The Machiavelli Variations

Reality, Order, Rule


In Machiavelli’s wake, not only politics, but reality, is transformed. Through his overturning of the teleological vision of nature, reality can longer be thought of as directed or purposeful. The incessant movement of time no longer guarantees the perfection of entities, or, for that matter, the idea of perfection itself; the steady growth of potency into actuality is, for Machiavelli, an illusion. He replaces the tragic sensibility of Aristotelian fate, the inevitability of the classical worldview, with opportunity and ability, with an openness or perpetual potency that is of a kind with the aimless and destructive force of the “raging river[]” of fortune.1 The progress of time can be described through “accidents and occurrences,”2 not through plans or designs. Politics, then, must reckon with the radical contingency of reality, with the unpredictability and uncertainty of a world detached from any supposed end. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, two of the first significant inheritors of the Machiavellian transformation, evidence this new understanding of the world through the peculiar sense of realism that shapes their philosophies, a perspective that privileges empirical consideration of the very “accidents and occurrences,” of which Machiavelli writes, above all else. But, in their adoption of the generally Machiavellian frame, both Hobbes and Locke are forced to confront new philosophical problems with respect to their own historical contexts and particular beliefs. The following paper will argue that, through Machiavelli’s troubling of the concepts of reality, order, and rule, and their consequent projects, Hobbes and Locke are forced to revise their understandings of morality and virtue, so as to remain consistent with their political beliefs.

I. Reality and Nature

The uptake of Machiavelli’s philosophy by Hobbes and Locke is clearly visible in their rejections of teleology, and in their privileging of realism as an alternative. It must be emphasized, however, that this realism is itself historically and philosophically conditioned, like Aristotelian teleology before it. As such, a brief tracing of the historical development of realism as a concept out of teleology must be undertaken, before the realism in Hobbes and Locke can be productively considered.

Aristotle’s teleology is prominent throughout the Politics.3 In the first lines of the text, he asserts that “every social organization is directed at some good purpose; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good.”4 Here, the linking of “good purpose” with “what they think good” by the logical conjunction for is significant. If we invert the statement, so that it reads, “Mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good, so every social organization is directed at some good purpose,” we can see more plainly how the good purpose of society hinges upon the thought or perceived goods of human beings. Though Aristotle is certainly aware that there are different “goods”—“external goods, goods of the body, and goods of the soul”5—because he considers the “whole” to be “necessarily prior to the part,”6 it is the good of the whole, of society, which necessarily determines the goods of the part, of men. The parts from which the purpose of the whole is derived are circularly determined by the whole. Society, therefore, is naturally directed toward this good, and deviations in the parts are simply exceptions. By extension, then, the “state is a creation of nature,”7 the natural outcome of natural desires for natural goods.

This purposeful, directed, good-inclined concept of nature does not hold for Machiavelli. As alluded to above, Machiavelli considers “fortune,” the principle of nature, to be like “one of those raging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings,” before which “everyone flees,” and “all yield to its violence, without being able to withstand it in any way.”8 Such chaotic destruction is purposeless to Machiavelli. There is no reason to the flood, no aim or end. In this, however, the flood is open, its outcome unfixed. Fortune, here, is not fate. Though the flood overwhelms most with its violence, “it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes calm, cannot make provisions using embankments and dikes, so that when the waters rise again, they will be channeled off, and their force will not be so unrestrained and dangerous.”9 As Machiavelli writes in the preceding paragraph, “fortune manages only half our actions, and still allows us to direct the other half (or perhaps a little less).”10 From this perspective, fortune is not a determining force, but a force of potential, yielding “opportunities” to those with “high ability,” which “enable[s] them to recognize the opportunity” and act accordingly.11 Furthermore, “fortune changes,” and it is incumbent upon the capable leader to adjust his “ways” in response.12 In short, Machiavelli thoroughly and emphatically does away with teleology, having seen from both “long experience in contemporary affairs, and a continual study of antiquity” that the idea does not hold.13 There is no retro-determinative whole upon which one can rely.

For Machiavelli, the appropriate and useful way to practice philosophical inquiry is to “confin[e] [one]self more to the particular.”14 Machiavelli is distrustful of abstraction and generalization, aware as he is that such rules of thought can easily be undermined by changes of fortune, such as an unforeseen river overflowing its banks. Instead, Machiavelli focuses on “excellent examples,” those leaders of “high ability” who demonstrate how best to navigate the flux of experience.15 Ideas of the absolute best or good are nothing but the “obstina[cy]” of men.16 It is for the capable leader, and the good philosopher, to “owe[] nothing to fortune except opportunity, which [gives] [one] the material to mould into the form which seem[s] best.”17 Aristotle’s logic is flipped on its head. Contingency precedes direction; goods precede the good; parts precede the whole. This is Machiavelli’s empirical realism, his resistance to those abstract theories that do not correspond to the details, to the particulars, of lived experience. It is this philosophical perspective—contingent, specific, and experiential—which constitutes the “realism” of Hobbes’s and Locke’s own philosophies.

