‘Leviathan’ and the (English) Prince

According to Mark Jendrysik, “The political theorists of seventeenth-century England saw struggles over political and religious organization as the central cause of revolutionary upheaval. Division on questions of political structures and religious belief resulted in civil strife and oppression. . . . John Milton saw a critical cleavage between those who freed themselves from the worship of kings and those who were still enthralled by the royal image. Oliver Cromwell believed faction, brought about by the desire of some men to rule over other men and force their beliefs into a specific pattern, caused the civil war. For Robert Filmer false beliefs about a specious and rebellious “liberty” destroyed natural order. For Thomas Hobbes the critical division in English politics was based in misunderstandings about the nature of sovereign power. Divided sovereignty, or the false belief that there was more than one source of religious and political authority in the world, became for Hobbes the central, overriding cause of disorder. The civil war represented the failure of English sovereigns to maintain necessary control over all aspects of political and religious life. The source of divided sovereignty lay in confusion about the source, nature and goals of political and religious power in the state.” As a result of his cold-hearted application of logical thought to the harsh realities of the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes emerged as perhaps the quintessential political philosopher in the English-speaking world during the period commonly known as the Restoration era. One way of thinking about Hobbes is to see him as taking up the intellectual mantle of thought begun just over a century earlier by Niccolo Machiavelli (in ‘The Prince’). Like his Italian predecessor (though to a lesser degree), Hobbes has been seen as a kind of cynical commentator on politics and rule. Yet Hobbes DOES offer a different vision of political reality than Machiavelli for a different age, and in this response I’m interested in you bringing the ideas of these two intellectual behemoths into conversation. Specifically, I want you to do two things here: 1) Try and compare/contrast the political thought of Hobbes and Machiavelli. In what way are their approaches, theories, and conclusions similar, but also, in what crucial ways to they diverge? 2) Much like we did earlier with Machiavelli, I want you to pick out a particular quotation from Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’, and discuss it – trying to address its significance and logic for its own time period and then, in turn, discussing how and why you think it logically applies (or not) to our own day and age.

17 thoughts on “‘Leviathan’ and the (English) Prince

  1. Machiavelli’s view on power was not to think morally. He was very cut throat and did not have very many morals. He believed in the notion that “the ends justify the means”. Machiavelli was a strong writer who wrote about power and political rule. Machiavelli and Hobbes are clearly different in their thoughts. Machiavelli is more for the idea of justice and revenge, while Hobbes would think things through. Hobbes thinks about his actions and thinks more morally and ethically. Both Machiavelli and Hobbes could be considered evil. They both are sneaky with their power and they aren’t usually ethnical in their decisions.
    In ‘Leviathan’ by Hobbes he wrote, “The source of every crime, is some defect of the understanding; or some error in reasoning; or some sudden force of the passions. Defect in the understanding is ignorance; in reasoning, erroneous opinion.”
    which is significant to the time period and to the power situations. Basically, this quote is saying that most of the crimes are just misunderstandings. Also, it is showing that one could not quite understand something or someone could not know what is happening at a certain time or place, and because of that, they would commit a crime.
    This quote applies to our own day and age. It is close to the idea of someone committing a crime and not knowing how or why it happened. Also, it discusses ignorance, which is very apparent in today’s society. Many people misunderstand things out of nature and then get offended and then that is how they become ignorant.

