10 February 2009

And here it is now, your moment of Machiavelli

The 16th Century writer Nicollo Machiavelli is often associated with methodical, calculated evil, even though his writings simply offer pragmatic advice for leaders, and even praise the merits of virtue.  Machiavelli is often misunderstood and even more frequently quoted out of context (Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist elaborates).

One of the most famous, and most misunderstood phrases of Machiavelli is "it is better to be feared than loved".  But let's take a look at the quote in a larger context (Chapter XVII of The Prince).  

"And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps 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...Nevertheless a Prince should inspire fear in such a fashion that if he do not win love he may escape hate...Returning to the question of being loved or feared, I sum up by saying, that since his being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends upon himself, a wise Prince should build on what is his own, and not on what rests with others. Only, as I have said, he must do his utmost to escape hatred."

With that said, let's take a look at a quote from Defense and the National Interest's latest publication on Fourth Generation Warfare, and the methods it takes to win it.  See if something doesn't ring true in it:

What succeeds on the tactical level can easily be counter productive at the operational and, especially, strategic levels. For example, by using their overwhelming firepower at the tactical level, Marines may in some cases intimidate the local population into fearing them and leaving them alone. But fear and hate are closely related, and if the local population ends up hating us, that works toward our strategic defeat. That is why in Northern Ireland, British troops are not allowed to return fire unless they are actually taking casualties. The Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld argues that one reason the British have not lost in Northern Ireland is that they have taken more casualties than they have inflicted.

When you learn to truly read Machaivelli properly, you might yield some surprising results...


Bag Blog said...

It would seem that to be feared, but not hated, you would have to be just.

Starbuck said...

Indeed. You see, contrary to popular opinion, Machiavelli was actually a fan of a ruler having civic virtue.