Machiavelli's Ultimate Thesis: Do You Agree?

Is it better for a leader to be feared or loved?


  • Total voters
    21
Jun 2013
6,340
USA
#1
Machiavelli with The Prince essentially stated that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved. Do you think that his assertion is true? Does it depend on the case or type of leadership? Did he have it spot on?
 
Aug 2012
1,453
#2
Fear works, and has always worked. Humans are animals, and require a firm hierarchy to function. We are more complex in our thinking, but at the root of our society we work according to the same logic as other social beasts - who often punish dissent and reserve special rights for the leadership, such as breeding.


Fear plays to our instincts. Whereas love appeals to our sentiment. But instinct will always win out, and fear is clearly the stronger motivating force, and the bedrock of all law.
 
Aug 2010
15,010
Welsh Marches
#3
For an absolute ruler, doubtless to be feared, hence the secret police, arbitrary arrest, etc.; in a democracy, I would say it is best for a leader to respected, rather than loved or hated.
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
7,381
România
#4


I went with "depends", but on second thought I probably shouldn't have voted at all.
Machiavelli with The Prince essentially stated that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved.
It's exactly the sort of thing a person who never ruled would write about and other people who never ruled would think about.

At which point during the history of the world has a ruler decided to start his career by asking himself that question, finding the answer and then always acting in accordance with it?

It seems to me that it's circumstantial, never an unbroken rule, often mood-based and dependent on the character of the ruler and the society he rules over.

I'm not sure how to word it, so I'll just be clumsy. A ruler could do X which would make a lot of people love him and later do Y which would make a lot of people fear him and then Z which would make him be hated (see post #5) and he probably won't spend that much time thinking about it.

Also, I don't think a ruler can be loved/feared by everyone and I don't see how this dichotomy can even theoretically apply to a functional democracy.
 
Last edited:

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
7,381
România
#5
For an absolute ruler, doubtless to be feared, hence the secret police, arbitrary arrest, etc.
Machiavelli didn't mean despots.
Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse.
Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.
Machiavelli: The Prince: Chapter XVII
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
7,381
România
#6
Offspring said:
Also, I don't think a ruler can be loved/feared by everyone
I'll give Caesar's clemency as an example. How does it fit the dichotomy? It's all over the place.

- enemy Roman soldiers surrendered to him faster than his did to Pompey
- former foes fought for him
- several people hated him for giving them clemency
- Cato even killed himself instead of waiting to be pardoned by Caesar
- Caesar showed Romans killing Romans in one of his triumphs, which outraged the Roman citizens and he didn't expect that reaction; he wanted to get loved for the clemency he showed afterwards

I don't remember exactly, but did he have another one where Cato's suicide was depicted or was it during the same one?

So, just by looking at the clemency aspect of Caesar's rule, he got:
- love, to the point of enemies surrendering more easily to him + former foes fighting for him;
- fear, to the point of suicide (and Cato's was very painful, if the sources are accurate);
- hatred, which Machiavelli warned against (which was the exact opposite effect you want to get with a triumph, tho he did want to humiliate some of his former foes by pardoning them)

What happens if we try to judge his entire rule according to that dichotomy and while remembering Machiavelli's point about being hated?

It's just useless ivory tower stuff.
 
Last edited:
Aug 2010
15,010
Welsh Marches
#7
Perhaps not, but he was certainly not thinking of people who are elected to office in a democracy and can subsequently be voted out of power; if such a politician tries to rule by fear, it indicates that he is trying to subvert the democratic process and probably also the independence of the judiciary, press etc.
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
7,381
România
#9
Perhaps not, but he was certainly not thinking of people who are elected to office in a democracy and can subsequently be voted out of power; if such a politician tries to rule by fear, it indicates that he is trying to subvert the democratic process and probably also the independence of the judiciary, press etc.
I agree.
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
7,381
România
#10
I found his Scipio example very poor. His cherry picked historical examples are usually good, but this one is just a speculation and it's counterfactual:
This disposition, if he had been continued in the command, would have destroyed in time the fame and glory of Scipio; but, he being under the control of the Senate, this injurious characteristic not only concealed itself, but contributed to his glory.
Also, he compared him with Hannibal, who had a far worse ending. The way Scipio was viewed by the public is what saved him from his political enemies.
 

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