  2. Hobbes and Michiavelli are two quintessential political philosophers of their respected times. The two have similar views on politics but they also have their differences. Michiavelli was blunt and told the harsh truth. He believed in a “the ends justify the means” notion. Michiavelli believed in power over others and a vengeful leader that is not afraid to get physical.. He thought a leader should be feared and respected, rather than loved. Hobbes on the other hand thinks about all the possible consequences that could come from a person of power’s actions. He knows that there are better ways of dealing with issues of power other than violence. Both Hobbs and Michiavelli are direct in what they write about. They can be considered harsh in their methods of dealing with power. They might not be ethically and morally sound methods but they work, and Hobbes and Michiavelli know that when writing.
    In “Leviathan,” by Hobbes he wrote “So if any two men want a single thing which they can’t both enjoy, they become enemies; and each of them on the way to his goal (which is principally his own survival, though sometimes merely his delight) tries to destroy or subdue the other.” Its significant to its time period because it shows why all the civil war was happening. That people feel threatened by those who have ore than them, so the only way they can feel safe is to take it from them; usually by force. But once they take it they are in the same danger the other was in. This spurs war. This easily applies to our own day and age, and not just politics. This can be applied to anything because there is always going to be someone who has more than someone else and it will cause issues. In the Middle East there is sill fighting over who controls the Holy Land. Also the United States invades certain countries for oil, even though we have enugh oil on our own land. The fear of others having more than you can and will cause confrontation back then, now, and most certainly in the future.

  3. The way Machiavelli and Hobbes wrote was in a lot of ways extremely different, but in some ways the two are very deceitful when pertaining to power. Machiavelli was not about thinking tactics through, but Hobbes was. For example, Machiavelli was all about how “the ends justify the means” and solely looked at the idea of revenge and justice. Machiavelli says to eliminate all the minor powers, to increase the strength of the greater powers. His logic was for one person to have all the power and only that one person. Machiavelli says to “smash” everything in order to hold on to your power, meaning do whatever you have to make sure nobody can get above you. Hobbes on the other hand thought things through even though his decisions did not turn out to be ethical either. He likes to put in his writing that we should look at ourselves when trying to understand society as a whole. A quote from “Leviathan” is “Wisdom is acquired not by reading books but by reading men.” I think this means that society needs to understand real life people and experiences rather than just reading about it. People have a better understanding of one another if they share the same experiences. He himself even states that people take this the wrong way because they look at it as a way to almost bash one another behind their backs, when in reality it should be used to teach us if we have similar interests to look at what we believe in and etc. I do not think this could apply to today’s day and age because we as a society have a better understanding of how to hide certain things about ourselves from everyone. It is not exactly easy to look at a person and know what is going on inside their heads or know their beliefs, unless you engage in serious conversation: even then one might not find that information out. Hobbes even states that “however skilled someone is at ‘reading’ others by their actions, that can serve him only with the few people he knows personally”. Society can only be left with the question to ponder on, “does this relate to my life too”?

  4. Although at first glance Machiavelli and Hobbes seem very different from each other, they’re actually quite similar in their regards to their political thoughts with only minor differences between them. First off, both Machiavelli and Hobbes believed that a man should be both feared and loved. Written in “Leviathan”, Hobbes explains that “any quality at all that makes a man loved or feared by many people, or the mere reputation for having such a quality, is power; because it is a means to getting the assistance and service of many people. Machiavelli would agree with this statement because in “The Prince” he believed a leader should be loved and feared to gain full support of his followers. Also, both of these men believe authority as an ultimate goal of a person/leader. Being Machiavellian means that authority is the ultimate goal for that person/leader which directly shows that Machiavelli’s concepts of power are now used as its own person phrase. Hobbes writing relates to this political idea because in chapter 10 of “Leviathan” he discusses many aspects that make a person powerful, for example, the idea that Noble rank is power and high ranks of power brings privileges, for it’s the privileges that constitute the power. One thing that is different among these two men are their thoughts on war and destruction. Machiavelli believes that destruction and war is the only way to get what you want while Hobbes says that a leader with both a reputation of peace and war is powerful meaning that the leader isn’t going to run headfirst right away into a war, but instead will try to find peace with the enemy. In Hobbes’ text, he quotes saying “to speak to someone with consideration, to present oneself to him in a polite and humble fashion, is to honor him. To speak to him rashly, or to do anything obscene, sloppy or impertinent is to dishonor him”. This means that a good leader/person who possesses power will address his people respectful and in a humble fashion to all listening. In our day and age, a political leader that stands out to me as a person who really abided by this quote was President Franklin Roosevelt. Most presidents would try to sound sophisticated during their speeches only attracting mostly high end people that could understand him while Roosevelt would pretend like he’s talking to the “dumbest man in the room” to achieve understanding from all of his supporters and be respectful to all of the people listening to him.

