Machiavelli Niccolò (1469–1527), an Italian statesman and writer. He is known chiefly for the political philosophy expressed in his book The Prince. In it he advises rulers that they should not be bound by common ethics if they wish to hold and increase their power, and he urges them to use scheming and duplicity in their dealings with both subjects and rivals. Discussing the morality of political rule, he writes, “… in the actions of men, and especially of princes, the end justifies the means.” The last part of this statement has become an aphorism frequently associated with amoral political behavior, or Machiavellianism.
The Prince, dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici, was written in 1513. It appeared to be a plea to the Medicis, the ruling family of Florence, to make themselves masters of Italy by the most ruthless and unprincipled means. Many scholars believe Machiavelli saw no hope for his country unless a powerful ruler could create, by force and deceit if necessary, an Italian state strong enough to repel foreign invaders. Others feel that he was only reporting realistically the political methods of his times. Still others assert that his book was a subtle insult to the Medicis, who had exiled him.
Machiavelli, a native of Florence, belonged to a family long prominent in the city's political life. He supported the republic established in 1494 when the Medicis were driven from Florence, and in 1498 was given the government post of secretary to the Council of Ten for War. Machiavelli served on many missions of state, including negotiations with Cesare Borgia, believed to be the model for the ruler in The Prince.
In 1507 Machiavelli replaced Florence's mercenary forces with a standing army of Florentine soldiers. He organized a successful siege of Pisa in 1509, but the Florentines were defeated in 1512 by an alliance of French and papal forces. The Medicis were then restored to power. Machiavelli was accused of conspiracy against the new government and was briefly imprisoned, then permitted to retire to his family estate at San Casciano. Machiavelli began writing at this time. He was never restored to office.
Machiavelli's other books include Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, A History of Florence (the first major history written in Italian), The Art of War, and a number of comedies. All show his keen intellect, insight, and originality.