Descriptive and Analytic Critique on Machiavelli’s Notion on Human Nature

Descriptive and Analytic Critique on Machiavelli’s Notion on Human Nature
Descriptive and Analytic Critique on Machiavelli’s Notion on Human Nature

ABSTRACT: The main purpose of the study is to present a descriptive and analytic critique on Machiavelli’s notion on human nature. Like some other philosophers, Machiavelliset out to discuss in his book, he Prince, the need for a proper organization of the human society in order that the society may achieve its set goals. This activity provides the need for the study of society, the need for its administration, the various organs that are involve in the administration and other concepts and issues that are involved in a more critical way and this has been the major tasks of political philosophers. For instance, Ogundowole while examining Hobbes and Rousseau’s political philosophies asserts that Thomas Hobbes explains the necessity for a government; no matter how crushing or arbitrary, the only alternative to what he described as state of nature. In the same vein J.J. Rousseau analyses the need for a well ordered society emanating from civilization (Ogundowole, 37). All these become necessary in order to show that philosophical reflection on our political institutions and social practices will further enhance good governance. This was the major task that Machiavelli carries out in his work, The Prince.

The two books authored by him present aspects of the same subject, that is, the causes of rise and decline of states and means by which statement can make them permanent. The Prince examine monarchies of absolute government and The Discourses examine the expansion of the Roman Republic. His discussion in The Prince shows the assumption that politics is an end in itself. It reflects the mechanics of government, the means by which state may be made strong, the policies by which they can expand their power, and errors that lead to their decay or overthrow. The book contrary to some scholars’ interpretation shows Machiavelli’s conception of the purpose of politics as the preservation and increase of political power itself. It also shows the standard by which a prince can critically examined his success in doing this. Thus, whether a political policy is cruel, faithless or lawless, he treats for the most part as matter of indifference, though he is well-aware that such quality may react on political success.


Descriptive and Analytic Critique on Machiavelli’s Notion on Human Nature



1.1 Background of the Study

Philosophers are both effects and causes: effects of their social circumstances and of politics and institutions of their time, causes (if they are fortunate) of belief which would mould(s) the politics and institutions of later ages. In most histories of philosophy, each philosopher does not appear in a vacuum; his opinions are not set forth unrelated. Thus, each philosopher is an outcome of a cultural milieu, a man in whom was crystallized and consent rated thoughts and feelings, which in vague and diffused form, was common to the age of which he was a part (Russeel, 491).

The above assertion from Russell represents a good description of Machiavelli, a man who came up at a time when Italy was at the point of total political collapse. He was a man who had a thorough grasp of the social and political situation of his time and deemed it fit to dole out antidotes for the social and political ills of the Italian states. Machiavelli was one of the most important figures of the Renaissance period. In support of their view and with reference to him, Russell submits that, the Renaissance, though it produced no important theoretical philosophers, produced one man of supreme eminence in political philosophy. (501)

This assertion is true because, Machiavelli’s works dealt with subjects of lasting and vital interest to all ages. This view is buttressed by the fact that people of every generation must ask themselves socio-political question similar to that raised by Machiavelli. Such questions borders on how to attain power, retain power, and expand it. Further, such question include whether the end really justifies the means? What is the nature of humans and role of the state? How can liberty and order be maintained in a state?

According to Esikot (2002), Machiavelli, is much discussed because of his attitude of indifference towards the morality or immorality of the means used by the ruler to accomplish his set political objectives. He aims at establishing means to assigned ends regardless of the question whether the means are to be considered good or bad. Machiavelli’s position is that any ruler who wants to survive in power and achieve his desires must have in him the quality of being as cunning as a fox and as fierce as a lion (23). He acknowledge keeping of faith and showing integrity as virtues, but insists that a ruler need not necessarily have these qualities. All that is required is that he should appear to have them. It is a good thing to appear to be faithful, merciful, humane, religious and upright, but the prince ought to act in a contrary way when circumstances require (105).

Machiavelli believes it is futile to pursue political purposes by methods that are bound to fail. Power can only be achieved out of ruthlessness, not out of moral or ethical considerations. Machiavelli maintains that if men were good, then his precept would not be good and so would be unnecessary. But because men are wretched creatures who would deceive you at the slightest opportunity and so would not honour their words, the prince need not keep his word to them. For if he is able to establish and maintain his authority, the means he employs will be deemed honourable (32).

Machiavelli had a pessimistic view of human nature. To him, man is baseless, corrupt and mindless (Esikot, 43). Hence, Machiavelli for the Catholics, he is an evil counselor of the prince (leaders). For the protestants, Machiavelli is the tutor of the catholic kings, whose teaching has helped them to release excruciating pains upon humanity. To the humanists, Machiavelli is “the devilish advocate” because he has no compassion for human life. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries, Machiavelli’s name was synonymous with deviousness, cruelty and willful destructive rationality. It should also be said that no thinker is so demonized or misunderstood as Machiavelli (Elijah John, 304).

1.2 Statement of Problem

Machiavelli’s political theory is a complete deviation from the trend of western and Chinese philosophers, which had lead many leaders to be ruthless, because of his unconcern habit with morality and means employed by the ruler(s) in the pursuits of his political goal. Anthony Grafton in the “Introduction” to the 1999 edition of The Prince posits that the book teaches effective tactics for the absolute ruler and which many readers have seen as preaching ruthlessness and even glorifying in bloodshed: (xiii). It must be added at once, first manuscript copies began to circulate in 1516, has greatly intoxicated many men like Benito Mussolini, Ceausescu of Romania and pol pot of Cambodia, who where responsible for the deaths of thousands of their citizens, (decades of) torture, and civil rights abuses, as a result of Machiavelli’s teaching of human nature being baseless, corrupt and mindless. And hence advocating for a strong ruler who can tame or curb these weaknesses, therefore, this work is concerned on investigating or affirming the critique of Machiavelli’s notion on human nature.

1.3 Objective of Study

The main purpose of the study is to present a descriptive and analytic critique on Machiavelli’s notion on human nature. The objectives will cover the survey on the following:

  • The man Machiavelli
  • Machiavelli’s ontology of man
  • The problems of Machiavelli’s conception of man
  • Implications of Machiavelli’s philosophy
  • The relevance of Machiavelli’s philosophy to Africa

1.4     The Scope of Study

The scope of this study or Long Essay is limited to the study of Machiavelli and his notion or conception of human nature/it’s implications and relevance.

Descriptive and Analytic Critique on Machiavelli’s Notion on Human Nature

1.5     Methodology of Study

In his contribution, Harold Titus maintains that philosophy is the logical analysis of language and the clarification of the meaning of words and concepts. Hence the method of study will rely basically on description/analysis of concepts or notions as limited by the scope of study.

1.6     The Significance of Study

In his contribution, Harold also maintain that philosophy is a group of problems as well as theories about the solution of these problems(19). Thus, the significance of this study will be to highlight the flaws as well as the misconception of Machiavelli’s views on human nature in a bid of enlightening leaders, rulers and persons not to be intoxicated by Machiavelli’s teachings of inhuman treatment and immoral behavior toward leading our society, and with the interest of restoring humane treatment of humanity in those who were already intoxicated by his misleading and devilish teaching.

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