  5. Thomas Hobbes and Niccolo Machiavelli both shaped political philosophies of their time period. Although they had some similar political views, they had some extreme differences as well. Hobbes and Machiavelli both looked at mankind and humanity in the same way: very poorly. Machiavelli wrote very badly about man and Hobbes basically said the natural state of man is to be at war. Although their views on humanity might have been the same, Machiavelli was the more immoral one. He often advised murder, wickedness and dangerous conduct. Machiavelli explained the ways on how to achieve power and keep it, not caring about how it is obtained. He also reflected on how to be a great prince and how a prince should learn not to hesitate. Hobbes is more about looking at the science and nature of things. He puts a lot of scientific reasoning behind his ideas, and is all about “reading yourself.”
    Hobbes goes on to explain how certain living creatures can live sociably with one another and why mankind can’t, one of his six part answers being, “men continually compete with one another for honour and dignity, which ants and bees do not; and that leads men, but not those other animals, to envy and hatred and finally war.” Hobbes is saying that men always try to compete with one another and that ultimately leads to war. When Hobbes wrote “Leviathan,” the english civil war was taking place, so this quotation might have been his reason as to why the civil war began. This quotation does not really apply to our day and age because the reason why we go into war is mainly for the protection of the people, not so much honor and dignity.

  6. Hobbes and Machiavelli where two great philosophers, and they had two completely distinct political thoughts. Machiavelli was a realist. He was selfish. He believe that how you are perceived on the outside is all that matter, and that you had to do whatever you could to maintain that façade. He believed in certain methods to maintaining a good state and staying in power. Machiavelli said, “If the ends, justify the means.” Machiavelli believed that having a good military would teach you the good laws and that a leader would learn those laws from having a good military. Machiavelli believe that your people should fear you yet not hate you. Your people can love you and that would be a plus, but they could like you too. Machiavelli believe that torturing and violence was good if it was necessary and didn’t affect the people. He also believed in lying to the people as long as it was necessary. Machiavelli believed that a good society was up to you to make sure your society was standing at the end. However, Hobbes introduced power in two kinds: instrumental and natural. He believe that power came from the body and the mind, and that instrumental power is gained. He wasn’t a realist in some matters like Machiavelli because he believed that a “Prime Mover” created the world. Hobbes made you think about the desire for power after power would only lead to death. Hobbes talked about ways of achieving peace, and that being self-motivated wasn’t the answer. I believe in that way he was a realist.
    A quote from Hobbes was “Moral philosophy is nothing else but the science of what is good, and evil, in the conversation, and society of mankind. Good, and evil, are names that signify our appetites, and aversions; which in different tempers, customs, and doctrines of men, are different.” Hobbes is saying that moral thinking is the only the only thing that is good and society in mankind is evil. He is saying the good and evil are just terms that describe what we desire, what distracts us, how we handle situations, what we are used to, and things we believe. I feel this applies to our day and age because we have people in government who have evil desires and some that have good desires. I feel people that’s not even in our government. This just applies to everyone. That’s the cool thing about it.

  7. Philosophical writers Hobbes and Machiavelli had a very clear-cut political aspect of what it meant to have power in their time period. Both their texts held their similarities and their unique differences. In the 10th chapter of “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes he states that “In the broadest and most general sense, a man’s power is his present means to obtain some future apparent good. Power is either •original (·natural·) or •instrumental.” and soon after continues to describe how Natural power is gained through hereditary traits such as strength, good looks, and practical skills. He also construes what Instrumental power is, and how it is gained by having practical things such as riches,reputation, and friends. This reinstates the idea that power is only gathered by that of many instead of that of few and that power is much more likely to be gained by being passed down than by earning it throughout a hierarchy.

