Hobbes And Machiavelli Essay, Research Paper
Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes were both great political philosophers of their times. Even though they lived in different eras, these men both produced works that would be considered highly influential on the formation of political theory and philosophy. The Prince and the Leviathan can each be viewed as representing the political views of their respective eras. These influential men laid a new foundation for modern political thought. In order to pave the way for future political theorists like Rousseau and Marx, these men needed to break away from classical philosophy if not partially then completely.
Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469, only a little over a century before Hobbes. Even though these men were born relatively close in time, the general world outlook had changed tremendously. Machiavelli concentrated on how to maintain the absolute power of the monarch, and how the manipulation of the public could help the monarch maintain political power. Hobbes, however, had a different conception of what constituted the basis for sovereignty. In Hobbes’ version, the absolute monarch was a representative of the people. He had to make decisions that would protect their existence as if it were his own. The monarch was responsible for making sure all citizens had food, water, and shelter. Machiavelli thought the citizens should only be treated well to the extent that it benefited the sovereign ruler. He really didn’t see people as having any rights at all. An overview of both works shows a great deal about that particular time and era’s political structure. It also showed that by the time Hobbes began writing, the way in which monarchies were regarded was beginning to change.
Machiavelli starts out in his dedication as pointing out that his observations have made him an expert on what a prince should be. He introduces the two forms of government that existed at that time, which were republics and monarchies. He then divides monarchies into two categories: heredity monarchies which have existed for sometime, and new monarchies that have been established either through war or good fortune. The Prince deals entirely with monarchies because he addresses the topic of republics in another work. Heredity monarchies are much easier to rule than the new ones because the people are used to being ruled. They no longer have the desire to change their form of government. Yet if you acquire a new territory you need to get rid of any people who might make claims to the throne. You have to be very careful not to rule like a tyrant. You need to win your people over. He also says that it is best to live in the new territory you acquire. The people will more often than not be more loyal to you, and you can help keep some control over the new territory. The opening chapters of The Prince establish a pattern that Machiavelli follows throughout the book. He describes the principles that allow a monarch to retain power. Yet Machiavelli concerns himself mainly with the acquisition and retention of power. He sees common people as object that can be easily manipulated for the ruler’s benefit. They have no rights. Anything that didn’t keep the monarch in power or served to expand his power was of no consequence politically.
Hobbes takes a different approach to political theory. His views are almost scientific and his approach emphasizes God’s creation of logic and so how through this, man created politics. In his monarchy, the ruler was still seen as having absolute power and authority, but his authority was believed to come from the people. The people had their own rights within the political system. Yet for a society to work, the people need to surrender their rights to the absolute monarch. When they sign away their rights, they let him act in their name. So now the people can’t impose moral restraint on the king. Hobbes also broke away from the Divine Right of Kings theory. He felt that if you followed this theory, then divine rule took precedence over royal law. He wanted the monarch’s rules to be law. So there needs to be a social contract drawn by the people. The people agree to obey the government in return for protection.
Machiavelli and Hobbes knew they were making a conscious break with past thought and concrete reality, and that this was required to actualize the human good. In the future they saw a self-legislating and self-grounded concept of reason. As for Machiavelli, we see the emergence of a modern relation to temporality. The past is delegitimized. The present is just work for the future. From the beginning modern humanity has been expelled from the present. Machiavelli’s transition to a better human future required primarily a political program. Hobbes wanted his countrymen not to look to the examples of Greek and Roman republics. He felt that these ideas were a danger to the monarchy and he was right. They clearly indicate that the political atmosphere was undergoing a great deal of change.
The classical thought of the ancient philosophers involved virtues and morals. The idea of the philosopher king was influential. Machiavelli’s perfect leader had a cruel disposition and would seize power at all costs. This is quite different from Socrates’ point of view. A moral and just person was thought to be the best ruler. Machiavelli basically rejected the classical tradition of philosophy. He used realism and rejected utopianism. In Hobbes’ we find his ruler is a representative of the people, while a bit more moral that Machiavelli, he still feels the need for an absolute monarch who will control everything. There is no talk of morals and virtue in his perfect ruler. These things have been put to the wayside. In Aristotle’s teaching there were places for certain people that were pre-ordained by God. Kings were born kings and serfs were born serfs. They taught that there was a natural order to society. This was no prevalent with Machiavelli or Hobbes. Machiavelli says “All men particularly, and especially princes, can be accused of that defect of which the [ancient] writers accuse the multitude…..The variation in their proceeding arises not from a diverse nature because it is in one mode in all, and if there is advantage of the good, it is in the people—but from having more or less respect for the laws within which both live”. He also doesn’t really believe that God completely governs the world. Half of our actions are determined by God, the other half are determined by uncontrollable shifts in fortune. In Hobbes we see that anyone can be the ruler. It doesn’t have to be a King passing on the throne to his son. All the ruler has to do is convince the people to sign away their rights so he can act for them.
Machiavelli borrowed several terms from the Aristotelian tradition such as the nature-accident distinction and the importance of habituation to citizenship, yet the content he gave to these ideas is very anti-Aristotelian. “ He understood our essential nature not as a potential for virtue that is actualized by reason, but as a capacity for ambitious license that is necessarily developed by the mind and that can be best attenuated by opposing habits of cooperation (Fischer)”. Also Machiavelli broke with the long-held Aristotelian assumption that “the city is by nature prior to the household and to each of us; for the whole must of necessity be prior to the part (Aristotle)”. He conceived the city to be a human artifice constructed from natural individuals. It was Machiavelli, who long before Hobbes, introduced the methodological individualism to the modern study of political life.
Hobbes approached classical philosophy as embedded and inseparable from political philosophy. He sees good and evil as terms based on power and desire. They are relative. For Hobbes, there is no such thing as absolute good and evil. The classical teachings of people like Ptolemy had been shown to be erroneous by early modern science. The universe needed to be understood in atoms, not a living breathing whole like classical philosophy taught. Hobbes’ approach to political philosophy is framed with the notions of a mechanistic universe.
So even though these two men broke away from classical philosophy, were they laying a new foundation for a new political thought? First we must act ourselves what exactly is modern thought? “Modernity is not merely something new, but also a new idea that favors innovation in principle and constantly promotes new ideas and institutions, a change that wants to be receptive to further change. Whatever is modern does not stay the same but keeps becoming more modern. (Parel)”. Such as Machiavelli’s new modes and orders in The Prince and in the Discourses. Applied to politics, modernity mean the pursuit of power driven by the natural desire to acquire and expand, have to achieve that by any means possible. The new politics that Machiavelli would introduce required western civilization to accept the view that politics at its best ought to be both tyrannical and republican (Parel). There can be no political freedom without the active agency of both force and fear which is also something found in Hobbes.