Human Nature and Power
Human Nature and Power
During the Renaissance, many brilliant philosophers have explored the concept of human nature. The question, what motivates humanity has been taken into consideration in the composure of virtually every society. By establishing that premise, many went on to create an ideal society with the intention of developing that thought. Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas More are outstanding representatives among them. In both More’s Utopia and Machiavelli’s The Prince, perfect societies are constructed. However, More and Machiavelli have different opinions about the human nature in relation to the role of power and authority.
Thomas More optimistically describes human nature. He depicts that man by nature is good-willed and conforming. He believes that human nature can be improved. Therefore, if the governing power is to be removed then man would be a less hostile force. Niccolo Machiavelli, on the other hand, describes human nature negatively. Man is untrustworthy, ungrateful, greedy and lying. Machiavelli suggests that man will never change and that one will always attempt to overcome the other. Power and authority is implied in the very essence of Machiavelli’s work.
It is tied in with the greed and selfishness. More believed human nature to be good, created by God, and susceptible to great improvement if social, political, and economic conditions were reformed so that human misery were eliminated and that fundamental human virtue were thereby liberated and nurtured. More believed in socialism insofar as it would eliminate private property, which he saw as the root of evil. He believed that when private property exists, and when money dominates all other considerations, then “it is hardly ever possible for a commonwealth to be governed justly or happily.
” More believes that justice simply cannot exist when the “worst citizens” own the “best things,” or “where property is limited to a few. ” In such a situation, those who have so much are “always uneasy,” fearing they will have it taken, and those who have so little “are utterly wretched” (More 38). Where there is no justice, people will believe that there is no reward for virtue, which will result in people behaving according to their lowest standards, rather than according to their highest.
In Utopia, Thomas More’ view of human nature is far more positive than negative. While he certainly shows an awareness of the flaws in human beings, he attributes those flaws more to the environment, and political and socioeconomic factors, than to the nature of humanity. In other words, More shows that human nature can be altered by altering the environment. If the environment is improved, meaning socially, politically and economically, then the behavior of human beings will be improved, bringing out the best in human nature.
So in More’s view, if the governing power and authority is to be removed then man would be a less hostile force. Machiavelli expresses his view of the basic lack of goodness in human nature. He believes that in general, most people have a primary interest in themselves, and are motivated by their financial greed. Men are mainly concerned with their property and honor. “When neither their property nor their honor is touched, the majority of men live content… ” If he “wishes to profess goodness at all times” he “must fall to ruin among so many who are not good.
” If he wishes to maintain his power, he must “learn how not to be good, and to use it or not according to necessity” (Machiavelli 127). Machiavelli, envisions society as one that turns to power and satisfaction of vices as seen through The Prince. Machiavelli advises that to keep power one must learn to be corrupt. This advice is given due to the idea that one who knows not corruption and believes in honesty is faced with those who use manipulation as part of the job. Machiavelli also sees pursuing virtue as an act that leads to ruin, while serving vice will fortify life.
Human nature is one that tends to be drawn to pleasant, satisfactory things. If there is no benefit to the self for actions performed, motivation to perform such actions will be low or nonexistent. As seen throughout history, many actions have been taken in order for people to gain power, even if that action is genocide. Men are willing to step over men in order to have power and make an enjoyable life for hisself. Such occurrences can be seen multiple times, being unprompted and completely by choice of the power hungry.
According to the different point of view of human nature from More and Machiavelli above, we can understand how More and Machiavelli view power and the role of power and authority. In the Prince, the authority is in either monarchy or dictatorship. Machiavelli focuses on the manipulation of the people to maintain power. The importance lies in the fact that in a monarchy or dictatorship, one person has the power in a society and all the rest serve only to obey him. Starkly different is More’s creation.
His society is a true communist one and it could also beargued that it is also a democracy. Leaders are elected by the people, who make their owndecisions freely. Nothing, not even power, is owned in that society by an individual. The power is distributed, thus empowerment. The capitalism of Machiavelli’s world, the idea strongly ties in with this contrast. it was written for the use of one man to dominate over and control his kingdom, it was obviously not meant for lesser mortals. It in itself is a tool of power which could be used for only the good of the prince who uses it.
Whether or not the people are empowered does not matter, it is irrelevant. It only matters that theprince uses it to maintain his own power. In contrast, Utopia is a fantasy written by More tosuggest an alternative way of life for the people. He focuses very little on the doings of the princein his ideal society; what matters in Utopia is the actions of the people. One might even say thatthe people are empowered, but the ideals that truly run the society, are empowered. More’s truefocus does not even lie in power, but in the seeking of ideals.
The Utopian society highlights the unwritten laws of morality that humans possess if they are raised in a society that promotes honesty and virtue. However, Machiavelli argues that men are evil and inherent selfishness, no matter how pleasant a society raises them. People’s natural tendency to lie, cheat, and steal swells up without any restrictions, destroying not only their own community but also their government. It is implied that the treatment of criminals is harsh and strict. In Utopia, More describes how this ideal society punishes its’ criminals and it is obvious that they are mild and gentle.
Since vice is not only destroyed, and men preserved, but they are treated in such a manner as to make them see the necessity of being honest (Utopia, 14). Although More and Machiavelli’s opinions differ greatly in their view of human nature, both works are unbelievably intriguing in that each of the societies would leave an incredible mark in history. The visual given through More’s Utopia portrays society an optimist’s view. More believes that when given all equal opportunities and provisions, people will lead a virtuous, unselfish life.
People will work for the benefit of other people in order to create an equal and pleasant society. People only turn to corruption when faced with shortages or vanity in believing some deserve more than others. So in More’s Utopian world, the governing authority is removed and the power is distributed. However, in the Prince, People’s natural tendency to lie, cheat, and steal swells up without any restrictions, power and authority is implied in the very essence of Machiavelli’s work. It is tied in with the greed and selfishness. So Machiavelli focuses on the manipulation of the people to maintain power.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 13 November 2016
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