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A Speculation on How Terrorism Has Empowered Big Government

Updated on December 5, 2017

"It is much safer to be feared than loved"- Niccolo Machiavelli

The use of terror to attain political aims is a strategy that has been used throughout the ages. Instilling fear as to confuse and perpetuate a community large or small based on violent acts is an archaic concept, which unfortunately has stuck with the world throughout the years of civilization. Terrorism is not rational, but none the less can be systematically utilized to make an opposing group of individuals act in an irrational way, with the intent of deterring actions base on fear of repercussions. Two historical large scale examples of the use of terror from an imperial stand point, could be attributed to both the Roman and Mongolian Empires.

At the height of the Roman Empire, the Italian Peninsula had the largest population of slaves in the world. Though in its heyday the empire would have a total of three major slave revolts, it would be the suppression of the third rebellion lead by the gladiator Spartacus that we see Romans advertising terror internally as a deterrent to scare its slave population into submission. After the roman General Marcus Lucinius Crassus defeated this rebellion, the captured of “6,000 surviving slaves were later crucified along a Roman highway as a brutal warning against future revolts.”(History). Needless to say, Rome would never have another slave rebellion of such magnitude. Now considering the Mongolian expansion under Genghis Khan, it’s clear that this empire used terror as tool to suppress resistance as they conquered cities. To set an example, if a city or town refused to summit to Mongolian occupation, once capture, “All the people, both men and women, were driven out onto the plain, and divided in accordance with their usual custom, then they were all slain.” This was not only an act of retribution, but also a warning to future cities and towns on the Mongolian docket. Violently illustrating what would happen if anyone resisted their influence.

When discussing the management of people and how to get them to comply with a regime, Niccolo Machiavelli was a strong advocate that “It is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.”(The Prince). This idea basically concludes that people are much easier to manage if they are in a state of fear than if they feel safe and simply love their governing powers, because as Machiavelli voiced, if people feel safe they will press their advantage and take. For man is generally thought of as greedy beast whose love is something it may give at will, but can easily turn into betrayal as we’ve seen throughout history. “Men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owning to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”(The Prince). Applying this to the argument that in the information era governments have used the fear of terrorism to strengthen their reach over their citizenship, regardless of how well intended the policies these governments put in place it might be, it doesn’t change the fact that these institutions suppress the rights of their citizens with the implication that if citizens don’t support their governing parties decisions, there will be repercussions or “punishment” as Machiavelli implies. What the state and to a larger extent media indicates, is that terrorists will reap havoc and harm them if the state does not do what it believes is necessary to repress such acts. Even before mainstream threat of Terrorism, the Cold War and its lingering danger of global nuclear meltdown kept the people of the world compliant and fearful of the ramification. Taking a closer look at the two major oppositions during the Cold War, the United States and Russia, both of which have suppressed the rights of citizens in the interest of "national security". We can see how what had once been peoples fear of an opposing state's nuclear arsenal has morphed to the fear of terrorism, and in essence cements Machiavelli’s stance that a society based in fear is easier to manage.

A little over a month after the terrible events of 9/11, orchestrated by the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda, a bill known as the Patriot Act was passed in congress with exactly 98 YEAS out of a total of 100 votes. Essentially this snippet of legislation gave United State’s National Security Agency the ability to listen in on citizen's communications if considered relevant to terrorism, which is arguably unconstitutional under the citizen’s right of protection from search and seizers stated in the Fourth Amendment. The controversy is whether communication via phone or internet constitutes the protection of someone’s “persons, houses, papers, and effects”, which many conclude it in fact does. Regardless if their intentions were in the right place or not, through the fear of terrorism in United State,its governing official around the time 9/11 successfully constricted the rights of the individual to empower the state.

Russia’s current policy towards terrorism, initially stemming from conflicts with Chechnya, has arguably been much more demanding on its citizens than policies put in place in the United States. “The 2006 counterterrorism law allows for suspension of certain individual liberties and media freedoms in the zone of counterterrorist operations, and authorizes counterterrorism units to carry out searches and demolition of suspicious airplanes and ships.” (Omelicheva) When Vladimir Putin originally took office he was determined to revamp Russian security in the response to radicalism by developing cohesiveness within the agencies that dealt with counterterrorism. So essentially as a result to the imminent threat of terrorism, Putin expanded the government’s power over mass media and political life, which in affect helped secure his position as leader of Russia for as long as it has. As Putin tries to give off the impression of power by centralizing control of the country, he and his officials virtually diminish the liberties of the Russian citizenship by limiting their voice.


Andrews, Evan. "7 Famous Slave Revolts." A&E Television Networks, 15 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.

Omelicheva, Mariya Y. "Russia’s Counterterrorism Policy: Variations on an Imperial Theme." Perspectives on Terrorism. Terrorism Reaserch Initiative, 2009. Web.

Skinner, Quentin, and Russel Price, eds. Machiavelli: The Prince. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. Print.


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