Machiavelli insists that he sees men as they really are rather than we might wish men to be (XV, p. 62). Augustine also depicts how men actually live in the City of God. How are Augustine's and Machiavelli's understandings of human nature similar to and different from each other? How does these differences affect their political philosophy? Augustine and Machiavelli are similar in their pessimistic views toward human nature, looking at human self-love and self-interested, full of evil, cruelty, betrayal, violence and war. Yet the two views are different fundamentally. Augustine thinks that men are not evil by nature but by their choice of disobedience to God, but Machiavelli believes that men are naturally sinful. For Augustine, love of self rather than God is driven by soul, by placing self ahead of God. By contrast, Machiavelli thinks that evil is maintained by self-interest, which is due to the insatiable lust of body. However, They both acknowledge that moral obligations do exist in human beings. Because of their different views of the cause of evil, Augustine and Machiavelli achieve their peace in different ways.
In order to compare the philosophy of the two thinkers, we need to examine their views. Augustine claims that "no one is evil by nature" (p. 590) because all people are created by God in His own image, and God is by no means evil, nor will He make anything evil. One is evil because of some fault, namely, living according to man instead of God. Moreover, contrary to many classical philosophical thoughts, Augustine thinks that of the two parts of self, soul and body (p. 206), soul is the cause of evil. It is not the flesh of body that makes people sin, but soul's placing of the flesh over the divine God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve live in abundance but still betray God. When they place their wish above God's command, they live according to themselves and thus become evil. Fully aware of God's ban of eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve sin consciously; they choose to be evil out of free will. (p. 608) However, Augustine also sees that all men are "necessarily evil and fleshly" when born, because they are the offspring of Adam, whose fault changed human nature for the worse. Only by being reborn and living according to God can men be good and spiritual again and attain true happiness. (p. 635) Therefore, according to Augustine, humans are not evil by nature, but they are sinful and driven by self-love as the offspring of Adam. It is not body but soul that makes human beings evil.
While Augustine argues that humans are not evil by nature, on the contrast, Machiavelli is more inclined to the opinion that men are by nature readier to evil than to good. He ascribes human evil to the lust of body, while silently denies soul as the cause of evil by not even mentioning it in the Prince. Machiavelli thinks that men are wicked and self-interested due to insatiable appetite. He famously claims that men forget the death of a father sooner than the loss of an inheritance. Men go for their own utility at every opportunity, and have to be forced to be just (p. 67). Machiavelli does not think that living according to God and being fully virtuous can lead to one's happiness, because happiness also requires others be virtuous to one, which is impossible in the real world. In fact, sometimes virtue even leads to ruin in this corrupt world (p.63). Augustine focuses on joy in the next world, happiness and peace in the world to come cannot appeal to Machiavelli. But if people live according to God because this leads to happiness and peace, they do so for its consequence. Augustine overlooks that humans are so greedy that they want happiness and peace in the current imperfect world. Since the City of God cannot promise happiness until the end of this world, it is not likely to attract as much people.
Notwithstanding Augustine's view that men can be reborn by living according to God, Machiavelli argues that men are made and kept good by force and necessity and that evil accompanies men forever. Machiavelli bases his political theory on how human actually live. He thinks that in order to rule successfully in the real world, the prince has to know how people live. The best regime by the classical philosophers are beautiful but not useful, and nonexistent on the real world. The distance between how men ought to live and how men actually live is the distance between the best regime and the real one. "True virtues ... can exist only in those in whom there is true godliness" (p. 924). If men were good, Machivelli's teaching is unnecessary and even evil (p. 69). Because we live on the real world, which is not governed by reason but by necessity, and not by the best people but by the vulgar (p. 71), it is useless, and even dangerous for the prince to expect people to live as they ought to be. Knowledge of human nature is crucial to all rulers. By revealing how men do live, Machiavelli want to show the prince how he should rule and even how he should live. He expect by mastering human nature, the prince can bring harmony to the brutal world.
Although Augustine and Machiavelli both deem humans evil, they still suggest that men do have underlying moral obligations. People cannot sin randomly without feeling shameful or guilty. Augustine states that if a man wants to forbid grief of losing a friend, he must prohibit or extinguish affection and ruthlessly disregard or make use of the ties of human companionship without giving rise to any delight of soul. By speculating that this can never be done, Augustine shows some faith to human nature. (p.930) Because men are unable to abandon their friends, nor can they alleviate the fear of the fall of the friendship, they are always in fear and miserable. The grief for good is an evidence of a good nature; otherwise "there could be no grief for the good which was taken away" (p.939). Furthermore, because men have to protect the peace, which is an uncertain good, they are likely to take defense against potential betrayal when people even "do not know the hearts of those with whom we wish to maintain peace" (p.925). They are thus likely to promote hostilities and war. Hence, Augustine concludes, human beings can never attain true happiness in the mundane world.
Not always asdemonic as he is considered, Machiavelli implies that people have moral obligation. To Machiavelli, human beings naturally have such an intense moral guideline that they have to find excuses for themselves and pretend to act justly. People clearly know what morality is, and thus they expect the prince to appear to have the qualities of mercy, faith, honesty, humanity, and religion. (p. 70) They "on the one hand admire this action of his (Hannibal's cruelty) but on the other condemn the principal cause of it" (p.67). Human beings cannot tolerate achieving good by immoral means, although they benefit from this very end. Yet they cannot afford to be all good and strive for their goal, because this cannot lead to the end they want on the corrupt world. So they choose to be deceived. People desire peace, enjoy peace, and justify peace to make them morally at ease. Hence, the prince can always find "someone who will let himself be deceived" (p. 70). It is because people want to be deceived that they allow the ends to justify the means. In this sense, people are contradictory, enjoying the benefit of immoral or amoral deeds, but selfishly expecting only others to follow the moral virtue or at least pretend to do so.
