Two of the greatest philosophers of all time are Thomas Hobbes and Niccolo Machiavelli. Hobbes was born in 1588 in England, when absolutism was taking hold in Europe. His most famous work was “Leviathan”, written in 1651. Hobbes discussed the ideal state and innate laws of man and nature, among other things. Machiavelli was born in Italy in 1469, a time when his home country was ruled mostly by foreign powers. His hometown, Florence, was still independent. Machiavelli’s most famous work, “The Prince”, tells of his ideal state and ideal ruler. Machiavelli goes on to describe the perfect prince, a picture of cruelty and cunning. Though both genius philosophers, their views differ greatly. Hobbes believed in a minimalist government where the state only interfered with the lives of the citizens when it had to. The ideal kingdom was the kingdom of God, in Hobbes’ mind. In Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, he describes his ideal government with a strong monarch, and fearful subjects. In Hobbes’ system, a close relationship was kept with God, while in Machiavelli’s reason was the only rule. The most important and most dealt-with area of dialogue is the “ideal” government.
Thomas Hobbes’ idea of a perfect government was one of small proportions. All of the citizens of a country had a “covenant”, or promise with the ruler. This covenant with the ruler stated that the citizen would give up the right to govern his or herself, and give that right to the ruler. Hobbes’ idea of society arises from an innate competition between every man. Everyone seeks their advantage, and is always at war with everyone else for that advantage. These factions negotiate, according to Hobbes, complying with whatever principles will ensure survival for its members. So according to Hobbes, war is the natural state of man. Peace is only had by our natural tendencies to compromise, and survive.
In order to fully understand the “ideal” system of government described by Hobbes, one must look at what the government is trying to accomplish. Hobbes goes into a long explanation of why men are different from ants and bees. Hobbes claims that men desire “honour and dignity” while lesser creatures have no desire for advancement. Secondly, Hobbes believed that ants and bees had no desires beyond what was useful for the group. This competitive tendency is what keeps man constantly at war, as described above. Third, man is unique in that he has use of reason, and can see his state as imperfect. Thus, man can enter into civil war. Fourth, animals cannot express concepts like good and evil. Fifth, humans have more of a propensity to improve themselves. Ants and bees cannot become discontent with their government, as they are content. Finally, the covenant of ants and bees is innate, while the human covenant is the product of human exertion.
Hobbes says that society arises from the consent of the governed people, which is gradually concentrated in larger and larger units until it comprises the state. The mutual covenant made by the state and the people cannot be broken. If the covenant is broken by the ruler, it is injustice. The people then have a right to rebel. Since each government modeled on Hobbes’ system sets an example, their case may inspire others. For example, the Parliamentary Revolution in 1642 would lead to the American Revolution, and eventually to the French Revolution. On the contrary, the covenant is rather impossible to break on the state’s part, because its reasons cannot be challenged by the people. But if the state is ruling barbarically, the people are free to rebel, and do. Hobbes realized that the citizens would no longer respect the state if it was no longer protecting their interests. The social covenant comes to an end when the state exceeds its limits and begins to abuse the rights of the citizens, such as in the early Soviet Union.
Niccolo Machiavelli’s ideal state contrasts sharply with that of Hobbes’. Contrary to Hobbes’ minimalist government, Machiavelli believed a monarch should rule the people with great authority, and make the subjects fear the ruler. This belief that the ruler should act without compassion marks the uniqueness in Machiavelli’s argument. Also, Machiavelli was the first to view human history and human society as purely of man, without supernatural influence. To begin to describe Machiavelli’s ideal government, men are all considered equal and driven to the same folly. From this equality, Machiavelli deduced that one can predict the future from the events of history. To relate this to government, Machiavelli’s prince must turn to his contemporaries for a model. In “The Prince”, the vast majority is a description of fifteenth century rulers. His model is personified by Cesare Borgia, an Italian duke.
According to Machiavelli, the state is the highest achievement of man. The state is a progressive and elaborate creation of man’s free will, and is formed by a cooperation of the people and the leader. In order for this state to function properly, it must be the highest authority, with no superior. The state must be self-sufficient, and loved by the people. Perhaps more even than loved, the state was to be feared and respected. The people must not consider or doubt any justice or injustice given by the state. Nothing is to interfere with the authority and power of the state, or the freedom will be compromised.
The ultimate strength and foundation of the state is its military power. Since all humans are fickle and selfish, they will soon forget any favors done on them by the government. So according to Machiavelli, the ruler must have enough military power to back up his authority. To rationalize this apparent disregard for human will, “The Prince” explains that the ends justify the means. An “end” is a goal, something that must be reached. A “mean” is the ways of reaching that goal. Hence, any goal that is accomplished is justified. For example, if the end is to have a respectful and obeying population, the mean may be to occupy the cities with military personnel.
Another facet of Machiavelli’s ideal government is virtue. To be virtuous means to have courage, talent, strength, and intelligence. To be a ruler in Machiavelli’s ideal government, the politician must have virtue. Another part of virtue is taking advantage of opportunity.
Machiavelli’s ideal ruler is the subject of “The Prince”. The ideal ruler is described in great detail, beginning with the concept of principalities. “The Prince” describes four types of principalities: hereditary, mixed, new, and ecclesiastical. A principality is essentially land ruled by a prince.
A hereditary principality is one passed down from past generations, and is very easy to maintain. As long as the prince follows a conservative policy, the principality should be kept.
