In Machiavelli’s The Prince and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, the philosophers argue theories on the construction and securement of political authority. Both Hobbes and Machiavelli present a view that human nature is motivated by passions such as selfishness and greed and this is the essence on which the political environment is derived. It is these characteristics of human nature that precept war, chaos, and political instability.
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Political authority must then defuse, in the case of Hobbes, or “realize”, in the case of Machiavelli, the natural condition of humans in order to maintain political stability. Hobbes argues that the Leviathan, is necessary to defuse the potential of humans natural passions and keep instability and violence out of the Commonwealth. Machiavelli, on the other hand, argues for a prince who uses ethics and violence instrumentally to manipulate citizens into obedience and the rejection of selfishness and greed. This essay will examine both theories, ultimately realizing that Hobbes’ view of political authority is more plausible as a solution to political violence and instability.
In Leviathan, Hobbes uses what he terms the ‘state of nature’ to illustrate the potential of human’s natural passions to create instability and chaos. The state of nature describes a condition without common power or authority. Hobbes views human nature as inherently motivated by self-interest and the desire for power; Unrestricted by civil law, these desires create a perpetual state of conflict where humans are in constant competition with one another for resources and survival (Hobbes, Leviathan). This constant competition inevitably leads to the war “of every man against every man” (Hobbes, Leviathan). He goes on to describe life in this state as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”(Hobbes, Leviathan). The importance of the Leviathan is thus derived from Hobbes’ account of what life would be like devoid of a common political authority in which the passions of human nature perpetuate social and political chaos.
While human’s natural propensity for self-preservation and power perpetuates war and violence in the state of nature, the same desire means humans naturally fear death and injury. It is this fear and anxiety that drives human reasoning to seek a more secure and peaceful life. In order to achieve this, Hobbes argues humans willingly give up some of their rights to a common authority in order to gain protection from the constant threat of death and anxiety for the future. Hobbes, believes that moral code is strengthened by the existence of an authority figure. As he states, “Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called war…” (Hobbes, Leviathan). The Leviathan thus is important because it motivates individuals to adhere to a stronger moral code and reject the natural passions of self-preservation that would normally hurdle them into a state of war.
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