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Headscratchers: The Prince
  • Why do so many people misquote Machiavelli's statement on being feared in comparison to being loved? He said that it is better to be feared than be loved if you cannot be both, and that a good ruler should avoid being out right hated. He wasn't saying a ruler should be a Jerkass despot for the sake of it.
    • Actually he said that since it was impossible to do both a prince would have to choose one or the other and it was better to be feared than loved.
      • False. The exact quote is this: "It may be answered that one should wish to be both [loved and feared], but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved."
    • I suppose it's because most people haven't read the actual book, they hear it from third or fourth hand accounts.
  • Inspire fear but escape hatred? All well and good except for one little wrinkle: do you really have anymore control over whether or not people hate you than whether or not people love you? While it is true that you can avoid doing things that give people good cause to hate you (and indeed, you would be wise to do so), that is not necessarily an ironclad guarantee that there will never be someone out there who hates you even though you, to the best of your recollections, have done nothing that even remotely justifies their enmity.
    • It's true that there will always be a couple people who hate you, but unless you're ruling a bunch of idiots and madmen if you do your job properly the vast majority won't want to violently overthrow you. note 
      • I think he simply meant that you shouldn't give them any reason to hate you
      • Or, if you absolutely must, then make sure that no one with a reason to hate you lives long enough to do anything about it.
    • While that's true on the face of it, you actually do have a good bit of control over how you're seen. For example, think of the phrase "I'm glad he's on our side" when used non-ironically. Imagine your leader so hell-bent to protect you that he makes the military undergo incredibly strict training regimens (but gives them plenty of leave, financially compensates them equally incredibly, and ensures no one in the military suffers unjustly), and that he will make "the enemy" suffer for even thinking of invading, but even then the leader doesn't pursue when the enemy retreats. You'd still get a few who call him various things, but the fact that he was a fearsome force protecting you but not so much as to mercilessly slaughter the enemy—you'd get only a few people who actually hated him. Most would sure as hell fear him, though.

      Same thing with being loved. You can actually get people to love you pretty easily. Kiss enough babies, lower taxes, hand out new puppies every Christmas, donate every cent you can to charity—you'll be the public's darling in no time. However, that road generally leads to financial ruin (and a rather lax military), as Machiavelli warned against.
      • Really, much of The Prince comes down to an elaborate warning: While trying to become a popular and loved ruler may seem the best thing to do, if one relies on that strategy, any problems the ruler may face will tend to be a Golden Snitch that makes people forget all the love immediately regardless. It doesn't matter how many babies you kiss, as soon as the economy goes a bit south, the torches and pitchforks are coming out regardless. Therefore, better to just assume that the people will be upset by you at the outset, and focus on doing a good job instead of making people like you. That way, you can do the good works that a popular ruler would be unable to do, while only having to spend a bit of effort on mitigating and redirecting the unavoidable popular displeasure. View the environmental situation in the US, for instance. A number of strategies are known in the planning field which would fix the economy and turn the country into a golden age world leader while simultaneously solving many of the issues faced by the world today. Unfortunately, they generally involve ten to fifteen years of enacting policies which, while legal, Constitutional, and not actually harming anyone in any real or direct fashion, would have the majority of the country screaming bloody murder for a recall. That's three or four presidential terms!
      • "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate."
  • It's difficult to see how a prince can avoid hatred when he's busy backstabbing other princes and slaughtering their families.
    • It is the citizenry who must not hate you, obviously your enemies will if not hate you at least want to get rid of them.
    • But that's only as necessary. He kills them to cause fear, but not necessarily hatred.
      • But how can it not cause hatred? Those actions are grade-A puppy kicking that guarantees you instant abhorrence from your subjects. Not exactly the best publicity.
      • Those actions are actually far more grey than black and white. For example, our modern media is filled with action heroes who lose a single or a handful of family members, yet slaughter hundreds of mooks in order to kill the man responsible for pulling the trigger (or in some cases, in a strange attempt to commit suicide by mass murder). The fact that you view them so is only because that is how you see it in your mind. As well, in context, it was fairly common place and expected at the time.
      • It's divided Italy. Trust us, they weren't popular.
