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Machiavelli Aristotle Comparison
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Machiavelli and Aristotle's writings on man, The Prince and Nichomachean Ethics respectively, and the management thereof contain divergent ideas of how man should act and reason. They have a similar view of the end: greatness, but the means which the two philosophers describe are distinctly different. Machiavelli writes about man as mainly concerned with power and self-assertion, while Aristotle desires a society of individuals, of honorable men. An excess of the power seeking Machiavellians and an undeniable scarcity of genuine individuals have created a contemporary society so out of touch with its own humanity that it desperately needs an application of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics.
Modern-day society overflows with Machiavellianism; it is saturated with men primarily concerned with self-advancement even if it means compromise of their own views and sense of self. According to Machiavelli, the first priority of the prince was protection of power.
"If it will be seen that he laid solid foundations for his future power, and if his dispositions were of no avail, that was not his fault, but the extraordinary and extreme malignity of fortune,"
he describes, establishing clearly that the primary concern of a great man is his power and the future security thereof. Machiavelli writes that a Prince, faced with issues that might lose him his state and the support of its people, "may with less hesitation abandon himself to [the ideas advocated by] them." It is obvious that Machiavelli was no enemy of self-sacrifice and compromise. He believed strongly that "[men] will be successful who direct [their] actions according to the spirit of the times." This indicates a change in self interest, an abandonment of his individual views to conform to the perpetually changing times. The "times" are based simply upon the public opinion. An era is defined by popular culture, a derivative of public opinion. Therefore, Machiavelli advocates a Prince who adjusts according to public opinion. Someone who does such is seeking some kind of rise in the eyes of the public. To follow the popular views and to champion them is to seek greatness, but by a means that is not conducive to inner advancement. Men spend hours analyzing and absorbing the opinions of others in order to advance their social, economic, and political status in society, hours that are a total waste to the development of inner accomplishment and true innovation. It is because of such extensive self-deviation that Machiavelli's ideas are self-inhibitive, and that society needs a strong dose of Aristotelian ethics.
With men of the Machiavellian ilk being in excess comes a society lacking a distinctly individual population; it has few honorable men by the standards of Aristotle's writings about the proud man. Today, nearly all politicians conform to public opinion. Because most politics is based on representation, public opinion is typically what decides the opinions of men in charge. Additionally, most men tend to conform to the public opinion as well. The general public tends to swing together on issues, picking a side rather than developing their own individual ideas. Although there are people who develop opinions that cross the political spectrum, there are more people who blindly follow their political party and vote accordingly, never diverging from its ideals. Aristotle, however, advocated sheer integrity. He wanted men to display their individual views,
"for to conceal one's feelings, i.e. to care less for truth than for what people will think, is a coward's part."
It is clear that Aristotle did not want his society filled with people that can be easily molded one way or the other, but rather a society teeming with brilliant, thinking individuals who stand by their personal views and ignore trends that may develop. Men of this quality would be "concerned with honor on the grand scale." Some may suggest that this shows a lean of Aristotle's views towards Machiavellianism. However, honor is not always associated with great power or with public opinion. Aristotle dismisses this suggestion when he discusses vain men. He describes how they "wish their strokes of good fortune to be made public, and speak about them as if they would be honored for them." By establishing the vain man as someone who gets their form of honor from the public, he indirectly suggests that the proud man is one whose honor is seen through his own eyes. Society today does not see things in such a way; people feel the need for acceptance from those that surround them. Such needs inhibit the value and productivity of a man's life, and hence inhibit societal advancement. Society can improve greatly upon itself by leaning in the direction of Aristotelian ethics, because such ideals can reduce blind devotion to political parties and catalyze individual thinking and accordingly leading to true advancement.
The political and social writings of Machiavelli and Aristotle carry two different views of society and man's means to greatness. While Machiavelli describes an ideal society as run by a power hungry prince who conforms to the standards of public opinion, Aristotle advocates an individualistic society based on advancement through self-accomplishment. Modern society, having a surplus of the power seeking Machiavellians and an absence of genuine individuals, needs application of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics for true advancement to take place.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. The Internet Classics Archive. 4 Oct. 2007.
Machiavelli, Nicolo. The Prince. Constitution Society. 4 Oct. 2007 .