Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, And Machiavelli Essay, Research Paper
The thirteenth through the eighteenth century brought profound changes in the political realm of Western civilization. Beginning with the Scientific Revolution and only advancing during the Renaissance, secularization and skepticism lead to changes in not only the intellectual life of Westerners, but also to their politics. At the forefront of the political debate were well-versed men such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. The influences of these men, though often criticized, can clearly be seen in the centuries and decades following their noted works. Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau shared many concepts, but the similarities between their theories end at the word politics. Each had different ideas. Rousseau’s and Locke’s ideas appear to be wishful thinking while Hobbes’s ideas seem to be too cynical. Machiavelli’s ideas seem practical for his day and for an authoritarian government, but definitely not for a democratic system such as ours. I believe that the most accurate view for a successful society lies somewhere in between Hobbes’s cynicism and Locke’s optimism. Regardless as to who is most accurate, it is obvious that Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau all shaped modern political theories by their views.
Machiavelli was a prominent figure during the early sixteenth century. His political view stemmed from observing the division of Italy into small city-state systems during the late fifteenth century. Invasions, corruption, and instable governments marked this time period. According to Machiavelli, the success of the city-states was dependent on the effectiveness of the autocrats who headed these states. Machiavelli, through observation, saw what was necessary for an authoritarian state to be successful.
According to Machiavelli, the state and its laws were a creation of man that should be protected by the prince in whatever means necessary. “Machiavelli identifies the interests of the prince with the interests of the state.” He felt that it was human nature to be selfish, opportunistic, cynical, dishonest, and gullible, which in essence, can be true. The state of nature was one of conflict; but conflict, Machiavelli reasoned, could be beneficial under the organization of a ruler. Machiavelli did not see all men as equal. He felt that some men were better suited to rule than others. I believe that this is true in almost any government. However, man in general, was corrupt – always in search of more power. He felt that because of this corruptness, an absolute monarch was necessary to insure stability. Machiavelli outlined what characteristics this absolute ruler should have in The Prince. One example of this can be seen in his writings concerning morality. He saw the Judeo-Christian values as faulty in the state’s success. “Such visionary expectations, he held, bring the state to ruin, for we do not live in the world of the “ought,” the fanciful utopia, but in the world of “is”. The prince’s role was not to promote virtue, but to insure security. He reasoned that the Judeo-Christian values would make a ruler week if he actually possessed them, but that they could be useful in dealing with the citizens if the prince seemed to have these qualities. Another example of Machiavelli’s ideal characteristics of a prince regards fear and love. “…whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” Above all, Machiavelli felt the prince should appear to have many qualities in order to benefit his relationship with the citizens so that he could effectively control the state through their gullibility. There have been many rulers like this who were successful.
Thomas Hobbes was born in 1588 and died in 1679. He lived through the Scientific Revolution as well as a political revolution. The English Civil war of the 1640’s influenced his political philosophy more than any other event. His most famous work, The Leviathan, was a written response to the English civil war, but also one of his attempts to unite the worlds of science and politics. Hobbes reasoned that human behavior functioned according to laws just as math and science. “He believed that he had created a scientific model of the political world that was as precise and accurate as Euclid’s system.” Hobbes, just like Machiavelli, thought he had the remedy to run a successful government.
Hobbes’s remedy is known as the Leviathan. The Leviathan is an authoritarian government that could enforce the social contract by whatever means necessary. In this government, people collectively give up all rights except self – preservation, and the government shapes the will of the people into one. Hobbes rationalizes this conformity in that he believes individualism breeds anarchy and conformity breeds order. However, the possibility of actually conforming every individual’s will into one is unlikely. Hobbes sees man just as Machiavelli – evil, conniving, corrupt, and violent. He stated in the Leviathan: “…. that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war.” To an extent, I believe this is true. Man, n my opinion, is only interested in achieving his own success. What hurts him, he avoids; what helps him, he befriends. Hobbes, unlike Machiavelli, sees men as equal – equal in the capability of killing one another. He reasoned that because of this equality people would eventually come to the conclusion that they could prevent their demise by behaving toward one another in mutually beneficial ways. This, Hobbes said, is why man enters into a social contract. Once man enters into this contract, there is no way to withdraw from it or rebel because without this government man would meet his demise. There is some accuracy to this idea, but I see man as acting in mutually beneficial ways not only to avoid death, but to also better benefit themselves.
Like Machiavelli, Hobbes also acknowledged that the state was a creation of man as were the laws, but he takes this to the next level. Hobbes felt that morals (right and wrong) were also created, but by the rulers. By doing this, he justifies every action of the state, good or evil. This is one reason why Hobbes was so widely criticized in his day – he left no room for God. “For him, the state was a human invention organized by human beings to deal with a human problem, and its legitimacy and power rested purely on human authority.” Whatever is done is just because society is a direct creation of the state and a reflection of the ruler. The ruler dictates what is right and what is wrong. Hobbes’s view supports people like Hitler who are judge, jury, and executioner.
John Locke lived primarily during the seventeenth century. Locke’s approach to politics was on the opposite end of the spectrum from Machiavelli and Hobbes even though he lived during the same era as Hobbes. While one might look at Hobbes as a cynic,…
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