    While Hobbes’ ideas seem to pertain to the idea of categorical power, Machiavelli sticks to the idea that reputation and money are the more potent factors of power, Stating in Chapter 16 of Power of Princes that “The greatest of human powers is that possessed by one natural or civil person (·that is, one human person or one person-like political entity·) to whom most men have agreed to hand over their individual powers.” It is obvious that this quote refers to a democracy, a political system that only relies on riches and reputation, as lee-way. Thus, creating a potential argument between both Hobbes and Machiavelli’s standpoints.

  8. Machiavelli and Hobbes both shared their significant ideals of politics and power of their times. I feel that both men had a cynical background when thinking of power, but Machiavelli was definitely way more stern and authoritive in his philosophies. His Machiavellian intellect led to ideas of murder, misconduct, and termination of any minority powers. He thought immorally and had no remorse in his belief of taking action. He believed that in order to be a powerful leader you must lead with a broad, powerful fist; let nothing stand in your way of becoming mad with power. On the other hand, Hobbes believes in scientific reasoning behind one’s actions. He does believe that a man’s place in life is war and rule, but in order to be a great leader you must be logical in your actions. He brings up the notion of morals and ethics and how they must be understood. Hobbes states in Chapter 20 of the ‘Leviathan’ that, “The master of the servant is master also of everything the servant has, and may demand the use of it—that it, the use of the servant’s goods, of his labour, of his servants, and of his children—as often as he thinks fit.” By this quote he means that one who works for a master has no authority over his materials and children other than the master himself. This depicts how civil war may start between a master and his servant. It illustrates the “paternal dominion” Hobbes talks about in Chapter 20. In today’s day and age this quote doesn’t really apply to the American life, but may occur in third world countries. I feel that the quote depicts early times in slavery, which doesn’t occur in modern day America.

  9. Machiavelli and Hobbes write of politics with some of the same views in mind. Their perspectives in a way sort of reflect each other. However their approaches and styles of writing are very different. Machiavelli is a very somewhat violence oriented individual who believes in the concept where “the ends justify the means”; to Machiavelli it doesn’t really matter how you get to where you are as long as you achieved what you wanted and everything turned out ‘ok’. He finds it acceptable to act in a swift manner without ever planning things out or considering the consequences. On the other hand Hobbes firmly believes in thinking things out and really understanding the big picture. To Hobbes it is especially important that one understands the political effect any kind of major action could have as opposed to Machiavelli who would rather see it as it happens and deal with it then.
    Hobbes uses strategy to explain actions and therefore almost predicts an absolute effect of those actions where as Machiavelli would rather act blindly and use the ending state to justify the acts. While both men are immoral and flawed in their beliefs they separately form two different ideas of leaders.
    Machiavelli would rather see a leader who takes charge of all situations and goes for revenge and an overlaying picture of ‘justice’. Hobbes would much rather see a leader who would plan all different leadership actions out and create a tactical approach to governing a state and people. in chapter 15 Hobbes says that a man who believes there is injustice is correct and that an unjust man destroys his power with the unjust actions and that by being true to his word he is just. in this case he is not necessarily saying justice must come from violence and physical action as Machiavelli does.
    In chapter 15 of Hobbes’ Leviathan, he states, “The laws of nature are immutable and eternal, for injustice, ingratitude, arrogance, pride, iniquity, acception of persons, and the rest can never be made lawful. For it can never be that war will preserve life and peace destroy it.”
    I choose this particular Hobbes quote to analyze and apply to today because it stands out greatly and I find it to relate to today and the social, economical, and political standpoint of the country and the world currently. We are constantly in states of war around the globe. Multiple leaders of the world’s nations including many of ours are immoral. they follow this political realm against these laws of nature. It makes me wonder if maybe these laws have evolved based upon the corrupt injustice of our world. I do not see peace coming to our world simply because a large majority of the world’s leaders strive off of these ‘anti-laws’ of nature.
    People of today’s society prefer to be immoral. It is through these wrong doings that they reach their perceived justice. The United States especially has taken war and bad morals and put them into every aspect of life. Immoral actions are in every piece of media and are almost glorified because they are represented by politicians and successful figures. The economy and society ride on the times of war. Even in 2014 we are gaining more jobs because of the work of wars and the military. Maybe today wars and immoral thought have created a better life for some individuals in some societies. Yet it is this immoral political association that is destroying the nature of life. So are these laws of nature truly eternal?

