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Book: The Prince

I recently got to read an old classic, The Prince (associate link) by Niccolo Machiavelli. My main motivation was that Robert Greene in his book The 48 Laws of Power makes excessive use in referencing the works of Machiavelli. Now I finally understand what people mean by (or what the actual meaning of) describing someone as Machiavellian.

Here is a definition I took from an online dictionart (

1. Of or relating to Machiavelli or Machiavellianism.
2. Suggestive of or characterized by expediency, deceit, and cunning.
Machi·a·velli·an, Machi·a·vellist n.

Although I doubt that most people that describe someone as Machiavellian try to relate it to the works or Machiavelli directly, I do need to agree to the second definition as describing someone as expedient, deceitful, and cunning. These are also the main “weapons” Machiavelli suggest to use in order to establish or keep in power.

Let me highlight the two aspects in his guide of conduct for princes (or more general people in power) that stood out to me:

  • Kill everyone that could claim you power or will diminish some of it in the process of attacking your power. This seems to be very extreme, especially nowadays. Nevertheless, it might be not a bad idea to rid oneself from someone by killing his/her reputation instead. Do you think that is enough?
  • Keep the populous happy. Similar as Sun Tzu in The Art of War (associate link) pointed out, in order to stay in power especially when that means ruling or leading people it is very important that those people have a positive view of you and are not unnecessarily provoked to conspire in taking you down.

With regard to the last aspect, what do you do to keep your people happy?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dana permalink
    25/01/2012 22:09

    Yes, your description of ‘machiaveliian’ is what I would have recognized, though the second trait (keeping the populous happy) is intriguing. If you think, that’s what great leaders do, regardless of whether they are machiavellian or not. Happy people means creative and productive people. That’s how true leaders get their people to do great work. Perhaps it is the extreme trait to compensate for the first one in the machiavellian people?

    • 26/01/2012 19:04

      The way Machiavelli describes it you need to do both, because people although they appreciated what you do might perceive someone else to be a better leader or think that another person should be the leader, like a right full heir that was chased away.

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