Hobbes’s realist politics is decidedly scientific in its approach, and indeed, he attempts a kind of scientific overhaul, for Aristotle too presumed to be scientific in his work—“as in other departments of science, so in politics.”18 Several scholars make this point clear. Christopher Berry, for instance,19 in his “philosophical anthropology”20 of politics and the political animal, sees contemporary “neo-Darwinian” explanations of political behaviour as flowing from this scientific tradition, with Hobbes, in particular, being one of the first champions of the “new science.”21 Rodolfo Garau22 analyzes Hobbes’s “natural philosophy,” demonstrating Hobbes’s awareness of contemporary physiological science.23 Similarly, Leonie Ansems De Vries and Jorg Spieker24 discuss the influence of Galileo and Newton’s physics on Hobbes, in addition to Harvey’s physiology, which they show to have profoundly shaped Hobbes’s conception of nature and politics. Finally, Diego Rossello25 examines the historical figure of the lycanthrope in Hobbes’s philosophy, arguing that in Hobbes we see a movement from a “theological” idea of the lycanthrope to a “physiological one,” a “melancholic syndrome” with significant bearing on the political circumstances of Hobbes’s day.26 Though “bizarre,” as Rossello recognizes,27 such an idea evidences Hobbes’s awareness of the scientific discourse of his contemporaries, an awareness which is clear throughout his Leviathan.

Hobbes begins Leviathan28 by framing the political in terms of this new understanding of nature. Where Aristotle’s nature grows, his teleology an organic process, Hobbes’s nature is an “art,” and is distinctly mechanistic in its functioning.29 Nature is the “art” of God, and politics is the “art of man,” the “imitat[ion]” of God’s creation.30 Politics is the way by which human beings create the “artificial animal” or “artificial man” of the state, the composite totality that is a society or social organization. Here, Machiavelli’s inversion of Aristotle is clear. There is no pre-determining whole in Hobbes’s thought; Hobbes’s state is always disparate, always plural, always multiple. It is a collection of intersecting drives (those of its body, its members, the people), sometimes aligning, sometimes competing, but never homogenous. Certainly, it must be acknowledged that Aristotle was not oblivious to this fact: the “state is composite, like any other whole made up of many parts; these are the citizens who compose it.”31 For Aristotle, however, the whole is united by a “common object,” by the good purpose towards which the state is directed.32 Furthermore, the many are “bond[ed]” by “justice,” which assures the “proper function” of the state, and is therefore its principle.33 With Hobbes, there is no such external rule, no principle or common object by which or to which the state is ordered. Or, rather, for Hobbes, there is no singular object or principle of human ordering, because humans are directed by their “passions,” the “objects” of which are multiple.34 To highlight the essential difference between Hobbes and Aristotle, we can say that the Hobbesian ‘social principle,’ in contrast to Aristotle’s justice, is desire. The social organization of human beings, the chimera that is the “body politic,”35 is driven by desire, in all of its plurality and specificity.

Hobbes’s philosophy, then, identifies a more realistic explanation for the phenomenon of justice. Because humans are desirous creatures, they inevitably enter into competition with each other, and because competition so often leads to violence, it is beneficial for humans to “obey a common power.”36 The common power ensures that the “ease and sensual delight” that all people desire can be pursued under the aegis of the state.37 Thus, social order—justice, law, and the state—is the product of jus naturale—“preservation”—and lex naturalis—the “first and fundamental law of nature, which is to seek peace and follow it.38 Natural law is renovated; Aristotle’s justice, the “bond” of the state, becomes simply a byproduct of human desire. So, then, desire is not a threat to justice, but its precondition; indeed, justice in the abstract, absolute sense is irrelevant. Justice, for Hobbes, exists according to the same “fiat” which establishes the artificial man of the state.39 Justice is a product of art, a working of human beings in their passions, natural only insofar as one uses his “[n]atural power” to “obtain some future apparent good.”40 Hobbes’s philosophy is fully realist in the Machiavellian sense. Justice is a product of contingency, specificity, and experience; there is no absolute end.

