Do you want to dominate the political or business landscape? Do you want to strut your stuff in tedious fiscal meetings whilst pointing to graphs and grunting about “profit margins”? Do you want to be outright better than everyone else in the 24/7 age where seconds count and underpaying your staff is your path to glory?! Well, Niccolò Machiavelli’s legendary the Prince is the tome for you.
This 16th century rant is a political treatise written by Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) about how to do well in the world. However, the term Machiavellianism arose from this very book which many of you will now associate with being a bit of a devious bastard. Why? The Prince details the need for glory and survival through potentially immoral means, so this is why many contemporary business hoo-hahs remain fond of it.
In a letter to Lorenzo de Medici (the de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic, back in the day) before the essay begins, Machiavelli lays forth his reasoning for writing the thing. Then he launches into the treatise. Now… for one person’s view of Machiavellian meaning behaving like a dickhead, for another it’s a showcase of cunning (even if by duplicitous means) to improve one’s lot. To this day, the Prince is:
"Seen as the Bible of realpolitik, read by strategists, businessmen, and political animals everywhere as the ultimate guide to gaining and maintaining power in a dangerous world."
The world certainly was a lot more dangerous during the writer’s day, when wars and disease were always just around one corner. Due to its detailed explanations on leadership and how to overcome adversity, it’s also viewed as something of a work of Renaissance philosophy as well as a guide to being a strong leader.
Were it released today, it’d probably be called How to Get Rich Quick By Being a Clinical Psychopath or some such. You’d see businessmen in suits reading it on trains believing it would power them through to the millions they so dearly crave.
Okay, so we’re sounding a bit snarky and cynical here. The Prince is an insightful read from a gifted intellect, there’s no denying it, and the writing is thoroughly detailed and prescient. You can apply it to modern living, whether you run or business or just want to be President of the Universe.
Why, then, does the term Machiavellian exist? In chapter 15, the writer states: “He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation.” What does this mean? Well it’s a poncy way of saying the Prince should be realistic as opposed to idealistic – the way to achieve this? Conniving, cunning, and a bit of the old immoral messing around. If it’s required, of course, to get a job done.
An effective individual must choose when to leave their morals at the door, in other words, which is sage advice for big business these days. As humans don’t engage in warfare quite as much as we used to, business is now at the forefront of society and we’re all eager to have a slice of that thing called monetary gain.
Whether you think reading the Prince will bring this to you or not is a different matter. However, as a piece of writing its sharp, concise, and, we’re sure for his era, a revolutionary piece of work which has since helped many to hone their objectives down to a tee.