Sunday, 8 May 2011

Thomas More and Machiavelli

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More and Machiavelli both had to experience a time when people were under the rule of a monarchy. Their experience with people were both bad but their opinions were very different. Machiavelli felt that people were born bad and stayed that way. More felt that people were born good and later corrupted by others. Their opinions showed through their writings. More’s book seems delusional and very wishful while Machiavelli has accepted the way society really was to his. Machiavelli’s book was definitely more insightful than More’s.

More’s Utopia deals with the problems that he sees in England. Utopia is an imaginary society where people have designed the best society they could conceive of with the use of natural reason. However, they have been denied the truths of divine law. More did not agree with everything that Utopian society advocated. More seems to be creating a society which is significantly better, more ideal than his own, yet not the absolute best.

Machiavellis aim in The Prince is to tell the new rulers how to remain in power once they have gained it. The best way is to rule well. If this is not possible, then Machiavelli presents a variety of stratagems for remaining in power. His focus in The Prince is on monarchies. He describes those virtues which, on face value, we think a prince should possess. He tried to gain the favor of the Medici by writing a book of what he thought were the Medicis goals and dedicating it to them. And so The Prince was written for that purpose.

The reason that Utopia seems to fall short of a sensible book is that it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Literary scholars keep trying to figure out why Thomas More wrote Utopia. Utopia is saturnalian. It satirically turns custom upside down, so that in our own world we see the pompous altitude of custom in its arbitrariness. Utopia is not an ideal society so much as a comic one. More did not intend for us to live in Utopia, but because his true reason for writing Utopia is unknown some have tried to live as close to the book as possible.

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Machiavelli placed great faith in the value of a citizens republic which accorded with human nature. The people wondered how cruel a man could be to think evil thoughts like the ones in The Prince. He referenced consequences rather than taking an absolute line on what is right or wrong. Machiavelli draws lessons from the power plays of history and his own observation. He reflects on how things actually are rather than offering a wish list of ideal. He reflects that those who seek to act virtuously in all things are undone by those how are not virtuous.

Because Machiavelli was writing for a purpose, The Prince was real and to the point. While More was also writing for a purpose, it was not curtain what issues was troubling his the most. So, we say it was society in general that he was trying to improve with Utopia. This unreal view of a world that does not exist does not seem like the words of a wise man. Because of the way I view the world, Machiavelli was a wiser man in his writing.

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