Grace, Free Will, And Human Nature

1303 words - 6 pages

When the Renaissance dawned over Europe’s Dark Ages, half a millennium of intellectual thought, long unchallenged, found new opponents on all sides. Aided by the printing press, fresh ideas in science, art, and religion spread freely across the Western World, falling under the scrutiny of an ever-expanding population of the literate. With this widespread intellectual excitement came greater individualism, more celebration of human achievement, and stronger focus on the secular world—a major shift from the heaven-focused outlook of the Middle Ages, in which people felt they were little more than the feeble playthings of fate. But are human beings really capable of good? Are they able to ...view middle of the document...

He then explains that with the proper preparation, fate can be held at bay, and he provides an example of a river that often floods. Although nothing can be done when the flood has already come, the calamity can be prevented altogether if dikes and dams are built up in strategic places beforehand (Machiavelli 85). In this chapter, he also mentions that, in general, men are successful when their methods are suited to the circumstances. Therefore, if a man can become flexible enough to know when his usual methods will not work, he will have more power to navigate changing situations (Machiavelli 85-86).
The attitude presented in The Prince brings up an interesting paradox: although Machiavelli champions the free will and cunning of the elite prince, he seems to hold the autonomy of the masses in low esteem, assuming throughout his book that mankind in general is selfish, simple, and fickle—the opposite of the cool, calculating prince that Machiavelli idealizes. In fact, almost all his advice to the aspiring leader seems to be based on a completely pessimistic view of human nature, perhaps because Machiavelli thinks it safest to assume the worst. For example, on page 59, he writes, “For this may be said of men generally: they are ungrateful, fickle, feigners and dissemblers, avoiders of danger, eager for gain.” He goes on to say that, to prevent his people’s hatred, all a prince needs to do is avoid seizing their property or their women (Machiavelli 59). The reader is also cautioned that though it is best to be both loved and feared, to be feared is better, since men only love when it is convenient for them but are always afraid of punishment (Machiavelli 59). In Machiavelli’s view, humans en masse will do no good, but extraordinary individuals can gain success through exercise of their own faculties.
Erasmus shares this elitist and negative view of human nature. On page 560, he says, “mankind is lazy, indolent, malicious, and, in addition, incorrigibly prone to every impious outrage…People are universally ignorant and carnal-minded. They tend towards wickedness, unbelief, and blasphemy. There is no sense in pouring oil upon the fire.” The oil to which Erasmus refers here is the idea which, in his discussion on free will, he is refuting—namely, Luther’s claim that humans can do no good without the grace of God working through them, and that God has already chosen who He will and will not save. Erasmus argues that even if this is true, it is to be discussed only privately between scholars and not before the common people, because it will make them...

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