Relationship Between the Sovereign and the Subjects in More's Utopia, Machiavelli's The Discourses, and Hobbes' The Leviathan
Thomas More, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes offer models for the relationship between the sovereign and the people in their works Utopia, The Discourses, and The Leviathan. Each argues that ensuring the common good of the people should be the primary goal of the sovereign. However, they differ in the specifics of their descriptions of this relationship and in their explanations of the sovereign’s motivation for valuing the prosperity of the people. An examination of the specified passages in each of these works will clarify the comparison of their models for this relationship.
More’s discussion of the sovereign occurs in the context of the discussion of a monarch as the trustee of the welfare of the people. The king is a common citizen who has been invested with the authority or "majesty" of sovereignty. He is then distinguished from the rest of the population by the responsibilities he has to them and the powers that are inherent in these responsibilities. He is bound to fulfill these responsibilities and not to abuse the privileges by the threat of rebellion from the poor and, therefore, discontented people that would result from incompetent or misused sovereignty.
He is also constrained by his own natural desire for prestige, and his prestige is dependent on his subjects’ wealth and well being. To desire this kind of prestige, he must be a virtuous man. Without this virtue, his vices of pride and laziness are likely to reduce him to taking his subjects’ property in order to serve his greed and to attempt their pacification by reducing them to abject poverty. If his own pride and laziness render him so inept at sovereignty that he must maintain control over his people by reducing them poverty instead of serving them in a care-taking capacity, then he destroys the "majesty" of the office he holds and, therefore, no longer rightly holds those responsibilities and privileges with which he was entrusted by his people. One who attempts to rule in this fashion, not only destroys his own right to rule, he also gives his people sufficient incentive (poverty and discontent) to displace him.
More describes the monarch’s responsibilities in general terms from which more specific duties can be inferred. He says that the king has been charged with making the lives of his people more comfortable, protecting them from injustice, insuring that they are fed, and preventing crime through sound administration. Since these duties are presented in contrast with the king who keeps his people poor by confiscating their property, it is reasonable to infer that More expects his king to protect their private property. To protect his people from injustice, the king must provide for a system of laws and adjudication to resolve conflicts. In addition, in providing the example of the good king of Happiland who " . ....