Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Machiavelli and Hobbes

Political Science 160B
Modern Political Thought

Midterm Examination: Machiavelli and Hobbes

Machiavelli and Hobbes base their political theories on conceptions of human nature. Compare and contrast these, explaining fully your evaluation.

Human nature. For centuries, man has sought to explain the basic cause of this complex philosophy which can manifest itself in the building of magnificent civilizations extolling the virtues on mankind’s great achievements, and in causing the violent destruction, death and ruin of those great civilizations, mankind’s great achievements scattered among the rubble. According to the ancient philosophers of Plato and Aristotle, human nature could be explained through man’s capacity of reasoning. This idea was accepted and refined by the political and religious thinkers throughout history until the European Renaissance. But Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Thomas Hobbes’ The Leviathan brought a new twist towards the conception of human nature. Both thinkers rejected the idea that human nature could be explained by his capacity to reason. Machiavelli believed that human nature was based on man’s own self-interests—determined by virtue and fortune—and political institutions and theories had to reflect this self-interest among all individuals. Whereas Hobbes argued that human nature was based on a state of war between solitary individuals who pursued their own stimulation and passions while fearing violent death. Political institutions and theories by both philosophers were basically a compact between all individuals to moderate their behavior so they may pursue their passions and self-interests.

In order to understand human nature and how human nature affects political theories, Niccolo Machiavelli provided a unique explanation in his short work The Prince. The Prince is a treatise of leadership capabilities of how individuals can gain and control power. Machiavelli states there are two qualities, which affects all individuals and rulers. These two qualities are virtue and fortune. Virtue is a masculine quality. It is the quality of boldness, decisiveness, and action. Machiavelli claims that men with virtue are “innovators” who “depend upon their own resources and can use force,” (Machiavelli, pg. 27). Such men rarely fail. The second quality, which affects all individuals, is fortune. Fortune is the quality that cannot be controlled. Fortune is the unanticipated. It is the luck of the draw. Fortune dominates 50% of life with virtue dominating the other 50%. Machiavelli says, “individuals depend entirely upon the will and fortune—two fickle and unstable things,” (Machiavelli, pg. 28). Fortune can affect individuals in both positive and negative ways. Machiavelli cites Cesare Borgia as an example where Borgia “acquired power through his father’s (Pope Alexander VI) fortunes and lost it through the same means, despite the fact that he exerted every effort and did everything that a prudent and capable man should do to entrench himself in those territories which the arms and fortunes of others had granted him,” (Machiavelli, pg. 29). While fortune and virtue each control a half of an individual and a ruler, the quality of virtue must be held in check by prudence. Prudence is the capacity to understand where actions and trends can lead a person. A ruler must anticipate the consequences of bold and reckless actions found in virtue. “He must be sufficiently prudent to avoid a reputation for those vices which would deprive him of his state and, if possible, also avoid those that would not deprive him of it,” (Machiavelli, pg. 57).

While Machiavelli shows these qualities of virtue, fortune and prudence to be found in princes of states, these qualities can be found in every individual—from the common man to the stately prince. These qualities control an individual’s life—not the capacity of reason as found in the ancient philosophers. This idea provides a unique concept of political theory where an individual is not fully in control of his existence. The qualities of virtue and fortune are used by individuals and rulers alike to pursue their own self-interests. Machiavelli introduces the idea where there was no state. There was no political entity. And if there was no state, then government was not natural among man. “The various kinds of government came into existence among men by chance, for in the beginning of the world, the inhabitants being few, they lived dispersed for a time in the manner of beasts,” (Machiavelli, pg. 92). In this beginning of time, Machiavelli proposes that man lived in anarchy like beasts. But this state of anarchy would not allow individuals to pursue their self-interests. People would feel weak and helpless in this state of anarchy. “Then, as the population increased, they drew together and, the better to defend themselves, they sought out the strongest and bravest one among them, (Machiavelli, pg. 92). This is the start of the political association. Within this state of anarchy where men lived in the manner of beasts, there would be intense competition for each individual to pursue their self-interest. However, this competition benefits only those individuals with a strong quality of virtue, over those who are weaker. Therefore, an early form of social contract was created where a strong powerful individual was chosen and made leader. This strong individual leader would protect the weaker individuals who would accept the leader’s decisions so that all may pursue their self-interests. “From this beginning,” Machiavelli claims, “Came a recognition of what is proper and good, as opposed to what is pernicious and wicked.” Politics comes before everything else. Without some form of political association, there can be no language, culture, laws, justice, morality, religion, ethics and family. This political structure was designed as a second-best alternative. All people through their virtue and fortune pursue their own self-interests. However since people feel they are helpless and weak, they feel it is in their best interest to pledge their support to the strongest and bravest individual who can protect them and allow them to pursue their self-interest. Machiavelli claims that a prince must “encourage his citizens peaceably to pursue their affairs, whether in trade, in agriculture, or in any other human activity, so that no one will hesitate to improve his possessions for fear that they will be taken from him,” (Machiavelli, pg. 79).

