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... 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.
Bands of heroes are generally held together by The Power of Friendship, Love, or just general loyalty to the hero. Indeed, The Leader who acts as a Father to His Men gains more loyalty from them than one who acts as a tyrant. Bands of villains tend to be held together by fear of the head villain. Eventually, villains often discover to their surprise that while fear might be easier to establish, love has a lot more staying power. If the villain is especially unlikeable, this can culminate in a Heel Face Turn.
The trope name comes, obviously, from the popular reputation of Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince, which is often paraphrased as saying that it is better to rule by fear than by love. People forget an important thing Machiavelli pointed out, however - it is preferable to be both feared and loved, choosing fear over love only when you can't have both, and that in any event it is vital to avoid being hated, since if you are hated people will be willing to suffer just to oppose you. Best of all is to command obedience through respect.
A huge misunderstanding of this concept is due to the early English translations, which were Blind Idiot Translations that turned the line "look to the consequences before you act" into "the ends justify the means." Incidentally, it's also worth noting that some scholars think The Prince was a satire of the dictatorship- in other words, Machiavelli Was Joking (The general consensus is that it wasn't but the controversy still rages).
Often used as part of an Aesop. See also Villainous Demotivator. Contrast Bread and Circuses, which Machiavelli actually supported. It may be because Rousseau Was Right.
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Anime and Manga
In Naruto, most of Orochimaru's followers are fanatically loyal to him due to him taking them under his wing when they were vulnerable.
In Pokémon, evil trainers generally treat their Pokemon cruelly, while good trainers treat them well.
The most extreme example was the Iron Masked Marauder. He was so abusive to his Pokemon, they left him on their own, something that is usually unheard of.
Jessie and James are the exception; while they play the role of antagonists (sort of), they get emotionally attached to their Pokemon.
In the games, the cheapest medicinal items, labeled as Bitter, hurt your Pokemon's Happiness points. So much for getting that Espeon (which evolves via level-up during the day only when it is extremely devoted to you), but if you love your Pokémon, you'll pay a bit more money to buy the medicine that doesn't taste bad. (Except for the Max Revive, which can't be bought save for the Bitter variety. Tough call?)
Played with in From Eroica with Love; the antagonist Klaus is both feared and loved by the Alphabets. He is gruff with his men, expecting perfection from them, and is constantly threatening to send them off to Alaska if they fail (and he actually goes though with it at least once), but he also acts like he's the only one allowed to insult them and lets them known that they aren't just Red Shirts, admittedly by yelling at them.
In One Piece, many pirate crews, such as those of Luffy, Shanks, and Whitebeard, treat their men as family, whereas the Marines rule through fear (namely Akainu, who kills a soldier for trying to run away in the middle of the battle because he has a wife and child to care about; talk about the champion of justice right there). *
That is what Marines were originally meant for: they served aboard naval vessels and kept the crew from mutiny and desertion. With, like, guns and stuff. (And for Boarding Actions, but that's less important here.)
In Liar Game, Akiyama explicitly points out that his and Nao's team runs on trust, while Yokoya's team runs on fear. Guess which team always wins?
Star Wars uses this as one of the many contrasts between the rebellion and the Empire. In fact, ruling by fear seems to be having been codified into Imperial policy as of the construction of the first Death Star:
General Tagge: How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy? Grand Moff Tarkin: The regional governors will now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.
It's called the Tarkin Doctrine: "Rule through the fear of force, rather than force itself."
Leia invokes this trope just before Alderaan is destroyed:
The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.
The kicker? The destruction of Alderaan, a Core World known for artisans and philosophers, is what sent a lot of neutral worlds over to the Rebel Alliance, who now had an atrocity to rally behind, and a ton of pissed off Alderaanian expats looking to avenge their lost world and families. Nice Job Breaking It, Tarkin!
Even better One being the head gunner of the Death Star's main weapon.
In 101 Dalmatians, Horace and Jasper are reluctant to kidnap and then kill the puppies, and are always asking to get their pay and be done with it, but they cower in fear at the sight of Cruella de Vil (and who could blame them) and go about their grim business. They don't exactly turn against her at the end, but as Cruella rages at her defeat, they dismiss her with an "Aw, shut up!"
In A Bronx Tale, the question "Is it better to be loved or feared?" is openly discussed between the young protagonist C and his mobster mentor Sonny. Sonny had read Machiavelli during a stint in jail and is well aware that the key thing is to not be hated...
In the 2010 Alice in Wonderland the Red Queen debates the question of whether it is better to be feared or loved. She ultimately decides on fear, because love can be used against her.
A more subtle, yet direct example, would be the Malfoy family, particularly Narcissa, who betrays Voldemort to save her son.
Averted in Discworld by Lord Havelock Vetinari, who has been described as recognizing that you don't have to be feared or loved... just vital.
Although anyone claiming to be completely unafraid of Vetinari is either lying, insane, or possibly Captain Carrot.
