Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Tale of Two "Princes"

A Full Time Faculty Member at SLU

It is an interesting historic coincidence that Ignatius Loyola and Niccolo Machiavelli were contemporaries since they exhibit such dramatic differences in their approach to what we would now call “leadership.”  Although Machiavelli has been much-maligned (and many have argued he was simply an Italian patriot), his approach could be perceived as quite effective. He saw leadership solely in terms of power while Ignatius saw it as a service to others in the name God. Machiavelli saw others as objects to be manipulated through fear while Ignatius saw others as creatures of God to be loved as one loves oneself. Machiavelli’s “effective use of fear” contrasts sharply with Ignatius’ “humble practice of love.”

Machiavelli’s most important words of advice to The Prince were that, “It is safer to be feared than loved.” Fear, he believed, was the most stable of all human emotions and the one that could most readily manipulate people. The Prince must therefore seize power and rule his kingdom through the exercise of fear.  The Prince could accomplish a great deal, stay in power,and cement his legacy if he knew how to manipulate the masses effectively.

On this account, fear is a more stable emotion than love. Love seems fleeting but fear endures.  Keep the people afraid and you will never lose power.  But the mistake here is in thinking that power is something that we should pursue and cling to – even if it is in the professed purpose of some greater end.On this view we never develop “friends” we merely “collect allies” in our quest for control. Fear inhibits the development of true character and genuine relationships. Fear might work as a tool on those who are immature and easily intimidated.  But it has little effect on those who possess a higher vocation than “merely keeping their jobs.”

Although we now have a beautiful monument in midtown – and many have benefitted including faculty and students—at what price has this been bought? The efficacy of the Machiavellian model proves itself well with buildings and property but how well does it really work with persons who are made in the imago Dei? This route has left faculty afraid to voice their concerns on a wide range of subjects and students feeling disempowered.  People who question authority—one of the key aspects of a Jesuit liberal arts education—are punished and intimidated through fear. The result is that what small pockets of genuine community that do exist at SLU are undermined in significant ways at the institutional level.  There are those who possess power and those who don’t. As Henri Nouwen has observed, “It’s easier for us to control people than it is to love them.” However, there is another story that can—and should—be told.

There is a “more excellent way.” According to the Jesuit tradition that animates the ethos of St. Louis University, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”  Moreover, love demonstrates itself in the tendency to see power “not as something to be grasped” but as “emptying oneself” on behalf of others. The past 25 years there has been much too little of this. SLU has been run like the “command and control” approach at dysfunctional for-profit institutions where CEOs use fear and intimidation to get what they want. This seems to be the “norm” not only for the Administrator-CEOs but for those in the press – as well as those so-called “commentators” online—who demonstrate that they understand neither the mission of Jesus Christ nor the nature of a university – maybe the university should require the reading of John Henry Cardinal Newman’s The Idea of a University before members are admitted to the board.  In any case, if those in power understand only fear and fail to understand the true nature of a university where faculty sacrifice lucrative salaries for the purpose of promoting the common good, the “greater glory of God”, and the transformation of “society in the spirit of the Gospel,” then we should not be surprised when the result is the unqualified making decisions that are uninformed.

It may be that the perceived “effectiveness of fear” really pales in comparison to the compassionate work of love. Maybe a university tradition founded by Ignatius Loyola would be better served – maybe “the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity” would be better served – maybe the students, faculty, and administrators would be better served – by the practice of incarnate love rather than the impatient and angry exercise of fear.

1 comment:

  1. Similarly, some political scientists distinguish between despotic power, the ability to get people to do things under threat of sanction, and infrastructural power, the ability to organize groups of people to act in ways that unleash their own creativity. Since we're not in the business of building a railroad across Siberia, it's pretty clear what kind of power we need at SLU.


All comments are moderated, in accordance with our Approval Policy.