Throughout history, there have been many philosophers and theorists who have attempted to understand and human nature and explain the effect that human nature has on the world of politics. Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes are widely regarded as two of the greatest minds when it comes to understanding and explaining the relationship between human nature and politics. It is well known that both Machiavelli and Hobbes are sceptical of human nature, both have argued that humans are selfish and deceitful. Upon reading notable pieces authored by Machiavelli and Hobbes, such as The Prince and The Leviathan, it is evident that their negative view of human nature directly influences the role that they argue the state should have in politics. In this essay I will explain, analyse and compare both Machiavelli’s and Hobbes views of human nature and the role that they believe the state should play in politics.
One of the key theorists who attempted to understand and explain the relationship between human nature and how it should influence the role of the state is Nicollo Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s most famous dialogue is The Prince; this book can be understood as a manual for how one deals with the nature of their subjects and thus how to be a successful leader. Upon reading the Prince, it is sensible to argue that Machiavelli is sceptical of human nature and moreover possesses a negative view of human nature. In Machiavelli’s eyes, man is wicked and passion-ridden. Machiavelli overwhelmingly portrays humans as untrustworthy and fickle, they are inherently selfish, greedy, shallow and manipulative. Human nature makes sure that good will is not absolute as men are selfish and will do whatever they can to benefit themselves. Machiavelli’s view of human nature is perfectly exemplified in the quote: “love is held by a chain of obligation, which men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose” (Machiavelli, 1996, p.183). This quote perfectly summarises Machiavelli’s view of human nature, essentially man will only act in accordance with their own interests and will thus only serve the state when it benefits them. It is this view of nature on which Machiavelli bases his views on what role the state should play.
Much Like Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes holds a rather negative and sceptical view of human nature. Hobbes argues that the fundamental goal for man is to live a peaceful and safe life, in order to achieve this one must be powerful. Man possesses an insatiable and immoral desire for power. Hobbes argued that once one has achieved a peaceful life it is commonplace for one to desire other more material things, such as fame, admiration or glory. It is inevitable that two or more people will desire a specific commodity, this joint desire, Hobbes argues, will ultimately lead people to oppose each other and seek the others destruction (Hobbes, 1996). It is because of these desires, and how they inevitably will conflict with the desires of others, that we exist in a state where everyone is pitted against each other. Moreover, in this state, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others” (Hobbes, 1996, p.206). Consequently, because of this system it is clear to see that man lives in a state of fear as everyone is a potential threat. This state of fear, is argued by Hobbes, to be the natural state of man. Thus, it is clear to see that Hobbes is sceptical of human nature, he believes that the combination of man’s insatiable and inherent desire for power coupled with the state of fear in which man lives leads to a state of war between all men. It is the power hungry and fearful nature of man and Hobbes scepticism of these traits, on which his absolutist principles are based upon.
Overall, it is clear to see that both Machiavelli and Hobbes hold negative views of human nature. However, their views on which traits lead to the unpleasant nature of man differs. Machiavelli primarily sees man as only serving in their self-interests with little loyalty, whereas Hobbes focuses on the pursuit of power and other commodities coupled with the natural state of fear in which all men live. These differences in beliefs can explain the differences between the manner by which Machiavelli and Hobbes believe the role that the state should play. Machiavelli, combats the lack of loyalty of man through a feared leader, whilst Thomas Hobbes focuses on an absolute monarchy who is able to maintain peace and control through social contracts.