On May 3, 1469, the Italian philosopher and writer Niccolo Machiavelli was born. A lifelong patriot and ardent defender of a unified Italy, Machiavelli has become one of the fathers of modern political theory.
Machiavelli entered the political service of his hometown of Florence at the age of 29. As Secretary of Defense, he distinguished himself by executing policies that strengthened Florence politically. He soon found himself assigned to diplomatic missions for his principality, through which he met such luminaries as Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and perhaps more importantly for Machiavelli, a prince of the papal states named Cesare Borgia. The clever and cunning Borgia inspired the main character of the famous political treaty of Machiavelli The prince (1532).
Machiavelli’s political life took a downward turn after 1512, when he fell out of favor with the powerful Medici family. He was charged with conspiracy, imprisoned, tortured and temporarily exiled. Machiavelli wrote to try to find a political position and the good favor of the Medici family The prince, which would become his most famous work.
Although published posthumously as a book in 1532, The prince was first published as a brochure in 1513. In this document, Machiavelli described his vision of an ideal leader: an amoral and calculating tyrant whose end justifies the means. The prince not only did it not gain favor with the Medici family, but it also alienated them from the Florentine people.
Machiavelli was never really welcomed back into politics, and when the Florentine Republic was restored in 1527, Machiavelli was an object of great suspicion. He died later that year, embittered and excluded from the Florentine society to which he had devoted his life.
Although Machiavelli has long been associated with the practice of diabolical opportunity in the field of politics which was made famous in The prince, his real views weren’t that extreme. In fact, in longer and more detailed writings Speech on the first ten books of Tite-Live (1517) and History of Florence (1525), he turns out to be a more principled political moralist. Yet even today, the term “Machiavellian” is used to describe an action taken for gain without regard to good or evil.