Machiavelli: The First Modern Man

Secularism in Government

Dante, Marsiglio and Machiavelli were instrumental to restoring secularism in government through their philosophies and writing. Machiavelli in particular should be considered the first modern man because of his revolutionary view of the state, and its relation with other states and the church. Dante carefully suggested a separation between church and state by stating that the authority of the monarch comes from God directly, not from the church. Also, Marsiglio wrote in In Defender of the Peace that the state is the most comprehensive and unified human community. Further more, he stated that the state was superior to the church (Luther Seminary). Machiavelli closed and completed this thought process by defining human nature, applying it to politics while clearly showing that the state is superior to the church. Because of Machiavelli’s completion of these ideas and his drive for nationalism, he influenced the political world in a way that no other modern political thinker could be credited with.


Niccol di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (3 May 1469 21 June 1527)

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Machiavelli takes a revolutionary step in viewing mankind and political systems in its least ideal nature. Unlike previous philosophers and commentators on humanity and government, he does not seek to create an ideal society that might be, but rather seeks to define human nature at is most basic level and define the motivations and means by which to control and govern it. One may not like the pessimistic view of mankind that Machiavelli portrays, but his approach is a drastic, and even positive, change from those who came before. He makes no apologies for teach how to have power and maintain it. Recognizing the base motivations or “depraved nature” of humanity is the obtaining and maintaining power over society (Deutsch 194). He defines human nature as having a need for power over others. Since this is a motivation, a ruler should not be afraid to use this motivation and should not be afraid to do all that is necessary to maintain his power. The willingness to acknowledge this selfishness within man does not make one any less. When a ruler or government recognizes this characteristic of humanity, it enables that entity to stay in power and to rule effectively. What is more, by recognizing that power that same governmental entity can prevent such wrongful things from happen thus fulfilling the role of protecting its citizen’s rights.

The First Modern Nationalism

Machiavelli primary influence and what makes him the First Modern Man is his drive for nationalism. He pushed for this to such an extent in his works that one cannot help but see that his country is his passion. On the subject of the military, soldiers and mercenaries he said that without love of one’s own land as a motivation for fighting, that mercenary troops were useless in battle (Deutsch 204). Machiavelli saw the state of Italy torn by city states and factions and this was a great pain to him. Further more, the meddling of the Catholic church hardened him against religion to the point of viewing it as a competitor of national pride. Some people have questioned his “piety” and whether he was atheist or a sort of reformed Christian. The debate has been heated over the centuries on this subject, but one thing is clear, Machiavelli’s disapproval of the policies and behaviors of the Catholic church at his time is very evident from is writings. [T]he evil example of the Court of Rome has destroyed all piety and religion in Italy, which brings in its train infinite improprieties and disorders; for as we may presuppose all good where religion prevails, so where is is wanting we have the right to suppose the very opposite. We Italians then owe to the Church of Rome and the her priests’ our having become irreligious and bad (Deutsch 210-211).Based of what Machiavelli said above, one can conclude that he is not opposed to religion as such, but rather to religion’s involvement in politics. Further evidence of this comes forth when he puts blame on the Catholic church for the divided nature of Italy during his lifetime. He claimed that the church was not powerful enough to exert control over all of Italy and yet powerful enough to prevent such a unity from coming to fruition, this weakening Italy in a potentially lethal way. He wanted the church to choose one realm, the spiritual, or the other, earthly government, but not both. One could say he was throwing Biblical script in the face of the church by implying that the Church was serving two masters. This combined with his works pushed the necessity for the church not only to be separate from the state but also for the church to be subservient to the state. Two good example of this taking place which are quite unique form each other would be Henry the VIII and the Church of England as one, while the other would be religion in the United States today, where religious groups are not above the law and there is no state religion. The first example allows for the church to be used as a tool of nationalism, while the second allows for the church not to be a hindrance to nationalism.


A Clarification

In making this point, I am not arguing for further separation of church and state. Rather I argue that the state should not being dictated to or be controlled by religion (as in Machiavelli’s time)is a bad thing! Nor should the opposite be true of the state controlling the religion. Faith is a good thing, not a bad thing, so long as one’s faith allows other to practice their faith without harm that other person.