Carrot considers the Patrician vital in keeping him off the throne, so that's okay.
And of course Lord Rust shows that both Machiavelli and Vetinari are wrong, as occasionally events will conspire to provide the ruler with an adversary who is both too stupid to fear the ruler and too stupid to fear (or even understand) the consequences of getting rid of the ruler. Fortunately stupidity is its own solution most of the time. It is mentioned in Feet of Clay that no one sane had tried to kill Vetinari in years because of being vital, but people do keep trying nonetheless.
Just because someone doesn't fear the consequences of getting rid of Vetinari, doesn't mean that the consequences don't come back to bite them. He may have been deposed a fair few times, but never for more than a month or so. I think that says something about the man.
It also helps to be a trained assassin that never sleeps.
Maybe he stages the occasional coup against himself when he feels the need for a good nap. It would be his style.
Extensively examined but never explicitly mentioned in The Bartimaeus Trilogy in the relationship between Bartimaeus and Nathaniel, and the contrast between it and the relationship Bartimaeus had with his former master Ptolemy.
Also near the end their relationship improves significantly, mostly because Nathaniel starts treating him with the respect Bartimaeus deserves. He even compares Nathan to Ptolemy near the end.
In fact, in the end, Nathaniel sacrifices himself to save Bartimaeus, something unthinkable for most magicians.
In The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux's novel, at least), Christine has to choose between Erik, who loves her but uses fear to control her, and Raoul. Love proves a stronger motivator than fear... which means Erik simply has to resort to the Scarpia Ultimatum...
The musical version emphasizes the differences between Christine's suitors. Compare "Music of the Night", sung by the Phantom, where love is dark and controlling, to Raoul's love song "All I Ask of You", where love is bright and liberating.
This is actually averted by The Prince itself, especially if one subscribes to the school of thought that sees the work as a scathing satire against monarchical societies masquerading as a guide on how they should be ran.
In Frankenstein, the creature only becomes monstrous after trying unsuccessfully to find someone who will love him.
"If I cannot inspire love I will cause fear"
In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Grand Admiral Thrawn understands the distinction, but also adds to it the difference between fear and respect. He doesn't execute underlings for failings that are not their fault; he's lethally stern but not murderous, and he commands his men more through respect than either fear or love.
Played With in Dune, the Harkonnens clearly ruled Arrakis through fear and Duke Leto capitalized on that by portraying himself as a far kinder ruler to gain the people's love and adoration. Not that it did him any good when his popularity aroused the other Houses' jealousy and the Harkonnens invaded and re-captured the planet. And the Baron's Batman Gambit to pacify the populace of Arrakis after recapturing it, letting his least favorite nephew Rabban rule Arrakis as cruel despot, so that his favorite Feyd would be more welcomed when he takes over that is, was straight out of The Prince, and might have worked had Paul not provoked the Fremen into going on a Jihad.
British statesman Lord Chesterfield wrote in Letters To His Son: "a private man who can hurt but few, though he can please many, must endeavor to be loved, for he cannot be feared in general." - "But this truth from long experience I assert, that he who has the most friends and the fewest enemies, is the strongest; will rise the highest with the least envy; and fall, if he does fall, the gentlest, and the most pitied." (letter 181 and 184)
Live Action TV
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, especially in season six with The Trio, but also obvious with some of the season one and two vampire minions.
In Farscape, Magnificent Bastard Scorpius takes care to reward his useful mooks (most particularly his eventual pseudo-Dragon Braca). Of course, they're still scared of him, because horrible things happen to his enemies and prisoners, but he's the lesser of several evils, and as a result his minions are very loyal indeed.
Which is exactly what The Prince advises: make it clear that everyone should be very careful to stay on your good side. The key mistake tyrants need to avoid is not having a good side to stay on.
Discussed in an episode of Due South, when a local Mafia don is going on about the importance of respect, Fraser mentions that he has known many men who thought they were respected, when in fact they were merely feared. And fears can be overcome.
Mal Reynolds lives and dies by the idea that he can count on his crew and they can count on him.
"You've got all kinds o' learnin' and you made me look the fool without even trying, yet here I am, with a gun to your head. That's 'cause I got people with me. People who trust each other, who do for each other, and ain't always lookin' for the advantage."
Speirs: You want to know if they're true or not... the stories about me. Did you ever notice with stories like that, everyone says they heard it from someone who was there. But then when you ask that person, they say they heard it from someone who was there. It's nothing new, really. I bet if you went back two thousand years, you'd hear a couple of centurions standing around, yakking about how Tertius lopped off the heads of some Carthaginian prisoners.
Lipton: Well, maybe they kept talking about it because they never heard Tertius deny it.
Speirs: Well, maybe that's because Tertius knew there was some value to the men thinking he was the meanest, toughest son of a bitch in the whole Roman Legion.