For John Locke, in The Second Treatise of Civil Government,41 these tenets of realist politics persist. As with the fiat of Hobbes’s society, Locke’s depends upon “the consent of the people.”42 The common power—here, King William—is not given by nature, but is established by art and agreement. It is according to the practice of “just and natural rights,” which we have already seen in Hobbes, that the state is upheld.43 There is no external, guiding principle here. Agency is situated in the members of the body politic; put otherwise, the parts are the principle of the whole. Though Locke makes no mention of teleology in these prefatory remarks, the anti-teleological bent of his predecessor is present. Such a perspective simply does not have enough explanatory power for his purposes.

Continuing the tradition of realistic politics and political philosophy, Locke extends Hobbes’s argument to critique the theological bases of power and the state that the “rulers now on earth” have propounded.44 In “Of Political Power,” the first chapter of Book Two of the Second Treatise, Locke argues that “premises” of power according to a supposedly divine right are considered to be to the “benefit” of the rulers already in power, and have no true basis in nature or revelation.45 What “is held to be the fountain of all power, Adam’s private dominion and paternal jurisdiction,” renders justice a “product only of force and violence.”46 In fact, Locke asserts that it cannot be the case that rulers are benefited by such a notion of power. Not even the “least shadow of authority” can be drawn from such external—and therefore, in the realist view, arbitrary—principles.47 Political power and authority is derived from agreement—i.e., consent or fiat—and so is grounded in a thoroughly naturalistic philosophy, or a realist philosophy of nature. Any positing of a telos, an absolute end or good purpose, is artificial, that is, of human origin. In Locke’s view, presumption of divine authorization for human political institutions is no better than the “rules ... of beasts.”48 Indeed, human politics are good insofar as they are artificial, improving upon the rule of nature—“force and violence”—through rational agreement.

Again, extending and nuancing Hobbes, not only is social organization a product of human desire and human interests, but the troubles and crises of political organization, which both Aristotle and Hobbes consider in their respective philosophies, are the results of arbitrary rule on natural or divine bases. In Hobbes, pre-social human existence is a state of war, “where every man is enemy to every man,” a state of violence where force is law, and people live in “continual fear, and danger of violent death,” their lives “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”49 Locke’s insight, here, does not simply end with the establishment of society and the rule of law. Rather, the law must be established on the basis of agreement. If the common power is not agreed upon by the people, then the “foundation” of society will be one of “perpetual disorder and mischief, tumult, sedition and rebellion.”50 Absolute authority, justified by some external power, causes the very conditions “that the followers of that hypothesis so loudly cry out against.”51 Locke clarifies the critique that Hobbes began: teleological understandings of political organization are merely post-hoc justifications of human artifice and desire, often with the intent of obscuring the interests of those by whom they are put forward.

From here, Locke clearly lays out his realist understanding of the political organization. Where for Aristotle society is directed toward some “good purpose,” in Locke, society—and specifically, the power therein—exists for

[the] making [of] laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defense of the commonwealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good.52

So it can be seen, then, that Locke, building on the innovations of Hobbes, is not simply disposing of Aristotle and his project, but is working to renovate the political “science” so that it will be in keeping with the modern understanding of reality, an understanding shaped by developments in the physical sciences, and by values (philosophical, theological, etc.) particular to his historical context. As with Machiavelli, contingency precedes direction, goods precede the good, parts precede the whole. Locke still asserts that there is a public good, but its composition and its sustenance cannot be explained by Aristotle’s model. The modern dispute with teleology, as seen in the work of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke, is a response (at least in part) to scientific and philosophical revisions of the concept of reality itself, and therefore a response to a new understanding of the nature of the human animal and its political behaviour.

II. Order and Virtue

Between Aquinas and Machiavelli, the relationship of politics with Christianity finds itself deeply unsettled. Aquinas, operating within the frame of Aristotle’s philosophy, comfortably situates faith in conversation with politics—Aristotle’s teleology naturally becomes Aquinas’s providence. But with the Machiavellian inversion of Aristotle’s model, this analogy fails. So much seems to fall outside the domain of providence; reality seems to fall outside the domain of providence. For Machiavelli, the maintenance of a providential view of reality is but “proud indolence,” which he sees to “prevail[] in most of the Christian states.”53 Such a view evidences a “lack of real knowledge of history.”54 History, for Machiavelli, does not manifest the hand of a providential God. History is, as we have said, contingent, and must be attended to according to its specifics and experience. According to Machiavelli, with Christianity, politics actually fails:

Our religion places the supreme happiness in humility, lowliness, and a contempt for worldly objects, whilst the other, on the contrary, places the supreme good in grandeur of soul, strength of body, and all such other qualities as render men formidable; and if our religion claims of us fortitude of soul, it is more to enable us to suffer than to achieve great deeds.55

In short, Christianity does not foster attitudes or abilities conducive to politics. Christianity does not attend to reality.

