By Niccolo Machiavelli

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One of the more interesting ways to interpret history occupying the minds of historians is the argument of the head (intellect, logic) versus the heart (emotion, spiritual). History seems to have undergone shifts and shows trends of movements that aim at the head and the heart. The European Renaissance of the 13th to 16th centuries serves as a study of this subject. Two major classes developed in this time period, the writers and the artists. Each class learned to express their thoughts and ideas in their works. In opposition to the Renaissance artists, Renaissance writers became more fundamental in expressing their thoughts and ideas by reverting to the “head” over the “heart.”

There exist many examples that one could use to describe such an argument. The three examples that will be used in this essay are the literary works of The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, Utopia by Sir Thomas More, and Defensor Pacis by Marsiglio of Padua. Machiavelli outlines in his masterpiece, The Prince, why a person should rule by the head and shows the problems of ruling by the heart. Sir Thomas More developed a seemingly perfect society in his Utopia and shows in this work the difference between the society of the head that he had created versus the society of the heart in which he lived. Marsiglio of Padua argues in his Defensor Pacis the need for a separation of church (heart) and state (head) in order to have society function properly.

The Head

The head is the home of the intellect, logic, and systematic understanding. The head seeks to explain things in a rational manner and structurally organize the world around them. Little or no emphasis is placed on emotions as emotional attachment can often question the integrity of the system and what one deems as “right”. The head is best seen in the classical styles and dates back to ancient Greece and Aristotelian thought.

The Heart

The heart is the antithesis to the head. The heart is the home of emotion and spirituality. People who follow the heart are not concerned with how to explain the world around them in a rational manner; rather the feelings associated with their surroundings are the main importance to them. Those who follow their heart will often rebel against a system that seems too constrictive because of the law and order implemented therein. The heart is best seen in movements such as Romanticism and Platonic thought.

Machiavelli and The Prince

As one of the most influential writers of the Renaissance, the outspoken Niccolo Machiavelli used his masterpiece, The Prince, to provide an outline of how one is to effectively rule. Machiavelli provides many different perspectives but outlines Section 17 as: Concerning Cruelty, Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared, Or The Reverse.1 This section emphasizes the best of all that one should choose the head over the heart when it concerns ruling his kingdom.

The beginning of the section starts out with Machiavelli admitting, “Turning to some other of the aforementioned qualities, I say that every prince ought to wish to be considered kind rather than cruel.”2 Machiavelli asserts in this statement that the nature of man will tend to lead to the heart in the matter of ruling. Why? He continues, “So long as you promote their advantage, they are all yours, as I said before, and will offer you their blood, their goods, their lives, and their children when the need for these is remote.”3 The false impression of loyalty is given only as long as the prince is able to provide opportunities to his subjects wherein they believe that they prosper. The moment in which a prince no longer provides opportunities for his subjects to succeed and gain advantage, the subjects turn on their prince and no longer view him as someone to be loved because he no longer provides the means for their vain ambitions to be fulfilled. Such is the nature of the heart of man as Machiavelli understands and proves that it is by man’s nature that one must rule with the head and not the heart.

Machiavelli realized such an anomaly then posed his great question, whether it is better to be loved or feared. His answer is:

The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than loved. For this can be said about the generality of men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, dissembling, anxious to flee from danger, and covetous of gain…Men are less concerned about offending someone they have cause to love than someone they have cause to fear.4
It is by the negative characteristics of the heart such as fickleness and anxiety that Machiavelli argues one must rule by the head if any sense of loyalty is to be gained.

Machiavelli states the concern of offense as a main point in why the love of men cannot be trusted. Why trust someone when, as Machiavelli says, they are more apt to offend you if they love you rather than if they fear you? Because it is a false loyalty.

A prince is not to allow himself to be hated, only feared. Machiavelli writes, “Still a prince should make himself feared in such a way that, though he does not gain love, he escapes hatred; for being feared but not hated go readily together. Such a condition he may always attain…He need only strive to avoid being hated, as I said.”5 Machiavelli comprehends the polarity of man and realizes that an emotionally charged person, acting upon the emotions of the heart, can lead to acts of irrationality. It is by avoiding the polar opposites of love and hate that a prince can effectively rule by fear and not be hated.

Concluding Machiavelli, a prince is to rule by the head and not the heart because it is in the negative nature of the emotions of the heart for men to forsake their prince and turn against him. It is by strict order of laws and little concern for the emotional attachment of his subjects that one can rule effectively by the head and not the heart. If one is to measure the success of those who rule with the head over the heart, Machiavelli says that one must look no farther than Cesare Borgia, who united the province Romagna under cruelty and fear instead of love.6

Sir Thomas More and Utopia

As Machiavelli outlined how a prince is to rule, Sir Thomas More uses Utopia to show a perfect society developed by the head. More used the avenue of literature to portray his ideas as what a society of the head would be like in contrast to the society of the heart that he lived in under King Henry VIII.

