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Article :: Supporting Evidence

Machiavailli Reconsidered

The Prince

by Nicolo Machiavelli


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.[1]

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.[2]

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. [3]

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 licence 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.[4]

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

  • Each prince should hope to be held merciful and not cruel
  • A prince must keep his subjects united and faithful and should not care about the infamy of cruelty
  • Much safer to be feared than loved, if one has to lack one of the two
  • Men are fickle, ungrateful, pretenders and dissemblers, evaders of danger, and eager for gain
  • Love is held by a chain of obligation, which because men are wicked, is broken at every opportunity for their own utility, but fear is held by dread of punishment.
  • A prince must be feared, but also not hated. To avoid being hated, he must refrain from taking the property of his citizens and subjects and their women.
  • If a prince must proceed against someone's life, there must be suitable justification and manifest cause for it.
  • Must not care about cruelty, because the prince must lead the army and keep them united. Cites Hannibal as an example of a leaderwho was so feared by his army because of his cruelty that they stood by him in both good and bad times.
  • "...since men love at their convenience and fear at the convenience of the prince, a wise prince should found himself on what is his ,not on what is someone else's; he should only contrive to avoid hatred, as was said".

[1] A ruler needs to keep a firm hand on the tiller of the ship of state and the crew in line, focussed on ruler objectives. There are absolute necesseties that must be observed to retain both power and the loyality of the people. Perceptions regarding how you react to dissent, with cruelty or clemency determines much since people will perceive your actions and conclude regarding your future response to their behavior:
  • If you cultivate the perception of clemency, this will allow you to be secretly cruel to key dissenters and maintain your reputation for clemency by forgiving dissenters in irrelevant areas. This will also have the consequence of embolding dissenters (and actual criminals), by reducing the perceived costs and therefore, risks of transgressing. When dissenters and criminals are emboldened, this increases your enforcement costs and, criminal predations on the serfs dramatically reduces "tolerance of the governed", making tribute extraction far more difficult.
  • If you cultivate the perception of cruelty, this will allow you to remain in character when neccessary, making highly public the fate of transgressors. This will have the effect of instilling caution and terror by increasing the perceived costs and risk to those whom may be inclined to be criminals, dissent your rule or attempt to avoid to paying tribute.

[2] It is far superior that a ruler be feared than loved because love carries the ongoing cost of being maintained whereas fear needs to be invoked once with occasional examples to maintain public perception.
  • Maintaining fear is lower cost, since it is more economically efficient to generally threaten to destroy and occasionally destroy dissenters than to earn love. The cost of maintaining fear is low, therefore the motivation of fear to dissent can be maintained during times of adversitity when obedience and support of the people is most neccessary.
  • Maintaining love is an ongoing expense since people are fickle and easily forget your favor when the time comes to return it. In times of adversity, the ongoing costs of maintaining love cannot be afforded. With loss of bribing their support, the people will abandon you at your time of greatest need, resulting in your destruction.

[3] Rulers are to avoid invoking hatred within the public at all costs, since, like fear and all strong emotions, once established as a habit, it takes great efforts to eradicate it and will result in your destruction, should you invoke hatred and fail to achieve forgiveness.
  • Since men are, by nature self-interested, with a priority on their own lives and affairs, they take far greater offense against being harmed personally, than harm to others whom they may value such as family members and friends.
  • The above inarguable fact of human perceptual nature (that which is closer has more weight) is used by modern rulers to protect against blowback on behalf of others (there, but by the grace of god, go I, first they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew...) by immediately threatening the lives and property of those whom may intervene, such as insisting the Nuremburg principles of law demand opposing and not assisting criminals, therefore, so long as aggressive wars, no taxes.
  • Because of the self-interestd nature of man, a ruler MUST, AT ALL COSTS refrain from taking the property or women of others. This is a sure path to public hatred and your demise, to the extent that you engage in these transgressions.
  • There are never ending pretexts for taking the property of others, far fewer for taking their lives. If a ruler becomes accustomed (addicted) to robbery, plunder and taking the property of others, this is a sure path to hatred and your demise. People will adapt to this plunder and you will be left without "proceeds of crime", helpless without defense nor support. Even your own soldiers will turn on you when they can no longer be appeased.
  • If you are to take the life of an opponent, it must be perceived as having reasonable justification, since, although people do place priority on their own lives, property and affairs, reasonable people do care about the lives of others. Unstated, but should have been: without the support of the reasonable amd productive, rulers are doomed, at the hands of their most capable opponents, whose support or, at least tolerance is MANDATORY.
  • At all costs, a ruler must maintain a reputation of cruelty, all along the military chain of command, to maintain discipline.

[4] The choice to give love is the property of they whom choose to love in return, not under ruler control. The choice to fear, on the other hand is an inevitable response to survival threats, not a choice of those whom may fear, but under the total control of those whom may choose to administer fear. In all matters a ruler should depend, to the greatest degree possible on what is under his control and minimise the risk of what is not under his control. Fear is under a rulers total control, love is not.


Darwin Reconsidered


Rule of Law


Mathematics of Rule

Thinking 101:

Intelligent Choice

Bill Ross is an electronic design engineer in Oakland, Ontario, Canada. The above article is either an excerpt from, supporting evidence for or logical implication of HumanNature, an evolving objective study of humanity and civilization and dissection of the lies of those who incorrectly believe they are in control from the factual, provable perspective. Feedback is welcome. Email Author

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