Philosophy / Machiavelli: &Quot;Cunning Like A Fox And Ferocious Like A Lion&Quot;

Machiavelli: &Quot;Cunning Like A Fox And Ferocious Like A Lion&Quot;

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Autor:  anton  11 November 2010
Tags:  Machiavelli,  Cunning,  Ferocious
Words: 1012   |   Pages: 5
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In his work, The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli writes extensively on the manner a leader ought to act in order to gain and retain power in the most effective way. He claims that "the essence of successful government is force and craft" (Gettell 1951, 140). Machiavelli illustrates his thought saying that a power broker can become successful if he is both cunning like a fox and ferocious like a lion (Wootton 1996, 45). However, in the course of this paper, I will demonstrate that craftiness and ferocity lead to the opposite results anticipated by the author: first, ferocity leads to a distrust of the leader; then, this cruelty eventually ends with retaliatory ferocity; finally, ferocity and craftiness lead to a greater systemic instability.

Trust is an essential foundation for a ruler's legitimacy and, hence, to its longevity; However, Machiavelli affirms that "it is much safer to be feared than loved" (Ibid., 39). Machiavelli sees in fear a protection for the ruler. He assumes that "since men are wicked [В…], [the leader] need[s] not keep faith with them" (Ibid., 40). He justifies his brutality on the false assumption that all men are evil and as such, some of them will always search to destroy the leader. Thus, maintaining fear on the people through ferocity will prevent the ruler's fall. There are many examples of ruthless dictators for whom maintaining power was a constant concern because of lack of people's trust. An example of such ruler was Saddam Hussein, who ruthlessly ruled over the Iraqi people for twenty five years. After Hussein's capture by the United States armed forces, the dictator was asked why he had lied about weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Hussein answered that if the Iraqis and the Iraq's neighbors had had acknowledged that he had gotten rid of his WMD, he would have lost control within and without the country. Saddam Hussein tried to trick the world and maintain a perceived power. His craftiness led him to his loss. The Iraqis did not trust their leader and the dictator did not trust his people and even his appointees. Saddam Hussein is but one example which shows the importance of trust for a leader. Thus, trust in the leader is a fundamental factor for a successful leadership.

Contrary to what Machiavelli argues, ferocity, in almost all of the cases, leads to retaliatory violence. Praising the brutal and "successful" ruler Severus, Machiavelli said of Severus' oppressed people: "the people were always to a considerable degree stupefied and astonished by him" (Ibid., 44). For Machiavelli, Severus' oppression made him a successful ruler. However, an oppressive ruler cannot be a successful leader. Machiavelli does not evaluate realistically the costs of an oppressed people. First, the economy and thus the well-being of an oppressed nation are very destructive. Second, the ferocity and the injustice experienced by the broken people unavoidably lead to violent sentiments of vengeance which will explode with the first sign of leader's regime weakness. An example of such violent revolts was the fall of the Ceausescu's regime in Romania in 1989. As the Romanian Communist regime started to vacillate because of Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost, the Romanian peopleВ—which had been oppressed for decades, living in absolute povertyВ—arrested, tried, and immediately executed the dictator and his wife. The Romanian press widely disseminated the graphic pictures of the couple's bodies. This coverage seemed as if the Romanians wanted to turn a dark page of their history with, as a tangible proof, the dead bodies of their former dictators. The Shah of Iran was another example of a ferocious leader who used extensively his secret policeВ—the SAVAKВ—to torture and deter the opposition. Decades of violence and injustice with the American connivance led to the violent 1979 Islamic revolution and its consequences for the Iranian-American relations. Thus, violence and oppression never create a successful leadership. Even having an "immense reputation"В—as argued Machiavelli about Severus' methodsВ—is not a "defense against the hatred of the populace" (Ibid., 45). A regime in which people are dominated and coerced cannot be successful in the long run.

Violence and craftiness cannot bring peace and stability. Machiavelli argues exactly the opposite saying that ferocity and craftiness bring respect, power, and stability (Ibid., 45). This stability may exist in the short run as people are subdued to brutal repression; nevertheless, such artificial stability is soon replaced by much shakiness as seen earlier. Moreover, rulers that are hungry for power will not generally stop to one successful conquest; but, they continue to fight for larger kingdoms as did Napoleon for instance. Thus, such leaders create deep instability especially with their surrounding neighbors. This problem is known as the security dilemma, which unavoidably leads to instability. Hitler was another example. Because of his ruthlessness and his craftiness, he led Europe to the most destructive war the world has ever seen. Such is the instability caused by ferocity and craftiness.

For Machiavelli, religion and morality are second to the "necessities of political existence and welfare" (Gettell 1951, 140). Thus, his views of leadership are filled with principles that morality and conscience cannot accept. We can see that Machiavelli's philosophy of what a successful leader ought to beВ—cunning as a fox and ferocious as a lionВ—has many flaws, three of which were discussed here. First, ferocity and craftiness prevent any relationship of trust between the ruler, his subjects, and the people in general. Second, they engender more violence and desires for vengeance. Finally, such leadership leads to instability within and even without the borders. Machiavelli agrees that respect, admiration, and trust are qualities to become a successful leader; however, he tries to obtain them through violence and craftiness.


Gettell, Raymond G. 1951. History of political thought. New York: Publisher unknown.

Wootton, David. 1996. Modern political thought readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett Pub.

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