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Machievelli in “The Lord of the Flies”: The Power of Fear

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Throughout history, there have been many different opinions concerning the type of leadership that would lead to a successful society. In “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, a group of civilized boys are left on an uninhabited island with no adults to guide them. The boys must choose a leader and form a society. As the novel continues, it becomes clear that the boys’ attempt at forming a society is fruitless. This leads one to contemplate the type of leadership that would lead to a successful society, a topic that philosophers such as Plato, Machiavelli, and Wills have debated for thousands of years. Niccolo Machiavelli was a 15th century philosopher whose main belief was that a good leader must be feared by his people. Machiavelli’s theory on leadership is by far the most effective, as portrayed through “Lord of the Flies”.

One of the main points that Machiavelli made on leadership was that “It is safer to be feared than to be loved” [Machiavelli, 6]. When a leader is feared he may be certain that his followers will submit to him, while if a leader is loved his subjects may turn against him with no consequence. This suggestion is bolstered by Machiavelli’s statement, “…and men have less hesitation to offend one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself hated” [Machiavelli, 6]. Followers will not rebel against a leader that they fear because they are frightened of what may happen to them as a result. However, these same followers will not hesitate to turn against a leader who m loved. This idea is exemplified in the novel Lord of the Flies. Just before the older boys venture out to look for the beast, Ralph argues with Jack about the ‘littluns’:

“‘…what about the littluns?’

‘…Sucks to the littluns!’

‘…Someone’s got to look after them…'” [LOTF, 101]

Ralph makes himself a loved leader and he cares for the well-being of the people. Jack is not concerned for the welfare of his subjects. In the end, Jack wins because the boys follow him out of fear of what would happen to them if they didn’t. The boys knew that they would be in any trouble with Ralph for turning against him, and therefore do not see the point in staying with him rather than Jack. The boys ultimately respected Jack as their leader because they feared him. The growth of Jack’s power helps establish that Machiavelli’s idea of how a leader should pursue power is successful.

It is believed by Machiavelli that effective leaders often surrender moral values for the sake of political advantage. “The term ‘Machiavellian’ is used to describe someone who is cunning and sneaky, and sacrifices moral principles for the sake of political gain” [Machiavelli, Intro]. This idea is reinforced in Machiavelli’s The Prince, where he states, “Those who lie for the sake of achieving leadership and accomplishing what must be done, end up being more successful than those who try to act honestly” [Machiavelli, 5]. Ultimately, those who deceive others in their ways will be more successful in achieving leadership and fulfilling their goals than those who are trustworthy. In William Golding’s novel, Ralph rules morally and is truthful. He is interested in the welfare of his followers and hopes to help them. As the story continues, it is clear that Ralph is an ineffective leader because nobody is doing work.

“We decide things, but they don’t get done” [LTOF, 79]. Ralph is unable to enforce the rules that are made. Jack, on the contrary, is cunning as well as sneaky. He lies and cheats in order to gain power over the others. Jack openly insults Ralph. “‘He’s like Piggy. He says things like Piggy. He isn’t a proper chief…He’s a coward himself'” [LOTF, 126]. By comparing Ralph to Piggy, who is unpopular with the others, Jack challenges Ralph’s power over the other boys. This comment causes the boys faith in Ralph as a leader to waver, clearing the way for Jack’s rebellion. Jack sacrifices the moral principles of truthfulness and sincerity in order to gain power. In the end, Jack’s approach to leadership wins over Ralph’s, illustrating the effectiveness of Machiavelli’s ideas.

Followers [the people] are not to be trusted; they are disloyal and look only for personal gain. Machiavelli supports this perception in The Prince, where he comments on them as being, “…ungrateful fickle pretenders and dissemblers, evaders of danger, eager to gain” [Machiavelli, 6]. The commoners are not knowledgeable enough to be able to choose their leader. In “Lord of the Flies”, this is epitomized when Jack tries to overthrow Ralph’s leadership:

“‘Who thinks Ralph oughtn’t to be chief?’…boys…had frozen. Under their palms was a deadly silence….the silence continued, breathless and heavy and full of shame…Most of the boys were looking down now, at the grass or their feet.”

The boys as followers are not able to elect their leader. Even though most of the boys regret choosing Ralph as their chief, none of them have the nerve to be the first to say so. Although the boys want to hunt, they do not have courage to stand up for Jacks. As Machiavelli predicts, the people will go to whoever has more power at the time. This confirms that Machiavelli’s theory is the most functional, because a society will only be successful if the leader accepts that the people are not to be trusted.

It has always been accepted that a leader is one who rules, guides, or inspires others and who creates a successful society. However, what makes a good leader and a successful society has been debated for thousands of years. Over time, there have been many theories proposed by different philosophers that attempted to answer these questions. Machiavelli believed that a leader must be feared, not loved or hated, in order to rule a successful society, in which there is an organized state and the leader is respected. By applying Machiavelli’s theory to Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, it is apparent that his philosophy is, by far, the most effective.

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