  10. When comparing Machiavelli and Hobbes I felt that Machiavelli was more strict with what he believes and was never sorry for his actions, which always ended in murder and finishing off anyone who had less power than he did. In contrast Hobbes was a man of science. He believed that there is always a reason behind everyone’s actions. Hobbs believes that good leaders always have reasons for their actions and that great leaders were ethical and had good morals. In ‘Leviathan’ Hobbes wrote, “The source of every crime, is some defect of the understanding; or some error in reasoning; or some sudden force of the passions. A defect in the understanding is ignorance; in reasoning, erroneous opinion.” This quote is reinforcing Hobbes’ beliefs in saying that all criminals have reasons for being criminals. This quote also relates to todays society because there is always misunderstanding in society. People become aggressive and unforgiving when they are offended which leads to criminal acts and unwanted hate.

  11. The writers Machiavelli and Hobbes have many similarities, but they also have certain viewpoints that differ from the others. Both philosophers have a major influence for their respective time periods. They both see man as a lower creature than believed to be by the average man. Between the two of them Hobbes had a more reasonable perspective on fixing the problems, while Niccolo Machiavelli promoted the use of murder and brute force. Hobbes looks to use scientific studies and wanted to fix the problems instead of end the life of the others. Hobbes says “Knowledge is power” which shows how his standpoint is much different than Machiavelli’s because his would be more of strength is power. Knowledge is used now as the most effective way to gain power. If you have knowledge of technology or any type of useful information you can use this to gain power in our new day in age. Brute force is effective but when you have knowledge you can control the force and you over power and end up out thinking the person.

  12. Whereas Machiavelli takes justice and power to a completely logical and practical level, Hobbes has a very chivalry influenced view of justice and political etiquette. Whereas Machiavelli was very much for a swift, fair, and spartan system of justice that resided in the present, Hobbes was one to look at how punishing or insulting anybody would present ramifications in the future. One quote from Hobbes in particular that I feel sums up his beliefs of power was the eighth law of nature: “No man should—by deed, word, facial expression or gesture—express hatred or contempt of someone else.” Simply expressing any discontent in a courtly setting was seen as distrustful or dishonorable, which was deadly confrontational in the chivalric power setting Hobbes intended to set up. It’s all a matter of the chilvaric way of thinking and an authoritarian way of thinking.

  13. Machiavelli and Hobbes were two great philosophers, and their thoughts on politics and power molded the way for many other philosophers. Right off the back most individuals would say that these two men were completely different, but actually they have quite a few similarities regarding how they deal with power. Machiavelli was known for acting without thinking which I believe led him to being seen as a harsh and brutal leader. He followed the saying of “the ends justify the means” which is why he always sought out justice and even in some situations revenge. Hobbes on the other hand liked to always think things through. If he was faced with a situation he would look at the possible consequences and bigger picture before taking action. Hobbes believes that truly understanding ones self will help to understand society. Machiavelli and Hobbes are very similar when it comes to their writings. Both of them are extremely direct and although neither one of their methods may be completely ethical or moral they did seem to work in regards to keeping power. One of my favorite quotes from ‘Leviathan’ is when Hobbes says, “Wisdom is acquired not by reading books but by reading men.” This quote relates back to what i said earlier about Hobbes and how he believes understanding ones self will help to understand a society. One can gain more knowledge by simply observing and actually listening to other individuals than reading a book about them.

