Consider whether Machiavelli’s idea that it is better for a ruler to be feared than loved applies to contemporary politics. Does the emergence of democracy in many parts of the world alter this equation? If so, how so? If not, why not?
When the two words ‘fear’ and ‘love’ come together in a sentence, it often causes ambiguity as such feelings are at times intertwined with each other. Do people fear God because they are afraid of losing his love? Do people love their parents due to their strict guidance of their kids’ lives? Such vagueness and ambiguity are apparent too in the contemporary world of nation-states, considering the emergence of democracy in many parts of the world, as the political sphere has become a game show of ‘Who Will Better Manipulate the Majority?’. And it is precisely the emergence of such power struggles of each political party that has created a more ‘Machiavellian’ (Machiavelli, 2019, p. 322) ground for politics than ever before. Therefore, I argue that it is best to separate love and fear from their entanglement and have fearsome, yet straightforward leaders rather than seemingly loving yet foxlike rulers in the current state of affairs.
Consider the following example. Assume that your boss at work is a traditional ‘authoritarian’ employer who usually gives orders to get work done in the office. In this case, you would probably not like your boss but do what he/she says anyways (perhaps in a huffing and puffing fashion). On the other hand, consider a different scenario in which your boss is a ‘friend’ who always speaks to his/her employees and asks how they have been, or asks about their families, etc. and builds a ‘loving’ character. In this case, when your employer demands from you the fulfillment of a specific task in a ‘loving’ manner, you would feel compelled to do the work as you would care about what your boss would feel about your reaction towards his/her request. Looking at these examples, although the latter case seems innocent and more ‘humane’ regarding the way of ruling behavior in the office, it is, in fact, an immense act of power exercised by the employer. Because the ‘friendly’ boss not only gives an order but also decides how his/her employer should feel about it (whether rejecting or doing the task), as there is an emotional attachment, or a dimension, involved as well. In the former case, however, everyone’s role and feelings (employer’s dislike against employees or vice versa) in the company is straightforward. Orders are done merely as a formal obligation with the acknowledgment of disliking them, in addition to feelings of resistance against embodying the respect boss’ position demands. So, a more cynical power is less accepted, whereas a power that is not manifest (emotional bonds in the second example) is proof of its functioning. In other words, as Michel Foucault writes, “power is tolerable only on condition that it mask a substantial part of itself. Its success is proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms.” (Foucault, 1978, p. 86).
Like the example of employer-employee relations and its variants, a country too ought to have fearsome leaders instead of lovable ones (Machiavelli, 2019, p. 326). To make an analogy, a fox may trick other animals into liking itself, yet it is the fearsome lion that rules the jungle best. One contemporary example that empowers my argument is Erdogan. Erdogan, who has jailed the greatest number of journalists in the world (Eski, 2019), has been in power since 2002. And his long-lasting sit on the throne is supported by the pillars of democracy. Pillars that have been built by people’s love towards his charisma and his seemingly ‘religiosity’. As democracy continues to produce hypocrite leaders such as Erdogan who is more loved than feared by his voters, it is in people’s best interest to choose a fearsome leader to better spot his/her mistakes rather than a ruler whose love will beguile agents of democracy and disguise his/her tyranny.
To conclude, the widespread of democratic practices in choosing a ruler and the power games it entails have created a paradoxical situation. The manipulation grounds of politicians in the name of democracy have produced rulers that are more ‘Machiavellian’ in character than what Machiavelli himself would have considered as an ideal prince. So, as a result of this paradox, it is through Machiavelli thinking of having fearsome leaders rather than lovable ones that would further prevent us, the people of democracy, from paving ways to rulers that mask their tyranny
Machiavelli D. (2019). Learning to Read. In M. Austin (Ed), Reading the World: Ideas that Matter (4th ed.) New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 322-329. (Original work published in 1513.)
Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality (1st American ed.). Pantheon Books :: New York.
Eski, B. (2019, May). Turkey: The world’s largest prison for journalists. Amnesty International, Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org