Because of Machiavelli’s drive for nationalism and his push to share his ideas and theories with the world; the world as we know it has changed drastically. The possibility of a Church of the United States of America (a rather long winded name, but possible based off of the fact that there is a Church of England, Scotland etc) is frightening prospect. As we see today there are nations that do mix church and state such as Iran, and yet we also see nations that have moved from this modal towards a more secular approach such as Great Britain and modern Italy. This would make Machiavelli smile one would think. Machiavelli was the pebble that started the rock slide that made Church and State separate and allowed for the development of our modern political climate. So here is the Machiavelli, the First Modern Man, the man who started it all.

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Secular vs. Religious Morality

The Foundations of Faith:

While I may expand on this in greater depth in a future hub, I need to point out the fundamental flaw in religious morality when it comes to Christianity specifically. Christians use faith as an escape-clause that allows them to not deal with blatant discrepancies within their own belief system. When their beliefs are questioned or threatened either internally or from an external source, the bottom line often comes down to faith. They claim over and over again that faith is the reason they believe, and that if things don’t necessarily make sense, they don’t really have to. After all, god knows best. All they have to do as followers (see sheep) is to have faith that god is in control. The rest is out of their hands. This logic is foundationally flawed in and of itself because Christian faith is based on one of two possibilities.

1. Faith out of Fear:

A lot of Christians cling to their religious ideology for one reason, and one reason alone. Despite the evidence to the contrary, despite the conversations they’ve had repeatedly, despite the billions of other god claims out there in the world, they believe in the god of the bible out of fear. They fear the consequences of what will happen to them if they don’t.

While the days of the inquisition are long past and it’s no longer tantamount to a death wish to disagree with a tenant of church doctrine, fear has never ceased to be the main tactic used by televangelists, pastors, priests and Sunday school teachers for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Sure, modern Christianity no longer rips people away from their homes and their family, subjects them to torture of all shapes and sizes and ultimately burns them at the stake for having an unpopular or heretical idea – but the psychological aspect of fear is still present. You hear it in nearly every conversation you have with a believer. The psychological fear is ingrained from a very young age and it never goes away, as long as you remain in the faith.

This is abundantly clear when you stop to consider Pascal’s wager – whenever a Christian asks a non-believer “what if you’re wrong?”.

Of course the fear that I’m talking about is in reference to hell. If you don’t believe in the Christian god and you don’t try to do everything he commands, then you’re going to burn in hell forever. All you need to have to prove that the fundamental concept of Christianity is an immoral system is the concept of hell. There is no crime on this earth that deserves a sentence of eternal torment – especially if you live a good life and your only crime is to use the brain that god supposedly gave you and refuse to believe baseless claims that simply have no evidence.

You cannot have a moral, omnibenevolent deity that needs to create a hell to punish people who refuse to acknowledge or worship him. A god that would do that is simply immoral. He’s a dictator, a totalitarian tyrant, and he’s simply not a god that is worthy of praise or worship. If god’s ultimate goal was for everyone to go to heaven, why create hell at all?

Ironically, the god of the Old Testament never talks about hell. Most Jews (at least depending on the sect) don’t believe in a heaven or hell that is commonly believed by their later cousins the Christians. Jews believe in a place called Sheol, where all souls go after death that is neither specifically a punishment nor reward. Later traditions clarified this point and acquiesced to the idea of a purgatory of sorts where less-than-perfect souls can go to be purified. Only the most evil, horrific people on earth, however, would be left to suffer forever. The rest would ultimately undergo their purgatory and eventually ascend to heaven to be with god.

Christianity is the only religion that I know of that believes in an eternal hell that will swallow up and torture every single person who does not accept Jesus as the savior. Even Islam’s hell is temporary for most of the people who end up there, with exceptions made for the purely evil. Not only do Christians believe in an eternal lake of fire hell where nonbelievers are doomed to spend eternity, according to one of Jesus’ own teachings, Christians will be able to look down into hell and view the suffering of their friends and family members who didn’t make the cut. I imagine it’s going to be heavenly entertainment for when the singing and praising the name of god gets old. I wonder if they’ll serve popcorn.

