The term Machiavellian refers to someone who is cold, calculated and unscrupulous when working towards his goals. It comes from the name of the Italian Renaissance man Niccolò Machiavelli, who was a man of many gifts. He was a poet and playwright, a philosopher, a diplomat and politician and well as a historian.
What he is most known for is his book The Prince. A political treatise, it deals with how Machiavelli believed a monarch ought to rule and what he must do to stay in power.
Since remaining on the throne is a prince’s main goal, Machiavelli prescribed that he should not be guided by mere morals but do whatever it takes, including using cruelty and deceit.
If for example someone would try to take his throne, the prince must crush them and their family so utterly that the he never has to worry about retribution. As one of the most famous quotes from The Prince states:
If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.
Interestingly, Machiavelli believed the prince should act this way in a sense for the greater good. When the ruler is merciless in dealing with external and internal enemies of the state, then the state remains stable, peace abounds and the people are happy. Or at least that was Machiavelli’s theory.
Machiavelli used famous examples to illustrate how a ruler should and should not act. Some were from history but others were more recent, things he had himself witnessed during his career as a politician and diplomat.
He goes in length into different types of states and historical events and I don’t know if it’s his style of writing of what but at times I found this book a bit boring.
Still, I found it overall interesting. The Prince is a historically important document and one of the most famous political treatises in history. But its lessons can be surprisingly useful in different areas, such a business and personal relationships. Even if you are yourself not inclined to Machiavellian tendencies (not that you should be), knowing for example the art of manipulation could prove useful, at the very least in helping you recognize it.
It is fascinating that book written in the 16th century could prove relevant 500 years later and that gives me a certain respect for the man who wrote it, even if I don’t share his views on morals.