The exact motivation and point behind Utopia has been argued by historians for centuries. Paul Turner describes the goal of Utopia as:

It begins by pointing out the irrational barbarity of capital punishment for theft, and argues that the only way to reduce the number of thieves is to reduce the number of people who must either steal or starve. In this connection it attacks the conversion of arable land into pasture, and other contemporary practices liable to cause unemployment. It also suggests, as an alternative to hanging, a system of penal servitude. It then debates the question whether a sensible person should be willing to serve at Court, and satirizes the unscrupulous behaviour of the average king, especially his habit of starting aggressive wars, and his dishonest methods of raising money. Finally, it contrasts the unhappy state of European society with conditions in an ideal country, where human life is organized in the best possible way.7

More believed that the organization of society was a key component and one that, if ignored, would ultimately lead to the downfall of society. More certainly had his share of experiences of seeing a king with “unscrupulous behaviour” rule a country by the emotions of his heart and the destruction of the organization of society. This is seen as More shapes the society in Utopia as ardent as his morals and conduct of life. However, one can argue that More is too extreme in his representation of a perfect society but it is important to remember that More was trying to provide a perfect foil to the society in which he lived. In order to counter an extreme, one must be extreme.

England under Henry VIII can be described as the epitome of a heart society. Author Paul Turner describes the state of England at the time of Sir Thomas More:

Finally we must remember what England was like when Utopia was written. It was a country where one man could enjoy vast wealth while thousands of people starved, or were hanged for stealing food. For the abolition of such monstrous social injustice, a certain amount of austerity and regimentation might well seem a small price to pay. As for personal liberty, in Tudor England there was no freedom of speech; there was not even freedom of thought. More himself was executed not for anything that he had said or done but for private opinions which he had resolutely kept to himself. It was not enough to abstain from comment on Henry VIII’s astonishing metamorphosis into Supreme Head of the Church: More’s very silence was a political crime.8
More was a victim of tyranny fueled by the emotions of one of England’s most flamboyant kings. More observed numerous injustices, such as having to steal to feed a family but then be hanged because there was no other outlet to provide food, and concluded that there must be a different society in which one could live without the heart ruling the people. Was it possible for such a society to exist? The answer to More was yes, it was possible for such a society to exist. Thus, Utopia was born.

What sort of society did More create? Fueled by his own ambitions and derived from his own personal set of ardent morals and organized life, More created a society that reflected everything he was. The society of Utopia was well-defined in every way. The basic needs of every person were met: employment, shelter, clothing, etc. and a heavy emphasis on education to produce a society of intellects. However, the society did have its drawbacks. The strict laws of marriage arguably lowered the stance of women that was present at the time of More, personal freedoms were restricted, as the main character of Utopia, Raphael Hythloday, describes the scene as, “Everyone has his eye on you, so you’re practically forced to get on with your job, and make some proper use of your spare time.”9

Did More create the perfect society of the head to counter the society of the heart of which he lived? Turner states:

Noplacia, as Mr. Windbag calls Utopia, is obviously no place to live, the average modern reader will decide; but to get a more stereoscopic view of it, one should take a momentary effort to see it through the eyes of its author, against a background of Tudor England…To a man of such habits and beliefs, the bareness and constriction of life in Utopia must have seemed among its greatest blessings.10

The society envisioned by More in Utopia is the perfect society of the head to counter the society of the heart in which he lived but “is obviously no place to live.” In a country deemed having no freedom in speech or thought, More lashed out with Utopia to show his version of an ideal country, perfectly organized with laws and basic structure to show the world that the head is superior to the heart.

Marsiglio of Padua and Defensor Pacis

A time-honored debate within the realm of history has been that of church and state relations. Marsiglio of Padua was one of the first to formally have his ideas published and read concerning the matter of church and state relations. Marsiglio sees the church as an extension of the heart in society and the state as a representation of the head in society. According to Marsiglio, the state (head) is to be separated from the church (heart) in order to have society properly function.

