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Virtue in Thomas More and Niccolo Machiavelli

This study will compare the views of both political and private virtue expressed by Thomas More in Utopia and Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince. The study will argue that More presents virtue as a largely ideal set of behaviors for both the public and the private man, based on conventional and religious standards, with socialistic elements included with respect to the abolishment of private property as a requisite for the social order needed for the practice of such virtue. More's views on virtue reflect a generally positive view of human nature, although he is worldly enough to know that human beings are likely not perfectible in this world. For the practice of the virtue he advocates, he must believe that human beings, while flawed, are capable of virtuous behavior if social conditions are favorable. Machiavelli, on the other hand, in both public and private matters, advocates the most ruthless behavior necessary for the leader who wishes to maintain power in a world in which human nature is itself selfishly ruthless and without virtue. Virtue to Machiavelli is whatever action is required by the leader in dealing with threats from within or without. Whereas More bases his concept of virtue on a positive view of human nature, Machiavelli sees human and political relationships as rooted in selfishness, requiring the most pragmatic, amoral or immoral behavior.

In delineating the requirements of leadership, Machiavelli is concerned only with the maintenance of power, rather than with any ethical consideration. Machiavelli, based on the ideas in this book, would have honored Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and Stalin equally, because they were able to maintain power, though in different ways and in different political systems. Machiavellian ideas are at work in democracies as well as in tyrannies, for Machiavelli does not simply advocate brute force as the only or primary tool of the leader, but instead argues for persuasion--includin...

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