Thomas More’s Utopia and Machiavelli’s The Prince are both concerned with the
fundamental issues of how society works in hand with virtue in order to maintain itself. The goals behind the two works, however, differ considerably. The aim of Utopia is to exemplify the maintenance of a perfect society (More 1516, p. 32) and the goal of The Prince is to instruct a prince, or ruler, on how to sustain his state (Machiavelli 1532, Chapter 16). From the exterior, these two goals may seem similar but the difference lies in the way the authors handle the appropriation of virtue. The Prince treats virtue as a necessity in order to hold power, a goal, to be worked towards and maintained, almost at all costs whilst Utopia, although a work of fiction, treats virtue as something all individuals have, defining them more as being empowered by such a force (Hexter 1964, p. 960). By comparing the way both works use and treat point of view and form, political systems and ideals the differences in perspective on the understanding of virtue become progressively clear.
Machiavelli’s view of political nature examines a view of governing markedly different to how states were governed during that time period. Machiavelli believed that The Prince should be the sole authority who determines every aspect of the state’s political landscape and enact a policy which would serve in the best interest of The Prince himself (Ball 1984, p.525). According to Ball (1984, p.525) this entire concept is one which delineates a new meaning of the understanding of virtue, with the principal concern being the establishment of a powerful political system. Machiavelli states, that in order to maintain hold on the political establishment, the ruler must abandon prior moral thinking (Ball 1984, p.526). For Machiavelli, a ruler who deliberates outside of the moral framework, is one that will succeed in maintaining power. This understanding of total control does suggest disregard for virtue, but Machiavelli argues for The Prince to not base political philosophy on Christian virtues and rather a similar concept (Machiavelli 1532, Chapter 16). Rather, Machiavelli states that the Prince must learn to be not good. By this Machiavelli does not mean that the prince must learn to be evil, but that he should, in his role as prince, unlearn the Christian virtues, replacing these virtues of another variety entirely (Parel 1990, p. 537). These clearly political or princely virtues Machiavelli defined by the single word, ‘virtu’ (Hexter 1964, p. 954).
Machiavelli’s ‘virtu’ presents as a role-playing concept and more than an inherent quality as it can be seen to be manipulated to fit specific situations or attain certain goals. The idea of ‘virtu’ are qualities which any good ruler should possess, such as deliberately keeping secrets and a flair for the violent when political ideologies are challenged (Shklar 1982, p. 86). Whilst this whole concept of ‘virtu’ is a paradox, possessing such qualities and...