While Machiavelli views human nature in regards to man’s pursuit of his self-interests as determined by virtue and fortune, Thomas Hobbes examines a different approach to human nature. Hobbes argues that human nature can be explained through scientific reasoning and empiricism. He intends to place “science” in the middle of political science. For Hobbes, science is “the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one fact upon another.” (Hobbes, pg. 45). The Leviathan is Hobbes’ attempt to scientifically explain politics and human nature.

Hobbes begins his scientific reasoning with a premise that the state is an artificial human being. He says, “For by art is created that great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or a State, in Latin Civitas, which is but an artificial man; though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defense it was intended…” (Hobbes, pg. 19). The state is created by humans, but it is not a natural entity. According to Hobbes, each aspect of the state is compared to the organs of man. Hobbes is comparing the idea of the state with the idea of a man. He claims that in order for man to understand each other, they must “learn truly to read one another, if they would take the pains; that is, nosce teipsum, read thyself…to teach us…. That for the similitude of the thoughts and passions of one man, to the thoughts and passions of another.” (Hobbes, pg. 20). For Hobbes, empirical observations are the key. Hobbes wants to observe what man is and then compare these observations of man with that of the artificial man or state. Hobbes’ key interest is to strip mankind of all cultural, social, and religious customs. He wants to find what the lowest common denominator is among all of humanity—an equality of all humanity. Hobbes claims that human beings are creatures that respond to the senses and stimulation of their environment. Humans are creatures of senses, “the cause of sense, is the external body, or object, which presseth the organ proper to each sense, either immediately, as in taste and touch; or mediatelly, as in seeing, hearing, and smelling; which pressure, by the mediation of the nerves, and other strings and membranes of the body, continued inwards to the brain and heart,” (Hobbes, pg. 21). Things strike human senses. This stimulation of the senses is what drives humans to react to a particular sensation. Hobbes says there are two types of stimulation, which humans react to. The first is appetite. Appetites are things and stimulation’s which individuals want. An example of appetite is hunger, thirst, sexual desires, desires for things. Appetite is basically a thing an individual wants. The second type of stimulation is aversion. Aversions are things and stimulation’s an individual does not want. Hobbes does not place any value towards appetites or aversions aside from the concept that each individual is bombarded with stimulation and sensations for which they will have appetites and aversions towards those sensations.

However these appetites show the two common denominators that exist in all of mankind. The first common denominator, which Hobbes identifies, is that each individual has a desire towards power. Power allows for an individual to obtain the things that individual want in order to satisfy the individual’s appetite. The cause of power is “that the object of man’s desire, is not to enjoy once only, and for one instant of time; but to assure for ever, the way of his future desire,” (Hobbes, pg. 80). Mankind, Hobbes reiterates, “has a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death,” (Hobbes, pg. 80). The constant desire to satisfy man’s passions, appetites, and stimulation will cause man to ceaselessly obtain more power, which can stop only in death. The second common denominator is the fear of violent death. While man has a desire to satisfy his passions, he also has a desire to avoid a violent death. According to Hobbes, it is these two common denominators, which define human nature.