Augustine and Machiavelli agree that humans have moral inclinations, but overall they still hold a dark view toward human nature. People have to sin in order to feel safe, just as pointed out by Augustine that "it was not the desire to do harm that made him so ferocious, but the necessity of preserving his own life" (p. 935). However, due to the presence of morality, people cannot feel truly happy when they have to sin. Thus, Augustine's people live miserably while Machiavelli's people deceive themselves. So the problem now becomes how human beings can attain and maintain peace and happiness in the real world. The fundamental difference between the two thinkers, that people sin because of self-love or self-interest, leads them to approach the answer toward different directions.
According to Augustine, citizens of the earthly city are sinful because they wrongly place themselves over God. Stating that evil is the absence of good (p. 477), Augustine believes only by bringing good back to human beings can they be alleviated from evil. However, true happiness cannot be realized on earth without the help of God (p. 919). Hence, Augustine introduces the two cities, the City of Men and the City of God (p. 632). True justice only exists in the City of God, and can only be realized after the end of the world. (p. 924) Like Machiavelli, Augustine states that "a commonwealth cannot be governed without injustice" (p. 77), and thinks that without justice, there is little difference between robbers and kingdoms (p. 147). But although citizens of earthly city wrongly live according to self, it is a remedy of evil. By unifying people into an association, some common agreement and laws are accepted, and people serve and are served from each other. (p. 938) Therefore, "by bringing suitable things suitably together" (p. 937), city is the only means to attain some peace under the condition of human's evil. But this is not the external solution.
Augustine thus bases his politics on love of God instead of justice, which makes him distinct from earlier political philosophers. Even a citizen of earthly city loves God as well, although he does not live according to Him. The two cities commingle because love of self and love of God are both present in human. The more one loves God, the more one belongs to the City of God. It is not justice but love that leads us to the External Good. Augustine does not base his politics on illusional justice, but on love, which makes his idea more realistic and applicable. Justice is present in perfect regimes, yet it is too weak to lead human toward virtue. But love of God is transcendent. Augustine admits the corruption of human nature, but he holds that love of God rather than self is the key of human existence. By loving God, human beings direct themselves to a higher loyalty. Peace between mortal man and God is an ordered obedience under an eternal law, while peace between men is an ordered agreement of mind with mind (p. 938). Hence man loves his neighbor and himself for the sake of God. He is commanded to love his neighbor as himself, and his neighbor will do so to him. In this way and only in this way eternal peace forms The Salvation is not performed by philosopher but by God.
However, Augustine's City of God may be considered impractical by Machiavelli, because he doubts that man can ever love his neighbor as much as he loves himself. The peace in the City of God requires commitment of every member of the society, while in the Prince, the peace of the principality relies on the imperium of the prince. Attributing human evil to the lust of body, which is by nature inherited, Machiavelli thinks that the prince needs to act according to the trend of people, and be manipulative, ferocious and deceitful. The nature of people is variable (p. 24). A prince needs to act like a lion and a fox (p. 69) so as to take control of everything, and thus keep peace within the city. Although these qualities seem evil, they are resulted from the evil human nature. The prince has to satisfy people with what he can afford while restrain their desire of what he cannot afford. Because they are self-driven, people are mostly untrustworthy and "love at their convenience" (p. 68). Although the prince who "founds on the people founds on mud" (p. 41), he has to rely on people, because only by doing this can he be safe. Hence, he has to be manipulative to keep people in need of him. But it is easy to persuade people but hard to keep the persuasion (p. 24). Therefore the prince needs force to keep his ruling. People requires the prince to act virtuously, but all good leads to ruin, so the prince has to pretend to be moral. The moral or immoral qualities of the prince are actually under the demand of the people, not because the prince intentionally wants to act so. Machiavelli does not give any image of a perfect city, because he does not believe human beings can ever be fully virtuous. He achieves his peace by lowering the moral standard.
Both Augustine and Machiavelli show pessimism in their view of human nature, judging people sinful and evil. However, because Augustine believes that humans are not evil by nature, but by the choice of soul, men can be purified by turning to God. Hence, Augustine's political philosophy tries to figure out a way to lead people toward God. Contrarily, Machiavelli thinks that due to the insatiable lust of body, men are by nature evil, which is imprinted on human nature. He thinks that men cannot be truly virtuous while defend themselves against the corruption of the world. So Machiavelli's political theory tries to strengthen the power of the prince so as to control people's desire. Therefore, the City of God is a book for all people, because peace in the Augustine's view requires commitment of all members of the society. But the Prince is not a book for everyone (p. 61), because in the Prince, peace depends on the virtue and tactic of the prince. Keeping the City of God with in a few readers or spreading the Prince to the society is not the writers' purpose. Blaming Machiavelli on teaching gangsters evil is unfair, for his theory itself is not dangerous, but it is the widespread of the Prince that makes it dangerous to mankind.
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