Caligula said “oderit dum metuat.” Or was it Accius? Or Seneca? I dunno. I wasn’t there, were you? “Let them hate, so long as they fear.”
Machiavelli developed this. “It is better to be feared than loved,” he posited, and developed this to “If you cannot have both, it is safer to be feared than loved” I’m trying to get the first version translated into Latin for a friend. The best I’ve got so far it “melium timeri quam amari”. I’m concerned about the use of timeri. Can it be used like that to denote being feared? Or is that “It is better to be frightened than to love”? Which would at least give ancient validation for my recent romantic endeavours. But might not be helpful for my friend who needs translation.
I’m also concerned about the sentiment now I think about it. It doesn’t make a very nice world, prioritising scariness over kindness. History knows that Caligula was a monster. But Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is still held up as a manual for leadership by some people. It’s deep and tricky and short. I agree with some of it and dislike some of it. “It’s not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles.” Yep. But “Politics have no relation to morals.” “A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise,” and the whole concept of leadership to which he has given his name – “the end justifies the means”… well…
I’ve worked as a manager and I’ve been managed. I will not, do not and cannot respect an autocrat that has not in some way earned the unquestioning fealty they call for. I will gladly be a cog in a machine, and there are some autocratic directors I’ve worked for who I will gladly bend the knee to because they’re brilliant humans and they know what they’re doing. The end does justify the means and they aren’t doing it to cover their insecurity, they’re doing it to make a great thing for all of us. On a film set you just get on with it and it’s kind of comforting when someone just tells you what to do by megaphone because we haven’t got time to fuck around while everyone does what they should’ve been doing at home last week. But people like my incompetent South African manager at the Open Golf Tournament last year – I can’t respect someone who tries to rule by fear right off the bat and shows no compassion, no perspective and no competence. He had no idea what he was doing and hit it with bluster, and he belittled people half his age working twice as hard as he was for exponentially less money. So I went to war with him. Because he was making it horrible for everyone, but if I went front and centre he’d mostly confine himself to making it horrible for me and I’m an efficient sponge for bad energy. It’s often my job, to suck out poison. And he was a Portuguese man’o’war.
But these voices advocating autocracy are depressingly prevalent, and depressingly tempting. The call to be an Alpha. To give orders. To be the king of the castle. They scream out to people with holes in them. “Here’s a way I can protect myself from my secret terror of everything,” they say. And they grow into Trumps. Because it’s safer to hide your weakness and uncertainty than to wear it. So yes maybe it is safer to be feared than to be loved. But is it the job of a leader to be safe?
It would be lovely to see Theresa May look at a camera and say the truth “I honestly haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. I want the best out of this mess for myself and the country. But I can barely see past the positioning and infighting in my party. And it’s unbroken ground. And everyone is waiting for me to fail. How can we efficiently negotiate this when people would prefer to see me fail for their short term political ambitions? I know that privilege doesn’t equate to intelligence but these are the people I have and we need to action their entitlement and cunning to try and hammer out something half decent for the people we nominally represent. Wouldn’t it be nice if we worked as hard as we were paid?” But she can’t. Because you have to pretend to be “Strong and stable” as a leader or everyone jumps on your humanity as a sign of weakness.
I like that people ask me to translate things into Latin sometimes. This whole train of thought has significantly improved a day that would otherwise gone solely towards looking a bit sick in front of a camera in Soho for five minutes…