Who Was Niccolò Machiavelli?

Thus it is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have the mind so disposed that when it is needful to be otherwise you may be able to change to the opposite qualities. And it must be understood that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things which are considered good in men, being often obliged, in order to maintain the state, to act against faith, against charity, against humanity, and against religion.

- Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 18

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. In The Prince, Machiavelli's great manual of power, he wrote, "since men love as they themselves determine but fear as their ruler determines, a wise prince must rely upon what he and not others can control". He also advised, "One must be a fox in order to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Those who simply act like lions are stupid. So it follows that a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honour his word when it places him at a disadvantage". What times was Machiavelli living through to take such a brutal perspective on power? How did he gain the experience to provide this advice to rulers? And was he really the amoral, or even evil figure that so many have liked to paint him?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Machiavelli

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Five centuries ago this year, at the height of the Italian Renaissance, an unemployed former civil servant sat in the study of his modest country farm in the tiny village of Sant’Andrea just south of Florence, pouring everything he knew about the art of governing into a long pamphlet. He hoped that by making a gift of it to Lorenzo de Medici, the new ruler of Florence, it would win him back the job he passionately loved. But it was ungraciously brushed aside by a prince who had little interest in the musings of an obscure, exiled bureaucrat on the principles of statecraft. The pamphlet was eventually published in 1532, five years after Niccolò Machiavelli’s death, as Il Principe (The Prince)...

Continue reading Graeme Garrard's article on Niccolò Machiavelli

Further Reading

Why an entry on Machiavelli? That question might naturally and legitimately occur to anyone encountering an entry about him in an encyclopedia of philosophy. Certainly, Machiavelli contributed to a large number of important discourses in Western thought—political theory most notably, but also history and historiography, Italian literature, the principles of warfare, and diplomacy. But Machiavelli never seems to have considered himself a philosopher—indeed, he often overtly rejected philosophical inquiry as beside the point—nor do his credentials suggest that he fits comfortably into standard models of academic philosophy. His writings are maddeningly and notoriously unsystematic, inconsistent and sometimes self-contradictory. He tends to appeal to experience and example in the place of rigorous logical analysis. Yet succeeding thinkers who more easily qualify as philosophers of the first rank did (and do) feel compelled to engage with his ideas, either to dispute them or to incorporate his insights into their own teachings. Machiavelli may have grazed at the fringes of philosophy, but the impact of his musings has been widespread and lasting. The terms “Machiavellian” or “Machiavellism” find regular purchase among philosophers concerned with a range of ethical, political, and psychological phenomena, even if Machiavelli did not invent “Machiavellism” and may not even have been a “Machiavellian” in the sense often ascribed to him. Moreover, in Machiavelli's critique of “grand” philosophical schemes, we find a challenge to the enterprise of philosophy that commands attention and demands consideration and response. Thus, Machiavelli deserves a place at the table in any comprehensive survey of philosophy...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Machiavelli by Cary Nederman

Bonus Webcomic

Office Realpolitik - Existential Comics

Related Topics

If you’re interested in Machiavelli, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Authority | Political Philosophy | Power

Become a lifelong learner. Sign up via email to get the best videos, articles and podcasts on a new topic each day. Or you can follow on Twitter or Facebook.

Leave a Reply