    • Actually, he addresses this quite handily with his Lion and Fox quote, which basically boils down to "if you are going to be a bastard, do it on the down-low". It is important that the prince be seen as brave and virtuous (albeit brutal, like a lion) but not actually be so (the fox). Also, several of the strategies were about creating a patsy for your cruelties and then disposing them for popularity. Namely, he recommends setting a brutal and cruel villain in control of newly conquered or rebellious provinces, then give him a free hand to commit wanton cruelty - then come on in a few months later and basically say 'gasp! what villainy', execute the poor sap and give his head to the people. Instant popularity!
    • Furthermore, all they must do is fear actually disobeying you. That does not inherently include hating you.
    • Killing someone's family and/or friends in a mere attempt to threaten them usually has the adverse affect of making people wish you were dead. Like, big time. Doing Stalin-esque purges do make the populace fear you, but look at how many of his own countrymen wanted him dead. At some point, the exercise of instilling fear, subjugating the populace, and removing potential threats starts to backfire on the ruler of a nation...
      • Not really, Stalin wasn't really hated by his subjects. If you scare people enough, they'll be too afraid of you to hate you.
      • It is also interesting to note that there was hatred over these actions, but it was all directed at the various bureaucrats and minions of Stalin, rather than at Stalin himself. In fact, it rather mirrored their perceptions of the Czar (before they got fed up with him, anyway) where people blamed his followers for the atrocities and felt that "if only the Czar/Stalin knew what was going on" he'd set it right. Now, compare this to paragraph a few notes up that talks about setting up patsies.
      • And while we're on the subject of Stalin, he provided a perfect example of being feared too much (or hated): He died of a heart attack because his guards were too afraid of his wraith to go into his room and check on him.
    • Removing potential threats will never backfire if the threat is removed ''properly''; how to pull this off is pretty much the whole point of the book.
      • "Men must be either pampered or crushed, because they can get revenge for small injuries, but not for grievous ones. So any injury a prince does a man should be of such a kind that there is no fear of revenge."
      • For example, publicly executing a tyrant and his family is a tried and true method of making people love you.
  • Why are there still people that believe that Machiavelli supported the kind of government described in this book? This is the guy who wrote "It is the well-being not of the individuals but of the community which makes the state great, and without question this universal well-being is nowhere secured save in a republic... Popular rule is always better then the rule of princes." for crying out load!
    • Because, again, most people only know about Machiavelli, if at all, second- or third-hand.
    • And also The Prince is the only work of his that people usually are familiar with so, to be fair, they aren't going to know about the other massive body of literature he wrote supporting republics. I've read The Prince myself and still really didn't know that it was a kind of tongue in cheek parody until I read this article on TV Tropes, because the social context behind the work isn't mentioned much at all today (or is considered irrelevant to the lesson at hand, since the book is almost entirely used only to educate students today about a) the ruthlessness of European politics at the time or b) for business/leadership classes.)
    • Also, it may be a case of being too subtle a satire. It doesn't help that it's very well written, by a man well versed in history and political philosophy, so everything comes across as sound and rational political advice.
    • He also dedicated it to an anti-Republican family that he was seeking employment from. Trying to figure out the motivations of people who have been dead for centuries can get tricky.
  • This may go into a Wild Mass Guess, but one of definitions of "fear" is to instill respect. The common usage is in Biblical texts, where one should "fear God". But the context is in such a way that you shouldn't be afraid of God. I haven't read the actual literature (probably won't, too lazy), but would the text more sense if it's used in this context? I mean, you can be respected, but not exactly loved. The only example I can think of is Erwin Rommel and his adversaries in the African Campaign. I'm pretty sure Patton and Montgomery didn't "love" him, but Patton at least respected the general highly.
    • Then again I guess fear in the context of instilling anxiety and love are mutually exclusive, while fear in the context of instilling respect is not.
    • Note that the book was in a foreign language...but this seems to fit. "There are two reasons people will avoid killing you. They're afraid of what will happen if you find out, or they like you too much." And, the reason hatred is so bad, is that they don't CARE what will happen...they just want you DEAD.
    • My personal interpretation is that the ideal prince is a lot like a parent. His 'children' fear what he will do to them if they break his rules, but otherwise are fine with him. And since those rules are justified and reasonable, that reduces the ire the prince receives for punishing those that break them. What evokes hatred is if the rules are unreasonable, or the punishments are far too harsh.
The Picture of Dorian GrayHeadscratchers/LiteratureRapunzel

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