Compare Purpose of a State in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Machiavelli’s Political Thought

Topics: Political philosophy, Political science, Politics Pages: 13 (4454 words) Published: November 20, 2008
Compare purpose of a state in ancient Greek philosophy and Machiavelli’s political thought

What is a state? In different times in different places different people understood the meaning of this word in a different way. Definition for this term was being gathered for ages modifying and evaluating as the times went by (already since the times of Ancient Greece (beginning ~1000 BC)). It can be explained by differences in level of knowledge people had, political situation, and “moods” which privileged in public. What is the purpose of a state? This question lies in the bases of a “state” conception and answer to it can be evaluated out of the history of this term.

So, as it was said before, the state and the purpose of a state were understood differently by different people in different times. In this essay I am going to review understanding and explanations of the “purpose of a state” in general, and compare thoughts of Ancient Greece philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) to ones of the Italian political philosopher of XV-XVI centuries – Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, simultaneously comparing understanding of a “state” and “a purpose of a state” of two different time periods and two different nations in order to make a conclusion of what is a common principle all states are or should base on.

Appearance of a “state”
From the very beginning every person is born free, with his basic needs and abilities. In ancient times, when there still was no such conception as state or government each person was a separate, independent unit. Each one controlled his own actions and produced everything he needed with his own hands. Each man was his own police, judge and jury which was very taxing on his time and energy. (Locke, 2005) So, how did humans come from being separate sovereign entities to form a government? Why would one give up his autonomy and a right to make final decisions to someone else?

First of all, there comes one of the basic needs, which stands on the second place in the pyramid of Maslow – safety need. It always was so, that the strong were using the weak in their own interests (this is normal rule for a human-being as a part of nature that “the strongest survive”). To protect their own rights and property, people formed groups governed by an organisation which was given a right to make rules for safe co-existence and to control their fulfilment. This is the reason why nowadays governments derive their legitimacy from the “duty to protect its citizen’s property interests in both his possessions and his life“. (Locke, 2005)

Secondly, it also gave people a chance to organise their everyday life and by distribution and division of labour do more productive work, elevate quality of work and assure higher economical welfare for everyone. In other words by giving a power to control to “someone else” people could afford to pay less attention to care about the safeness of their property and spend more time on “earning their living”, getting new property, taking care of themselves and their families, etc.

So, again, the protection of life, limb, and property from internal and external threats, by that allowing men to do better work and be more prosperous, is the fundamental purpose of any legitimate government. (Locke, 2005)

“State” in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece was divided into so called city-states or policies – more-or-less independent units with their own population and legitimate governmental system, which mostly were formed as a result of growing market-trade activities (Hooker, 1996) and situated on a limited amount of territory. These city-states are believed to be the greatest political achievement of ancient Greeks and lay in foundation of modern legitimate state.

One can explain the city-state as “a kind of community, which is, a collection of parts having some functions and interests in common (Pol. II.1.1261a18, III.1.1275b20). It is made up of...

References: Hooker, R. (1996) Ancient Greece: The Archaic Period: 800-500 B.C. Available:, 21.october
Locke, J
Miller, F. (2002) Aristotle 's Political Theory. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available:, 21.october 2008
Nederman, C
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