For Hobbes and Locke, this critique must be addressed. Though they uphold Machiavelli’s realism, and anti-teleological position, they are both more positively disposed to Christian doctrine (or at least are more superficially committed to it). Though many pages could be dedicated to Hobbes’s adaptation of Christianity to his modern realist politics (and vice versa), one section of Leviathan in particular provides us with a fascinating example of the question here at issue. In chapter sixteen, “Of Persons, Authors, and Things Personated,” Hobbes reckons with the relationship between man and God, citizen and Absolute. As has been argued already, Machiavelli’s inversion of Aristotle’s model precludes the possibility of providence, or even more generally, the possibility of any interaction or relation between mortals and divine. Reality admits no evidence of divine influence. Hobbes, however, would not have God denied on this point.

Returning to the question of nature and art with which he begins Leviathan, Hobbes focuses his attention on the “natural person” as opposed to the “feigned or artificial person.”56 Etymologically, Hobbes attaches the word or idea of person to the Greek sense of “face” (prosopon) and the Latin sense of “disguise or outward appearance” (persona).57 It follows, then, for Hobbes, that a “person is the same that an actor is ... and to personate is to act or represent himself or another; and he that acts another is said to bear his person or act in his name ... and is called in divers occasions, diversely, as a representer, or representative, a lieutenant, a vicar, an attorney, a deputy, a procurator, an actor, and the like.”58 Hobbes continues:

From hence it follows that when the actor makes a covenant by authority, he binds thereby the author [“he that owns his words and actions”] no less than if he had made it [the words or actions of the author] himself, and no less subjects him to all the consequences of the same. And therefore all that has been said formerly (Chapter 14) of the nature of covenants between man and man in their natural capacity is true also when they are made by their actors, represents, or procurators, that have authority from them, so far forth as is in their commission, but no further.59

Several paragraphs later, Hobbes extends this political doctrine of personation to the theological realm:

The true God may be personated. As he was, first, by Moses, who governed the Israelites (that were not his, but God’s people), not in his own name ... but in God’s name ... Secondly, by the Son of Man, his own son, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, that came to reduce the Jews and induce all nations into the kingdom of his Father; not as of himself, but as sent from his Father. And thirdly, by the Holy Ghost or Comforter, speaking and working in the Apostles; which Holy Ghost was a Comforter that came not of himself, but was sent and proceeded from them both on the day of Pentecost.60

In this way, Hobbes attempts to reconcile Christian revelation with political realism and the natural philosophy of his day. Though this is poor theology (and certainly peculiar metaphysics), the doctrine of personation plays an important role in Hobbes’s project. In the state, a “multitude of men are made one person when they are by one man, or one person, represented, so that it be done with the consent of every one of the multitude in particular.”61 Consent to representation therefore is authorized by divine analogy. Though this one example in no way speaks to the breadth of Hobbes’s treatment of Christianity, it serves to illustrate Hobbes’s efforts to reconcile Christian belief with his mechanistic, artificial understanding of nature and reality.

With respect to the mechanics of political association and Christian belief, a related doctrine to that of personation or representation can be found two chapters earlier in Leviathan. Through consent, the multitude becomes a “unity” in the person “of the representer.”62 The logic of consent, however, is the logic of the contract, which Hobbes’s sums up with the idea of the “Oath.”63 The “force of words” is “too weak to hold men to the performance of their covenants”—mere verbal agreement is not sufficient for the maintenance of the unity.64 There are “two imaginable helps to strengthen it,” and “those are either a fear of the consequences of breaking their word or a glory or pride in appearing not to need to break it.”65 Because the “latter is a generosity too rarely found to be presumed on,” Hobbes sees it necessary to emphasize the former help, that of fear. Fear, then, is central to the idea of the oath:

