The political writings of Machiavelli, who lived in Italy from 1469 to 1527 and worked there as a writer and Florentine public servant, are today regarded in the history of political ideas as the joining between political thought of the Middle Ages and modern times.
I will be discussing the role of fear that Machiavelli has discussed in his book “The Prince”, and later on compare it to the role of fear that was present in Utopia by Thomas Moore.
So, is fear better than affection? Both are good, but if the ruler cannot win the love of the people, the prince should fear so much that he avoids hatred. And what if the ruler kills you? He may do so for a good reason, says Machiavelli. But the ruler should never seize the property of others not for moral but mainly for practical reasons. At that time, it was common for people to forget the death of their father rather than the loss of their heritage; no belongings meant struggle.
But the role of fear of a ruler is only the result of the image of humans that Machiavelli illustrates in his book. In contrast to the positive image of human from the Renaissance, Machiavelli emphasizes that an essential characteristic of human is fundamental depravity. He sees all human beings as egoists who, at every opportunity, betray the community and its ruler in order to derive a personal benefit from it. Correspondingly, the behavior of a prince must also be based on requirements created by real political circumstances. Moral beliefs, according to Machiavelli, are often rather counterproductive in reality. For example, when the indulgence of a ruler makes it possible for his enemies to commit crimes against the people to be protected by his rule. The prince must therefore override moral concepts (such as the ban on killing), since for Machiavelli it is more important than the protection of the state and thus also that of the people living in it.
In order to see Machiavelli’s radical attitude, it is still necessary to look at Machiavelli’s image of human shown in his book. Machiavelli is convinced that man cannot change at heart. His main goal is power maximization and he will always enforce this regardless of losses. Man will use all the means at his disposal at his hand to achieve his goals, regardless of whether his methods are good or bad. This involves hurting and eliminating others in order to maintain the desired secured state.
So, what exactly should man do to maintain the power? Chapter twenty-seven can be regarded as one of the central parts of Machiavelli’s writing ‘The Prince’. Here the question is asked whether it is better for a prince to be loved or feared. Machiavelli states, that in order to maintain his power, a prince must not be afraid to be considered ruthless, because only then can he receive the loyalty and unity of his subservient. Once there is disorder in the state, the punishment will hit including the prince. However, if done soon enough, only the criminals are affected by the punishment, because that’s who will get all the blame. This is particularly true when the prince regains power. Basically, the prince has to choose man to blame and punish, in order to keep the state’s secureness.
Nevertheless, the prince must always be careful not to be hated, and this he achieves best by not touching the property of the people. Nevertheless, the prince is required to be ruthless in war, because only then he can maintain control of his army. If the prince has no knowledge about war, he has no knowledge about power. Hence, he does not know how to use his power inside or outside the state. The prince needs to lead his army as he is fighting for his own life. The army can turn against you, but not if they fear you. If they fear you, they will fight for you, and that will make the prince survive in his power of state.
Machiavelli believes that people are neither capable of being purely evil nor perfectly good, but rather of always choosing a middle ground between the two, which Machiavelli considers to be the most harmful behavior. Therefore, the state must oppressively deny the people living in it the possibility of being bad or force them to overcome internal corruptness. In this way, Machiavelli’s state does not remain solely an oppressor state. On the contrary, it becomes the source of morality that cannot exist outside of a state order in Machiavelli’s imagination. In his eyes that is that the state makes good become possible and law and virtue can become real. But in order to get there the people must trust the prince and his decisions, whether they involve actions that are not morally correct.
The state of Utopia on the other hand is a republic. The political system of Utopia is based on a federal structure. The people choose a leader who rules lifelong, and if he shows oppressive features, he can be dropped. It is also a council of the entire island chosen, but about its functions, hardly anything is said. Political leaders are recruited from the many hundred exempt laborers. The form of government is a mixture of learned aristocracy and democracy. The respective city chief is elected for life, and if he develops oppressive behaviors, he can be dropped. Nowhere else should there be a better people and a happier state. In comparison to the state in “The Prince” there is no specific person that is meant to be feared. In Utopia there is strict rules and few laws, and if you don’t obey those laws you should fear the consequences (slavery). The role of fear in Utopia is more focused on fearing the law rather than fearing a person that has the power in the state.
Utopia describes a man shaped by the state, represented without selfishness, self-interest and other negative characteristics. Due to these given characteristics, one can speak of structure in the state that orients itself around a specific moralization.
On the island of Utopia, you can find a state where everything is set up to work perfectly. The people there are hard-working, generous, reasonable, in solidarity and obedient. The island represents a democratic society in which there is no poverty and neglected needs, in which man is valued even when he’s not wealthy. It is a world that works perfectly without money, private property, and in which there is no self-interest but only the community’s interest. Since the idea of the Utopians revolve on the term “community” there is no good reasoning for a ruler wanting to be feared by the state. If a community is as strong as the Utopian community, a ruler that is feared might be overthrown by the strength of coherence of the community.
To achieve all this secureness and equality, the state even organizes every detail of the life of its citizens. He models and controls them by subjecting them to constant education, which offers a utility of sort of “brain washing” Utopia’s citizens to think a certain way. The Utopians learn at each meal by reading a text with moral content or the conversation with the ancients, how to behave. They also learn through habits, such as the regular changes of houses or the contemplation of the golden chains of the slaves, that private wealth and luxury are not advantages but foolishness. The life of each Utopian is permanently directed and supervised, so that no one deviates from the common rules and thus endangers the existing peaceful atmosphere. This brings up the question whether the citizens should fear of not having an individual opinion that differs from the common moral value taught in this state.
Moore however makes it seem as this strong state control does not seem to be perceives in a pressuring way but rather appears as normality. The reason could be that the political system is a democratic system – or at least seems to be. The state involves the citizens and gives it (in their eyes) massive right by letting citizens elect the civil servants. The state constitution of Utopia shows that these servants see their main task in the happiness of the people. And with all the important values taught by the state such as diligence, obedience, compassion and moderation, there is always security. These values appear to be taught merely as a defensive necessity, defending the state from rebellious behavior. If there is only one common way to go, there is barely to no chance of somebody that will take the security of the state. Security also has a preventative aspect, as long as everything is strictly avoided, which could endanger the Utopians and destroy order. The dangers are defined by the state. They include, above all, poverty, but also general vices such as poverty. Poverty is one of the biggest fears of the state of Utopia and its citizens.
To summarize, the portrayal of the state Utopia shows a form of government in which not only the political, but also the moral values play a major role. It is an order whose success is based on the virtues of men. That’s why, in order to function, the system must create a new human being who cannot resist: a person who follows the political rules with equanimity and obedience. The role of fear comes in when thinking about losing their established happiness and wealth. The state rather fears loss of those things than the ruler. Utopia is a state that stands for humanity.
To summarize again, Machiavelli calls four qualities a prince must have in order to maintain his power: leniancy and kindness should be replaced by hardness and cruelty. He should aim to be feared, but at the same time avoid hatred and contempt. In short, Machiavelli’s prince is a demanding sovereign who has everything under control and is enthroned on a pedestal of inviolability. He governs so that his goals and demands are met in the best possible way. Power and oppression are means to an end, but have lost all humanity.