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Iotism and Human Nature in Machiavelli

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Abstract:

Machiavelli put a premium on patriotism. But the notion of love of country, with the altruism and self-sacrifice it presupposes, is at first glance irreconcilable with the inexorable anthropological pessimism that informs his political theory. Was Machiavelli egregiously inconsistent? The question has a fundamental bearing on his political teaching. Examining Machiavelli's concepts of human nature and patriotism within his overall view of politics, society and history, this paper argues that he conceived of patriotism primarily in terms of readiness to self-restraint rather than readiness to self-sacrifice. Patriotism in Machiavelli is a force passive and limited enough to conform with human nature. By the same token, patriotism thrives in a political unit when the selfish passions that thwart it are satisfied, and they are best satisfied at the expense of other political units. Thus, patriotism in Machiavelli partakes of wicked human nature. But precisely for this reason it can offset some of human nature's destructive elements and help men to attain social ends. Machiavelli's patriotism, in the end, offers a redemption of sorts.

Keywords: Aggression; Altruism; Ambition; Anthropological pessimism; Conflict; Egoism; Equality; Factionalism; Human nature; Liberty; Love of country; Machiaevlli; Patriotism; Unity

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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