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Machiavelli and Hobbes’ Views on Human Nature

October 9, 2010

Thomas Hobbes and Nicollo Machiavelli are two of the most influential philosophical minds that provided theories that aimed at describing political strategy, protection, and of course human nature. Both Machiavelli and Hobbes knew that in order for a state to function and be successful (protect its citizens, economically sufficient, peace, etc) it needs to have a sovereign leader. According to Hobbes, society is a population beneath a sovereign authority, to whom all individuals in that society cede their natural rights for the sake of protection. Thus, a sovereign leader is an absolute leader, who is the figurehead of the state and acts as a supreme being. How this sovereign leader comes to power is of importance and also shows a schism in these two leading philosophical minds.
Machiavelli believed that the ends justified the means. To me, this is a direct, definitive statement that conversely permits open interpretation. Machiavelli believed there were two ways a prince could come to power, prowess and fortune. In order for a Prince to be successful, he must possess Virtu. Virtu is strength and wisdom, which are quintessential for a Prince to rule effectively. Virtu can come in the form of being sly, cunning, manipulative, violent, and combative. Most of these terms are not adjectives that would describe just, right people, however, Machiavelli believed that in order for a prince to successfully usurp and maintain power, these were the traits that someone must take on. To Machiavelli, only publically should a proper leader be held to the same moral and ethical standard as the rest of society. Machiavelli knows that the world is a competitive; dog eat dog, tough place and thinks that the subjects of his letter will epitomize these traits if they yearn for success. Machiavelli’s unique perspective makes some extremely thought provoking and even valid points, nevertheless, Thomas Hobbes would thoroughly disagree with Machiavelli’s logic and people to people interaction.
The world in which we live has humans with unlimited desires and scarce resources to satisfy those needs. Due this undeniable truth, Hobbes believes that man is in a constant war against all other men, specifically for their resources and power. This constant war is called the state of nature and life according to Hobbes in this state is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Man must escape this state of nature through reason, and only through reason can the laws of nature be deduced. Laws of this type affirm human self-preservation and denounce acts destructive to human life. Having described the horrors of living in the state of nature, Hobbes believes the only way for a man to live is through peace, which happens to sum up the first natural law. The second law requires that men respect each other and the order of the natural law. This order is held through contracts, or mutual agreements on the terms of natural law or peace. Hobbes is laying a blueprint to living life happily and justly. People must negotiate and sacrifice individual rights that further enhance society and improve peaceful interaction between people. Hobbes believed that humans are inherently self-interested and are in constant competition to one up each other. While Machiavelli may support this style of life, Hobbes denounces it, believing that leading life in that fashion will only lead to a short and terrible life.
Which choice of lifestyle provides the most ultimate utility and happiness?

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  1. Natureza Humana – Maquiavel, Hobbes e Locke « bE-SeEn

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