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Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Italian philosopher and diplomat, has contributed a lot of discourses to the Western thoughts on political theory and histography. His writings, though famous for their political philosophy content, have often been referned to as maddening and unsystematic. He is the founder of the modern political science. His writings on ethics and moral have influenced many of the 20th century writers. This paper deals with a study of Machiavelli's concept of virtue, human nature and politics. It also makes an attempt to compare the ideas of Hobbes and how these are opposing to the ideas of Machiavelli.
Machiavelli attributed many meanings to the concept of Virtue. Foremost among them is that virtue is the part of a good life. Next he says virtue is the political ability. According to him a virtuous man attains his goal in his political life. He further argues that virtue is the physical ability or strength. Another theory that he postulates relates virtue to utility, were he opines that virtue of a thing lies in its utility. Machiavelli clarifies the term virtue clear in his work, "The Prince," by describing the positive qualities of the prince. While speaking of the principalities, Machiavelli points out two factors that are the fate of the ruler which is the fortune and ability. He says that virtue is not needed to acquire a hereditary principle but if the rulers have to attain a new principle he needs virtue.
According to him, a Prince should try to assimilate a new territory with a different culture to his original territory. He should also try to protect the weaker territories and prevent the powerful territory from attaining more power. Therefore, he should try to maintain the balance between the different powers. This balancing of power can be seen as a novel concept because it is in cumbent on a leader or ruler to make serve that the strong does not victimize the weak. Such a quality is the true virtue of a ruler and politics should make all endeavors to maintain a balance of power. He should also be courageous to tackle problems before it is too late. He should also not hesitate in going for wars or using his power.
According to Machiavelli, an ordinary person can also become a Prince if he has fortune and ability. Human history has witnessed a lot of instances where individuals from lower strata of the society have risen to become leaders by the sheer power of will and ability. Hitler, who became the Fuhrer from the status of an ordinary soldier, is a best example. The leader or ruler also needs to be innovative and make suitable changes in the social set up of his country, according to the need of the hour. This can be perceived as the main mission of politics and it strives to achieve this through the leader.
When a prince tries to make a changes in his kingdom there may be many to oppose such reforms mainly because the change may not be of any benefit to them. When he has to confront such situations, a prince should be ready to make use of the force to control the opposition and over come the resistance. A prince may attain power due to two reasons: either through his abilities or through inheritance. However, it does not matter how he gains the power but the power attained can be useful only if he has the good fortune to be able to maintain it. Political leadership thus requires an element of fortune also to be successful.
Machiavelli then goes on to state that virtue is more related to politics than reality. If a prince obtains power by evil means and not by his ability or fortune he will not receive any glory. Therefore power should be used virtuously and not cruelly. When power is used cruelly, it may create constant fear among the people. Again, history has witnessed many a kingdoms fall because the kings did not use their power wisely. The same example of Hitler validates the argument that power cruelly used can cause the downfall of the leader and his entire empire. If the power is used with a purpose, it could be considered as virtuous. Machiavelli states that a virtuous prince is not loved but is always respected by the people. Hence, if a prince is virtuous he gets the support of his people at the time of need.
Another major aspect of virtue is a prince's passion for warfare. During the times of peace he should be engaged in the studies of the war skills so that he can overcome the difficulties during his unfortunate times, when war occurs. A virtuous prince is the one who does not lose his power because of being good. There will be many who are not good and always ready to destroy others. So Machiavelli says that "it is necessary for a virtuous prince to not lose his power and he should maintain his kingdom" (The concept of virtue in Machiavelli 2008).
Throughout his work, The Prince, Machiavelli makes an attempt to analyze the actual human behavior. Machiavelli is having a pessimistic view towards humans. Nature of human is that man possesses both good and bad qualities and according to him humans are those with self-love and self-interest, full of evil, cruelty, violence and war. He writes that "man has qualities that will bring him either praise or blame" (Machiavelli's View of Human Nature n.d.). He is of the opinion that since prince is a man, there is a possibility that he may exhibit these qualities.
He seems connote to the idea that in order to be virtuous, a leader needs to suppress the bad traits in him and upload the qualities that will project him as a good person in public view therefore, a prince should try to display good qualities only towards to the public. Machiavelli believes that humans are evil by their nature because of the uncontrollable lust of their body and they cannot be truly virtuous while they are defending against the corruption of the world. In his words to the prince he says that "....men a wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need keep your word to them" (Machiavelli's Philosophy on Human Nature 2005). Still, he does not insist that prince should mistreat the citizens.
