Both Aristotle and Machiavelli were the political thinkers who came up with different thoughts about the current political systems that were capable of governing nations. Aristotle (384- 322BC) lived long before Machiavelli came on the scene. He was born within a small geographical region of Greece, known as Thrace, in the locality of Stagira. He studied under the renowned teacher, Plato, and formed a way of thinking that is the forerunner of the Western ideological thought systems. To Aristotle, the basic objective of any government was to assist its citizens in living meaningful and productive lives. He basically believed that all humanity is possessed of an inherent ability to recognize good. Humanity also has the ability to implement this good in people’s lives. Machiavelli, on the other hand, did not support humanity in such high esteem. He believed that the aim of any government should be to preserve their power at all costs. He would demonstrate his beliefs when he wrote a popular best seller in order to curry favor with a Prince, and thus, elevate his own rank in the Court.
Political thinks of Aristotle
Aristotle, as a Greek citizen, did not believe in the equality of all citizens. Women in the ancient Greece did not hold similar positions as men in society. Neither did slaves and any male individuals who did not own a substantial amount of property. Aristotle, however, believed that all the people in Greece who could be considered as citizens should support the State in all functions. He also believed that the civic virtue had no bearing whatsoever or relation to the personal virtue. Aristotle firmly believed that a character that was morally deficient concerning the personal ethics, could be a stalwart worker in occupations that had to do with the state. For Machiavelli, citizens existed to support the shenanigans that the current ruler. Given the fact that Machiavelli extolled leaders to desire to be feared, rather than loved, it is not unexpected that he had little use for the normal citizenry.
Ideas of Machiavelly
Machiavelli also openly encouraged the use of arms by the leaders in order to affix their influence in their respective States. In comparison to today’s governments, both types of thought are left wanting because of the exclusion of a significant portion of society. Niccolo Machiavelli may have named the support of the people as an important part of the leader’s work. However, this was due to devious reasons, rather than ethically acceptable ones. He pointed out that, if a leader did not acquire support from his peoples, he would not have soldiers to die for him in war. He would also not been able to conquer the new territories for himself. He exhorted rulers to pretend to have virtues, other than actively seeking support from people, because it was easier to fake one’s virtues.
Machiavelli believed that all people born on earth are naturally conniving and heartless. He believed that the loyalties of citizens were dependent on the current favorites or the people who seemed popular. As soon as they fell out of popularity, he believed that the public opinion would turn against them for no other reason, and that they would be as reviled, as they were once revered. It, therefore, went unsaid that rulers needed to consolidate their power by all means necessary, in order to save their own reigns. Machiavelli was borne in 1469 in Italy and later became a governmental adviser of the infamous Borgia family. He witnessed a lot of back stabbing and infighting among Italy’s more prominent families as they struggled to be the controllers of their principalities, as well as those of their neighbors. Out of this conflict, he came to the conclusion that it does not pay for ‘good’ and ethical leaders to maintain ethical morals within a structure, such as government. He postulated that the most longstanding kings were those who did whatever was necessary, in order to hold onto their political authority.
Difference in ideas of Aristotle and Machiavelli
Though, to some extent, he was merely pointing out some of the realities he had witnessed around him, the authorities were not ready to hear this truth, and he was excommunicated. For Nicollo Machiavelli, the end justified the means in any situation. He famously asserted that the pretense to virtue was more important than the actual existence of that virtue. Though, Machiavelli’s exhortations sound too cruel, Aristotle’s way of seeing things politically may contain similar ideas of visiting people whom the Greek state did not consider as citizens. These included women and slaves. Aristotle neglects to mention the unfairness that was visited on these marginalized groups of society, but the lives they were subjected to are similar to those they would suffer from a Machiavelli like king.
In ancient Greece, women did not feature in political thought. The extent of their contribution to the political intrigues of the time was restricted to bearing numerous sons for their powerful husbands. They also were not given the opportunity to select their own spouses, but were to agree to the spouses selected for them by their fathers. They remained in separate tents that their menfolk would visit, when it suited them. This disregard for other groups of people shows that the rules that Aristotle believed should be upheld for both the ideas of government and citizens were as ruthless, as those of Machiavelli. In ancient governments, the only voting citizens whose opinions could be considered were men who had amassed a lot of wealth.
This meant that the opportunity for governance was largely determined by luck, as well as educational stature. Having a good education would assist a man to convince others of the legality of his opinions. Acquiring an education, however, was also dependent on wealth, because one had to be born in a wealthy family in order get an education. The subjects of governments are unlucky enough to have been born poor. All female citizens are also automatically disqualified from the positions of power at birth. The challenge in interpreting and comparing the views of Machiavelli and Aristotle lies in the fact that both lived in different times.
Machiavelli wrote before the emergence of the nation states. He may have envisaged the coming integration of power that would challenge the power and practices of the church and end up in a more confederate Italy. The small principalities of Italy had few allies at the time, and so, it was expedient for them to do whatever was necessary, in order to survive and thrive. The machinations expounded upon by Machiavelli were to ensure that the small principalities would endure and exist, so that when the time came to unite, they would be capable of coming together. Aristotle’s opinions were written at a time of prosperity and power. It was necessary for those Greek city states to maintain their brotherly existence with each other. This was a necessary condition for their continued existence.
Hence, there was the need to keep proceeding in the direction of the good, rather than the most opportunistic political systems. Machiavelli may be viewed as cynical and anti-Christian, but, unfortunately, the thoughts that he espoused are commonly used by many leaders, even in today’s society (Aristotle, Saunders & Sinclair, 1981). He fearlessly confronts the false virtues espoused by many leaders by out-rightly calling for the implementation of narcissistic values in the leadership. He also supplies helpful insights in to the workings of powerfulness. Many leaders do not readily acknowledge the values (or lack of values) that it takes to form and control a successful government. Machiavelli exposed the system for the public consumption, so that it could be revised or embraced.
Both Aristotle and Machiavelli believed that a government could degenerate into corruption, if ruled by unworthy principals. They also both held that a ruler has to protect the natural resources for the use of the entire population. Both Aristotle and Machiavelli believed that a ruler had to leave his people alone, if he wanted to retain his popularity. Interfering with his subjects would be tantamount to interfering with the private lives of the citizens.
These two principals have several areas in which they do not agree. Aristotle believed that the middle class was capable of producing the most competent leaders, because they did not have the naked ambition of the rich or the desperation of the poor. Machiavelli, on the other hand, staunchly believed that the rich were the only citizens entitled to the power. He emphasized his point by giving examples of monarchical leaders of his time who were thought to be exemplary. Aristotle would not have embraced the belief that it is better to be feared than to be loved, because such a policy would encourage cruelty in rulers and would result in the unhappiness of the subjects. This would inhibit the people from expressing diversities of opinions that were necessary in order for an open consensus to be reached. It is obvious that Machiavelli would have made a cunning and strict leader, while Aristotle would be more accommodating of the opinions of those people whom his society identified as citizens.