[T]here be two very general objects [of fear]: one, the power of spirits invisible [i.e., God]; the other, the power of those men they shall therein offend. Of these two though the former be the greater power; yet the fear of the latter is commonly the greater fear. The fear of the former is in every man his own religion, which has place in the nature of man before civil society. The latter has not so, at least not place enough to keep men to their promises, because in the condition of mere nature, the inequality of power is not discerned, but by the event of battle. So that before the time of civil society, or in the interruption thereof by war, there is nothing can strengthen a covenant of peace agreed on against the temptations of avarice, ambition, lust, or other strong desire, but the fear of that invisible power which they every one worship as God, and fear as a revenger of perfidy. All therefore that can be done between two men not subject to civil power is to put one another to swear by the God he fears; which swearing, or Oath, is a form of speech, added to a promise, by which he that promises signifies that unless he perform he renounces the mercy of his God, or calls to him for vengeance on > himself.66

The oath is the very condition of the social contract. Hobbes applies Christian morality in the construction of his political system, thereby giving it an ethical foundation in Christian (or at least vaguely theistic) soteriology. We see, then, that Hobbes’s doctrine of personation, whereby both God and state are represented in political practice, and which makes possible the unity of the multitude, operates according to the logic of the oath, which itself depends upon the divine or “invisible” powers for its authority.

Distinct from Machiavelli, then, Hobbes makes Christianity integral to his political system (heterodox as his theology may be). Locke, too, places more stock in the Christian faith than Machiavelli, but as we have seen already, he does not merely recapitulate Hobbes’s thought. Locke takes Hobbes’s innovations and extends them, and, where necessary, reconfigures them. This is perhaps most clear in his later text, A Letter Concerning Toleration.67 If for Hobbes the oath is essential to the formation of the contract, what happens when members of a society do not agree upon the nature of the God by whom they swear, or upon other sensitive theological issues? Both Hobbes and Locke witnessed the horrible effects of such religious conflict. In response, Locke argues for a much more explicitly Christian ethic as a principle of consent than fear of God alone, an ethic of toleration. It is toleration that he considers “to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church.”68 All other doctrines are “much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another than of the Church of Christ.”69 If fear of God alone is the principle that allows for the formation of the contract, it is far too easy for the powerful man to swear by that which he “worship[s] as God,” by the “God he fears.”70 Just as Hobbes always privileges as God what particular persons think good, God, for Hobbes, is what people think God. This is a significant problem in his thought, which Locke seeks to remedy. Instead of fear, then, Locke argues for the importance of “charity, meekness, and good-will in general towards all mankind, even to those that are not Christians.” This, he claims, is “true” Christianity.71 Fear alone effectively opens the state to the same predation and violence that exists prior to its establishment, to the voracity of desire. The oath or consent of the people to representation in the state cannot be solely according to fear but must be positively balanced with toleration. In his letter, Locke takes a significant step beyond Hobbes, arguing for the validity of explicitly Christian virtues in the political sphere, indeed, asserting the necessity of such virtues to the proper functioning of the social contract.

This is not, however, a departure from Hobbes alone. As noted above, Machiavelli considers Christian virtue to be entirely ineffective in politics. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke argues for the opposite. Yet, as we have already seen, Locke supports the realism of his predecessors against the teleological or providential visions of Aristotle and Aquinas. Who, then, is correct? Hobbes certainly seems closer to Machiavelli in his use of Christianity, employing tenets of faith much in the same way Machiavelli’s prince behaves or appears as a Christian so as to prevent his subjects from hating him. God is made an alibi for power. Locke, however, is much more overtly Christian in his thought (or at least he is in the Letter). For Hobbes, as for Machiavelli, Christian morality is beneficial only insofar as it supports political order. For Locke, on the contrary, political order cannot be successful without Christian morality. Without the virtues of “charity, meekness, and good-will,” division and strife are inevitable.72 It would seem that Christianity cannot be so easily ejected from the political scene, but neither can it be easily integrated with it. It remains, then, to consider the problematic of rule between Christianity and politics, to consider whether it is possible, given the senses of realism and order here discussed, for Christianity to have a place in politics at all.

III. The Problem of Rule

As I have already argued here, Machiavelli clearly thinks Christianity to foster a disposition in its adherents that is not conducive to effective political leadership. This disposition he describes in the Discourses as “proud indolence,” as cited above, an accusation which Locke, especially, will need to respond to in his own philosophy.73 For Machiavelli, as has been shown here, effective leadership is a matter of “ability” and “opportunity,” and not something to be left to fortune.74 Indeed, the Christian providential interpretation of Aristotelian teleology seems little better to him than trusting in the fickleness of fortune. If one wishes to accomplish “great deeds” as a ruler, a different model must be employed.75

