Thursday, August 03, 2006

 

On Machiavelli, Tony Blair and the Art of Leadership

Machiavelli raised the question, in his advice to his eponymous Prince 'whether it be better[for a leader] to be loved than feared or feared than loved?' Tony Blair has spent quite some time addressing the subject of leadership, as we know, most recently bestowing the benefits of his thinking on the topic to Murdoch's associates gathering in Pebble Beach. But how does Tony himself measure up on the 'fear/love' question?

It seemed clear that when he started out to woo the nation Blair, just as Cameron is striving to do right now, went for the love jugular. He was all things to all men and his then nickname-'Bambi'- expressed something of the cuddliness he thought would win us over. But, as old Nicolo warned

'men in general... are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children...when the need is far distant but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince relying on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined'.

Well, I'm not sure if all those adjectives are applicable to the British public, but if his pitch was to be loved, it has not quite worked out as planned for Tony. Compare with Thatcher, a predecessor for whom Blair has confessed great admiration, and we saw a leader who leant rather more towards a reliance on fear,
'which preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails'.
Thatcher was certainly feared and hated in her day but I suspect those history books in which Tony seems so concerned to feature, adorned by halos, will accord more space and praise to The Iron Lady's leadership style than to that of the man currently so keen to lecture on the subject.

Machiavelli concludes that

'friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon'.
He maintained that people

'have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared.'

He was writing well before the age of democracy, of coure, but I have a feeling his ideas still apply.

Comments:
Good post, Bill. I've been reading and re-reading 'The Prince' since I was 14. The best book on politics as it is rather than on how it might/should be.
 
Steve
Thanks. He was one of the first writers I encountered too and I felt he was right on the money even then. If anything he has become even more right as the centuries have passed.
 
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