Is It Better To Be Loved Than Feared? Icon

September 23, 2021

Every prince should want to be considered kind and not cruel. Nevertheless, he should take care not to misuse this kindness.

Cruel to be Kind

Cesare Borgia was considered cruel. Yet his cruelty calmed the Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty.

He was actually much more merciful than the Florentines who permitted Pistoia to be destroyed in order to avoid a reputation for cruelty. Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, should not mind the criticism of cruelty.

By making an example of a few people, he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow rebellions to arise, from which follow murders or robberies. These are likely to injure the whole people, while those killings which are commanded by the prince only affect the individual.

Of all princes, it is impossible for the new prince to avoid the reputation for cruelty. This is because new states are full of dangers.

Nevertheless a prince ought to be slow to believe and to act, and should not show fear. He should proceed in a calm manner with care and concern for others, so that too much confidence does not make him careless and too much distrust does not make him always suspicious.

Related to 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 it is much safer to be feared than loved, when only one is possible. The reason for this is that in general men are ungrateful, inconstant, false, cowardly, and greedy. As long as you succeed, they are yours entirely - they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, when the need is far distant. But when the need approaches, they turn against you.

A prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other ways of protecting himself, will be ruined. 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. Men are less worried about offending one who is loved than one who is feared.

Love is preserved by the link of gratefulness which, owing to the weak nature of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a fear of punishment which never fails.

Nevertheless a prince ought to encourage fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred. He can carry on very well being feared while he is not hated, which will always be as long as he keeps away from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women.

But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it with proper justification and for obvious reasons. But above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their inheritance.

Besides, it is always easy to create reasons for taking away property. Anyone who has once begun to live by robbery will always find reasons for seizing what belongs to others. But reasons for taking life, on the other hand, are more difficult to find and are hard to keep justifying.

But when a prince is with his army, and has hundreds of soldiers under his command, then it is necessary for him to not worry about having a reputation for cruelty, because without it he will not keep his army united or disposed to do its duties.

Hannibal led an enormous army26 composed of various races fighting in foreign lands. They had no disagreements among them or against the prince, no matter how bad or good things were. This shows his wonderful deeds arising from his inhuman cruelty. Together with his boundless courage, it made him respected and terrible in the sight of his soldiers.

Without that cruelty, his other virtues were not sufficient to produce this effect.

Short-sighted writers admire his deeds from one point of view and from another criticise the principal cause of them.

His opposite is the most excellent Scipio. His own army rebelled in Spain because of his too-great kindness. It gave his soldiers more freedom than usual. For this, he was criticised in the Senate by Fabius Maximus, and called a bad leader.

Because of his easy nature, he did not punish one of his officers who exploited the Locrians. Someone in the Senate, wishing to excuse him, said there were many men who knew much better how not to make errors than to correct the errors of others.

This kindness as a commander would have eventually destroyed Scipio’s reputation and glory. Fortunately, he was under the control of the Senate. And so this dangerous characteristic remained hidden and even contributed to his glory.

Men love according to their own will. Men fear according to the will of the prince. Therefore, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in the control of others. He must try however to avoid hatred.


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