In Machiavelli’s thought, the one who rules, and the one who should rule, is the elite. He “cite[s] the greatest examples of prince and of state,” because a “wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will have the tinge of it.”76 Political ability is a skill that can, in part, be learned or imitated, but Machiavelli is also sure to emphasize that there are those who have it, and those who do not. In his study of reality, he finds that “there are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which comprehends neither by itself nor through the intelligence of others. The first is the most excellent, the second is good, the third is useless.”77 There are those, according to Machiavelli’s concept of nature or reality, that are simply unfit for rule, their intellects “useless.” Here in fact Machiavelli is not all that far from Aristotle: “those who should rule are those who are able to rule best.”78 The prince is responsible for the state, for government, for rule. He is uniquely disposed to the task (though some princes better than others). The significant difference here is that the effective ruler is not aloof from the people he rules: “to understand the nature of the people, one must be a prince, and to understand the nature of princes one must be of the people.”79 The prince owes his elite position to his ability to see from both perspectives, to know people as they are, not merely as they are in theory. Elites, rulers, princes—these are not products of teleology, but products of circumstance and skill. Machiavelli eschews Aristotelian givenness, a move which truly renders him the father of elite theory, a distinctly modern understanding of rule situated in the modern conceptions of reality and order discussed above.

For Machiavelli’s followers, however, his conception of rule is problematic. Wherein Aristotle authority and justice are externally founded, and therefore unimpeachable, with Machiavelli and his successors, authority and justice are contingent and internally produced. Appeals to an external power or absolute are useful only if the prince uses such an appeal to the ends of his own material power. The prince “should try to show greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude in his actions,” because “[e]very one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”80 The prince must appear virtuous (in the classical sense) and moral, but recognize that, “in order to maintain the state, he is often forced to act contrary to faith, friendship, humanity, and religion.”81 Christian principles give power the veneer of divinity; this is the extent of their use. For those who put more stock in such principles, however, this is a troubling conclusion. As has been seen already, Hobbes and Locke go to great pains to integrate their political philosophies with Christian ethics and morality, but their efforts are not entirely successful. It would seem that the Machiavellian inversion of the concepts of reality and order, his subversion of the Aristotelian paradigm, is of lasting difficulty to those who do not wish to “appear” Christian alone, or at least who are less comfortable setting their Christian ethics aside. How can a Christian ruler accept the fact that “a prince wishing to keep his state is very often forced to do evil”?82 The metaphysical questions, and the questions of value, come to a point of crisis in the domain of practice—that is, when a ruler must rule.

For Hobbes, his solution is essentially Machiavellian. His ruler is the “Sovereign” and his people are the “Subject[s].”83 The division of power is the same, but as discussed above, Hobbes employs the concepts of the oath and personation to lend to his ruler, to the Sovereign or elite, the authority of God. As such, Hobbes’s elite is still the one best able to rule, but he is not established through his own power, but through the fiat which establishes the contract. The people “confer all their power and strength upon one man or upon one assembly of men, that they may reduce all their wills by plurality of voices unto one will ... [saying], I Authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition: that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner.84 The people “agree amongst themselves to submit to some man, or assembly of men, on confidence to be protected by him against all others.”85 Skill and ability are still essential, and there are some better fitted to such a role than others, but the Hobbesian innovation is to establish the power of the elite in the consenting voices of the people.

The effect of this shift in Hobbes is to diffuse the responsibility of power to a subset of the people, covering over the tenuous linkage between God and man, as facilitated by the oath, thereby authorizing the sovereign according to the material power of the interested group. In this way, Hobbes distances himself from orthodox Christian belief so as to justify the authority of his elite. For Hobbes, the “final cause, end, or design of men ... is the foresight [prospect] of their own preservation and of a more contented life thereby.”86 The good, which Aristotle believes all men to strive toward, is not so ideal in Hobbes: “Good and evil are names that signify our appetites and aversions.”87 Once again we see the primacy of desire in modern realist political philosophy. The ends of political society are the desires of its constituents. The social contract, then, the consent to be ruled by the elite, is motivated by this self-interested desire. The elite is not merely the one best able to rule, but the one best able to ensure that the interested group (those with the power to consent to a ruler) is satisfied in its desires. In this way, too, Hobbes can say that the “notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have [in the state of war] no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice.”88 Law, justice, morality—these are what serve the interests of the ruling elite and the sovereign. They have no absolute value, no external grounding, but are established by the fiat that establishes the state and the common power. In true Machiavellian fashion, Hobbes uses the dictates of the Christian faith as instruments to the ends of power and rule.

