Plato-Machiavelli Comparison

Danielle Butler October 16, 2011 English 101/ O. C #2-Machiavelli Though often presented as two ideological opposites, personally I find there to be a lot more similarities between Plato and Machiavelli than usually acknowledged. Obviously there are some sharp contrasts. If one examines the excerpts from Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Plato’s “The Republic”, it’s easy to conclude that Plato believed it to be essential for a government leader to be just, good, and free from corruption.
Whereas Machiavelli’s ideal ruler is less concerned about morality, and more about shrewdness, awareness, and pragmatism.. That being said, ultimately both men arrive to the same conclusion all be it through different means; that a ruler’s primary objective is to create and maintain a unified, orderly, and controlled state, with a content population.
When it comes to humanity, Machiavelli is considered pessimistic, due to his less than glowing expectations for the nature of man, as he clearly states “ For one can generally say this about men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, greedy for gain.. ” (46). While Machiavelli’s opinion of men in general leaves little to be questioned, I find Plato’s generalized idealism to be far more dubious. In the Republic, it appears that Plato’s optimisms about human nature, and capability does not extend to everyone, asserting that many people are better off being ruled by “better men”.


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In book 9 Socrate’s states to Glaucon “Tharsymacus did in the case of subjects, that the slave should be governed by his own harm, but on the ground that it is better to be governed by the divine and the intelligent preferably indwelling and his own, but in default of that imposed from without, in order that we all so far as possible may be akin and friendly because our governance and guidance are the same? ” (Plat. Rep. 9. 590d) Both Machiavelli and Plato also recognize that generally, most people of the populace are easily manipulated by their senses.
Plato illustrates that in his “allegory of the cave”. Machiavelli makes it clear that he feels this shortcoming to be advantageous for the “prince”, and it should be exploited when need be, as he states “ he (the prince) should appear, upon seeing him and hearing him, to be all mercy, all faithfulness , all integrity, all kindness, all religion. And there is nothing more necessary than to seem to possess this last quality. And men in general judge more by their eyes than their hands; for everyone can see but few can feel. ” (49).
While many may chide Machiavelli’s approach as disingenuous and manipulative, which it plainly is, how much does this tactic differ from Plato’s suggestions? In the Republic, Plato suggests that society must be persuaded by a “noble lie” to unify the citizens and deepen their allegiance to their community as Socrates states “How, then, said I, “might we contrive one of those opportune falsehoods of which we were just now speaking, “so as by one noble lie to persuade if possible the rulers themselves, but failing that the rest of the city? “What kind of a fiction do you mean? ” said he. “Nothing unprecedented,” said I, “but a sort of Phoenician tale,something that has happened ere now in many parts of the world, as the poets aver and have induced men to believe, but that has not happened and perhaps would not be likely to happen in our day and demanding no little persuasion to make it believable. ”

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