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Machiavelli

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MACHIAVELLI'S VIEW OF HUMAN NATURE

In The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli presents a view of governing a state that is

drastically different from that of humanists of his time. Machiavelli believes the

ruling Prince should be the sole authority determining every aspect of the state and

put in effect a policy which would serve his best interests. These interests were

gaining, maintaining, and expanding his political power.1 His understanding of human

nature was a complete contradiction of what humanists believed and taught. Machiavelli

strongly promoted a secular society and felt morality was not necessary but in fact

stood in the way of an effectively governed principality.2 Though in come cases

Machiavelli's suggestions seem harsh and immoral one must remember that these views

were derived out of concern Italy's unstable political condition.3

Though humanists of Machiavelli's time believed that an individual had much to offer to

the well being of the state, Machiavelli was quick to mock human nature. Humanists

believed that "An individual only 'grows to maturity- both intellectually and morally-

through participation' in the life of the state."4 Machiavelli generally distrusted

citizens, stating that "...in time of adversity, when the state is in need of it's

citizens there are few to be found."5 Machiavelli further goes on to question the

loyalty of the citizens and advises the Prince that "...because men a wretched

creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need keep your word to them."6

However, Machiavelli did not feel that a Prince should mistreat the citizens. This

suggestion once again to serve the Prince's best interests.

If a prince can not be both feared and loved, Machiavelli suggests, it would be better

for him to be feared bey the citizens within his own principality. He makes the

generalization that men are, "...ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun

danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well they are yours."7 He

characterizes men as being self centered and not willing to act in the best interest of

the state,"[and when the prince] is in danger they turn against [him]."8 Machiavelli

reinforces the prince's need to be feared by stating:

Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes

himself feared. The bond of love is one which men, wretched creatures they are, break

when it is to their advantage to do so; but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment

which is always effective.9

In order to win honor, Machaivelli suggests that a prince must be readily willing to

deceive the citizens. One way is to "...show his esteem for talent actively

encouraging the able and honouring those who excel in their professions...so that they

can go peaceably about their business."10 By encouraging citizens to excel at their

professions he would also be encouraging them to "...increase the prosperity of the

their state."11 These measures, though carried out in deception, would bring the

prince honor and trust amongst the citizens, especially those who were in the best

positions to oppose him.

Machiavelli postulates that a prince must also deceive those who attempt to flatter

him.

[In] choosing wise men for his government and allowing those the freedom to speak the

truth to him, and then only concerning matters on which he asks their opinion, and nothing

else. But he should also question them toughly and listen to what they say; then he

should make up his own mind.12

Since each person will only advice the prince in accord to his own interests, the

prince must act on his own accord. Machiavelli discourages action to taken otherwise

"...since men will always do badly by [the prince] unless they are forced to be

virtuous."13 Machiavelli actively promoted a secular form of politics. He laid aside

the Medieval conception "of the state as a necessary creation for humankinds spiritual,

material, and social well-being."14 In such a state,"[a] ruler was justified in his

exercise of political power only if it contributed to the common good of the people he

served, [and] the ethical side of a princes activity...ought to [be] based on Christian

moral principles...."15 Machiavelli believed a secular form of government to be a more

realistic type. His views were to the benefit of the prince, in helping him maintain

power rather than to serve to the well being of the citizens. Machiavelli promoted his

belief by stating:

The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief

among those who are not virtuous. Therefore, if a prince wants to maintain his rule he

must learn not to be so virtuous, and to make use of this or not according to need.16

Machiavelli's was that, "God does not want to do everything Himself, and take away from

us our free will and our share of glory which belongs us."17

Having studied and experienced Italy's political situation, Machiavelli derived these

views. He felt that his suggestions would provide a frame work for a future prince of

Italy to bring about political stability. Machiavelli writes:

Italy is waiting to see who can be the one to heal her wounds, put and end to the sacking

of Lombardy, to extortion in the Kingdom and in Tuscany, and cleanse those sores which

have been festering so long. See how Italy beseeches God to send someone to save her from

those barbarous cruelties and outrages; see how eager and willing the country is to follow

a banner, if someone will raise it.18

Although Italy had become the center of intellectual, artistic and cultural

development, Machiavelli did not feel these qualities would help in securing Italy's

political future. His opinion was that Italy required a leader who could have complete

control over Italy's citizens and institutions. One way of maintaining control of was

to institute a secular form of government. This would allow the prince to govern

without being morally bound. Machiavelli's view of human nature was not in accord to

that of humanists who felt that an individual could greatly contribute to the well

being of the society. Machiavelli, however felt that people generally tended to work

for their own best interests and gave little obligation to the well being of the state.

Although Machiavelli doubted that this form of government could ever be established it

did appear several years after he wrote The Prince. Machiavelli has become to be

regarded as "the founder of modern day, secular politics."19

Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/machiavelli.php



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