By Vincent Barnett
History Review, Issue 56 (2006)
Introduction: Customarily, the name ‘Machiavelli’ was a synonym for the devil. The myth of the corrupt immorality of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) has lasted for many centuries, the description ‘Machiavellian’ being used today for anyone who is seen slyly to manipulate a given situation to their own advantage by means of shrewd political insight. Machiavelli as an individual has been described as aloof, as standing to one side of life ‘with a sarcastic expression continually playing around his mouth and flashing from his eyes’. This reputation is based on Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince, which was written in 1513-14.
However, is Machiavelli’s lasting reputation as the philosopher-king of political manipulation really justified? This article re-examines Machiavelli’s work and legacy and comes to some surprising conclusions. It also suggests a number of different ways to interpret Machiavelli’s political ideas.