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Comparing More’s Utopia, Machiavelli’s The Discourses, and Hobbes’ The Leviathan

Relationship Between the Sovereign and the Subjects in More’s Utopia, Machiavelli’s The Discourses, and Hobbes’ The Leviathan

Thomas More, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes offer models for the relationship between the sovereign and the people in their works Utopia, The Discourses, and The Leviathan. Each argues that ensuring the common good of the people should be the primary goal of the sovereign. However, they differ in the specifics of their descriptions of this relationship and in their explanations of the sovereign’s motivation for valuing the prosperity of the people. An examination of the specified passages in each of these works will clarify the comparison of their models for this relationship.

More’s discussion of the sovereign occurs in the context of the discussion of a monarch as the trustee of the welfare of the people. The king is a common citizen who has been invested with the authority or “majesty” of sovereignty. He is then distinguished from the rest of the population by the responsibilities he has to them and the powers that are inherent in these responsibilities. He is bound to fulfill these responsibilities and not to abuse the privileges by the threat of rebellion from the poor and, therefore, discontented people that would result from incompetent or misused sovereignty.

He is also constrained by his own natural desire for prestige, and his prestige is dependent on his subjects’ wealth and well being. To desire this kind of prestige, he must be a virtuous man. Without this virtue, his vices of pride and laziness are likely to reduce him to taking his subjects’ property in order to serve his greed and to attempt their pacification by reducing them to abject poverty. If his own prid…

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…larly influenced by the monarch’s level of incompetence or corruption.

All three sovereigns rely upon “virtu,” that is, effectiveness in ensuring the common good of their subjects; however, all three have different definitions of what constitutes “virtu.” In More’s sovereignty, it is controlling human nature and channeling it into promoting the general prosperity. For Machiavelli’s sovereignty, it is the result of the pursuit of self-interested goals, both on the part of the ruler and the ruled. In Hobbes’ sovereignty, it is the logical result of fear and of human, peace seeking, nature.

Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994.

More, Thomas. Utopia. Trans. Clarence H. Miller. 2nd ed. Yale University Press. 2001

Walker, Leslie J. The Discourses of Niccolo Machiavelli Routledge, 2013

Comparing Morality in The Prince, Second Treatise of Government, and Utilitarianism

Comparing Morality in The Prince, Second Treatise of Government, and Utilitarianism

Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill present three distinct models of government in their works The Prince, Second Treatise of Government, and Utilitarianism. From an examination of these models it is possible to infer their views about human nature and its connection to the purpose of government. A key to comparing these views can be found in an examination of their ideas of morality as an intermediary between government and human nature. Whether this morality must be inferred from their writings or whether it is explicitly mentioned, it differs among the three in its definition, source, and purpose.

Approximately three hundred years separate the earliest of these works, The Prince, from the most recent, Utilitarianism, and a progression is discernible in the concept of morality over this span. Machiavelli does not mention the word “morality,” but his description of the trends and ideals of human political interaction allow for a reasonable deduction of the concept. Locke, too, does not use the word, but he does write of “the standard of right and wrong.” In contrast, Mill writes explicitly and extensively of morality in its forms, sources, and obligations. A logical starting point in this examination is a look at their relative views of human nature.

To Machiavelli, people are children that need order. They are childlike, not in their innocence, but in their passions. They are ungrateful, greedy, deceptive, and fickle. However, they are also rational and interested in avoiding danger. In calculating their interests they can perceive the need to join together to pursue common goals, such as conquest for acquisition, p…

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…e driven into civil society by their contentious natures. As such, all three have the need for an organizing and directing influence in society to ensure that it accomplishes the ends for which it exists. For Machiavelli and for Locke, this influence comes directly from the government. For Mill, this influence comes from within society, the associations one forms with other people; however it requires a certain minimal support from the government to keep it on the proper track. This influence is morality, and it is an extension of human nature.

Works Cited

Locke, John. The Second Treatise of Government, ed. Thomas Peardon, New York, Bobbs-Merrill, 1952.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. Hill Thompson. Norwalk: The Easton Press, 1980.

Mill, John Stuart. ” Utilitarianism Resources. BLTC. 19 January 2003.

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