These two denominators also show a unique influence in political theory. Hobbes claims they are the foundation for which a political society can be built. Hobbes begins by showing how man exists in an environment with only these denominators. First, man is by nature equal in everything. While one man may be stronger than another, his strength is counteracted by the others speed, or deterity. Common strengths among individuals are equally factored by common weaknesses. Hobbes says that “if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation, and sometime their delectation only, endeavor to destroy, or subdue on another,” (Hobbes, pg. 98-99). Hobbes calls this the state of nature. The state of nature is a state of war. The state of nature has no society, no one individual can trust another individual since all are in combat for the things they want and avoid violent death. In the state of nature, an individual is confronted with others who want to take what they want, to compete against each other or kill for the thing. This state of nature conflicts with an individuals desire to satisfy their passions and avoid violent death. In the state of nature, Hobbes says “there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building, no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” (Hobbes, pg. 100). Both Hobbes and Machiavelli show a primeval state of nature where man existed without a political association. However, Machiavelli does not dwell into the details of this state of nature aside from the common definition of anarchy where men behave as beasts. Hobbes graphically defines this state.

While Hobbes shows the horrors of entering this state of nature, he also shows a way out of the state of nature. It is achieved by determining the laws of nature through man’s capacity to reason. Laws of nature or natural laws are a universal structure in nature. They can be considered as a higher law placed by God, which transcends man-made laws, and all lesser laws must conform to the natural laws. Hobbes lists two laws of nature. The first law of nature is where man is forbidden to take his own life, and to “endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he ma seed, and use, all helps, and advantages of war,” (Hobbes, pg. 103-104). Man must seek peace and follow peace. The second law of nature is “that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth, as for peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself,” (Hobbes, pg. 104). This second law says that man must give up a portion of his claim of every desire and passion, if other men will also give up their claims to every desire. This second law has references traced back to the Gospel teachings “whatsoever you require that others should do to you, that do you to them,” (Hobbes, pg. 104). This is the beginning of a social contract between men to escape from the state of nature. Machiavelli does not include any reference to natural laws in The Prince. For Machiavelli, the political entity comes first when all people gather around and accept the strongest and bravest man to become their leader, then they create society, mores, religion and laws.

Natural laws do not make a contract in creating a state. Hobbes claims that the idea of the natural laws can be used in developing a specific contract between individuals and the role of a sovereign commonwealth. The basic end of a sovereign is to provide security. The commonwealth or state provides a secure environment for all men where they can live with their own preservation and pursue their own passions and appetites without the fear of violent death or being forced back to the state of nature. The state is an entity where all its inhabitants pledge “I authorize and give up my right of governing myself, to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner,” (Hobbes pg. 132). Hobbes defines the commonwealth as “one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their peace and common defense. The function of the sovereign is to enforce this contract. The sovereign must keep the people at peace and out of the state of nature. It order for the sovereign to achieve this goal of keeping the peace, the sovereign must have power to enforce its laws. Hobbes recognizes this as another covenant individuals relinquish the use of violence and force to the sovereign with the sovereign’s assurance of protection for those individuals. For what is a covenant, “without the sword, (they) are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all,” (Hobbes, 129). This is completely opposite of Machiavelli who makes a vague reference to a compact between weak people and a strong leader. Hobbes spells out the specific details of covenants between the individuals and states.

The ancient philosophers considered the idea of human nature as something within each individual. Human nature was the capacity to reason and reflect upon ideas and philosophical questions. Both Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes rejected this ancient ideal of human nature. By concentrating on how humans react to stimulation and self-interest, Machiavelli and Hobbes presented new ideas in human nature. While they may be gritty and realistic in description, they provide a new reflection of human nature and how such human nature can affect a political life.

Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas. (1962). The Leviathan. Macmillian Publishing. Collier Macmillian, Canada.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. (1981) The Prince. Bantam Books. New York.

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