We have all heard the famous Machiavellian quote, “And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved”. However, is this really true? It is really better to lead with fear rather than love? As Machiavelli puts it, both would be the ideal – the fearful leader has a strong sense of protection and security while the loved leader gains more trust and companionship.
Because of the strong evidence that points towards both sides, it is difficult to tell which one is really the better of the two. Perhaps fear is more reliable and stable than love – something that is easily lost and broken. But, in contrast, fear can create corruption and power-hungry people, which could eventually lead to an unhappy society.
Historically, leaders tended to side with one or the other. We can look to Hitler as a perfect example of someone who led by fear – he was able to gain so much power by instilling such fear into his people that they had no choice but to comply. The results, however, were detrimental. If we want a figure of success that led by fear, we can look to athletes that have excelled in their abilities. Michael Jordan is a great example. His competitors were scared to death of his talents, his toughness and his ability to consistently win games. He ultimately led the league by the fear that he was able to instill in his opponents. Even when put up against some of the other better athletes in his time, they generally choked in his presence – overwhelmed by his fearful tone. In contrast, George Washington led by love and was successful in his power. It is clear that both can be put into action and perhaps, with the right people in power both can work.
So what is the answer? In our society today, leaders try and combine both, by reaching out to the public and being an “iconic” figure while still invoking a sense of fear perhaps as a means to be taken more seriously.
In my opinion, while Machiavelli states that there is no way to embody both fear and love as a leader and we are able to find good examples of rulers that lead by only one or the other, I think recent leaders have broken with this view and have found successful ways to balance out the two. I think this is the best way to lead a society so that people are not forced to fear or love their leader but rather embody both so that should leaders love/fear be broken, there are not left “powerless”.
Clearly, there is no right or wrong answer to this question and it is still largely debated. Does Machiavelli’s theories still apply to society today? If so, how does our society function in conjunction with the fear and love leadership?