Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present. Machiavelli’s ideas about human nature are encapsulated in his most famous work The Prince. He reinforces the conception that human nature is malicious and he regards humans as the most pernicious creature on the surface of the earth.
For example, the following text from chapter XVII manifests his ideas about human nature comprehensively; “Men in general … are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger, and covetous of gain; as long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours,” but their “love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose. ” (p. 61) He believes that human nature is unsettled and unpredictable as it changes according to the needs of the individuals.
He says that it is easy to win over them over a specific issue but the real dilemma is to cling them to that persuasion. (VI) Furthermore, he is of the view that men are true and innocent by compulsion; otherwise their true nature is inclined toward falsehood. (XXIII, p. 89) He attribute above-mentioned label of falsehood to the majority and says that “[a] man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. (XV, p. 56)
He further says; While you [the prince] do them good, they are yours, offering you their blood, property, lives, and children…when the need for them is far away; but, when it is close to you, they revolt. And that prince who has founded himself entirely on their words, stripped of other preparation, is ruined. ” (p. 66). Machiavelli’s conception does not depict him as a psychological egoist who believes in the acute distrust about goodness of human nature.
His major concern is o derive the sketch of a political person in the light of contemporary political milieu. Italy’s unstable political condition further augmented his own experience and observation. Machiavelli’s conception of human nature is not all encompassing as he takes into account a limited perspective and only draws his conclusion about human nature from a restricted sphere of politics of power and conflict. But his misconceived notions about human nature serve his political purpose in an effective way.
For example he says “as [men] are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them. ” (XVIII, p. 64) These views were in accordance with the vested interests of the rulers to whom Machiavelli counseled. Due to this conception of human nature he says, “Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present. Although Machiavelli’s presented a distorted version of human nature to serve his own interest but it carries certain truth about humans too. But his assumptions that these low traits are inherent in human nature do not contain any authenticity or elaborated arguments. Man possesses honor, generosity, courage, and piety in good times but in totally malignant in bad times. He himself illustrates the variance in human nature due to changing circumstances.