Rousseau vs. Machiavelli

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Machiavelli and Rousseau, both significant philosophers, had distinctive views on human nature and the relationship between the government and the governed. Their ideas were radical at the time and remain influential in government today. Their views on human nature and government had some common points and some ideas that differed.

Machiavelli’s views were drastically different from other humanists at his time. He strongly promoted a secular society and felt morality was not necessary but stood in the way of a successfully governed state. He stated that people generally tended to work for their own best interests and gave little thought to the well being of the state. He distrusted citizens saying, “In time of adversity, when a state is in need of its citizens, there are few to be found.” In his writings in The Prince, he constantly questioned the citizens’ loyalty and warned for the leaders to be wary in trusting citizens. His radical and distrusting thoughts on human nature were derived out of concern for Italy’s then unstable government. Machiavelli also had a specific view on the relationship between the government and the governed. Stated in The Prince, he believed that a leader should be both feared and loved but if both were not possible, it would be better to be feared. In conclusion, Machiavelli believed that a leader had to be feared and powerful in order to flourish.

In contrast, Rousseau had a generally positive view on human nature though a rather negative view on modern society. He proposed that humans had once been solitary beings and had learned to be political. He believed that human nature was not fixed and was subject to changed. Likewise, he believed that man was good when in a state of nature, but was corrupted by society as shown in his quotation, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Also differentiating himself from other humanists, Rousseau taught that the sciences and the arts were not beneficial to man but in fact...
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