Plato and Machiavelli’s ideas on human nature are significantly different as evidenced by their writings on successful leadership. The views on excellent guidance directly reflect those they had on human nature. In other words, both Plato and Machiavelli gave their analysis based on human nature from a leader’s point of view. For an effective leadership, the peoples’ characters play a biggest role to show positive results.
Plato’s states that, “there are two principles of human nature, one the spirited and the other the philosophical” (99) The philosophical portion is the thinking part found in all human beings and allows people to be rational in their dealings. It allows a person to differentiate between reality and unrealistic situations. The spirited part or will depicts actions as it allows a person to execute ideas derived from the mind to become reality. Both parts bring forth emotions as from a person’s actions and ideas, feelings become apparent.
Machiavelli thinks differently where human nature is concerned. According to him, a human being can be manipulated with the implementation of the right methods. For instance, he encourages the use of fear to make sure people remain loyal to their leaders. His applause to the use of fear is evidenced in the case of Oliverotto who made himself Prince after besieging a territory and forcing the people to form a government (Machiavelli 40) and Borgia’s order of the assassination of his commanders who attempted to overthrow him (Machiavelli 37). Instead of encouraging an understanding among leaders and their subjects, his advice urges leaders to manipulate their people, as it is after all common among human beings to respond to fear than they do love and hatred (Machiavelli 35).
In The Prince, Machiavelli’s views on leadership and its components are very different in comparison to the knowledge conveyed by studies on human nature. According to him, a prince or leader should do what he thinks is right regardless of what this meant to commoners. In other words, a prince should look after his personal interests rather than those of his people. In accordance to this, he goes further and encourages governance through fear. Machiavelli argues that, “A prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated” (Machiavelli 80). Fear is the strongest weapon that a prince can possess. This attests to Machiavelli’s belief that it is in human nature to obey those that are feared than those that are hated among a people. In addition, morality is unnecessary in ensuring proper governance because if a leader sought to please his subjects, he will have to go against his personal interests that lie in securing his kingdom and area of jurisdiction.
Plato’s The Republic gives ideas that are against Machiavelli’s methods of ruling. According to the philosopher if a ruler uses might to govern his people, he becomes unjust and will cause the destruction of his people and state. With regard to the use of fear, Plato states that, “And he, the protector of whom we spoke, is to be seen, not ‘larding the plain’ with his bulk, but himself the over thrower of many, standing up in the chariot of State with the reins in his hand, no longer protector, but tyrant absolute” (Plato 243). In other words, fear destroys the people’s faith in their leaders and will in the end lead to tyranny in the given country and later, its downfall. It can be argued that with people fearing their leaders, a country stands little chance of surviving time as in the end, revolutionary wars can erupt because fear does not last forever.
Machiavelli gives another understanding of human nature that lies in the need to believe they need something or someone. In The Prince, he encourages leaders to stir wars and in turn make the people believe they indeed need their leader. With regard to war, the author writes that, “A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules” (Machiavelli 67). He encourages war for leaders to excuse their ruthless nature among the people. In addition, if a country is peaceful, Machiavelli insists that it is human nature to grow restless and start questioning. Instead of risking such behavior, it is best to make the people grateful to have a ruthless leader by starting wars and having the means to win the same. This he attests to when he writes that, “It is the nature of men to be bound by the benefits they confer as much as by those they receive” (Machiavelli 50).
Plato’s views are against this as his arguments in the Republic encourage justice that cannot be achieved through war. When talking about war Plato writes that, “without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public” (Plato 61). War is the result of evil and evil is according to Plato failure to administer justice among a people. This does not mean that the philosopher is against war but rather he is against seeking out an enemy and starting wars. Therefore, while Machiavelli believes states exist for the sole purpose of war, Plato insists that a state should be just to its people by avoiding all evils including war.
Plato’s idea of a state entailed a partnership between leaders and subject. This he attests to when he writes that, “and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habitation the body of inhabitants is termed a State” (Plato 56). His views encourage the leaders considering the views of his people when making decisions and considering steps to take regarding a region. His idea on human nature emphasizes on the intellectual capability of human beings and their capability to uphold morality. It can be argued that morality in this case is encouraged because leaders are open with their people. In addition, listening to different ideas regarding a problem will help a State reach a more concrete decision that serves the interests of everyone.
Machiavelli discourages citizen’s involvement in matters of State, because according to him, humans are untrustworthy. This he proves when he argues that, “men will always prove untrue to you unless they are kept honest by constraint” (Machiavelli 116). While the prince should treat his subjects well, he should still keep them from matters of State. Machiavelli did not trust humans because according to him, every person will seek to serve his best interest, even when they go against the interests of the State. He admires the Prince who does as he pleases without doing consultations or seeking advice from counselors. For instance, when Borgia decides to kill his commanders, Machiavelli applauds his move because to him a leader can never trust anyone. With this in mind, the commanders have already betrayed Borgia, killing them sends a message to those thinking of doing the same and at the same time, depicts strength, and instills fear.
Plato and Machiavelli’s ideas on human nature are significantly different as evidenced by their writings on successful leadership. While Plato encourages leaders to have more faith in their subjects, Machiavelli forbids it with an argument that dictates disaster for the leader if there is too much citizen involvement in matters of state. The use of fear to encourage loyalty is another issue in which the two philosophers differ. While Machiavelli believes fear to be the best motivator, Plato discourages it by associating fear with injustice. Machiavelli goes on to give examples of cases where fear helped leaders, like Borgia, protect their jurisdiction. At the same time, Plato shows immorality on the side of a government that manipulates its people to gain control over them and ensure their loyalty. Finally yet importantly, the two philosophers differ in their views of war as one supports it while the other discourages it on the basis that it is an injustice to the people.
In conclusion, it is clear that Plato has more faith in human nature than Machiavelli. Plato’s belief in the use of knowledge to better the human race is disregarded by Machiavelli who lacks faith in human beings especially with regard to the State. However, The Prince ignores religion and morality where politics is concerned. At the same time, Plato has too much faith in humans. Whereas his idea brings forth an ideal community, it fails to address matters that are prominent in any kingdom or government. For instance, people can grow restless and result to violence against their leaders. Intellectual ability relies on education and not every person has access to the said education. Keeping this in mind, involving every person in matters of the State can still lead to contradicting ideas as human beings are different in nature and are therefore prone to have diverse views.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. New York: Bantam Classics, 1984.
Plato, Aristocles. The Republic. London: Penguin Classics, 2007.