Hobbes + Machiavelli

Topics: Political philosophy, Government, Niccolò Machiavelli Pages: 6 (2287 words) Published: November 15, 2001
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...
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