Proved by Captain Sobel who is clearly not loved, but made himself more hated than feared, which Machiavelli warned against.
Sobel is doubly an example of this trope. Not only is he unnecessarily harsh with his recruits, he's a terrible commander to boot. In his first field training exercise he gets his men lost in a field because he can't read a damn map. So he can't even claim that his jerkass behavior is justified by extreme competence.
Used pretty sensibly in City of Heroes with the Alternate Universe Praetorian Earth, in which all the named heroes are instead Machiavellian fascists, and in the America Korps Alternate Universe where the evil twins to the heroes are instead Nazis. The Big Bads Tyrant and Reichsman are individually a perfect match for Big Good Statesman, but the lesser heroes easily overcome their evil counterparts; the Big Bad intentionally sabotaged their training so they didn't become threats to his leadership.
Taking the Open Palm Path in Jade Empire lets you throw this one right in the face of the Big Bad. Sun Li knocks out your party and traps you in a mind prison. You summon your friends to help fight off the demons of doubt and fear...even Sagacious Zu, who gave his life in a Heroic Sacrifice at the 2/3 mark of the story. After breaking out, Sun Li is left scraping his jaw off the floor - eat it, "Glorious Strategist"
Although Closed Fist characters deal with the situation just as easily, weakening the example somewhat.
While the Machiavelli seen in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood never actually states any beliefs like this; outside of mild cynicism, it is shown that the Borgia's reign of oppression has no chance against Ezio's more enlightened perspective.
He does however openly criticize their methods so they clearly didn't read his book.
Or they agree with the theory that the book in question was satire and never meant to be taken seriously. Five hundred years of a Broken Base will do that.
Subverted in Total War Shogun 2, where a ruler's ability to rule is determined by the Repression Rating and must enact harsh policies to maintain authorities (such as sword hunts to disarm the rebellious population for example). No bread and circuses here folks or noble in rule traits.
Played straight in Medieval II Total War. Chivalrous generals (ones that fight fairly, release prisoners, keep taxes low and city happiness high etc) give cities a bonus to happiness and population growth when they're stationed in them, and they give a morale bonus to troops when on the battlefield. Dreaded generals (ones that hire assassins, raises taxes, execute prisoners etc) give a public order bonus in cities, but it's just not as effective.
Avatar The Last Airbender: Azula believes "fear is the only reliable way" to control people, and it always works for her. Then Mai turns around and betrays her because she loves Zuko. Ten seconds later, Ty Lee also betrays her to save Mai. Azula considered both Mai and Ty Lee to be her "best friends" (read: the ones most under her control), and their betrayal out of love for others leads directly to her Villainous Breakdown.
Azula: The thing I don't understand is why? Why would you do it? You know the consequences. Mai: I guess you just don't know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated. I love Zuko more than I fear you. Azula: No, you miscalculated! You should have feared me more!
Also seems to be played with in Transformers Prime; Megatron's violent insanity and callous disregard for the lives of his own men means he maintains command of the Decepticons almost entirely through fear and Soundwave. However, the problems in this are rife, as the Starscream is only the most prominent The Starscream in his crew; if Soundwave wasn't around or didn't intervene on Megatron's behalf, the rest of the Decepticons would turn on Megatron in an instant if he were ever incapacitated.
In Ed Edd N Eddy, Eddy tries to "rule" the cul-de-sac with respect, but on occasion he's resorted to fear (see: the episode where he lies and tells everyone that his brother's coming home). It doesn't really work because everyone knows he's a greedy Jerkass, which results in his (as well as the other Eds) being the local punching bags. Eddy's brother is much more successful at this, as shown in the previously mentioned episode, though he's an astronomical Jerkass far beyond anything Eddy ever did. This trope kicks in in the Grand Finale when the kids see how badly Eddy's brother treats him, as well as Eddy apologizing for acting like a jerk, which finally wins him the respect of the other children and sees his brother getting some well-deserved comeuppance.
Except for the fact that they are defeated partly because one of their own, Justice Lord Batman betrays them because they rule through fear and tyranny.
In the X-Wing Series, Lara turns after realizing that all the important parts of the Empire are just that bad. It's mentioned that TIE pilots are kept in a constant state of paranoia so they can be loosed on the enemy.
The success of Cyrus the Great is attributed to the fact that (unlike most emperors) he wasn't a dick to the citizenry (the opposite in fact).
This became a kind of tradition among Persian emperors.
This can play out in any popular uprising against a dictator who ruled through fear, but becomes more hated than respected. Adding specific examples might lead to excessive debating and much natter.
Avoided with the books written by the titular Niccolo Machiavelli - unlike characters this trope is about, Machiavelli thought that the most important thing is to avoid hatred, and that the most effective way to remain in power is to use both fear and love - like did most of great rulers.
Frederick The Great actually wrote an essay called the Anti-Machiavel shortly before ascending to the throne of Prussia.