Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) still followed Machiavelli, but he wrote in reaction both to the modern project of technological progress through science (Bacon, Descartes, and the Enlightenment in general), and to the earlier state of nature political theorists, Hobbes and Locke. He was more concerned than all of them with morality; and he added legitimation to power as a great modern political theme (instead of the ancient themes of wisdom and virtue). In his First Discourse on the arts and Sciences Rousseau criticizes the idea that progress in scientific knowledge and technology automatically bring along with them progress in morals. As going from particular to universal, science weakens the citizens’ attachment to their particular country; as yielding useful products, it causes luxury which makes citizens soft, spoiled, and unwilling to sacrifice themselves for the good of their country. Continue reading

John Locke

“John Locke (1632-1704) follows Machiavelli by moderating the political philosophy of Hobbes. Power controlled by consent is also the central theme of the Second Treatise on Government; but the issue goes beyond just self-preservation as with Hobbes to comfortable self-preservation; not just staying alive but being well off. This shift in emphasis from mere life to the accumulation of property shows up in his version of the state of nature in which labor as giving the right to property and money as making unlimited accumulation of property possible are featured much more centrally. Continue reading

Niccolò Machiavelli

“Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the founder of modern thought who set out to overthrow the great tradition of ancient philosophy and theology in his work The Prince, which is apparently a book of practical advice for rulers, but really is meant to establish “new modes and orders” that will not be based on “imagined republics that have never been seen or known to exist in truth” but teaches the effectual truth of “learning to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity.” This is Machiavelli’s notorious realism: “For a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good.” Machiavelli takes his bearings from great Founders of states (e.g. Romulus, Moses) because in those cases the need for force and fraud (the lion and the fox) is plain. If what you need to do to acquire equipment for fame and glory (the highest good for Machiavelli) goes against virtue, too bad for virtue. Virtù (the cunning use of force and fraud to reach one’s aims) exercised for the good of the state replaces Christian or Greek ideas of virtue. Fortune (Machiavelli’s term for nature) comprises chance or opportunity in human and subhuman virtue, which Machiavelli compares to a woman who can be raped by anyone young and bold enough. Machiavelli opposes the role of religion and of the Papal states in keeping Italy disunited and Italians unpatriotic” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).