According to him, men are those who act up on their self interest and do nothing for their state. When the prince is in trouble people turn against him. Machiavelli states that human beings are greedy for profit and they worry less about causing harm to those who love them dearly. In the work, The Prince, Machiavelli also describes the concept of politics. He says that an ideal government is that which calculates and schemes its political gain and authority. He further states that politics has nothing to do with the morals, ethics or religion. According to Machiavelli, many of the American politicians seek support from the people who make up the government. Once a person attains the political power he tries to satisfy his own self interests, without giving much value to the overall interest of the public, which he should serve.
He says that it is not the duty of the government to make each and every one of the state prosperous but it does only the duty of taking and giving incomes from one person to another. In this process there may be both beneficiaries and victims. He argues that morality is not needed to attain political power. Since all people are basically evil in nature, the political power must be used to check the upcoming evils in the society. He also believes that end always justifies the means even though the means engages the use of evil or harmful devices.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a renowned philosopher who became popular for his unique and original political thoughts, has opposed many of the Machiavelli concepts. Both of these philosophers have kept their focus on political theory. When Hobbe's theory focuses on the social interest between the people and its government, the theories of Machiavelli focus on the qualities that form a successful ruler. According to Hobbes there is constant war between men and this is due to their competition and he says that if two men desire for the same thing and are not able to get it both of them become enemies and even thinks of destroying each other. In Machiavelli's concept, he promotes a secular state and he does not trust human beings. As discussed earlier they do not support the ruler when he is in need.
Machiavelli does not make a distinction between the wartime and the peace time. According to him there is a period of domestic peace and also of war. But Hobbes makes a distinction between the time of peace and the time of war. The former does not define power but the latter does it explicitly. Machiavelli does not say that there is quarrel-some tendency among men and this ends in misery. But this is what Hobbes stated in his description of the nature of humans. Both fed that humans are selfish but Hobbes is harsher than Machiavelli's statements. Even though he makes such a harsh statement about men he accounts some good qualities they possess, of which Machiavelli fail to describe and they are mind or body relationship, imagination, will, reason and emotion. Hobbes defines that competition is the main cause for dispute among men. But Machiavelli thinks that this dispute is mainly because of the fear in the minds of the men. He adds that the fight between the men could be decreased if the fear in the minds of men is decreased. Machiavelli supports freewill whereas, Hobbes is determined in his view.
Hobbes believes that it was foolish that people rule themselves and the thought that they need to be ruled by a king appeared to be stupid to him. Machiavelli states that that the ruler should do anything to attain his power and political status. An ideal ruler, according to Machiavelli, is an individual and a leader would communicate to citizens not in a two-way manner. His power is absolute and limitless and he does not find any reason to break his promises. Hobbes is in contrast with Machiavelli, in terms of who should rule the state. Machiavelli uses the political power to gain and maintain power whereas Hobbes says force should be used only to maintain the power which they gained through the will of the public.
This ideal ruler is the one who derives his force and he should be ready to submit to his subjects. He should rule his subjects in a dictatorial manner and not in a collaborative manner. His rights are limitless and his power is absolute. Hobbes is in contrast to these views of the Machiavelli. While Machiavelli states that the ruler is absolute in his power, Hobbes states that democratic body is more appropriate in ruling a state. While Machiavelli emphasize on the dictatorial rule, Hobbes gives importance to the democratic rule. According to Hobbes the right nature of power that an individual enjoys is in using his own power and not submitting under a dictatorial rule. Thus a ruler should work to motivate the interests of the subjects in his state and his duty is to govern them and to rule them. Since the ruler was brought into rule with the support of the citizen his duty is to lead and not rule them with his force. As discussed earlier Machiavelli is stating to use the force to maintain the power that he had gained, but Hobbes insists that the power which he gained with the help of force should be utilized for the well being of the public.
By making an analysis of the theories put forward by Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes we could come to the conclusion that both these philosophers from different generation disagreed in many of the theories. They express views on the how a ruler should be and how to work out with it to lead the public. Hobbes believes in a government where the ruler interferes in the lives of the people only when it is needed. But in Hobbes' opinion ideal government is only the world of God. In Machiavelli's concept a state should be ruled by a strong monarch and his subjects should always respect him while in Hobbes concept there should be a strong relation with the God that is the ruler and his subjects. Hobbes idea is to support the subjects but the idea of Machiavelli is to rule.