Death of Niccolo Machiavelli

June 21, 2018

On 21 June 1527, Niccolo Machiavelli – the father of modern political science and man referred to in the oft-used phrase “Machiavellian” – died in his home town of Florence (in now Italy) aged 58.

Machiavelli was an Italian politician, diplomat, philosopher and prolific writer – considered the leading political theorist of the Renaissance. His epitaph is effusive in praise.

His best known book, The Prince, shows how self-serving rulers will do “whatever it takes” and that the “ends justifies the means” to gain power (the means) and achieve their often undisclosed goals (the ends). It has been described as a manual for aspiring tyrants or despots craving to acquire and cling to power.

Some (including the Catholic Church who banned The Prince) considered Machiavelli to have been inspired by the devil, accusing him and his book of endorsing unscrupulous, self-serving political action. Others saw the book as realism and a caution to citizens about what rulers can become, if you let your guard down.

Unfairly or not, the term “Machiavellian” is now a by-word for deceit, despotism, scheming and political manipulation – and the ominous saying, “nothing personal, it’s just politics/business”.

Machiavelli’s other key book, Discourses on Livy, whilst advocating how to build a republic, set out the great value to society of civic virtue (eg having citizens that are independent, moral, self-governing and courageous). This strongly influenced America’s founding fathers in drafting their Constitution.

Mark the death of Niccolo Machiavelli by:

  • hire one of the movies considered by some to reference or demonstrate the state of affairs Machiavelli warned about in The Prince, such as A Bronx Tale, City of God, The Godfather or The Talented Mr. Ripley, or television series The Sopranos, House of Cards or the conflict between Lords Varys and Baelish in Game of Thrones
  • taking a moment to rank famous political figures you believe have exhibited attitudes of “ends justify the means” or “whatever it takes”
  • contemplating whether Machiavelli was actually “Machiavellian” or not – was The Prince a manifesto for a budding despot or a heads-up for citizens?, and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, political junkies and leaders with civic virtue.

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