Though Locke presumes to a more overtly Christian ethic, as seen in his Letter Concerning Toleration, the notion of power based on consent and interest persists in his thought. In the Second Treatise he writes:

Political power, then, I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defense of the commonwealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good.89

And further, for Locke, the “great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”90 Lockean rule, therefore, is deeply concerned with the protection of interest, with the maintenance of the conditions in which people can pursue their desires. Such a system is a direct outcome of Machiavelli’s elite theory. As we have seen, nature has no direction, no ultimate end; it is random and purposeless. This is the realistic view of the world, as discussed above. For Machiavelli, the effective leader is the one with the skill to navigate such a chaotic world, and such a leader will use the ethics and morals of whichever belief system is available to him (e.g., Christianity) to authorize his use of power in his political endeavours. The elite, therefore, is he who wins the support of the people out of fear and love by demonstrating the material grounds of his authority. Such is how a state should be run. The stable state, the good state, is the one helmed by an elite ruler. With Hobbes, this ruler is the sovereign, and in Locke, it is the king, who by the consent of the people, is vested with the authority to makes laws and execute them. Locke’s framework is an elaboration of the simpler one that Machiavelli presents. The authority of the prince, made possible by Machiavelli’s privileging of ability over other more Christian virtues, allows Locke to imbue his own variation on the elite with powers explicitly stated to be for the protection of property. This is the chief function of rule. Though he advocates elsewhere for Christian charity and meekness, when it comes to the political sphere, the power made available by Machiavelli’s elite is too desirable to let pass, and this even though both Machiavelli and Hobbes recognize the necessity of ‘uncharitable’ and ‘un-meek’ (i.e., violent) behaviour in politics. Thus, in his attempt to reintegrate Christian ideals with the Machiavellian paradigm, Locke reinstitutes the problematic of rule that Machiavelli exposes a century prior, making God a servant to the appetites and desires of men.

IV. Conclusion

This paper has argued that Machiavelli’s inversion of the Aristotelian system produces new challenges that his modern successors cannot ignore. In divesting reality of the providential hand of God, or even the more aloof influence of a teleological force, Machiavelli places the responsibility of justice and order in the hands of people. For Machiavelli, this requires the Christian leader to put aside his scruples and recognize that his position requires him to do evil, while appearing to be good. Indeed, Machiavelli sees this to be the only value in Christian morality, which otherwise is of little use in politics. Hobbes and Locke, however, both try to retain Christian morality in their respective philosophies. It is Hobbes who use certain doctrines of Christianity to provide ethical justification for the sovereign, demonstrating a new way for Christian leaders to exert political power according to the supposed consent of the people, and the authorization of the divine. Through his doctrine of personation, in particular, Hobbes effectively translates the external force of the providential God into the immanent force of his personated representative, maintaining the strictly mechanical understanding of nature that he supports, while allowing for the presence of superficially Christian belief in the political realm. In Locke, however, we see such a fusion of disparate systems of practice approach a crisis. He wants both power and toleration, politics and faith, but the system of politics that he argues for cannot support the sort of toleration he desires. Indeed, in maintaining the power of the elite on the basis of interested, consenting persons, Locke effectively supports the intolerance which constantly seeks to uphold its own position against those by whom it is threatened. Though both Hobbes and Locke attempt to reconcile Christianity with their essentially Machiavellian systems, they are not successful. The Christianity readers are left with in Leviathan and the Second Treatise is hollow and twisted, deprived of its radical message, and made subservient to human self-interest. If Christianity is to be of any relevance to the political world, it will only be according to the radical and prophetic challenge that it makes to the realism that Machiavelli delineates, a challenge that refuses power, that refuses interest, that refuses the violence upon which the politics of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke are built.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Politics. In The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, edited by Andrew Bailey, et al., 177-242. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008.

Berry, Christopher J. “Aristotle, Hobbes and Chimpanzees.” Political Studies 54, no. 4 (2006): 827-845.

De Vries, Leonie Ansems and Spieker, Jorg. “Hobbes, War, Movement.” Global Society 23, no. 4 (2009): 453-474.

Garau, Rodolfo. “Springs, Nitre, and Conatus. The Role of the Heart in Hobbes’s Physiology and Animal Locomotion.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24, no. 2 (2016): 231-256.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. In The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche. Edited by Andrew Bailey, et al., 413-490. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008.

Locke, John. A Letter Concerning Toleration. In The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, edited by Andrew Bailey, et al., 561-565. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008.

________. The Second Treatise of Civil Government, in The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, edited by Andrew Bailey, et al., 496-561. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius. In The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, edited by Andrew Bailey, et al., 375-389. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008.

