In the annals of history, many individuals have contributed great works of literature, waxing philosophically on the meaning of life, death, and love. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote not on love or life, but on power: How to capture it, how to consolidate it, and how to defend it against all comers. His work has been talked about and dissected to the extent that his subject matter and methods have earned their own moniker: Machiavellian. Nonetheless, this great philosopher's works did not meet with unanimous approval. His own student, Thomas Hobbes, presented a very different account of politics. This essay offers a Hobbesian critique of some of Machiavelli's arguments, focusing in and around the ninth chapter of The Prince. Although Machiavelli and Hobbes share many of the same views - like the moral depravity of the human character and the absence of natural justice - Hobbes differs from Machiavelli in three key respects: The position of glory and honour, the role of competition, and the function of the state.
Hobbes and Machiavelli share the same understanding of human character. Machiavelli wrote during a time when people believed in absolute moral virtue. But as Machiavelli struck pen to paper, he rebelled from this norm. Having criticized Christian doctrine in Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli proceeds in The Prince to outline a sinister, ruthless understanding of virtue. Hidden deep within this dark design is his greatest contribution to modern politics: Rationalism.1 Machiavelli was the first philosopher to employ a truly pragmatic approach to politics. He examined human beings in light of their motives, their desires, and their fears. While other philosoph...
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...ts of the citizenry.
Curley, Edwin [Ed.]. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Hackett Publishing Company, United States of America; 1994
Mansfield, Harvey C. [Trans.]. Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. University of Chicago Press, Chicago; 1998
1 Sometimes referred to as Realism.
2 Pangle, Thomas. Class Lecture. Jan. 25, 1999
3 Mansfield, Harvey C. [trans] Machiavelli, The Prince. Ch. XVII. P. 66
4 Curley, Edwin [ed.]. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. P. 58
5 Mansfield, Harvey C. [trans] Machiavelli, The Prince. P. x
6 Curley, Edwin [ed.]. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. P. 76
7 Ibid. P. 78 ** Emphasis added in translation.
8 "Good" here refers to the conventional, Biblical and Aristotelian understanding.
9 Mansfield, Harvey C. [trans] Machiavelli, The Prince. P. 62
10 Ibid. P. 71
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