The Prince’s Dilemma

The Society held its tenth debate of the semester on Resolved: It is better for a leader to be feared than loved. In the political treatise The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli argues that a leader should be feared rather than loved, if he cannot obtain both: “It is much safer to be feared than loved because…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.” The Society took the opportunity to expound upon, reframe, and challenge this classic theory of leadership.

Ms. Anna Hernick (SFS ’16) of Georgia established tonight’s debate as not one surrounding ethical or moral hypotheticals, but rather about essential principles of leadership and society grounded in historical and contemporary sources of analysis. She argued that a leader must motivate people to do things against their self-interest for the sake of society, such as paying taxes, which requires using fear. “People must fear laws enough that they follow the laws, or there is a risk that society will fall apart,” she said. Moreover, she emphasized that despite fear’s negative connotations, the emotion is actually healthy and natural: “Fear isn’t just tied to evil manipulation or intimidation. People can fear their leader because they’re in awe of him or her.”

Ms. Laura Kurek (SFS ’16) of Illinois repudiated the notion that fear is a sustainable method of governance, as ruling by punishments and threats cannot be effective in the long-term. “Fear is a simple tool of manipulation that does not build trust. A truly skilled leader knows how to use love to cultivate a flourishing society,” she said. With the Age of Enlightenment, rulers realized that they must earn the respect of their people. A loved ruler is also trusted, respected, and recognized as acting in the best interests of his people. Therefore, she is much better able to get her people to do what she wants, even if it requires short-term sacrifices. Quoting Robert Putnam, Ms. Kurek contended that “social capital, or networks of engagement and trust, is the best way to build a society.”

Mr. Stephen Taft (COL ’13) of Washington, D.C. applauded the rhetoric of Ms. Kurek’s speech, but argued that it was not even close to an accurate description of the world. Facing the Society, he proclaimed, “All of us think that we were leaders, are leaders, or are going to be leaders. In order to do that, we have to get other people to be men and women for us. Fear of death keeps religion, our government, and authority in general running.” No one follows laws because they are so inspired by their political leader, so usage of fear is the crucial tool for keeping order and function within a society. “In a democracy, you need love to become a leader, but you need fear to get anything done,” he said. “That’s why fear is more important than love.”

Mr. Evan Monod (COL ’14) of Vermont channeled President Dwight D. Eisenhower by describing leadership as “an art of getting someone else to do what you want done because they want to do it.” He contended that love is the only way to achieve that skill, as people will want to do things for you if they feel respected and appreciated. He cited President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Queen Victoria of England as two key examples of rulers who governed effectively through love. Elected for an unprecedented (and unconstitutional) four terms, FDR earned so much respect from his people that they chose him time and time again. Queen Victoria similarly commanded an empire that stretched around the world as she maintained significant popularity at home. “The path of fear might be easier or more seductive, but it’s the beloved leaders who win the most. Leaders are a reflection of humanity as a whole,” Mr. Monod concluded.

Mr. RisCassi (COL ’13) started off the night with a bang by urging everyone to abstain, as any effective leader must use both love and fear to succeed. Ms. Wynter (COL ’14) argued that the previous speeches have conflated respect and fear, when in fact, people respect their leaders more when they love them. They may fear disappointing them, but that is only a result of love. Mr. Willis (SFS ’16) countered that the conflation is actually between fear and hatred — a leader who intimidates can also be loved, as he earns the respect of his people. Mr. Whitfield (COL ’13) performed a dramatic reenactment of Napoleon’s feats, demonstrating how his rise through fear and military conquest allowed him to simultaneously inspire love in his people. In the end, he lost the kingdom he won through love because of the mistakes he made with fear. Mr. Whitfield emphasized, “It’s always better to love because in moments of weakness, love brings us solace.” Mr. Kelley (COL ’13) argued that the discipline of Napoleon’s army was based on fear, which is ultimately necessary to keep a society together. Mr. Wilson (SFS ’15) disagreed, proclaiming that the basis of fear must rest with love: “To gain power, a leader must be loved. Mobilization of people and resources requires trust and love.” Ms. Wood (SFS ’14) retorted that some leaders don’t need to mobilize anything in order to gain power, such as Genghis Khan. Vice President Christensen (COL ’15) pointed out that Genghis Khan could hardly be considered a sustainable ruler, because creating an effective government isn’t killing off everyone one is supposed to govern. She also distinguished between fear of a leader and fear of social disorder. The reason that people follow laws is not due to the former but to the latter: we follow laws so other people will also follow the laws and social stability may ensue.