________. The Prince. In The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche. Edited by Andrew Bailey, et al., 346-375. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008.

Rossello, Diego. “Hobbes and the Wolf-Man: Melancholy and Animality in Modern Sovereignty.” New Literary History 43, no. 2 (2012): 255-279.


  1. Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, in The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, eds. Andrew Bailey, et al., 346-375 (Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008): 373. 

  2. Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, in The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, eds. Andrew Bailey, et al., 375-389 (Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008): 387. 

  3. Aristotle, Politics, in The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, eds. Andrew Bailey, et al., 177-242 (Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008). 

  4. Ibid., 177. 

  5. Ibid., 239. 

  6. Ibid., 178. 

  7. Ibid., 178. 

  8. Machiavelli, The Prince, 373. 

  9. Ibid. 

  10. Ibid. 

  11. Ibid., 347. 

  12. Ibid., 373. 

  13. Ibid., 346. 

  14. Ibid., 373. 

  15. Ibid., 347. 

  16. Ibid., 373. 

  17. Ibid., 347. My emphasis. 

  18. Aristotle, Politics, 177. 

  19. Christopher Berry, “Aristotle, Hobbes and Chimpanzees,” Political Studies 54, no. 4 (2006): 827-845. 

  20. Ibid., 827. 

  21. Ibid., 829. 

  22. Rodolfo Garau, “Springs, Nitre, and Conatus. The Role of the Heart in Hobbe’s Physiology and Animal Locomotion,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24, no. 2 (2016): 231-256. 

  23. Ibid., 231. 

  24. Leonie Ansems De Vries and Jorg Spieker, “Hobbes, War, Movement,” Global Society 23, no. 4 (2009): 453-474. 

  25. Diego Rossello, “Hobbes and the Wolf-Man: Melancholy and Animality in Modern Sovereignty,” New Literary History 43, no. 2 (2012): 255-279. 

  26. Ibid., 256. 

  27. Ibid., 255. 

  28. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, in The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, eds. Andrew Bailey, et al., 413-490 (Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008). 

  29. Ibid., 413. 

  30. Ibid., 413. 

  31. Aristotle, Politics, 204. 

  32. Ibid., 206. 

  33. Ibid., 178-179. 

  34. Hobbes, Leviathan, 414. Original emphasis. 

  35. Ibid. 

  36. Ibid., 420. 

  37. Ibid. 

  38. Ibid., 426. 

  39. Ibid., 414. Original emphasis. 

  40. Ibid. Original emphasis. 

  41. John Locke, The Second Treatise of Civil Government, in The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, eds. Andrew Bailey, et al., 496-561 (Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008). 

  42. Ibid., 496. 

  43. Ibid. 

  44. Ibid., 497. 

  45. Ibid. 

  46. Ibid. 

  47. Ibid. 

  48. Ibid. 

  49. Hobbes, Leviathan, 414-15. 

  50. Locke, Second Treatise, 497. 

  51. Ibid., 497. 

  52. Ibid., 498. My emphasis. 

  53. Machiavelli, Discourses, 377. 

  54. Ibid. 

  55. Ibid., 385. 

  56. Hobbes, Leviathan, 438. Original emphasis. 

  57. Ibid., 438-39. Original emphasis. 

  58. Ibid., 439. 

  59. Ibid. 

  60. Ibid., 440. 

  61. Ibid. 

  62. Ibid. 

  63. Ibid., 431. 

  64. Ibid. 

  65. Ibid. 

  66. Ibid. Original emphasis. 

  67. John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, in The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume One: From Plato to Nietzsche, eds. Andrew Bailey, et al., 561-565 (Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2008). 

  68. Ibid., 561. 

  69. Ibid. 

  70. Hobbes, Leviathan, 431. My emphasis. 

  71. Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, 561. 

  72. Ibid. 

  73. Machiavelli, Discourses, 377. 

  74. Machiavelli, The Prince, 347. 

  75. Machiavelli, Discourses, 385. 

  76. Machiavelli, The Prince, 347. 

  77. Ibid., 371. 

  78. Aristotle, Politics, 202. 

  79. Machiavelli, The Prince, 346. 

  80. Ibid., 365. 

  81. Ibid. 

  82. Ibid., 367. 

  83. Hobbes, Leviathan, 443. 

  84. Ibid. Original emphasis. 

  85. Ibid. 

  86. Ibid., 441. Editor’s note. 

  87. Ibid., 438. 

  88. Ibid., 425. 

  89. Locke, Second Treatise, 498. 

  90. Ibid., 522. 

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