Marsiglio argues in the beginning, “There can be only one supreme ruling power in a state or kingdom.”11 This power is understood to be either the secular ruler (Emperor, King, Prince, etc.) or the spiritual ruler (church). With the idea of a theocracy removed, only one will rule within the kingdom and Marsiglio argues that it is the secular ruler. He states, “The prince who rules by the authority of the “legislator” (The whole body of citizens or its majority alone is the human “legislator.”12) has jurisdiction over the persons and possessions of every single mortal of every station, whether lay or clerical, and over every body of laymen or clergy.”13 It is by the jurisdiction over all possessions and persons that the secular ruler can claim jurisdiction over the church.

Marsiglio also asserts in his arguments that the church should be subjected to the laws of the land. This is to be understood as Marsiglio states:

The prince alone, acting in accordance with the laws of the “legislator”, has the authority to condemn heretics, delinquents, and all others who should endure temporal punishment, to inflict bodily punishment upon them, and to exact fines from them…

…It is always permitted to appeal to the “legislator” from a coercive decision rendered by a bishop or priest with the authorization of the “legislator.”14

Marsiglio argues that power is to be given to the ruler to preside over certain affairs, such as heretics, that were normally left to the church to decide. As an addition to that, Marsiglio stated that those who were found guilty under the decision of the church should have the right to appeal before the secular ruler and not to a higher religious authority. By subjecting the church to the laws of the land, the church further becomes separated in authority from the state and society can function more properly under the decision of the ruler instead of the decision of the church.

One can identify Marsiglio’s case with the church being an extension of the state but having no power to rule the state. The “legislator” has the power to rule and run the state and can only invest that power in a single person, the secular ruler. Since none can be greater than the ruler over the land, all must be subject to him. This is why Marsiglio advocates the subjection of the church to secular laws and places the church and its practices under that of the ruler. The subjection leaves room for only one to rule and for that person to rule by the head, without having a power struggle against the church (heart).

The Head Trumps the Heart

The literature of the Renaissance era provided writers, such as those discussed above, an outlet and audience to express their thoughts of how things would work if the head was the ruler. Each lashed out against the society of the heart by which every author was bound. The societies of the heart began to fight back.

Upon the return of the Medici family to power in Florence, Italy, Machiavelli was viewed as an enemy to the Medici family. Machiavelli was exiled from Florence and his true passion, politics, for the rest of his life.15 It is under these circumstances that The Prince was written. However, the Medici family thought they had a victory. Little did they know that the pen would show its power over the sword and today, it is Machiavelli and his legacy that lives on.

Sir Thomas More remained true to his beliefs and eventually became a martyr for such. More became the victim of Henry VIII’s ultimate emotional outburst, as Henry declared himself Supreme Head of the Church. More was executed in 1535 for refusing to acknowledge Henry’s new, self-appointed title.16 More was now a martyr but a hero and saint in the eyes of his fellow countrymen. More cemented himself as the founder of a new genre of literature, the utopian sort.17

Although Marsiglio’s ideas were very radical for the time, he found refuge but his works were subverted. Marsilglio was forced to abdicate his position at the University of Paris but found refuge with Holy Roman Emperor Lewis IV.18 Marsiglio’s works permeated the scene of church and state relations and paved the way for the incoming change of religious ideals, the Counciliary Movement and Reformation.

Despite the forced subversiveness of societies ruled by the heart, the writers of the Renaissance used the head to attack the societies of the heart. Despite limited to no freedoms on speech and thought posed a great threat for the writers of the Renaissance, it is through their works that they live on. The legacy of the Renaissance writers is comparable to that of ancient Greece and Rome. Although Greece was conquered by Rome, Greece eventually triumphed over Rome in thought and culture. The same is true of the Renaissance writers. The writers were quelled in their own day but lived on and set the stage for the next societal trend, the Reformation.

Works Cited

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. and ed. by Daniel Donno, New York: Bantam

Dell, 2003.
Marsiglio of Padua. Defensor Pacis. Pigott Study Guide, 2006.
More, Sir Thomas. Utopia. Trans. by Paul Turner, London: Penguin Books, 2003.
Zophy, Jonathan W. A Short History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe: Dances

Over Fire and Water, 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall,


1 Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. and ed. Daniel Donno (New York: Bantam Dell, 2003), 65.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 66.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 66, 67.

6 Ibid., 65.

7 Paul Turner, introduction to Utopia, by Sir Thomas More (London: Penguin Books, 2003), xix, xx.

8 Ibid., xx.

9 Sir Thomas More, Utopia, trans. Paul Turner (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 65.

10 Turner, xviii.

11 Marsiglio of Padua, Defensor Pacis (Pigott Study Guide, 2006), 56.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid., 58.

15 Jonathan W. Zophy, A Short History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe: Dances Over Fire and Water, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003), 80.

16 Ibid., 162.

17 Turner, xx.

18 Zophy, 36.

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