Hobbes and Machiavelli Essay
The question of the true nature of man is perhaps the most crucial question ever asked by man. Since time immemorial, scholars and philosophers have sought to unravel the mystery behind the human nature. The question on the type of being that a man truly is has postulated for the intensification of study in pursuit of gaining full insights about human nature. The nature of man has a profound impact on the requirement of his survival. Moreover, the way an individual views the nature of man highly represents the attitude of that person towards life in general and governance in particular. Consequently, there are varied philosophies of governance developed by various people due to their different views about human nature.
The perception of man as developed by Machiavelli reflects his philosophy about human nature. Machiavelli’s design of a successful state is a representation of his perspective about human nature. According to his view in ‘The Prince’, the governing view presented by Machiavelli is totally different from the views of the humanists who lived in his time. Machiavelli’s view is that the Prince in power should be the sole authority that determines any given aspects that affects the state (Machiavelli 50). Moreover, Machiavelli stresses the importance of developing appropriate policies in accordance to the interests of the Prince. Most importantly, the policies set by the Prince should be geared towards acquiring, sustaining as well as expanding his political power. Contrary to the beliefs and teachings of humanists in Machiavelli’s time, he advocated for a completely secular society in which morality was subordinate to individual interests in governance. In fact, Machiavelli felt that morality was a principality towards the attainment of effective governance (Machiavelli 25).
The understanding of the passions of men in a sly manner is a successful way through which liberty can be achieved in governance. According to Machiavelli, man is a “wicked” creature motivated by the pursuit of passion (Machiavelli 45). Furthermore, he presents man as being ungrateful, deceptive, fickle, avoider of danger, power seeker, as well as enthusiastic to gain. In fact, the immoral actions depicted by men are so immense such that the immoral actions of the Prince are justified. It is no wonder that Machiavelli is of the view that men “should either be caressed of crushed” (Machiavelli 100). Moreover, Machiavelli promotes the principle of being feared than be loved. According to this principle, it is apparent that ethical conduct is taken to be subordinate to the desired results. Consequently, Machiavellianism is understood as a principle that looks at the ends for the justification of the means. Contrary to conventional wisdom, morality does not reign supreme; results do. For Machiavelli, practicing politics within the acceptable virtue is no virtue at all. He gives new definition of virtue as being a careful blend of slyness and ferocity. Furthermore, Machiavelli states that “We have not seen great things done in our time except by those who have been considered mean; the rest have failed.” (Machiavelli 80) Therefore, a prince must be deceitful and crafty.
Thomas Hobbes presents his perspective of human nature and preferable form of governance in the Leviathan. From the Leviathan, a description of the human nature that does not change is given. According to Hobbes, man is controlled by the desire for specific things (Hobbes 20). Surprisingly, power does not fall short of the desires of man (Hobbes 150). Due to the intense desire for power and other pursuits by all men, it is obvious that a war between all men may arise. This may eventually endanger the lives of all men. To cushion man against the danger of elimination by other men, Hobbes prescribes a system ruled by a supreme sovereignty holding absolute power from the people (Hobbes 100). The ceding of men’s cravings for power to a Leviathan prevents the risk of a war and eventual elimination of man through death. The major function of the Leviathan is protection of man against other men.
The main driving forces in all men are aversions and appetites. Hobbes does not think that a good action exists in reality. He suggests that whatever has the description of good is an object of the desires of man. Additionally, Hobbes is of the view that evil does exists also as an object to the aversions in existence within all men (Hobbes 250). From the foregoing, Hobbes suggests that absolute wrong or right does not exist; only a comparative morality in favor of the person using it does (Hobbes 300). Power being the prime desire in all men endears them to pursue more and more of it in order to protect it. At the same time, acquisition of power by one man diminishes possession by another; therefore, there is a perpetual restlessness in all men as they pursue more and more power. Hobbes says that the pursuit of power in men ceases when they die. There are three major reasons in Hobbes’ view that endear men to attack each other: desire for power, quest for glory and fear (Hobbes 290). According to Hobbes, there is no action termed as evil in the struggle for power by men. The just action is one with the effect of preserving the life of man. Thus Hobbes postulates the consequences of the absence of regulation in men’s actions to be a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” life. (Hobbes 245)
From the foregoing, the views about human nature by the two philosophers highly determine the preferred form of governance. It is also evident that human nature is not stationery; it keeps on changing depending on situations and circumstances. Moreover, the preferred form of governance depends more on the prevailing conditions rather than morality and virtues in a given society. All men have desires and passions that keep them going. The preference of a unitary leader is as a result of the need for some form of benefits such as protection or other beneficial promises.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 1994. Print.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The prince. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Print.
Hobbes and Machiavelli Essay