By definition, a “leviathan” is a kind of massive sea monster, and for this blogpost we are going to literally and figuratively play with that premise by exploring two “monsters” of political rhetoric: the dark-hued theories about power espoused by Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince (1513) and Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651). Hobbes generally believed that there were profound misunderstandings in his age about the nature of sovereign power, and he had a cynical view of English politics and rule. Writing a century earlier, and about the complexities of Italian city-states, Machiavelli arguably took an even more cynical view, and his advice has had such a profound effect on subsequent political thought that his very name has come to have sociocultural meaning (with “Machiavellian” a pejorative term that is used to denote an individual who is noted for “cunning, duplicity, or bad faith” – especially a ruler whose behavior is manipulative, deceitful, and/or deceptive.)
In response to the cold-hearted – yet chillingly pragmatic – views of Hobbes and Machiavelli, in this blogpost I want you to do three things:
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 do they seem to diverge?
2) Pick out a provocative quotation from either Leviathan or The Prince and connect it to one of our recent historical examples (perhaps especially Joan of Arc or Elizabeth I). Try to place your chosen comment(s) within the historical context of the day, and explore how it might open up some new perspectives on one of our recent readings.
3) Finally, pick another quotation – likely from the other assigned author – and think about the ways in which this notion logically applies (or not) to our own day and age. You might consider: is this particular suggestion for political behavior a wise one, a good way for a ruler to (justly) navigate the challenging political waters of the twenty-first century? Or would his premise be problematic in some way, shape, or form if taken up by a modern-day politician?