Human Nature: Machiavelli, Locke, Marx, and Engel

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“For this essay I have decided to write about question two and discuss how Machiavelli, Locke, Marx, and Engel’s opinions about human nature lead them to their conclusions. We are not comparing the authors’ views, so each will have their own section in this paper in no particular order. The first section describes how Machiavelli uses his distrusting view of people to justify all manners of immoral behavior. The middle section belongs to Marx and Engels where I will demonstrate that their ideas reflect the fact that they think human nature is influenced heavily by the economic system in which we live.

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Finally, I will explain how John Locke’s view that people are generally trustworthy, though selfish, leads to his belief in individual liberty and government with limited powers.

In The Prince, Machiavelli’s aim is to use his extensive political experience to educate the ruling class on the best practices to retain power over a population. It is clear through his writing that he regards himself as an expert, as a result of the posts he has held, the research he has conducted, and the anecdotes he has amassed. Feeling well qualified to offer advice to his readers, he opines on matters of military force, diplomacy, justice, public relations, and even interpersonal relationships. He offers up a number of qualities he deems good in a “prince” or ruler of a population, and also discusses which qualities are most detrimental. In all his confidence in his own wisdom, and thoroughness in which he covers the subject matter, what is noticeably missing is any reflection on the morality of the advice he offers his readers. I believe his low opinion of humanity and his opinion that cruelty is an effective motivator has given him a blind spot to morality as it relates to governing people.

Machiavelli believes a prince is entitled to use their citizens as a means to an end. To achieve an end, he advises his readers that “men are either to be kindly treated, or utterly crushed” (Machiavelli, p. 11). One cannot help but notice that Machiavelli throughout The Prince is biased toward crushing rather than kindness. He makes this point a number of ways such as “since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” (Machiavelli, p. 51). In chapter 16 he again chooses the less moral side of a metaphorical coin when he makes an extensive case against being liberal and in favor of being mean. He believes that liberality is the path to a poverty and being hated. While he says that maintaining a reputation of being mean is wise.

Many of the anecdotes he recounts for the reader also reinforce his preference for immoral behavior and the efficacy of cruelty. For example, he praises Hannibal’s great accomplishment of leading an enormous army of disparate soldiers. As Machiavelli sees it, Hannibal achieved this great feat in large part because of his propensity toward cruelty. He praises Hannibal’s success, about which he says, “This we can only ascribe to the transcendent cruelty, which, joined with numberless great qualities, rendered him at once venerable and terrible in the eyes of his soldiers; for without this reputation for cruelty these other virtues would not have produced the like results” (Machiavelli, p. 52).

In another typical anecdote Machiavelli writes about the peril of Romagna being ruled by weak leaders. He blames their weakness for violence, robbery, quarrels, and other ills. In Machiavelli’s view, it was a good solution when a very cruel governor was appointed to straighten things out. In another demonstration that Machiavelli believes that cruelty works well to achieve results, he credits this cruel man with restoring order in a short amount of time. His view that fear is the best way to motivate humans is reinforced time and time again with countless examples similar to the ones listed in this paper.

Machiavelli’s disdain for human nature keeps him from considering the morality of advising his readers to practice cruelty as an effective and legitimate tool. Throughout the book, it seems Machiavelli takes every opportunity to assume the worst of people while largely ignoring any discussion of human virtues. He sees people as selfish and disloyal. For example, he says “For of men it may generally be affirmed, that they are thankless, fickle, false studious to avoid danger, greedy of gain” (Machiavelli, p. 51).

Machiavelli’s low opinion of human nature can be summed up by his belief that a man would sooner forgive the murder of his father than forgive the theft of his material possessions. (Machiavelli, p. 52) This view, combined with Machiavelli’s extremely pragmatic way of thinking results in him believing that people are objects to be manipulated in service of the state. The best evidence that his thoughts on human nature influenced his conclusions is that his opinions about people’s nature are directly reflected in the advice he gives. Whether you think his methods would be effective or not depends on whether you share Machiavelli’s opinion that humans are only interested in themselves and are effectively motivated by fear.

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Human Nature: Machiavelli, Locke, Marx, and Engel. (2019, Sep 21). Retrieved from