Machiavelli and Human Nature

Human Nature Machiavellian views of power were, and remain to be, controversial due to his assumptions surrounding the fundamental nature of man. As opposed to regarding humans as having great potential, as was common in his time, Machiavelli analyzes power in a way that is more consistent with the realities of human nature. He recognizes that societies of people are unpredictable and thus difficult to manage. Throughout the text, there are multiple suggestions for how a ruler would be able to maintain his power over the people regardless of their capricious nature. In The Prince, Niccole

Machiavelli asserts that, due to this erratic nature of man, a wise prince must anticipate any and every possible threat to his power by establishing control over his people while also avoiding their hatred. Machiavelli insists that men are instinctive beings that are only able to act out of their own self- interest. They are egocentric and unable, when given the choice, to act in the best interest of the state. Machiavelli states that one can generally say this about men: they are ungrateful, fickle simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, and greedy for gain” (58).

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Men always wish o gain something from their government. Whether it be protection or social benefits, men in general are greedy and need constantly to be reminded of the benefits of their government. A wise prince must always be conscious of this erratic and ungrateful behavior of his constituents. Machiavelli views power as a relationship between the government and the people. Power is a state of compromise between things the ruler can and cannot control. The prince is able to decide how he wishes to be perceived by his people yet he is unable to completely control the actions of his citizens.

He is, however, able to deter them from doing things that threaten his power through the use of punishment and force. Due to the fickle nature of humans, “affairs should be managed in such a way that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force” (22). The use of force is justified in this way so long as it is meant to discourage the people from acts that threaten the power of the prince. A prince should never be cruel or excessive without reason, though, as this may inspire the hatred of one’s citizens. The prince should aspire to be both feared and loved by his people.

This is a difficult balance to maintain, however, and due to the mercurial nature of man, it is far better to be feared than loved. People are less apt to be disloyal if they fear possible punishment he, yet they are much more willing to take advantage of a person that they admire. Machiavelli asserts that ” … Love… Is broken on every occasion for their own self-interest; but fear is sustained by a dread of punishment that will never abandon you” (58). Fear is able to force loyalty while love only causes people to admire an individual for as long as he mutinous to act in their best interest.

The prince should never bind himself in this way to his citizens. He should not be expected to constantly act in their favor when his self-interest is at stake. Although one would rather be feared, a prince must guard himself against being despised or hated at all costs. The prince must be aware that people will conspire against any person that they see as a cruel man that acts without reason. As the community is unable to see the benefit that they gain from the one in power, they begin to despise him.

The fickle nature of men causes them to question the prince and conspire against him when they are not reaping benefits, such as protection, from their government. In this way, the prince must strike a balance between fear and respect. He does not want to seem cruel to his people, yet he does not way to seem too lovable as to not strike any amount of fear in their hearts. A wise prince is first and foremost self-reliant. He is able to command by his own virtue and need not rely on others for counsel. The advice of others is always influenced by self-interest and therefore cannot be any decent urine’s basis for decision-making.

The prince may ask others’ advice if only to seem as if he is taking it into consideration; however, the ultimate decision must lie in his own hands Or he has lost true power. He must not rely upon the ideas of others. He can strive to emulate the actions of those from the past, yet it is the job of the prince to formulate his own identity for the people. He must, in a way, prove his worth to the people in order to be accepted as their ruler. Machiavelli suggests one way of establishing a good reputation by means of war.

In waging wars that he is sure to win, the prince proves his dignity and also provides the people with a reason for pride in their principality. This pride acts as a unifying agent for the state and thus is beneficial for his continuation of power. A prince must not only be self- reliant in his actions, but also vigilant to the point of anticipating any sort of interruption of his power. He must be wary of all people around them, because they could easily be the source of his downfall. Princes must “… Be on their guard not only against existing dangers but also against future assistances, and try diligently to prevent them” (12).

A wise prince looks at his people with an air of skepticism. He is constantly aware of the human inability to remain the same. He never quite believes in the concept of peace and, even in times without war, is expectant of a military outbreak. This is not to say that a prince should act with force out of sheer paranoia but rather that he should constantly be evaluating the state of his principality and citizenry. A wise prince is thus able to prepare for any situation that has the potential to remove power from him.

He is always on guard against the changing mindset of his people by never fully trusting in anybody but himself. His ultimate judgment is supreme in the land, and that is the source of his power. Although his decisions are to be in his own self-interest, he must not be perceived as cruel by his people. The prince must always have the support of his citizens in order to maintain power. It is in this way that Machiavelli argues that, in order to be a successful prince, one must constantly evaluate his situation by anticipating any possible turn of events.

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Machiavelli and Human Nature. (2018, Apr 21). Retrieved from