Title: Comparing Fear in Machiavelli and Hobbes
Niccolò Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes both impacted the philosophical community in their own independent ways. Political figures, national governments and individual activists studied their writings to better understand social constructs and attitudes. Even though Machiavelli died nearly sixty years before his rival, Hobbes, was born, both writers commented on similar subjects. One of the most interesting concepts in their writings revolved around fear. How did Machiavelli and Hobbes address fear or offer to use it within political ideals?
Machiavelli’s main literary piece, which commented heavily on fear, was The Prince. This book – while outlining how government figures can acquire and maintain their power – described the use of fear in detail. It was Machiavelli’s belief that all systems of government required their subjects to be fearful of them. He posed that individuals become the most obedient and cooperative when in fear, and that a population unafraid of its government would be far less likely to follow its laws. To Machiavelli, fear was a necessary part of maintaining effective control over a populace.
Hobbes also supported the power of fear in a similar way to Machiavelli, especially in his work The Leviathan. However, Hobbes goes further, believing that fear effects all decisions and choices in one’s life. Civilization, he perpetuates, would not exist if it weren’t for fear – fear of ridicule, fear of rejection, fear of harm, fear of death, etc. Therefore, just as Machiavelli believes, Hobbes believes that governments should employ fear tactics in order to maintain and efficient sense of order.
Machiavelli and Hobbes actually pose very similar theories; they both believe fear to be a necessary part of both life and order. However, they do not agree exactly on the specific uses or functions of that fear. Machiavelli does mention that a ‘loved’ ruler is still by far better than a ‘feared’ one; Hobbes does not seem to share this sentiment. There is also a discrepancy between beliefs regarding the government rulers. Machiavelli claims that the use of fear should not extend into wickedness and injustice on the part of the ruler; Hobbes, however, believes that rulers are justified in everything they do, since they are the enforcing, government body. Basically, Machiavelli believes that rulers can be at fault, and mistreat their subjects; Hobbes does not believe a ruler could be at fault. So while both philosophers agree that fear is useful, even necessary, to a successful society, they have some serious disagreements regarding the particulars.