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What Does The Term Machiavellian Mean?

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The term Machiavellian has come to define a person who is "characterized by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith" in his or her attempts to gain political power. It is derived primarily from The Prince, a book in which Italian diplomat Niccoló Machiavelli (1469–1527) presents an amoral theory of governing.

Machiavelli was a controversial Italian defense secretary who traveled widely on diplomatic missions. During one of his trips he met Cesare Borgia (1476–1507), who was the son of Pope Alexander VI (1431–1503) and an important figure of the Italian Renaissance (a revival of classical Greek and Roman culture; c. 1350–c. 1600). In 1513, after being exiled (forcibly sent away) from Florence, Italy, by the powerful Medici family, Machiavelli turned his attention to writing The Prince. With Borgia as his model, he described the methods that are vital to gaining and holding political power. He glorified intelligence, cruelty, betrayal, and opportunism as the necessary traits of the ideal ruler. Machiavelli suggested that a ruler should be guided by the effectiveness of a particular course of action, regardless of its ethical implications. The book had little impact after publication, and Machiavelli died in poverty. Nevertheless, his concept of the ideal ruler become famous throughout Europe, and his theory of the power of politics is familiar today even to people who have never read the book. Machiavelli also wrote poetry, as well as other political analyses that are still studied by scholars.

Further Information: Carver, Eugene. Machiavelli and the History of Prudence. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987; Donaldson, P. S. Machiavelli and the Mystery of the State. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989; Niccolo Machiavelli. [Online] Available http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Marble/5888, October 23, 2000; Niccolo Machiavelli. [Online] Available http://www. utm.edu/research/iep/m/machiave.htm, October 23, 2000; "Niccolo Machiavelli." Catholic Encyclopedia. [Online] Available http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/095019.htm, October 23, 2000; Roeder, Ralph. The Man of the Renaissance: Four Lawgivers, Savonarola, Machiavelli, Castiglione, Aretino. Clifton, N.J.: A. M. Kelley, 1977.