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Political Freedom According to Machiavelli and Locke Essay

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2021


Political freedom despite its imminent acceptance and popularity among so-called democratic countries has remained subjective and dependent on leaders. This paper shall try to delineate Niccolo Machiavelli’s and John Locke’s interpretation or ideological influence on political freedom.


According to Niccolo Machiavelli, the greatest moral good is a virtuous and stable state so that actions even if cruel, if intended to protect the country are justified. Leaders or state defenders must do anything necessary to keep their power but Machiavelli strongly suggests that above all, the prince must not be hated. He proposed that a wise prince or leader establish himself on where he has control and not in that of others. However, he also wrote that “It is best to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved,” (The Prince, Chapter __ ).

Although Machiavelli wrote the same subject matter in “The Prince” and “The Discourses”, these two differ totally in their entirety because they discuss and emphasize two different kinds of political systems. In “The Prince”, Machiavelli talked about and described power situations very well: from worldwide politics to business corporations to most settings where technological advancement, influence, and control exist.

He illustrated the rules of the game that has been utilized and always will exist for many situations involving selfish humans who are in constant competition for power. Machiavelli’s propositions cannot be easily categorized as good or bad because they are just describing a process. Machiavelli also stressed the need for a strong defense through sound laws and strong military forces.

Machiavelli’s “the end justifies the means” maxim is used to mean that a good outcome excuses any wrongs committed to attain it. In Chapter 17, his “it is better to be feared than loved” line is found. In this chapter, he explains that “It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.” (Machiavelli, 1950).

This entails that a leader, although professing what may be perceived as merciful, faithful, humane, frank, and religious, need not be such. His wisdom made him suppose that reality is full of evil and that a good leader must be able to discern that who is sincere and who is vicious, but not having to be obvious about his discernment or thoughts. At most, he must be always perceived as good but ready to be utterly cruel to defend his crown.

In Chapter V, as being summed up, Machiavelli proposes militaristic conquer and conquest as he wrote in The Prince, “When these things are remembered no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held the Empire of Asia, or at the difficulties which others have had to keep an acquisition, such as Pyrrhus and many more; this is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror, but by the want of uniformity in the subject state.”

“The Discourses” can be summarized with this line by Machiavelli (Chapter __) when he said that “the multitude is wiser and more constant than a prince.” In addition when he said that “a corrupt and disorderly multitude can be spoken to by some worthy person and can easily be brought around to the right way, but a bad prince cannot be spoken to by anyone, and the only remedy for his case is cold steel,” (Chapter __) portrays his serious and violent ways to end disputes but taking into consideration the citizenry’s essential existence in a world where it is impossible for a group to politically survive without a keen leader.

In the Second Treatise of Government, John Locke proposed “the greatest harm one can do to the monarch and the people is to spread wrong notions about government,” (Preface). Already, there is the presumption about Locke’s respect for all humans as born equal with the same ability to reason for themselves, and because of this, the government should have limitations to ensure that people are free from the arbitrary will of another person, according to the laws of nature. “Government is a social contract between the people in control, and the people who submit to it,” (Second Treatise, Chapter __). The positive point of Locke’s anti-authoritarianism is that he firmly adheres to using reason to try to grasp the truth. This, in turn, amounts to following natural law and the fulfillment of the divine purpose for humanity.

In Chapter 1, Locke emphasized that “political power to be a right to make laws – with the death penalty and consequently all lesser penalties – for regulating and preserving property, and to employ the force of the community in enforcing such laws and defending the commonwealth from external attack; all this being only for the public good.”

Here, Lock asserted that political power entails the right to make laws backed by the threat of force. At this point, his idea parallels with Machiavelli about the need for force. Locke’s belief that a right to hold political power by reference to one’s ancestry is also the same as Machiavelli as always, there is the threat of the enemy, outside force, or usurpation, and in this instance, leadership becomes a “fair game”.

Choosing or selecting leaders must not be by birthrights since it would cause chaos and would escalate to civil disorder. Everyone is bestowed with reason and free will that can be used according to conscience. According to Locke (1690, Chapter 1), “being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of Nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorize us to destroy one another.” Ultimately, the basis of freedom rests on the people’s power of reasoning which is God-given.

Locke also emphasized that “there are two distinct rights: (1) the right that everyone has, to punish the crime so as to restrain him and preventing such offenses in future; (2) the right that an injured party has to get reparation.” (Second Treatise, Chapter 2). However, preceding on this is his proposal that “It is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases because self-love will bias men in favor for themselves and their friends. And on the other side, hostility, passion, and revenge will lead them to punish others too severely. So nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that is why God has – as he certainly has – established government to restrain the partiality and violence of men.” (Chapter 2).


Machiavelli’s and Locke’s assertions on political freedom are parallel at some points but go the opposite way at other points. Both adhere to the necessity of freedom in all aspects, as it is the method of the way freedom is acquired. Machiavelli’s approaches to political freedom as something that should be acquired no matter what the cost made him different from Locke’s as Locke believes that leadership is bested on the will of the people.

Machiavelli, however, may be perceived as the more reliable and consistent of the two for a strong leader, who may not necessarily be good. Leaders whom Machiavelli calls princes can use options that vary from peaceful to violent in order to address issues that are relevant to the maintenance of a government. His propositions border on a militaristic approach to get and maintain power (as a prince or leader) with shrewdness always at hand.

On the other hand, Locke’s proposition is the soberer of the two as he certainly points out respect for life and will of even the subjects. His stand, however, could be subject to question as he subsequently debates on one proposition as when he posed that no one is allowed to question or control those who carry out his (the leader) wishes, and everyone has to put up with whatever he does, whether he is led b reason, mistake or passion.” (Second Treatise, Chapter 2)

Therefore, between Locke and Machiavelli, Locke focuses on the subjects to uphold a leader while Machiavelli focuses on strong leadership to protect his subjects, as well as maintain leadership.


Locke, John, and Thomas Preston Peardon. (1952). The Second Treatise of Government. New York: Liberal Arts Press.

Machiavelli, Niccolo (1950). The Prince and the Discourses. New York: Modern Library. Web.

Mansfield, Harvey (2001) New Modes and Orders, A study of the Discouses on Livy. University of Chicago.

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