavelli points out, bonds established by love can be easily broken than the bonds established by fear.


Works Cited

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Antonio Blado d’Asola: Florence, 1532

Plato. Republic. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive. Web Atomic and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 13 Sept. 2009. Web. 11 Mar. 2010. <>

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