Tuesday, April 08, 2014

It is better to be feared than loved, or not

By Richard K. Barry 

Ryan Lizza has a fascinating piece in The New Yorker on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's political style. For the piece he interviewed former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who clearly has issues with Christie:

"He doesn't always try to persuade you with reason," Kean said. "He makes you feel that your life's going to be very unhappy if you don't do what he says." He added that one of Christie's flaws "is that he makes enemies and keeps them. As long as you're riding high, they'll stay in the weeds, because they don't want to get in your way. But you get in trouble, they'll all come out of the weeds, and come at you." 

I couldn't help thinking about a passage in Machiavelli's Prince (Chap. XVII), in which he discusses a particular aspect of political style:

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.

Perhaps Gov. Christie has read his Machiavelli and believes it is best to keep everyone around him in a constant state of fear that he could do them harm if inclined.

But Kean's comments are instructive. If those surrounding the leader are loyal only as long as he is powerful enough to hurt them, they may happily "come out of the weeds" when they sense he is no longer "riding high." If there is real respect and affection, however, it is possible those around him may remain on side when times are tough.

I'd like to think Machiavelli got this one wrong, and that Christie will suffer for it. 

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