Machiavelli’s Fear and Love

Twitter version of the intro:
“Machiavelli says Fear works better than Love. Fear, though, can provoke Hate, which might be strongest of all. I’m thinking of a comment on a news article about IU covid-19 policy, and potential complaints about judicial ethics…

Machiavelli famously says in The Prince that Fear and Love are both good incentives, but Fear works better. He’s probably correct.

One thing about Fear, though, is that it can provoke Hate, and Hate and Love are not symmetrical aspects of the same variable. Which is stronger, Hate or Love? Could Hate be stronger than Fear, even if Love isn’t? Machiavelli is only considering things that are good for the prince, so he doesn’t consider Hate, I think, though I could be wrong— it would be an uncharacteristic omission. Probably he discusses it in a different place.

I write this because I’m thinking of two examples: a comment on a Herald-Times article about Indiana University covid-19 policy, and potential complaints about judicial ethics.

In the HT example, the reporter wrote something like “Indiana University’s covid test results are not secret,” and then proceeded to describe how the aren’t going to release the results except as forced to by state law to the state health authorities, in confidence, and maybe to the student sitting next to the sick student (but not to people over six feet away, like the professor and everybody else in the class). My comment pointed out the humor in the article’s statement. The reporter, if he notices, will be more careful next time, especially if it’s an article about me. His Love for me will diminish, however, and he may even have some Hate. If, on the other hand, I wrote flattering comments on his articles about how great he is, I would get some Love that might be useful one day. I won’t, for moral reasons, but it remains an interesting question. (I do, on the other hand, try to make a point of complimenting people when they do good things like write especially good news articles. That incentivizes them to write more good articles, makes them happy, and makes them like me— win/win all around.)

In the judicial ethics example, I am thinking of filing a complaint about Judge Sullivan’s behavior in In re Flynn to the Chief Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. I was thinking “it isn’t my place to do this, but if nobody else will, I guess I will,” since I am not an attorney. But then I realized that maybe it IS my place, and I am exactly the kind of person to do it. I am an old (61) tenured professor with a long reputation in legal academia, a good writer with a good knowledge of law, who sometimes offers himself as a “friend of the court” (amicus) but never represents clients and who rarely has done consulting for lawsuits (just two cases, both pretty small) and is not regularly a party in court (I’ve been plaintiff and qui tam relator in two very big cases, but that’s about one case per decade). So I know enough to be able to follow the rules and make a complaint clearly enough to be useful, and I don’t have to worry much about bad relations with judges. That said, I do worry a little. Suppose I were to become a regular filer of ethics complaints about judges, and suppose they were serious enought that I got a name for getting judges in trouble with their peers? (this process is not criminal or civil; it is purely internal, with other judges reviewing the complaints and giving “shame” penalties, not fines or jail) I get some Fear points right away. I would get very little Love. What I wonder about is the amount of Hate, and whether it would matter.

The same concerns enter with my writing about cases. In Marshall, Flynn, and Barnes, my amicus briefs were quite pointed about judges being totally off-track, and I tried to be persuasive, rather than loveable, and being persuasive inevitably means being hateable. If it is me who was off-track, rather than the courts, there’s no problem; Rasmusen is obnoxious and stupid, but judges are used to that and don’t care enough to hate for it. If I had a point, though, then I risk being truly offensive, since nobody enjoys hearing that their profession has got things wrong. It means I would be listened to more carefully in the future (Fear), but perhaps ought to get my come-uppance if an occasion presents itself (Hate). What goes around, comes around. Sigh…

1 reply on “Machiavelli’s Fear and Love”

Comments are closed.