WHERE DOES ‘ MACHIAVELLIAN’ COME FROM?

History Revealed - - Q&A -

Of­ten summed up as ‘the end jus­ti­fies the means’, Machi­avel­lian­ism has come to re­fer to dis­hon­est, un­scrupu­lous and even im­moral po­lit­i­cal deeds car­ried out for ex­pe­di­ency. His­tory is re­plete with fig­ures who fit the de­scrip­tion, but the man the term is named af­ter is not nec­es­sar­ily one of them.

Nic­colo Machi­avelli, a for­mer sec­re­tary and di­plo­mat of the Floren­tine Repub­lic, wrote The Prince in 1513. In this po­lit­i­cal trea­tise, he de­scribed a ‘new prince’ as some­one who was cun­ning, cal­cu­lat­ing, de­ceiv­ing, will­ing to kill … and ef­fec­tive. The Prince con­dones “ex­pe­di­ency in pref­er­ence to moral­ity” and, when pub­lished in 1532 (af­ter Machi­avelli’s death) it sparked out­rage across Europe. As a re­sult, Machi­avelli’s name be­came the ul­ti­mate pe­jo­ra­tive for a con­niv­ing politi­cian.

Yet many say Machi­avelli’s mean­ing was more com­plex than his rep­u­ta­tion sug­gests. The de­bate con­tin­ues; the name has stuck.

PRINCE ALARM­ING Stat­ues like this one do lit­tle to help Machi­avelli’s im­age

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