Machiavelli and hobbes share a similar analysis of political power

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1. Machiavelli and Hobbes Political Power 1 Machiavelli and Hobbes share a similar Analysis of Political Power. Discuss Anurag Gangal Professor and Head of Department,…
  • 1. Machiavelli and Hobbes Political Power 1 Machiavelli and Hobbes share a similar Analysis of Political Power. Discuss Anurag Gangal Professor and Head of Department, Political Science and Director, Gandhian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Jammu, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, India. Machiavelli in his Prince is primarily a practical observer and diplomat analystprescribing numerous ethical and political instructions to Cesar Borgia for, as it were,pyramidical maintenance, sustenance and enhancement of political power at various stages ofcapturing, nurturing, preserving and augmenting power and absolute power at the helm of theState. Hobbes’s aim in his Leviathan is similar to that of Machiavelli’s Prince. Both are equallyconcerned for bringing about order out of chaotic civil war like situation in England andarbitrary rule of the Papal State in Italy respectively. Hobbes is making an all out effort tocreate an edifice and basis of scientific foundation for the need of a sovereign power throughhis so called scientific materialism. That is why he discusses at length human nature, psycheand need for sociological order in society. Hobbes places the Sovereign – all powerfulpolitical ruler -- at the apex of all other aspects and activities of life. There must be absolute ruthlessness in capturing, sustaining and enhancing political powerby the ruler for Machiavelli. Even the slightest sign of departure from this act must becrushed for good. However for preservation of political power, Machiavelli forewarns hisprince or king or ruler alongwith advising murder and all type of brutalities. An example ofsuch ideas is to be seen in the following theme or suggestion that runs through three chaptersof The Prince: A man may forget the murder of his father but not the confiscation of his patrimony and woman.1 In Machiavelli’s time, as Sabine also says, absolutism was emerging as a powerful force indifferent ways while demolishing the medieval yardsticks of order and monarchies. Absolute monarchy overturned feudal constitutionalism and the free city-states, on which medieval civilization had largely depended, just as nationalism later overturned the dynastic legitimacy to which absolute monarchy gave rise. The church itself, the most characteristic of all medieval institutions, fell a prey to it, or to social forces upon which it depended. Weak and rich -- a fatal combination in an age of blood and iron -- the monasteries were expropriated by Protestant and Catholic monarchies alike, to provide the wealth of a new middle class which was the main strength of the monarchy.
  • 2. Machiavelli and Hobbes Political Power 2 Ecclesiastical rulers were everywhere subjected more and more to royal control, and in the end the churchs legal authority disappeared. The sacerdotium vanished as a power, and the church became -- what it had never before been for Christian thought -- either a voluntary association or a partner of national government.2 Machiavelli does not care to show his analysis to be having a scientific basis while Hobbesappears to be bothered about this from the very beginning of his Leviathan. Machiavelli is asharp observer and a practitioner of mundane diplomacy and politics. Hobbes is basically aphilosopher finding support in erecting an apparent scientific basis for his fictional socialcontract. Yet, what Sabine says is indeed true about Machiavelli and Hobbes – especiallyabout the point where their analysis of political power becomes similar: Hence his cynical remark that a man more readily forgives the murder of his father than the confiscation of his patrimony. The prudent ruler may kill but he will not plunder. When completed by a systematic psychology to explain and justify it, this phase of Machiavelli became the political philosophy of Hobbes.3 Despite such sharing of the concept of political power in Machiavelli and Hobbes, there isvast difference in their methodology, approach and thematic emphasis anent the majorperspectives and elements relating to successful and brutal kingly rule and establishment ofan all powerful sovereign ruler respectively. For Machiavelli, in The Prince, an individualseldom emerges as important component of the entire statecraft and ‘princely’ rule. While,for Hobbes, it is the individual writ large despite creation of his authoritarian sovereign after,indeed, every individual in the state of nature enters into a contract one with one another forsurrendering their rights to the absolute ruler. This appears to be an interesting divergence inthe otherwise shared concept of political power in Machiavelli and Hobbes.4 Hobbes’s concept of political power is more systematic than Machiavelli. Sabine alsosupports this view when he says, “It is notable chiefly for the logical clarity of the argumentand the consistency with which it carried through the presumptions from which it started. Itwas in no sense a product of realistic political observation [of Machiavelli].”5 It is indeed surprising to see how both Hobbes and Machiavelli have come up with similarconcept of political power despite having different methods. Hobbes’s psychology, sociologyand political understanding in his Leviathan were not based on his observation of humanbeings while Machiavelli was past master in this context. Maybe their social and politicalcontext and purpose behind writing Prince and Leviathan were similar. In reaching his concept of political power, Hobbes’s method was geometrical – movingfrom simple to complex, i.e., from individual’s utilitarian need for security and comfort to a
