A comparison of the views of J.J. Rousseau and Machiavelli on legislator of the state

Essay 2012 5 Pages

Politics - Political Theory and the History of Ideas Journal


The character and role of the legislator in a perfect type of government are common themes in the thought of two of the great minds in Western philosophy: Machiavelli, who wrote during the Renaissance era and Jean Jacques Rousseau, who wrote during the enlightenment. One can find both differences and similarities on both of the two thinkers’ ideas they used for describing the ideal legislator. They both argue that authority should not rest in the hand of just one man, but both give different reasons for this. Machiavelli says that ‘many should remain in charge of the state’ in order to guarantee stability and make it last long because otherwise there will be whether ‘tyranny’ or ‘anarchy’; Rousseau believes that ‘the legislator’ should not be the sole authority and should not be granted any legislative right in order protect ‘the general will’ of the people, because otherwise the legislator would ‘be tempted to act according to his ‘private will’ and destroy the ‘common will’ (Machiavelli 2012, p.356 & Rousseau 2012, p.572).

In order to realize the differences and similarities between what these two thinkers think of as the best legislator and best form of government, one should develop a better understanding of what Rousseau and Machiavelli put emphasis on in their writings about these issues. With this aim in mind, this paper will try to compare and contrast the ideas of Rousseau and Machiavelli on the topic of ‘the role and character of the legislator on government’. The essay will begin by a comparison of both thinkers’ description of the role of legislator in their ideal type of government. It will then compare both writers’ position towards the question ‘why the organizers of the state should not remain as the sole authority?’ The conclusion will be a summary of findings and revisiting of the main arguments.

According to Machiavelli, the role of the legislator is to establish a state which will last long and which blends the all three good forms of government (principality, aristocracy and democracy). Some ambitious rulers including Solon of Athens lacked this ability to form a state which combines this three and failed to create a ‘stronger and stable’ state (Machiavelli 2012, 354). Principality, which in essence is hereditary rule, can easily turn into tyranny and democracy can turn into anarchy. Therefore a mixture, where everyone is given some specific set of duties is the best form. In order to describe what he expects from a legislator on this regard, he gives the example of Lycurgus of Sparta, who is a successful law maker, whose laws were followed by Spartans for more than eight centuries and made the state last longer than its rivals. The key for Lycurgus’ success was the efficient division of duties to the kings, to the aristocracy and to the common people. It is thus Machiavelli says on the organizer of the state that “what he has organized will not last long if it continues to rest on the shoulders of one man, but may well last if many remain in charge and many look to its maintenance” (Machiavelli 2012, 356). However, Machiavelli does not suggest something similar to a consensus-based formation of the state. While organizing a state, a sole authority is required and the legislator then should put others in charge of the state duties.



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Title: A comparison of the views of J.J. Rousseau and Machiavelli on legislator of the state