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

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World Literature

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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
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

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

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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