Machiavellianism: Cruelty and Compassion


“A prince must be slow to believe allegations and to take action, and must watch that he does not come to be afraid of his own shadow.”

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

In “The Prince”, Niccolò Machiavelli opens his chapter [17] on cruelty and compassion with this statement; “a prince must want to have a reputation for compassion rather than for cruelty: none the less, he must be careful that he does not make bad use of compassion.” In this fragment, Machiavelli emphasises the significance of mindful humility, simultaneously suggesting the exclusion of its misuse which leads to excessive mercy. As I shall elaborate in this piece, immoderation of mercy will prove obstructive. Mindful humility tempered by shrewd wisdom is characteristic of the ideal ruler which Machiavelli intimates.

Under that delineation, a sovereign need not be concerned should he suffer any rebuke as a consequence of his brutality, under the conditions that he retains the union and allegiance in his citizens. Through the sovereign’s prudent employment of exemplification, he will demonstrate to be understandably caring, more so than those whose immoderate pity assents to the chaos that drives an ordeal. A sovereign’s manner of conduct, then, ought to be modified by a dash of humaneness and caution, circumventing the potentiality for conceited conduct that is likely to make him impetuous; or intemperate distrust that is likely to make him intolerable. Thus, a sovereign should be unhurried both to be convinced and to take the initiative, shunning away from growing fearful of his own darkness.

One would argue that it is preferable to be simultaneously feared and loved, nonetheless, since it is arduous to merge them, it is more appropriate to be feared than loved, if joining both is not feasible. Machiavelli made this generalisation about men; ‌“they are ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit” In spite of that, so long as you know how to deal with them, you have a considerable degree of ownership over them and they will be willing to endanger themselves and their possessions on your behalf. But, only as long as menace is out of sight, once you find yourself in jeopardy, they betray. That is to say, that they are only as faithful as threat allows them to be. The moral is; a friendship that is purchased with money and not acquired through eminence and honour is short-lived and fruitless.

Men shatter when it is advantageous, such is their miserable nature. Yet, their fear to impose harm is fortified by the apprehension of penalty. Fear, too, is consistent with a lack of abhorrence; [an element the ruler can evade by refraining from his citizen’s belongings and their partners.] Here, the goods of others are consequential since a reputation for impoundment of people’s property will make the ruler detestable by the citizens. A ruler who lives to engage in the harsh impoundment of people’s belongs will always invent a credible pretence to satisfy his desire.

Nevertheless, a ruler who is battling with fighters and is in charge of a sizeable army should not be anxious about a character for brutality. For, if the ruler does not have a capacity for cruelty in battle, unification and discipline will not be sustained in the army. By way of illustration, Hannibal is a prominent precedent of a leader whose army embodied a sustained degree of concurrence and euphony and even though it was vast and undertook innumerable different rivalries, there was never variance within; whether hell or high water, there was no dissent, neither with the soldiers nor in opposition to the chief.

It is this very trait that made Hannibal both acclaimed and feared by his soldiers, not that his other noticeable traits served no pertinence, but his cruelty was fully in charge of the unity and control within the army. Had it not been for Hannibal’s savagery, his other traits would not be sufficient. The consequence of a deficiency in cruelty can be demonstrated by Scipio; a characteristic man in his own right throughout former times. However, his immoderate mercy granted his soldiers more authority than was dutiful for a disciplined militia; this was well demonstrated when his army revolted against him in Spain.

Lastly, with regards to the matter of being loved or feared, we could deduce that as men occasionally love as they choose yet dread when the ruler chooses, the shrewd ruler should have no dependence on what is ungovernable and lay his reliance on what is tractable. The ruler, though, must work hard to avoid being detested by the people, at all costs.


Further Reading


0 Shares:
Leave a Reply
You May Also Like