Ancients vs Modern Thinkers

An Exploration of the distinction of the modern thinkers and ancients Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke, distinguished themselves from the ideas and philosophies of the ancients by their own exploration of the individualist, the responsibilities of the state and government and the nature of the two - Ancients vs Modern Thinkers introduction. But what really distinguished these modern thinkers from those of the ancients, is their ability to take the teachings of the ancients and evolve it with the society that is very much alike to our modern day world.

As many political theorists may know, Plato and Aristotle is generally seen as an inspirational and transitional figure between the ancient and the modern political philosophers. Unlike that of the ancients, Machiavelli was not concerned that a government should be an living moral force that was capable of inspiring its people. In Machiavelli’s The Prince, he advocates that order is more important than virtue and thus, morality is in many ways impractical. The Prince is an blueprint created by Machiavelli for those who seek to obtain and maintain power in ways that the ancient works did not .

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Opposite to those of the ancients, Machiavelli’s work could be characterized as an down-to-earth, realistic and self-interested text, which is the direct opposite Yang02 of what the ancients have tried to construct in the morals and values of the state, and man himself. The ancients were more concerned with the people as one entity and a general good that was to satisfy all by a set of morals and standards, while Machiavelli believes in the individualist and how the ends justify the means. Machiavelli also gives conspicuity to the role of power and violence in his work.

The Prince must be not only be wise in the sense of governing it’s people, but also skilled in the art of war for the prince would be rendered as useless if one or the other was missing. Similar to Machiavelli’s The Prince, Thomas Hobbes’ The Leviathan is also concerned with the state of war and the need to maintain order. Hobbes understands the nature of humans as rational creatures that are self-interested and self-absorbed. In The Leviathan, Hobbes shares similar concerns to Machiavelli in regards to the state of war and the importance and need of maintaining order.

Unlike the ancients, Machiavelli’s and Hobbes’s understanding of politics and the political community is not based nor grounded on moral virtue. To Hobbes, men are made equal and though some might be more intelligent and stronger than others, each live under the some kind of fear or constraint. Being naturally fearful and living under certain constraints, the forced man will seek the Commonwealth in exchange for protection from death and war (though both are of the same latter). In conclusion, the Commonwealth is effective so long as it serves to protect mankind.

In Machiavelli’s The Prince, Machiavelli deals with the mechanisms that make for an effective government. In contrast, in Hobbes’s The Leviathan, Hobbes does not deal with the mechanisms for what makes for an effective government but an social contract between the Yang03 man and the sovereign. In the social contract theory, individuals give up their liberty to the state in return for protection. Thus, the state is obligated to keep man safe and protected–protected from war and harms way.

Frequently seen as an direct response to The Leviathan, Locke’s Second Treatise on Government also deal with man in the nature of the state. Both agree that man should treat one another equally in the terms of their life and possessions but unlike Hobbes, Locke stresses very minimally that man would be in an constant state of war without an government or state. Though Locke’s work reads more optimistically than those of Machiavelli and Hobbes’s, the three modern thinkers would agree that men are born free.

But what makes the modern philosophers so “modern” that it sets themselves apart from those of the ancients? As those who study politics may know, Machiavelli, Locke and Hobbes are known as the three who gave philosophers and political thinkers a modern outlook, or so to say a different idea and approach to political thinking and ideas. The most important factor to this idea of “modern thinking” is the exploration of the nature of the individual–of man.

All three philosophers advocate that man is rational, self-interested and calculating–and though that is not how man ought to be, it is what man is. All three modern thinkers are also the very first to explore and investigate individualism and the nature and reasons of their consent to political life and its ways. Hobbes and Locke explore the reason behind man’s nature in seeking the protection of the government and have called it the “social contract theory” because citizens of the state or sovereign choose to submit to the government and to be governed, out of their own free will.

But what really makes the modern thinkers set themselves apart from the ancients Yang04 was their insistence that men were born equal, which sets the stage for what is known today as the individualist liberal theory. But what most fail to realize is that the modern thinkers actually shared more ideas in common than those of that they opposed. It can be seen in many instances that the three modern thinkers borrowed ideas from the ancients as a foundation, and evolved it to the structure of today’s society.

For example, Machiavelli believed that aspects of governing the state resemble that of Plato’s “noble lie”. In Plato’s The Republic, Plato advocated that it was not important as to what is being told to be true, but that they were believed. This shared much in common with Machiavelli’s idea of a good prince in which a prince must appear to be merciful, faithful, religious, humane and upright–but in reality not have these qualities but to appear to have them. Machiavelli also agreed that some were more suited than others to lead.

Machiavelli argued that a wise man should always follow the path beaten by great men, which advocated Machiavelli’s belief that there was always someone better than those chosen to lead. Lastly, Machiavelli believed in the importance of just laws and how critical they were to a political regime which if upon studying Aristotle, one may stumble upon Aristotle’s idea that good laws can educate the citizens of a state and then in turn would stabilize a government.

If one were to closely examine the writings of Hobbes’ Leviathan, one may find that though Hobbes’ writings appear to be in opposition to the ancients–that man is self-interested and rational, one can find that Hobbes’ does struggle and is concerned with the aspects of morality. Hobbes’ urges man to not hate on another nor hold contempt of one another, and to treat others as they would like to be treated. In fact, Hobbes’ even optimistically urges man not Yang05 o focus on that of the past but to look towards to future and the greatness of the good that one may follow, which is quite the opposite of most of Hobbes’ cynical, individualist standpoints. Last but not least, Locke’s concern for the state share quite remarkable similarities to the ancients. Aristotle desired the state to have good and morally just laws just which shared a commonplace for Locke’s concern for having good laws to precent tyranny within the ruling of the state. Locke wanted more than anything for peace, and a decrease in war and brutality.

To Locke, tyranny begins when just laws end and harmful and unjust laws come into motion. Conservative of his preferences for stability and change, he believed it was hard for people to step out of their old traditions of war and violence and similarly to Plato, he wish stability and order over everything. Locke’s understanding of liberty, is almost a relapse to Plato’s concerns with democracy. According to Locke, liberty is the the ability to demonstrate freedom of men under the government’s guidance and to have laws and rules to abide by–not the ability to do whatever one desires.

In conclusion, the three modern thinkers are considered to be the very beginning of modern philosophy, and each mark a significant shift from the ancient ways of political thinking and ideologies to more liberal and modern notions of the state. Machiavelli’s writing concerns the maintenance of just and rightful power and the straightforward diagnoses of man’s nature to be self-interested, and individualists by nature. Hobbes’ writing discusses the natural need of governing and authority in a world that is corrupt and dangerous and the desires of the man to rely on the state to acquire protection.

Locke’s contemplation of the state of nature is in a sense, less bleak than that of Machiavelli and Hobbes, and shares a sense of aspiration and Yang06 hope towards a government that can protect the “liberty and property” of the people. Locke believes the lack of just laws and governing may lead to man’s consent of tyrannical regimes–out of fear. And though Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke are considered modern philosophers, each share the foundations of which can be traced to the very ideas and philosophies of the ancients.

Put simply, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke are the evolved ideas from the very foundations of the ancients that have branched out in knowledge and exploration into the modern world of politics. The same problems that have been constantly explored were both confronted by modern and ancient thinkers throughout the course of history, and morality, human nature, order, power, stability and consent will continue to be explored by modern day theorists for years on end.

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