A second kind of principality is mixed. A mixed principality consists of a hereditary plus new territories added by the prince. More complex, Machiavelli offers a guide for the ideal ruler to govern these. Since new territories are apt to take up arms against the ruler, Machiavelli proposes that the conqueror should occupy the new territory. Then, the ruler should set up colonies within these new territories loyal to him. Following that, the ruler should protect the weak while oppressing the strong, all while not allowing any foreign power into the new territory.
A third type of principality is a new one. Most principalities of the Renaissance fall into this category. New principalities can be divided into four subgroups: those acquired by evil, those acquired by the prince’s own power, those acquired by another’s power, and civic principalities.
The first subgroup is acquired through evil, and is frowned upon in “The Prince”. Even though these rulers show creativity, and sometimes even genius; they cannot be looked upon as virtuous or good. The second subgroup is conquered with much difficulty. Machiavelli uses Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus as examples of leaders to conquer “new” land. The third type are as easily lost as they are won. In “The Prince”, Machiavelli describes Cesare Borgia’s losing of his territory because his father’s influence vanishes. The fourth subgroup of new principalities is civic. A civic principality is one obtained by the help of the nobles, or by popular support. This type of principality should especially be noted by the prince, as nobles often want to become master themselves.
The fourth main type of principality is ecclesiastical. An ecclesiastical principality is one ruled by religious institution. It seems that all throughout “The Prince”, the only importance the Church has is of a governing institution.
In the later chapters of “The Prince”, Machiavelli details what a prince should be like to a tee.
For starters, a prince should be cruel rather than compassionate. According to Machiavelli, it is more beneficial to be feared than loved. This is because with fear comes respect, and sometimes even reverence. As an example, Machiavelli uses Hannibal and Scipio Africanus. Hannibal was a Carthaginian general who eventually lost out to the Romans, led by Scipio. Though Hannibal is considered to be an exceptional general, he is also known to have been extremely cruel to his troops. Scipio, on the other hand, was very pleasant. Hannibal ended up almost worshiped by his soldiers, while Scipio had his troops rebel against him.
Secondly, a prince should not be afraid to break promises if it is beneficial to the state. Since the ultimate end is to successfully run a country, the means could be anything. This may include breaking a few promises along the way.
Thirdly, a prince should never be hated. Though Machiavelli does not make reference to this, it is a tough thing to walk the line between fear and hate. If a prince is hated, it will lead to certain ruin. A modern example is that of Yugoslavia. None of the citizens feared the ruler, but hated him. Hence, the government fell to pieces.
Fourth, a prince should arm his own loyal subjects, and disarm newly acquired territories. He must support the weak states and weaken the strong whenever possible. By creating this even playing field, he makes himself more of a powerful ruler.
Fifth, a prince should show is strength of character in foreign policy. A prince should never declare neutrality, as no regard is given for these countries. A modern example is that of Scandinavia in World War II. After declaring its neutrality, it was trampled by the Axis powers, only without support from the Allies.
Finally, a prince’s advisors should be chosen on the basis of intelligence, and not flattery. He should rely on those who will speak truthful to him, and keep the final decision to his own mindpower.
The ideal ruler of Hobbes’ “Leviathan” is much different. Hobbes believed that the ideal state possessed an ideal ruler that was all-wise, all-knowing, and all-powerful. The ruler of a Hobbesian government is to protect the subjects from outside forces, and from each other. The ruler must be acceptable in the minds of the people, and the ruler’s authority is given by God. A ruler should be considered the Lieutenant of God on earth, representing divine powers. Hobbes believed that his system of government was the best because the people were free. Sure, the ruler was all-powerful, but the ruler should also limit his own powers to what was necessary. Since the monarch would give the subjects freedom to make their own decisions, consequently the monarch would be respected as a leader.
For all that religion meant in the Renaissance, surprisingly little is mentioned in “The Prince”. Divinity is only within the Man, and society is purely human. Machiavellis is unique in that he conceived his ideal leader to be completely rational and inquisitive, and not necessarily religious.
Hobbes’ ideal government had a bit more to do with God. As mentioned above, the ruler was God’s representative on earth, and answered to Him. Also as mentioned above, Hobbes’ ideal kingdom was that of God. Hobbes believed that Man bases his government on God’s. God’s work is representative by the peoples’ safety, His memory is represented by the king’s counselors, His reason by justice, His will by law, His strength by the country’s riches, and His origin by the constitution. More important than God in both Hobbes’ and Machiavelli’s models were the people.
In “The Prince”, the people were to be loyal subjects, bowing before the state. They should love the state more than their very souls, and serve it to their dying days. In Machiavelli’s model, the people were there to carry out the wishes of the state, and to try not to injure themselves in the process. People are also important to make up the military, which is the ultimate strength of the state.
In “Leviathan”, the people are much more important, and even sovereign within themselves. The people are trusted with a laissez-faire style of government, and bow to the ruler only for security.
Hobbes and Machiavelli both had revolutionary ideas about government and the essence of Man. Hobbes grew up in England, and had ideas concerning a freer type of government. His main work was “Leviathan”. Machiavelli was raised in Italy, and had other ideas. Machiavelli focused on how a prince should act in governing his country. Machiavelli’s main work was entitled “The Prince”. Ironically, neither Machiavelli nor Hobbes suggests a total democracy or a republic, like we use today. As much as Machiavelli and Hobbes are considered great philosophers, the modern government of the United States has proved to be the best.