Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke, and Karl Marx

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Throughout history people who grew up in an environment that they are not accustomed to, tend to have different beliefs and ideals than those who live comfortably. These new environments give birth to radical thinkers, since these people want to change the life they are currently living in. Hence the reason why people like Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke, and Karl Marx had different opinions about human nature than others in their respective times. For example, Niccolo Machiavelli was exiled from Florence, Italy and during this time he witnessed how unstable the city states of Italy had become. He believed that it may have been the result of incompetent rulers trying to regain their power or foreign countries asserting their dominance.

Similarly, John Locke lived in 17th century England, where the state was unstable due to previous kings ruling with absolute tyranny, changing any policies with no regard of what will happen to the society. Lastly, in terms of Karl Marx, he lived in the era known as the Industrial Revolution, where social and commercial activity changed significantly in a short period of time. However, the change that transpired during the Industrial Revolution, wasn’t the most ideal and majority of the people were still suffering. Because these three authors lived in such precarious environments their view on human nature were completely different than everybody elses.

During his time in exile, Machiavelli believed that humans are innately selfish and ignorant, and in order to maintain order the ruling prince should be able to be cruel and merciful, yet likable to the people. Locke believed that all humans are free, equal, and born with natural rights; and in order to establish just government people must be willing to sacrifice their natural rights in exchange for protection. For Karl Marx, he didn’t really think about human nature except for the fact that we are codependent on each other to survive due to the upper class controlling the people like puppets.

Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy where he became an established diplomat and a decent politician for several years. During his time in Italy, he realized how unstable the city states had become from many leaders trying to regain their power and other countries trying to spread imperialism. The streak of bad luck would continue when he was exiled from Italy when the Medici family returned into power. Living in a state of poverty, as well as missing his glory days of being a politician, Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” to favor the Medici family and hopefully return to Italy as a politician. In the book, he wrote about his experiences and what he had observed when living as a peasant.

Machiavelli realized selfish and incompetent people were the root causes of the downfall of many great colonies. Furthermore, he came to the conclusion that the only way to prevent the downfall of the state was a merciless leader/prince. Machiavelli noted that many leaders tend to regain their power just to lose it again in a short matter of time or new leaders from other countries would miserably fail to rule the newly acquired lands. Since ignorant people would often rebel against their new leaders, and a merciless prince should punish them severely since “they cannot avenge severe ones(punishments)”(Machiavelli p. 20) and by doing so will “obviate any fear of revenge”.(Machiavelli p. 20)

The idea of rebelling against the leader will now be extinguished since the majority of the people fear of the punishments that will happen. However, Machiavelli also realized that men are very self-centered and will only work for his own benefit and not the benefit of the society. For example, when a new ruler comes into place, he will often just take new lands in order to acquire more money or impose new laws that will just benefit himself and not society as a whole. Another example is when a new leader comes into place many people are hoping the leader is better than the previous and that is because “all men will see what you seem to be” (Machiavelli p.70)

As a result, the prince as many expectations to fill because many people want to reap their own benefits. Hence a prince must persuade the people since “…people are by nature changeable” (Machiavelli p.31) and that even if they no longer believe, they must be persuaded so “they can be forced to believe.”(Machiavelli p.31). Observing the people who lived in poverty, Machiavelli realized that many people are very arrogant and it is because of this arrogance that rulers cannot govern properly or that many of the citizens overthrow their new leader. A prince must cunning enough to tell the people that everything will be okay within the state even if that is not the truth, and that by being merciless he can keep rebellions from happening due to the people fearing the punishments that will happen to them.

John Locke also lived in a society that was disorganized and had to endure rulers that didn’t know how to rule. Believing that all men by nature are “…all free, equal, and independent” (Locke. Ch VIII Sect. 95) he provides his own view on how a state should be governed. He also stated that people had their own natural rights which were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In England, King James II imposed a corrupt government, often changing policies that only benefited him and not the people. Locke believed that these new policies infringed the natural rights of humans, and that King James II being overthrown was completely justified, in his famous “Second Treatise on Government”.

Locke believed that “absolute monarchy…can be no form of civil government at all…” (Locke ch. VII Sect. 90), he wanted to express that nobody will ever consent to have a government that would be worse than the current one they are living in right now. Furthermore, he wants to show that no one is willing to sacrifice their natural rights if their state of well being is now put on risk. To reiterate, Locke believed everyone is free, equal, and independent, and that a government cannot be made if people are being forced into it. The only way man can create a government is if they “agree(ing) with other men to join and unite into a community, for… peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any that are not of it.” ( Locke Ch. VIII Sect. 95)

In short, it can be said that Locke had a similar opinion on human nature as Machiavelli, for they both believed humans are selfish. However, for Locke he believed that people have the right to be selfish because of their natural rights, and it is ultimately their decision if they are comfortable with the environment they are currently living in. “Men… by nature, all free, equal, and independent… can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent.” (Locke Ch. VIII Sect. 95)

Moving on to Karl Marx, unlike Machiavelli and Locke, Marx didn’t think much about human nature and only believed that everyone was codependent on each other to survive. In his later years, Marx soon begin to have a strong distaste for capitalism. Although it boosted the economy, and from that the standard of living should be getting “better”, nothing changed in the working class. During the Industrial Revolution, many people had jobs but were at the mercy of their employer, and as a result still lived in poverty.

Believing that capitalism isn’t the most efficient way for a state to be run, emphasizing the fact that the 99% should be the ones ruling the state and not the 1%. “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution… Workingmen of all countries unite!”. ( Marx Ch. 4 p. 44) Marx continues saying that revolting against the 1% wouldn’t cause any serious repercussions since “the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains…” (Marx Ch. 4 p. 44) and that if they win the revolution “…They have a world to win.”. (Marx Ch. 4 p. 44) Marx also believed that the upper class didn’t know how to manage commerce which is why the working class still lives in poverty even though they have jobs.

As a result, he gives the idea that the bourgeois is only obsessed with commerce and as it expanded they had no idea on how to manage it. “…bourgeois…has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, [it] is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the power of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” (Marx Ch. 1 p. 14) Thus, the proletariats cannot depend on the bourgeois, for their state of well-being isn’t improving and must rely on each to survive. Furthermore, because there is so much corruption with the proletariats and the bourgeois, Marx believed that a world where everyone shares the same status will in turn, create a world where everyone is satisfied with everything. In short, because of what Marx had witnessed during the Industrial Revolution (the working class living in poverty at the mercy of those superior) he provides a theory which is in short the abolition of private property.

Machiavelli, Locke, and Marx grew up in environments that were going through either disorder or massive change. Thus they were raised to be radical thinkers, providing the current societies new theories on how a state should be ruled. Machiavelli believed that people were selfish and ignorant, so a harsh leader was needed to maintain peace, Locke that people were selfish as well but have the right to be because of they are free and equal, and Marx believed that people were codependent on each other because without one another, one man alone cannot produce what is needed to survive in a corrupt world.


Cite this paper

Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke, and Karl Marx. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/niccolo-machiavelli-john-locke-and-karl-marx/

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