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Essay/Term paper: Machiavelli's view of human nature

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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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


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


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


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