At its core, Machiavellianism is a form of political guidance or display of power where cunning, duplicity, and deceit are employed to further one’s goals. In the past, forms of Machiavellianism have often been used by governments, businesses, or even normal people in order to get what they want. While these instances have been mostly known for the blood spilled, does it have a light side as well?

A brief history of Machiavellianism

Niccolo Machiavelli’s philosophy and beliefs all came from his book known as “The Prince” published in 1532, five years after Machiavelli’s death.

“The Prince” is ultimately a guide to how a state, kingdom, or other form of sovereignty is to be ruled as well as how to utilize and consolidate power through any means necessary. The ways to do so are often bloody, violent, and require a fair amount of torture, hence why Machiavellianism gets a bad rap nowadays.

Since then, Machiavellianism has been used to justify certain events such as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and brutal instances of the Thirty Years’ War, among other bloody episodes. It was denounced by Frederick the Great of Prussia as backwards and repressive, shunned by many Enlightenment thinkers, and described as “the art of tyranny” by French philosopher Denis Diderot. Today, Machiavellianism seems to comprise all the negative aspects that seem to make politics the harsh and unforgiving thing many people think of it as.

Do the ends justify the means?

Obviously, a lot has changed since the 16th century and it seems as though humans have learned their lessons since then (in some areas more than others.) But, as with new ages, there comes new problems in every conceivable field, especially when it comes to the realm of politics. The question we need to ask ourselves in terms of modern-day Machiavellianism is: How duplicitous must one become in order for it to be okay? In general, you don’t want to lie to anybody, nor should you do anything behind their backs, but what if it can bring about incredible results?

Most people nowadays don’t trust the government at any level, but the citizenry is too diverse and too opinionated on the government to the point where it is impossible for everyone to approve of any policy. Machiavelli stressed that common people cannot be trusted due to inexperience, bias, prejudice, or not being able to carry out what is needed, and that while the people should be served and respected, they should not be of too great an influence.

Sometimes in order to best serve the people, one must use cunning means in order to achieve those goals.

Where does Machiavellianism stand today?

Nowadays, it would not be uncommon to hear about politicians going against their constituents, or for government to be suspected of some back-alley deals, and people have grown used to this fact. But, this is not the kind of duplicity that Machiavellianism preaches. Machiavelli wanted duplicity and other forms of cunning to be used in a way that would either benefit the state or the people involved. If it was going to bring harm to the sovereignty or to innocent people who did not want harm brought upon the state, then it was not worth carrying out.

Such power exchanges are found all too often outside of the realm of politics, and have been found to occur among common people.

When it comes to Machiavellianism at the individual level, it can be used to a certain extent, but what’s important is that it not be used in too great a quantity. A little bit of duplicity is okay, but only if it is used not too often and for a worthwhile cause, but Machiavelli’s philosophy should not be used too much. It’s okay to be a little defensive and even offensive every now and then, but the important thing to remember about Machiavellianism is that it should never be used as a way of life, more as an exception to the rules.