Who was he: Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian philosopher, writer, humanist and historian who lived in Florence during the Renaissance. He is best known as one of the founders of modern political science.
Machiavelli served as a civil servant of the Florentine Republic, having been Secretary to the Second Chancery. He was also part of several diplomatic missions to France, Spain, Germany, and the Papacy in Rome.
In his famous book Il Principe (The Prince), he advocated the philosophy that an ideal state should be orderly, balanced and unified. People of the state should be happy, secure, strong and honorable. Furthermore, rulers should do whatever is necessary to enforce order. The book was hailed as a primer for rulers because it specified how a ruler could gain and keep power.
He also wrote a number of other books, including Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy, a central text of republicanism that laid a groundwork for how a republic form of government should be instituted and conducted, including checks and balances, and poems and dramas such as History of Florence and The Art of War.
In The Prince, Machiavelli implied that it is better to rule by fear than to rule because one is loved by his people. In fact, according to Machiavelli, a ruler is justified in resorting to questionable methods if it advances the interest of the state. Moreover, Machiavelli believed that the main objective of a nation's leader is to acquire and maintain his power over the state by whatever means necessary. He further advocated that "hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil." In other words, morality was no formula for successful leadership.
Because of his philosophies on politics and governance, Machiavelli's name was lent to one of the most influential philosophies throughout history, Machiavellianism, which advocates achieving goals by any means possible, whether morally good or bad. For his philosophy and writings, Machiavelli was attacked as a promoter of evil and his books were banned by the Church.
Yet his philosophy became popular, impacting political leaders and writers such as Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Adam Smith, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Descartes and even the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Machiavellian-based leadership has prevailed over the centuries and appears to be even more common in modern times. Machiavellian philosophy has even influenced many business leaders of today, who employed monopolization of industries, manipulation of government officials, deliberate concealment of the truth and other unscrupulous business practices.
Background: Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy in 1469 to a family believed to have been descendants of Tuscan nobility. Florence at the time was the one of the centers for Renaissance culture. As a result, the young Machiavelli was trained in various intellectual skills and became a prolific writer.
That period of Italian history was a turbulent one, with popes waging wars against Italian city-states as well other Western European nations for regional control. Governments were unstable and highly volatile, which perhaps influenced Machiavelli's philosophy on governance.
In 1498 at age 29, Machiavelli was elected to head the Second Chancery of Florence. Shortly after that he also became the secretary of the Dieci di Liberta e Pace, a diplomatic council which handled negotiations and military affairs of the republic. In his position, Machiavelli was exposed to the cruel realities of unscrupulous political ambitions, particularly from Pope Alexander VI and his illegitimate son, Cesare Borgia, who had ambitions to possess and control central Italy under the pretext of defending the Church.
From 1503 to 1506 Machiavelli was in charge of the militia. Distrustful of mercenaries, he instead led an army of Florentine citizen-soldiers. His militia was successful in defeating Pisa in 1509 but later was defeated by the Medicis with the aid of Pope Julius II. Then head of state Piero Soderini resigned and the republic was dissolved. Machiavelli was removed from his position, arrested and charged with conspiracy. He suffered torture while in prison but was later released when he denied any involvement in conspiracy.
Upon his release, Machiavelli devoted his time in writing various political treatises. He began participating in intellectual groups and also wrote plays that became popular. One of those political treatises, The Prince, was privately circulated among friends but was not officially published until five years after his death.
Another book, The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy, is presented as a handbook on how a republic should be structured. Among the concepts was "checks and balances," now a widely popular policy not only in politics but also in business.
Machiavelli died in 1527 and was buried at the Church of Santa Croce in Florence.