Machiavelli’s View of Human NatureIn The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli presents a view of governing a state that isdrastically different from that of humanists of his time.
Machiavelli believesthe ruling Prince should be the sole authority determining every aspect of thestate and put in effect a policy which would serve his best interests. Theseinterests were gaining, maintaining, and expanding his political power.1 Hisunderstanding of human nature was a complete contradiction of what humanistsbelieved and taught. Machiavelli strongly promoted a secular society and feltmorality was not necessary but in fact stood in the way of an effectivelygoverned principality.2 Though in come cases Machiavelli’s suggestions seemharsh and immoral one must remember that these views were derived out of concernItaly’s unstable political condition.3Though humanists of Machiavelli’s time believed that an individual had much tooffer to the well being of the state, Machiavelli was quick to mock human nature.Humanists believed that “An individual only ‘grows to maturity- bothintellectually and morally-through participation’ in the life of the state.
“4Machiavelli 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.”5Machiavelli further goes on to question the loyalty of the citizens and advisesthe Prince that “…because men a wretched creatures who would not keep theirword to you, you need keep your word to them.”6 However, Machiavelli did notfeel that a Prince should mistreat the citizens. This suggestion once again toserve the Prince’s best interests.If a prince can not be both feared and loved, Machiavelli suggests, it would bebetter for him to be feared bey the citizens within his own principality.
Hemakes the generalization that men are, “…ungrateful, fickle, liars, anddeceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them wellthey are yours.”7 He characterizes men as being self centered and not willingto act in the best interest of the state,”and when the prince is in dangerthey turn against him.”8 Machiavelli reinforces the prince’s need to befeared by stating:Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than toone who makeshimself feared.
The bond of love is one which men, wretched creatures theyare, breakwhen it is to their advantage to do so; but fear is strengthened by a dread ofpunishmentwhich is always effective.9In order to win honor, Machaivelli suggests that a prince must be readilywilling to deceive the citizens. One way is to “…
show his esteem for talentactively encouraging the able and honouring those who excel in theirprofessions…so that they can go peaceably about their business.”10 Byencouraging citizens to excel at their professions he would also be encouragingthem to “…increase the prosperity of the their state.
“11 These measures,though carried out in deception, would bring the prince honor and trust amongstthe citizens, especially those who were in the best positions to oppose him.Machiavelli postulates that a prince must also deceive those who attempt toflatter him.In choosing wise men for his government and allowing those the freedom tospeak thetruth to him, and then only concerning matters on which he asks their opinion,and nothingelse. But he should also question them toughly and listen to what they say;then heshould make up his own mind.12Since each person will only advice the prince in accord to his own interests,the prince must act on his own accord. Machiavelli discourages action to takenotherwise “..
.since men will always do badly by the prince unless they areforced to be virtuous.”13 Machiavelli actively promoted a secular form ofpolitics. He laid aside the Medieval conception “of the state as a necessarycreation for humankinds spiritual, material, and social well-being.
“14 In sucha state,”a ruler was justified in his exercise of political power only if itcontributed to the common good of the people he served, and the ethical sideof a princes activity…ought to be based on Christian moral principles.
…”15Machiavelli believed a secular form of government to be a more realistic type.His views were to the benefit of the prince, in helping him maintain powerrather than to serve to the well being of the citizens. Machiavelli promotedhis belief by stating:The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarilycomes to griefamong those who are not virtuous.
Therefore, if a prince wants to maintainhis rule hemust learn not to