William Greco (SFS ’15) used the Tea Party and NRA as examples of groups that effectively use the campaign donations as a threat to keep conservative politicians in line. Robin Giles (COL ’14) noted that in a democracy, there’s always a percentage of people that opposed the leader in power which can be as high as 49%. Therefore, a leader must be feared at least by the minority opposition if she wants to be successful in cultivating freedom of opinion. Danny Graff (SFS ’15) contended that true power is getting someone to do what you want them to do, which is only possible through love. Mr. Petallides (SFS ’13) argued that if you can’t have both, it’s more important to be feared. Otherwise, all it takes is a charismatic leader of the opposition party for you to be deposed. Chancellor Marsh (COL ’13) scorned Mr. Petallides’s predictions as “bunkus.” In the long view of history, he said, leaders who are more feared do not do well: “Queen Victoria amassed the largest empire in British history because in her leadership, she inspired in the people a love for her, a love for peace, and a love for nationhood.” Mr. Snow (COL ’13) said that when push comes to shove, love is necessary. “A great leader, not a petty tyrant, can move mountains because they remind us that hope conquers despair,” he maintained. Mr. Dulik (SFS ’13) countered that love does not give us the standard for how to “marshal troops” in a society; instead, fear equips people with a normative structure to get things done. Mr. Spagnuolo (SFS ’14) agreed, “It’s great to have your friends love you, but it’s more important to have your enemies fear you.”

Mr. Monod ended with reference to Yoda, labeling fear as the path of the Dark Side. “Fear doesn’t create anything lasting. Fear doesn’t create a stable society because it has an expiration date, which is the minute you lose the ability to threaten your people,” he said. Mr. Monod advocated for love instead as the light forward to the future. Mr. Taft disagreed, arguing that love alone is insufficient to motivate people. He also pointed out that a leader who uses fear is not necessarily committing an evil of manipulation, for the fear of death and the unknown are always present in our lives.

Ms. Kurek said that rule by fear is intimately linked to the threat of death, which only has sway because life comes to an end. “Leaders who use fear manipulate human existence,” she challenged. “That can only breed resentment, noncompliance and ultimately, revolt.” She illustrated a loved leader as one who manages a society fairly through laws, institutions, and sustainable processes. Ms. Hernick emphasized that maintaining stability is actually achieved better through awe-inspiring leaders who know how to effectively command power and use fear when necessary. Further, she pointed out that love can be manipulated just as easily as fear can, and that leading with love should not be conflated with moral superiority. “For every Brit who loved Queen Victoria, there were scores of people in British colonies who feared and hated her,” she remarked.

The Society voted 22-3-21, resulting in a technical negation. The Society welcomes Ms. Kurek and Ms. Hernick as its newly inducted members!

Merrick Points
Mr. Whitfield: 5
Mr. Spagnuolo: 4
Mr. Petallides: 3
Mr. Taft: 2
Mr. Dulik: 1

Merrick Totals
Mr. Spagnuolo: 23
Mr. Dulik: 21
Mr. Petallides: 16
Mr. Snow: 12
Mr. Askonas: 8
Mr. Donovan: 8
Mr. Berryman: 6
Ms. Wynter: 6
Ms. Wood: 5
Mr. Whitfield: 5
Mr. Wilson: 5
Ms. Ringwald: 3
Mr. Ahmed: 3
Mr. Taft: 2
Mr. Dinneen: 1
Mr. Quinn: 1

The Society will not meet next week due to Georgetown’s Easter break. On April 4, the Society will have its final Merrick Debate, so be sure to join us for what will certainly be a promising event.


Chloe J. Krawczyk

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