If the god of the bible is truly as loving, merciful and forgiving as Christians like to claim, no one would go to hell. It’s a Christian idea that the decision has to be made prior to your death as well. For me personally, I don’t think I would choose heaven – even in the afterlife. I cannot fathom worshiping a being who gave me the mind that I have – but would condemn me forever for using it. That being does not deserve my worship – in this life or the next.

2. The Promise of Reward:

As if the fear of hell wasn’t enough to convince simple-minded people to follow god, they’re also promised a reward if they do. The New Testament (which is just as immoral as the old, btw, if not WORSE due to the hell concept, the idea of substitutionary atonement and the belief that persecution and suffering are not only necessary but something to be thankful for) is full of the promise of heaven where all of god’s good little children go, while the rest of us are going to be burned alive forever. Heaven is described in multiple places, but doesn’t really explain what eternity there will be like.

If Christians accept Christ and do their best to follow his rules, they’ll get to go there, though, and there will be harps and singing and angels and more singing and they’ll get a front row seat for the apocalypse as the rest of the evil world falls into chaos and eventually implodes. Talk about an improvement to IMAX! The surround sound has got to be incredible. And hey, if that gets boring, they can always pop over to the edge of heaven so they can watch the suffering of their loved ones in hell. Hopefully, heaven has marshmallows. That’s going to be one hell (no pun intended) of a bonfire.

I once spent a lot of time with a Muslim family when I was in my second year of college. At the time, I was only just beginning to question my Christian upbringing, and I was discussing religion with my friend’s father, who was devoutly into Islam and the teachings of Mohamed. We were sitting around the dinner table, and I thanked him for being so polite, kind and understanding to let me share their meal. He turned and looked at me and said “Allah commands me to be nice to you”. I’ll never forget that moment my entire life. Does that mean he really wanted to wring my neck and throw me out of the house, but Allah was physically restraining him? Was it that hard to be nice to someone of another faith?

Secular Morality:

Regardless of where you believe morals innately come from, the idea that you behave in a good way to either achieve a celestial reward or to avoid eternal suffering is grossly immoral. Not to mention the fact that the Bible is hardly the “good book” it claims to be. It’s full of genocide, sacrifice, murder, mayhem, slavery, rape, incest, not taking accountability for your own shortcomings and much, much more. This is a book that is given (in its entirety) to children. This is supposedly the holy word of god, and it’s fundamentally EVIL.

I don’t need to read a 2-3000 year old book to tell me that it’s wrong to kill someone. I don’t need a book to tell me that cheating on my spouse is not a good thing. Just because I’m an atheist doesn’t mean that I go out raping, pillaging and killing people because I have no morals without the Bible. The thought is ridiculous to an extreme, but it’s unfortunately not that uncommon.

A lot of believers find it impossible to accept that morality is something innate in the human species and that it doesn’t exist because of a bronze age set of rules (that they also want to chuck right out the window if they claim that the Old Testament somehow doesn’t count anymore because they were caught not following the law) says so. The fact of the matter is that many of the “10 Commandments” existed long before the Jewish people did, and they’re hardly unique to the Jews. In fact, early records put parts of the 10 commandments hundreds of years before the Jews were around. They’re simply basic human principles.

You don’t have to think too hard to understand the principles for an overall morality. You see evidence of it in the animal kingdom, so it’s not something that is strictly exclusive to human beings. Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Wolves, Dolphins, Whales and other high-brained animals all exhibit some forms of societal morals, and it’s for the same reason that humans do. As humans evolved, they recognized that survival was much more likely if they came together as groups. In order to function as a group, certain things had to be understood. Basic human morality stems from the idea of avoiding harm and collectively focuses on the good of the group instead of the will of an individual. The idea of individual property that belonged to one specific person didn’t evolve until much, much later. The tribe communally owned things and shared them as needed with others. They didn’t kill each other because they depended on each other for their very lives. The infant mortality rate was so high in some areas that they avoided intentionally killing children. It’s the foundation of human morality completely separated from the concept of an overpowering god. God simply did not create human morality – humans created religious morality – and ironically the laws attributed to god tended to follow the customs that were already in practice by the people who dictated them, and they demonized the behavior of that particular culture’s territorial enemies. Isn’t that ironic?



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