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Machiavelli's Philosophy on Human Nature

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...

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