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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 


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