  14. Thomas Hobbes and Machiavelli are similar in that they both take men and justice for what they are, not what they wish them to be. They admit the flaws of men (such as greed and lust and gluttony), and discus how these themes apply to the ideas that they are talking about. However, one crucial way that Machiavelli and Hobbes differ is that Hobbes believed that doing good by your fellow man and keeping “covenants” with him was to show him honor and would bring about good things, Machiavelli stated the opposite and said that those in power showed no obligation to anything but that which would increase his power. Hobbes supported friendly collaboration while Machiavelli believed that scheming and underhanded dealings were the ways to go.
    “So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of discord. First •competition, secondly •distrust, thirdly •glory.”. I chose this quote because I think it is masterful in its sumamtion of man as a machine. Hobbes has effectively rooted the cause of all of mans anger, distrust and discord to these three things. I believe that this is still relevant to our day and age because the problems we face today are still generally the sMe, and therefore the causes remain the same.

  15. Machiavelli and Hobbes were both largely influential philosophers of their time, they both paved the way for other political philosophers to come after them. They might have had small similarities in their general ideas of politics but their actions were distinctly different. Machiavelli was very harsh and believed the idea of that authority was the ultimate rule. He didn’t think things through completely, he just acted and most of the time was very cruel. Hobbes way of acting was different in the way that he was very scientific in his actions. He thought everything through before acting which was something Machiavelli lacked to do. Hobbes states that “perpetual and restless desire for power after power, a desire that ceases only in death.” Machiavelli was always thinking about his power and what would help him achieve more which usually lead to death because of his harsh actions. Hobbes was not that harsh, he was a philosopher who made critical well thought out the consequences before making any decisions. I also think the quote I discussed is crucial in any situation, when all you want is power the end result will not be good. If we ruled our country with the only desire of wanting more power we would not be successful. Any society ruled by a dictator who only wants more and more power is not a successful society and that idea is only stopped after they are dead. Hobbes idea is still true today that “the desire for power after power, ceases only in death.”

  16. Hobbes and Machiavelli had very different ideas of leadership and power. Machiavelli was a person who thought rulers should be harsh and believed that “the ends justified the means.” Some people consider him to be cruel and harsh. Hobbes, unlike Machiavelli, thought that a leader should be precise and think things through. He looked at what the future may contain before making a decision or making a move. He believed everything happened for a reason. “Leviathan” states “Wisdom is acquired not by reading books but by reading men.” I interpreted this as Hobbes being genuine in the view that he believes having respect from the mean you rule over is very important to be a successful ruler. Although most of their ideas on power differed, they were both influential writers of their times and both respected today.

  17. The political thoughts of Hobbes and Machiavelli were quite different, but as whole they could be consider the same. Hobbes thinks about the situation and has morals. He thinks that there are other ways with dealing with things than violence. He thinks mankind has rights that are apart of their nature. Everything is about the commonwealth. Machiavelli’s approach was more unmorally. He lived by the ends justify the means. This means that Machiavelli did not care what methods were used to get the desired result that was needed. It does not matter if these result where illegal or cruel. He was very rough on the edges, but at the same time Hobbes was not quite different. Hobbes and Machiavelli could both be considered harsh and cruel. Also, they both had power that they used in the wrong way.

    Hobbes ‘Leviathan’ had many points to discuss, but he part that I though was interesting was in chapter 21. It states, “A subject who is banished by the sovereign is not a subject during the banishment. Someone who is sent with a message or given leave to travel is still a subject, but what makes him so is a contract between sovereigns, not his covenant of subjection. For whoever enters into someone else’s dominion is subject to all its laws, unless he has a privilege ·of exemption from them· through friendly agreements between the sovereigns, or by special licence”. This is saying that every man is a subject to someone. They have rights, but at the end of day you are in someone else’s territory. You should respect and follow the laws/rules. This applies back then because the King ruled and if a subject from a different land was to come with a message and disgrace the King the messenger would die. In today’s society it applies because if you are from a different country like Iraq there are different rules and laws that must be follow then in the United States. The United States have there own set of laws and if a person from Iraq was to come over to the United States they should respect the country and follow them or be punish for the crime that they commit unless they have a special clearance from the President.

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