Why Fear is More Efficient than Love

Machiavelli is the father of pragmatic reign: the father of the ‘I’ll do no matter what it takes to stay in power’ mentality sovereigns should, according to Machiavelli, have. You can say what you want about his thoughts, but they sure as hell have been influential. At least influential enough for us to be still talking about them, five centuries after his dead.

I want to focus at Machiavelli’s idea that – for a sovereign – it is better to be feared than to be loved. Machiavelli claims this because he believes that people are ungrateful and unable to be trusted; at least, not for long periods of time. Not until they get hungry again and breaking promises seems to be a better option than starving to death. But I want to focus on a different reason for why a sovereign should try to be feared instead of loved. And that is the simple fact that being feared costs less money – and effort – than being loved.

Being loved requires a constant level of investment from the sovereign; if the sovereign, for example, want to be seen as a generous man, he needs to keep on being generous at every opportunity to be generous that will arise. Giving a poor man money is generous, but to stop giving the poor man money falsifies the generosity of the sovereign. And the same goes for being friendly: if a sovereign wants to be perceived as a friendly man, he needs to be friendly all the time. One moment of unfriendliness means the end of his friendly appearance. Being good is simply a much more difficult role to play than being bad. Why? Because people have the tendency to remember someone’s unfriendly or betraying actions better than one’s well-intended or friendly actions.

Fear, compared to love, requires much less investment from the sovereign. That is because fear is based on expectations: someone’s anxiety from what might be about to come. And it is this sense of what is about to come that can be relatively easily manipulated by means of threats; by promising that something bad will happen if the citizens aren’t loyal to their sovereign. And the degree in which citizens are susceptible to the sovereign’s threats, depends in turn on the credibility of these threats. If the citizens don’t believe that the sovereign can live up to his evil promises, the threats will vanish without having had any effects. Thus the sovereign has to make sure that his threats are credible.

He can do this by means of military forces. If so, he must make sure that his army is bigger in size than – or at least equal to – the armed forces of the citizens – which is easy to achieve by making sure that the citizens are unable to get armory: by monopolizing the production – or at least distribution – of armory. This requires a one-time investment from the sovereign. An investment that – in the long run – will yield more benefits than the everlasting demand to feed the poor.

So although romantic movies might want us to believe that love conquers hate, hate – in the form of fear – might turn out to be the cheapest way to go.

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

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