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Is there ever a perfect equation?

October 10, 2010

Machievelli once asserted that it should be the solitary incentive for a ruler is to attain glory and that, in order to attain glory, one must find a way to build their reputation so that it is preserved throughout history.

One ought not, of course, to call it virtù to massacre  one’s fellow citizens, to betray one’s friends, to breka one’s word, to be without mercy and without religion. By such means one can acquire power but not glory (The Prince, Chapter 8).

This statement got me wondering: Is there a perfect equation for glory?

In order to seek an answer to this question, I began to consider the primary concepts that contribute to a ruler’s reputation: love and hate, respect and fear.

In my opinion, a ruler’s motives are what causes them to be either loved or hated. If a ruler acts out of only self-interest, without regard for the interests of the state, then that results in the ruler being hated. On the other hand, if a ruler acts from interests of the state, which may or may not be consistent with their own self-interest, then as a result, the ruler is loved. Machievelli suggests that a ruler ought to be both feared and loved, but since this is difficult and maybe even impossible, then it is better to the feared (The Prince, Chapter 17).

Let us concentrate on the concept of being loved. Do love and respect go hand in hand? If a ruler is loved, this does not necessarily mean that they have the respect of the people and this can lead to a dangerous dynnamic. For this reason, it safer to be feared rather than respected. But can the people fear a ruler that they love or love a ruler that they fear? As Machievelli implies, a ruler that is loved will have trouble maintaining order.

Now, let us shift to the concept of being hated. If one is hated, does it immeadiately follow that they are feared? To me, it is very possible for a ruler to be hated but not feared. And, in this case, the ruler will have neither the support of the people, nor the obedience that comes with being feared. Also, if one is hated, can they be respected? In my view, it is impossible to respect someone that you hate. Machievelli, too, comes to the conclusion that “a ruler should make himself feared in such a way that, if he does not inspire love, at least he does not provoke hatred” (The Prince, Chapter17).

Machievelli alludes that the perfect equation is for a ruler to be feared and respected. His arguments are also constructed in such a way that a reader of The Prince would want to believe that this is true. However, one must decide for themselves whether it is even possible to get respect out of fear.

  1. Neil Rabinowicz permalink
    October 10, 2010 6:15 PM

    I find your post to be very interesting, specially the part where you write “But can the people fear a ruler that they love or love a ruler that they fear?”

    In my opinion, both of these scenarios are possible. For example, a ruler could be loved by all of the people because of the things he has done for them, whether this be achieve economic prosperity or peace for the nation. However, only because they love him doesn’t mean they can’t fear him. The ruler could help the people prosper but rule with an iron fist at the same time. Do you not love your parents but fear them sometimes such as when you do something you are not supposed to do? It is the ruler’s (or parent’s in the example) authority and ability to punish those who disobey that leads to fear. As a result, one could fear a ruler that they love.

    The other scenario, where one loves the ruler that they fear is very similar to the other situation. One could fear the ruler because they rule with an iron fist. However, this ruler could care about the well-being of the people and the nation as a whole. He could ensure that everyone is safe and has the necessary resources to live happily, as long as things go as the ruler wants. Because the ruler cares about the people, the people love him, even if it means obeying what he says because of fear of punishment.

  2. Trevor Cookler permalink
    October 11, 2010 3:55 PM

    The original post and first comment suggest valid arguments to Machiavelli’s thought of the perfect equation. This reminds me of the example dealing with if rules should exhibit traits of certain animals, and rule their people with these traits. In this example the lion and fox come up because both show characteristics that with a perfect balance would be ideal to rule a group of people.

    Machiavelli writes, “A prince must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this…”

    The question is, can this mix be made? Is there another animal that has the characteristics of both the lion and the fox? At the end of the day I do agree with both posts above that it is better to be feared than love, but in the argument of getting the most positive participation from the people this fox-like nature must be included.

  3. Taylor Fields permalink
    October 14, 2010 2:27 PM

    Your post was interesting but what sparked my thoughts was your question ‘Do love and respect go hand in hand?’. I think you did a nice job considering the possible results, but I think there is a more concrete answer. It is possible for a person, or ruler, to be both love and respected; the two terms seem almost synonymous. However, being loved and respected does not necessarily equate to being a good ruler.

    When loved, it is often the person can be taken advantage of because of their kind nature. When respected, the person is less likely to be ‘used’ but will have a harder time receiving favors. A combination of the both seems like a perfect combination for a ruler. However, the smallest amount of fear is still needed in order to maintain their power, in order to establish their worth, in order to get things done productively. The best combination is to be loved, to be respected, but to evoke the smallest amount of fear.

  4. October 16, 2010 11:32 PM

    I really enjoyed reading this post and I think you bring up a very interesting point. In taking your poll, I voted that there is an equation for true glory, but it not one of the options you made available. I think the optimal equation is one of love and respect, with a little bit of fear as well. I would like to use football quarterbooks as an example of leaders to illustrate this concept. More specifically, I will use Denard Robinson. I don’t think there is any question that Denard Robinson is loved and respected. Throughout the first games of this season, we continuosly heard how great a guy he was and that all his teams loved him. Additionally I have heard from many friends that know him on an inpersonal basis, think he is also a really nice guy; He is loved. He is also respected because we have also heard that his teammates truly respect him and many analysts considered him to be a top contender to win the Heisman; he is respected. However, he was never feared. If you look at Denard, he actually appears to be a pretty small guy and I have never heard anyone refer to him in a way that would suggest they fear him. Therefore, today in the game against Iowa he was benched for Tate Forcier. Why did this happen? It happened because although Denard is loved and respected, he is not feared. Therefore, I think any great leader that is loved and respected will continue to be in power if things are going well, however the second that things take a turn for the worst you can expect them to slowly lose that power because no one is afraid of them. If Denard ever wants to be a true leader, he may need to strike some fear into his coaches in order to make them afraid that if they decide to sit him, they will have made a great mistake.

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