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To be Loved Outweighs Being Feared

October 7, 2010

In 1513, Italian political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his famous treatise known as The Prince. In a brief summation, The Prince is a set of guidelines that describes how someone in 16th century Italy could gain power and then eventually retain that newly acquired influence. His ideas were radical for the time, but today they still stand as a guide for modern philosophical writing. In this intriguing piece of political philosophy, Machiavelli poses the question of whether it is better to be loved or feared as a leader.

To answer this question it is best to look at examples of leaders throughout history, for that is really the only reference point in delving into such a complex inquiry. Of course, the easy way out is to say that its better to be both loved and feared, but we all know in reality that this is a nearly unattainable feat. Although it’s nice to think it would be possible to be that “ideal” leader, how could someone be feared and loved at the same time? Maybe history will show that it is possible, but up until now we have yet to see a pure example. Machiavelli writes, “The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” He thought that in his time (16th century Florence under Medici family rule) that this was the correct way to rule. Does it stand true in today’s political world?

Examples of modern leaders who have been feared are Stalin and Ahmedinejad. Both men ruled (in Ahmedinejad’s case still ruling) their respective nations by using fear as the driving force of their policy making. Stalin drove The Soviet Union into the Cold War and struck fear into the eyes of his subjects by using his socialistic tendencies to redistribute wealth throughout The Soviet Union. Also, as tensions with the Western world seemed to increase, the Soviet Union became more and more self-contained and resorted to propaganda and a secret police force to help maintain order in their chaotic society. This fear made the Soviet subjects too scared to stand up to unjust policy, thus making Stalin and the Soviet Union very powerful. Ahmedinejad has used fundamentalist Islamic beliefs mixed with his sense of radicalism to make Iran a self contained nation that has a Napoleonic complex of sorts. Although they are a smaller nation in stature when compared to many western countries, their recent nuclear weapon program has made them a force to be reckoned with. Many westerners consider Ahmedinejad to be a madman, so that fact that Iran now has nuclear capability is a very scary thought. In addition it has also made Iran powerful when it comes to the considerations of global safety. Both men received their power because people assumed that if they didn’t comply then they would be killed. In my opinion, that is as good a reason as any to blindly follow a leader.

Do leaders who are loved (the antithesis of the aforementioned two) garner just as much power? Unlike Machiavelli, I think that they do. There is a certain aura that comes from having support of the masses. Although they don’t rule by having their citizens’ fear for their lives on a daily basis, these leaders do gain respect and therefore the allegiance of their people. As cliché as it might sound, my optimistic view is that at some point respect outweighs fear when it comes to leadership. In summation, I think that although to be feared is a very powerful attribute, to be loved is something much more.


  1. Zac Hiller permalink
    October 7, 2010 12:57 PM

    I understand your post and personally feel in todays politics neither is more important. Being loved only matters to leaders to help them get elected. Once elected, the correctness of there decisions and how well they do there job is the decisive factor. Republicans may dislike a democratic president however if the economy is running smoothly and he is fulfilling his duty, personal opinion is irrelevant. You discuss radical situations involving Stalin where fear works. In these types of government fear definitely is more important. Because with fear comes control and control equals power. However with our democracy I do not feel either matters. They both have an equivalent influence in American government.

  2. katelyn09 permalink
    October 7, 2010 3:01 PM

    I must say I have mixed feelings about this argument. Yes, it often does seem that respecting a figure may cause one to bow down to their control. However, if one thinks of something he or she does not want to do and is being forced to do so, I feel doing something out of fear would be a much more likely cause to submit. For instance, if a respected leader told you to do something you were uncomfortable with, you may debate on actually completing this action, but if a feared leader told you to do something you were uncomfortable with, you would probably not debate it. Rather you would just do the deed because you would be fearful that the outcome of not completing the deed would be far greather than that of actually doing the deed originally asked. To conclude, I think a respected leader is a great idea, but a feared leader would probably get the most accomplished just like Machiavelli suggested.

  3. Andrew Laing permalink
    October 7, 2010 4:22 PM

    Although you give good historical examples of those who are feared that failed, and that i agree it is something entirely different be a “loved” ruler, you lose sight of the countless (relatively) successful bloody tyrants. Both Machiavelli and Hobbes believed that in order to obtain control over ones subject an authoritative head must flex his muscle. This is because if a ruler is “loved” more than feared the people will cease to respect his orders. In states that have competing ethnic factions, or sectarian violence rulers who are feared are the most successful. i don’t believe a ruler can be entirely loved, because a government can’t be all things to all people.

  4. changmc permalink
    October 7, 2010 4:52 PM

    As Zac said, I think your post is more framed towards the political form of our modern society where we are run by a democracy. The elected president of this democracy does not garner as much power as a monarchist would and the power is much more diffuse between the three divisions of the United States government. Respect and allegiance are great things to acquire from the people, but when we are strictly speaking about a monarchy where the power of the entire regime lies in the hands of one person, I think that respect and allegiance come second to fear. It is proven in history that human nature and its tendencies to drive people towards the acquisition of power and monetary gain is greater than simply living a regular life under a loved ruler. Loved rulers must always be wary of deception while those that communicate fear to their subjects should have a stronger hold on their rule.

  5. Andrew Babat permalink
    October 8, 2010 5:27 PM

    I have mixed feelings about the question Machiavelli poses of whether it is better to be loved or feared as a leader. Although I feel it is important for a leader to be feared, I think it is more important for a leader to be loved. I think the challenge of being a leader is gaining peoples’ trust, and convincing them to follow. I feel the only way people will follow a leader is if the admire that leader. If the people trust that the leader will take them in a positive direction, they will follow. Although Stalin and Ahmedinejad were effective leaders and were feared, eventually people are going to rebel against leaders who use that much violence and force. A leader who is loved will have the support of the people in any situation.

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