What Does Machiavellian Mean and Where Does the Word Machiavellian Come From?

The late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries produced a great Florentine student of political affairs.

He lived at the time of the Borgias and de Medicis and it is undoubted that his chief work, 17 Principe, was greatly colored by his knowledge of the practical politics played by those two unscrupulous families.

He was Niccolo Machiavelli. Actually Machiavelli was an ardent advocate of a united Italy and a sincere believer in political freedom, but, oddly enough, his book was heartily condemned some years after his death, in 1527, through the erroneous belief that it was intended to instruct tyrants in the art of oppression.

Much of what he advocated toward obtaining good government is now in general acceptance, but his defamers alleged that he proposed duplicity in statecraft and that he justified the adoption of any means, however vicious, to obtain a desired end.

Thus was formed Machiavellian to characterize political craftiness, cunning, or treachery.

So heartily was this political writer condemned that perhaps the historian, Thomas Macaulay, was right when he wrote, “Out of his surname they have coined an epithet for a knave, and out of his Christian name (Niccolo) a synonym (Nick) for the devil.”

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