Machiavelli’s View Of Human Nature

Machiavelli’s view of human nature is inherent in his beliefs of man as a wicked, selfish and self-ambitious being to which all other traits are attached to. At this, the whole existence of man is brutal and beast-like as man is only violent and concerned about himself.

Machiavelli’s view of human nature is largely expressed in his book, The Prince, which he wrote as advice to rulers although it was written during the Renaissance Italy period.

In this book, he wrote a lot of things that concern the activities and the character of a king, advising him to be both violent and pious. Knowing that the state cannot be well governed without a ruler’s ruthless behaviour.

Niccolo di Bernado dei Machiavelli was born on the 3rd of May 1469 and lived till the 21st of June 1527 in Florence, Italy. He lived like an Italian philosopher, historian, politician and diplomat among other titles he’s reputed for. However, existing during the period of Renaissance Italy, Machiavelli’s view of human nature is both critical and dark.

Although he is the modern father of political science, he gave a critical view of leadership in the book.


Man is utterly selfish and full of self-ego. By this, he means that man often thinks of himself, his family and his properties and not of other people. In this, the human self is self-centred, and he works only for himself. The work of such a man is only to benefit himself and not society. By so doing, the state works to protect him and his family and properties while he does nothing in return.

To consider this, it could be resolved that man is truly selfish. Man consents to activities that will benefit him and not otherwise. A man isn’t engaged in a relationship or business deal that isn’t beneficial.

Man’s love for his ego. The man commands respect regardless of what the situation is. He carries himself with pride. Although he advises the Prince to honour his servants and love them, it should be pointed out that pride is interwoven with selfishness.

Man is an ambitious creature. Following Machiavelli’s trait of personality psychology, it should be seen he expresses man as an organism that only sees himself and is focused on his self-interest. That is, to achieve his selfish ambitions (because ambitions are always selfish as it’s seen not to be in the number 1 benefit of the state but the individual), man can manipulate, deceive or coerce and also exploit others.

In reality, every man has an ambition and the resolution of man’s ambition either to the benefit of the state or of the self is subjective. However, man’s ambitiousness is the fascination here. He says that men strife as driven by ambition and after acquiring a thing, they seek to acquire more.

At this, men are always in a condition of strife and competition which is an inherent nature of man. At this, he compares man to beast. However, the competitive nature of man can only be checked by ruthless forces of the state, without which the state will be plunged into a state of anarchy.

The aggressive nature of man is also exhibited. Machiavelli relays that men keep fighting amongst themselves for political, economic or social power. All which descends man to beasts.

He exhibits human nature as wicked. This, especially, is mirrored in the assertion that man is nowhere to be found when the state requires them. Besides this, with the competitive nature of man, man exhibits wickedness.

However, man’s wickedness is also characterized by love. He states that the bond of love is one that men who are properly addressed as wretched creatures could choose to break only to their advantage. With this, man exhibit the wicked nature of breaking bonds without considering the partners involved.

Wickedness is at the centre of man’s brutal nature.

Machiavelli also writes that man is greedy. He believes that men don’t do well until necessity drives them. That is, without the promise of again, a man can’t be driven to succeed.

Man’s greed makes him hungry and covetous of what his neighbour owns. It makes him long after the things he doesn’t have and makes him chase other things even after he has achieved a thing. Man hasn’t achieved anything if he cannot achieve everything.

Man always lusts after power. Machiavelli believes that there are 4 ways through which men can attain power. The first is through prowess, which means private acquisition and exhibition of skill and ability. The second is through luck. The third is through crime which could include conspiracy or coup. While the fourth is through constitutional means.

However, it is man’s lust for power that would make him go the extra mile to attain power. Power here does not necessarily mean political power.

Human nature is weak. He believes that man shuns danger. Man hates that he has to work hard to achieve something. Man is afraid of difficult tasks, hence, he leaves them or delays such tasks. In avoidance of difficult tasks comes the man’s lazy and weak nature.

Man is unthankful, a liar and a deceiver. Machiavelli believes a man is largely ungrateful and is not worthy of the things that are being done to him. Practically, no form of reciprocation can compensate for what the state or man has done to each other.

However, some people are largely ungrateful as their hypocrisy is hidden behind their lying tongue. They greatly shun danger and are only lusting about the profits of swindling another man.

Man is stupid and irrational. By this, he means that man is easily manipulated and won over by the things he loves and through his weaknesses. At this, man is quickly drawn towards illusion as he wishes for a better life and nothing else.

Machiavelli states that men love only at their pleasure and fear at the pleasure of the prince. This confirms the basis that the prince should inspire fear although it is good for a prince to be loved. However, human nature is false and cowardly. The man may promise the prince a lot of things but disappoint the prince when he needs such help.

However, when the prince is feared, he is not hated because they fear him, and the consequence of reproving him is known unto them.

Human nature according to Machiavelli has numerous features. Out of which is the nature of contempt, discontent, and deception (as he quotes that ‘never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception). He exercised human nature to be driven by violence, cruelty, and fear.

By this, men are flexible to change beliefs and could be greatly unreliable in the face of danger. Also, men are your friends when the times are good, not otherwise. 

All of these form the basis of his dark belief in human nature. Although he was criticized, many of his views are held as true and prevalent in society.

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