Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared

Coming now to the other qualities mentioned above, I say that every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency. Cesare Borgia was considered cruel; notwithstanding, his cruelty reconciled the Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. And if this be rightly considered, he will be seen to have been much more merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid a reputation for cruelty, permitted Pistoia to be destroyed. Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only.

And of all princes, it is impossible for the new prince to avoid the imputation of cruelty, owing to new states being full of dangers. Hence Virgil, through the mouth of Dido, excuses the inhumanity of her reign owing to its being new, saying:

Res dura, et regni novitas me talia cogunt
Moliri, et late fines custode tueri.

Nevertheless he ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

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. But when a prince is with his army, and has under control a multitude of soldiers, then it is quite necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties.

Among the wonderful deeds of Hannibal this one is enumerated: that having led an enormous army, composed of many various races of men, to fight in foreign lands, no dissensions arose either among them or against the prince, whether in his bad or in his good fortune. This arose from nothing else than his inhuman cruelty, which, with his boundless valour, made him revered and terrible in the sight of his soldiers, but without that cruelty, his other virtues were not sufficient to produce this effect. And shortsighted writers admire his deeds from one point of view and from another condemn the principal cause of them. That it is true his other virtues would not have been sufficient for him may be proved by the case of Scipio, that most excellent man, not of his own times but within the memory of man, against whom, nevertheless, his army rebelled in Spain; this arose from nothing but his too great forbearance, which gave his soldiers more license than is consistent with military discipline. For this he was upbraided in the Senate by Fabius Maximus, and called the corrupter of the Roman soldiery. The Locrians were laid waste by a legate of Scipio, yet they were not avenged by him, nor was the insolence of the legate punished, owing entirely to his easy nature. Insomuch that someone in the Senate, wishing to excuse him, said there were many men who knew much better how not to err than to correct the errors of others. 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.

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.

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(1.) ...against my will, my fate,
A throne unsettled, and an infant state,
Bid me defend my realms with all my powers,
And guard with these severities my shores.

A chapter from The Prince, which is reproduced in part above.
This is a commentary that I wrote. Pages in this essay relate to the Penguin Classic edition of The Prince.

This chapter seems fairly typical of Machiavelli's outlook on such matters. He speaks of the choice to be cruel or merciful as if one's morals and conscience should have no bearing it. To him the issue is merely whether a prince will enjoy greater and more stable power if he is loved or feared.

A point that must be kept in mind closely while thinking about this whole issue is one that is made on p56. that men are fickle and unreliable. It is important not to place the foundations of one's own principality upon that which is dependent upon the easily changed opinions of people. Instead it should have some more material backup. While probably very sound in the sixteenth century this point cannot be applied to politics today. Temporary influence and popularity are the only tools of the political party system, and politicians are not "allowed" anything else.

The sixteenth century context in which The Prince was written fits the ideas in this piece of text much better than the twentieth or the twenty-first century. Nowadays, within a democracy being feared is not a solution, as power can be moved around with such ease according to the whim of the populace. In the sixteenth century however the people had to put up with the ruler they had (unless they fell to the drastic measure of rebellion) and follow his policies. The mood of the people could however make a great impact upon the prosperity of a principality, and it was probably for this reason that Machiavelli considers this a point worth making.

Towards the beginning of the chapter (on page 55) Machiavelli illustrates the practical necessity of a stance that takes both fear and respect into consideration. This is consistent with Aristotle's idea of a "Golden Mean" where a temperate virtue lies between two vices (courage is the perfect position between cowardliness and foolhardiness). As a political and educated man it is reasonable to expect that the major ideas of classical philosophy has influenced his upbringing. He very sensibly advises that compassion is not taken too far, as this will lead to disorder amongst the people, who lack the order that fear and the control associated with it can bestow. Of course an excess of fear is likely to lead to feelings of resentment, and repression. This is a situation in which Machiavelli's prince would not want to find himself. This part of the chapter is one that is sensible both in its context, today and then and also in virtually all parts of life to some degree.

Perhaps the most convincing point that is made in this chapter is one that cannot be made more elegantly then by Machiavelli himself.

"And men are less hesitant about harming someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared, because love is held together by a chain of obligation which, since men are wretched creatures, is broken on every occasion in which their own interests are concerned; but fear is sustained by a dread of punishment which will never abandon you."

This seems a very logical and practical point to make, because in a situation in which someone loves or admires another, all that holds then true with that other person and his plans is their conscience, whereas if they are in fear of someone they will do his bidding due to the possibility of punishment. The hold of conscience is one that can easily relinquished, and with few real consequences, whereas punishment is certain, and doubtlessly unpleasant. While this point could not be used by a politician today it could be employed in other circumstances, and would doubtlessly hold true.

The other point that Machiavelli has to say in favour of fear is one that while certainly relevant in the situation of warring Italian principalities would be of no use today. He says that a general should strive to be viewed as cruel and brutal, as this will colour the view of his troops as to his battlefield prowess, and make him seem impressive, and hence even respected or loved, allowing him to be both loved and feared, enjoying the best of both situations. This could have been true up to the nineteenth century, but since then both the face, and the actuality of warfare have changed unimaginably. A general is now just a source of orders, a tactical coordinator and a logistician, not a leader who commands from the front, or anything approaching it.

Machiavelli has a further point to be made about ruling with fear, although this goes nowhere towards resolving the debate as to whether fear or love is the better tool for influencing people, and ensuring a successful principality. He essentially says that it is easy for hatred to be a consequence of fear, and this is obviously to be avoided, and the objective of this mental exercise is to determine how to make a prince's people obedient and efficient. The two options presented are not flip sides of the same coin, they are ways of approaching a problem that have their own characteristics and problems. He says that it is important to avoid offences against a man's property, as he will hold these against an offender more seriously than the demise of a loved one. It seems to me here that Machiavelli is being rather "Machiavellian" in his opinions of other people. I am unable to be sure as to whether Machiavelli is correct in this point, which should hold true today as it did in the sixteenth century (unless the regard for life has truly increased more than I can imagine), and so I am dubious. The point that it is important to avoid hatred is nevertheless an important one, and one that Machiavelli considers sufficiently important to reiterate in his conclusion to the chapter.

A strength of this chapter, from my point of view is the absence of reliance upon examples. While examples are present they are just that, and do not make the chapter more confusing by incorporating them into the same space as theory. The example of Scipio is slightly unnecessary, as it deals only with the comparatively minor point of the cruelty that generals must display. It was however an excellent example to reinforce that point.

Sources: The Prince
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