  • 3. Machiavelli and Hobbes Political Power 3political order with government and law under the Sovereign ruler. Machiavelli’s method isdifferent and much ahead of his own time. Observation and empiricism is his method. Forhim like Hobbes, good laws and armies are most important for uniting Italy and making it avery powerful country. Hobbes however does not discuss the factor of army in his concept ofpolitical power.6 There is yet another difference in the concept of political power of both thinkers.Machiavelli is a strategist and a writer in statecraft or a practical advisor in matters of stateadministration while Hobbes is a system builder and a philosopher.7 Machiavelli advises andprescribes his concepts while Hobbes builds his philosophy of political power. What Hobbes builds in his Leviathan? For him, there is apparently a state of nature whereman or human beings are sad, nasty, brutish and selfish living almost in a state of war ofevery individual against each individual. These beings – out of sheer mutual disgust andsadness – decide to enter into a social contract and repose their natural laws and rights byvirtue of natural reason into a Sovereign person for the purpose of security of life and order insociety through a leviathan Sovereign. Hence, Hobbes is hypothetically studying humannature, psychology, need for society, sociological foundations and the quest for a politicalorder and political system in his own unique way or the geometrical method. Hobbes as suchknits his web of scientific materialism leading to near complete submission of everyindividual to a Sovereign of course with certain qualifying limitations on the sovereignpower. As long as the Sovereign is able to protect the life of his subjects, he remains aSovereign. Otherwise, implicitly, the state of nature will emerge again. In Hobbes’s ownwords: First, because they Covenant, it is to be understood, they are not obliged by former Covenant to anything repugnant hereunto. And Consequently they that have already Instituted a Common-wealth, being thereby bound by Covenant, to own the Actions, and Judgements of one, cannot lawfully make a new Covenant, amongst themselves, to be obedient to any other, in anything whatsoever, without his permission. And therefore, they that are subjects to a Monarch, cannot without his leave cast off Monarchy, and return to the confusion of a disunited Multitude; nor transferred their Person from him that bears it, to another Man, or other Assembly of men: for they are bound, every man to every man, to Own, and be reputed Author of all, that he that already is their Sovereign, shall do, and judge fit to be done: so that any one man dissenting, all the rest should break their Covenant made to that man, which is injustice: and they have also every man given the Sovereignty to him that bears
  • 4. Machiavelli and Hobbes Political Power 4 their Person; and therefore if they depose him, they take from which is his own, and so again it is injustice.8 Machiavelli does not engage in such Hobbesian labyrinthine act of establishing the link ofhuman felicity of Reason between two hitherto fore mutually opposite nuances and conceptsof natural laws and natural rights. Hobbes is trying to knit a fabric of a social science if notexact science behind his concept of political power. Machiavelli is an observer, historian and an empiricist going towards becoming strategistand an expert in statecraft and administration. In both the thinkers, concept of political power goes for establishing an absolutist rulerwho at best can otherwise be an authoritarian king and sovereign. Sovereignty by definition isalso indivisible and absolute in nature. No one can be above a sovereign. Both are quite ethical in explaining their concept of political power inasmuch as they bothput certain limitations upon the conduct of their all powerful rulers. Machiavelli does notallow his brutal and ruthless rulers to touch the property and women of their subjects. Hisruler may mercilessly murder and kill but not plunder. For Machiavelli, glory and power areneeded for a ruler to be really successful and long lasting. For both, a strong ruler and powerful political order in society was needed. Their approachin this matter is highly objective, secular and singular with their aim of having an orderedunited country for the prosperity and security of citizens and ever augmenting power of theirpolitical rulers and the sovereign. Machiavelli’s political power is however required for ever increasing power. Power for thesake of power is needed here. Other things will follow suit. Hobbes’s position is again in thiscontext. Hobbes is not Machiavellian though he may be an authoritarian in nature.Machiavelli is crude and brutal in his Prince. Hobbes is not like Machiavelli in terms ofruthlessness and brutality of the Sovereign.9 Machiavelli’s concept of political power is such that no one can match his genius even inthe present age of the most inhuman destructive nuclear technology. Machiavelli’s Princedoes not need Max Lerner’s age of overkill for killing and murdering mercilessly.Machiavelli’s boldness makes him the first modern political thinker. Hobbes’s concept ofpolitical power is at best a more systematic extension of the Machiavellian enunciation. Even otherwise, there are authors who do not regard Hobbes’s idea of political power ashis original contribution vis-a-vis Machiavelli. Leo Strauss and others see that perhaps
  • 5. Machiavelli and Hobbes Political Power 5Hobbes was inspired by Aristotle, Thucydides and Machiavelli in evolving his concept ofpolitical power and what Machiavelli often refers to as “glory”.10 Whoever might have inspired Hobbes in his ideas on political power, it appearsundoubtedly clear that Machiavelli and Hobbes have contributed very meaningfully inexpanding the horizons of understanding and knowledge concerning political power. Theyboth have been much ahead of their own time. The political realism of the modern age indeedowes a lot to the modern tradition of realist political analytical perspectives laid by Hobbesand Machiavelli. While comparing the concept of political power of Machiavelli and Hobbes, it emergesclearly that Hobbes is a little lesser of a realist than Machiavelli while Machiavelli is not asmuch of an idealist as Hobbes is despite being a progenitor of the concept of political power.Who among these two is a more ruthless proponent of gaining political power upon politicalpower endlessly? The answer is obvious – none other than Machiavelli.
  • 6. Machiavelli and Hobbes Political Power 6 References1Machiavelli, Niccolo, The Prince, London: Plain Label Books, 1952, Chapters – VII to IX, pp. 33-85.2 Sabine, George H., A History of Political Theory, New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1961, pp. 333-334.3 Ibid. pp. 343. Emphasis added.4 Ibid. pp. 473-475.5 Ibid. p. 474.6 Skinner, Quentin, Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 33-36.7 Femia, Joseph V. Machiavelli Revisited, Cardiff, Wales: Universal Publication, 2004, pp. 30-32.8 Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: Or, the Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil,Editor, A. R. Waller, Cambridge: CUP, 1904, p. 120-121.9 Ibid. Hobbes, Thomas. p. 120.10 Slomp, Gabriella. Thomas Hobbes and the Political Philosophy of Glory, Houndmills: Macmillan, 2000, pp. 49-51.
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