Comparison Between Hobbes and Machiavelli


The humanist Machiavelli and the materialist Hobbes emphasize the idea of human nature in their political theories. A human being always tries to explain the main cause of this entangled philosophy, which manifests itself in the spectacular achievements of humankind and establishment of civilizations. The death, ruin of civilization, and violent destruction scattered the humankind’s achievements among the rubble. One can comprehend human nature through the capacity of reasoning. The religious and political philosophers developed this conception throughout the history until the era of the European Renaissance. However, the Machiavelli’s treatise The Prince and the Hobbes’ classic work Leviathan reflect a new twist toward the idea of human nature with the rejection that capacity to reason can explain the human nature.

Viewpoints of the two philosophers about human nature

Machiavelli in his treatise points to the fact that that human nature is based on individual’s self-interest determined by fortune and virtue. Theories and political institutions have to reflect one’s personal interest. On the other hand, Hobbes argues that human nature is based on belligerency between solitary humans, who fear violent death and pursue own desires. With the help of theories and political institutions, people can soften their behavior and pursue own interests and goals.

In order to comprehend the way human nature influences the political theory, Machiavelli offers a unique explanation in his work The Prince. According to Hussain (2004), The Prince narrates about the leadership abilities of how people control and gain power. Machiavelli points to fortune and virtue as the two main qualities that affect rulers and human beings. Virtue is the masculine quality of action, courage, and decisiveness. Machiavelli states that all men, who show high moral standards in their behavior, are innovators, who can use force and rely on own resources (Machiavelli, 2012). These people seldom fail. Fortune is the second quality that affects all people and cannot be controlled. No one can anticipate fortune. Fortune can affect a person positively and negatively. While virtue and fortune control humans and rulers, prudence holds in check the quality of virtue. Prudence is the people’s capacity to recognize, where trends and actions can lead them. According to Machiavelli (2012), rulers must foresee the consequences of reckless and daring actions found in virtue.

Whereas Machiavelli views fortune and virtue as the aspects that determine human nature in regards to individual’s pursuit of own personal interests, Hobbes offers a distinctive approach to human nature. He tries to explain human nature through empiricism and scientific reasoning placing science in the framework of political science. Hobbes (2013) considers science as the knowledge of consequences, and interdependence of the facts. Leviathan is the philosopher’s attempt to explain politics and human nature in a scientific manner.

Hobbes and his arguments concerning the human nature

Hobbes (2013) begins his scientific argumentation with an assumption that the state is not a natural entity. It is an artificial being. People create the state. According to Hobbes (2013), one can compare the state to the human organs. The thinker compares the conception of the state with the idea of a human being. He asserts that in order for individuals to understand each other, they should learn to read each other truly. Empirical observations are the crucial aspects for Hobbes. The philosopher observes what a man is and compares his observations with the artificial state or individual. The thinker’s main interest is to strip humankind of all religious, social, and cultural customs. He strives to find equality as the lowest common denominator of humanity.

According to Hobbes (2013), humans are creatures, which respond to stimulation and sense of their environment. Humans create senses, and all the surrounding things strike these senses. The stimulation of senses drives human beings to react properly to a certain sensation. Hobbes points to appetite and aversion as the main types of stimulation that people react to. The thinker places no value toward aversion and appetite aside from the conception that individuals are bombarded with sensation and stimulation for which they have appetite and aversion toward particular sensations.

Appetites reflect the common denominators that exist in humankind. The first denominator identified by Hobbes is that individuals have a desire toward power. Power allows people obtain numerous things that they want in order to satisfy own appetites. The main cause of power is to assure that the object of a human’s desire is not enjoyed only once in a lifetime, but forever. Hobbes (2013) restates that the mankind has a restless and infinite desire of power that can only cease after death.

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Denominators that characterize the human nature

The constant desire to satisfy human stimulation, appetites, and passions will force a man to get more power constantly. The thinker mentions the fear of violent death as the next common denominator. While humans have a desire to satisfy own passions, they also have the opportunity to avoid a violent death. Hobbes (2013) mentions two common denominators that characterize human nature and also demonstrate a unique impact in the political theory. These denominators are the basis for which the political societies can be established. Hobbes builds his arguments on how people exist in an environment with these main denominators. By nature, individuals are equal in everything. When one person is stronger than another one, his/her strength is counteracted by the speed and dexterity of other people. Hobbes (2013) asserts that if two individuals want the same thing that they both cannot enjoy, they become implacable enemies. The philosopher identifies the natural state with a state of war. There is no society, and no one can trust each other since all people combat for the desired things trying to avoid violent death. In the state of nature, individuals are confronted with other people who want to get what they want and even kill for the cherished thing. The state of nature contradicts with a person’s desire to satisfy own passion and avoid violent death.

Views of Machiavelli and Hobbes regarding the state of nature

Hobbes (2013) says that there are no culture, society, buildings, navigation, industry, and use of imported commodities in the state of nature. Hobbes (2013) points to the fact that the life of a human being is short, poor, nasty, and solitary. Both thinkers Machiavelli and Hobbes demonstrate a primitive state of nature, where a man exists without any political association. However, Machiavelli does not detail this state of nature. He only gives the definition of anarchy where a man behaves himself as a beast. Hobbes, on the other hand, graphically defines this state.

Whereas Hobbes demonstrates the horror of entering the state of nature, the philosopher also pays attention to the fact that a way out of this state can be reached by determining the law of nature through the human capacity to reason. The natural laws are considered as a higher universal law placed by God. It also transcends the man-made laws. All minor laws should conform to the laws of nature. In his work The Prince, Machiavelli includes no reference to the natural laws. For the Italian thinker, the political entity comes first when all individuals come together. He accepts that the bravest and the strongest person become a leader, and then all people work together to create religion, mores, and society.

The idea of the natural laws

The natural laws make no contract in establishing a state. Hobbes asserts that the conception of the natural laws can be used in developing a particular contract between the sovereign’s role and people. The main goal of a sovereign is to ensure a secure environment for all individuals, where they can live, pursue own passion and appetite with no fear of forced return to the natural state or violent death. The state, for Hobbes, is an entity where all people empower the right of governing to a particular person or an assembly of individuals.

The commonwealth and the function of the sovereign

Hobbes claims that the creation of a commonwealth through the social contract can help achieve the unity and peace. The philosopher adds that the sovereign is responsible for the common defense and, therefore, he rules a perfect commonwealth. The sovereign’s principal function is to keep all people in peace and out of the natural state. A sovereign’s power will help enforce the important laws and keep peace. Hobbes recognizes that individuals refuse to use violence and force while sovereign assures protection for all people. For the thinker, these are just words that have no strength to safeguard people at all. It is quite the opposite of what Machiavelli thinks. The Italian philosopher vaguely refers to an agreement between the strong leader and weak individuals. Hobbes, on the other hand, sets out the specific details of covenants between the states and individuals.


The ancient philosophers Hobbes and Machiavelli view the conception of human nature within every person, regard the human nature as the capacity to reason and reflect on various philosophical questions and ideas. Machiavelli and Hobbes do not underscore the ancient ideal of human nature. Instead, they focus on how human beings react to self-interest and stimulation. The famous and eminent philosophers present new ideas concerning the human nature. Whereas the thinkers can be realistic and bold in their description of the human nature, they provide a new reflection of how human nature affects the political life.

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