Sunday, October 11, 2015

Does nobody read primary sources?

This is Joseph.

I get confused about whether people read sources or just rely on summaries of them a lot in modern discourse.

For example, Niccolo Machiavelli is famous for saying that it is better to be feared than loved (with the codicil "if you cannot be both").  But nobody keeps reading and notices that he then puts several paragraphs (and then Chapter 19) pointing out that it would be even worse to be despised and hated.

So being tough only works (in his formulation) if it generates fear but does not give rise to hate.  That suggests a rather different balance of strategy, that looks like:

  • Feared and Loved
  • Feared
  • Loved
  • Hated or Despised
Yet I often see that quote used to justify tough actions and to avoid appeasement.  But being both feared and loved is the best possible outcome, and being hated is definitely worse than being loved.  So, in an odd sort of way, he is actually pushing moderation in action (not too soft, not too nasty) which I would never of picked up on without actually reading the book again.  Even the Wikapedia page doesn't really make this hierarchy clear.  

[The discourses, where he talks about how to make a republic work, are also of great interest and likely a lot more topical than how to be a tyrant]

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