Philosophy and happiness

Niccolò Machiavelli - 1467-1527AD

"Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil."

Niccolò Machiavelli was a politician in the independent city-state of Florence. He engaged in diplomatic missions through France and Germany as well as Italy. But after more than a decade of public service in Florence, he was dismissed from his post after the Medici family came to power and dissolved the republic.

He tried to establish a relationship with the new political regime, but was unsuccessful. In fact, after a few months, he was wrongly accused of plotting against the new Medicean government, and then tortured and imprisoned. Machiavelli took the opportunity to write about the political process; using this experience he wrote his famous works The Prince, which was published after his death.

"We have not seen great things done in our time except by those who have been considered mean; the rest have failed."1

In The Prince, Machiavelli addressed the practical aspects of how a leader can achieve his objectives, assuming that he knows what his objectives are. He rarely speculates as to whether any course of action is right or wrong; he appears to believe that the end justifies the means.

He advocated resort to morally questionable methods in the interest of the state, and the term 'Machiavellian' has come to denote elaborate cunning, scheming and unscrupulous behavior devised to attain a particular outcome. However, he did not advocate cruelty for cruelty's sake; such behavior might bring power, but it will not bring honour and glory.

Machiavelli believed that leaders must learn how not to be good if they are to rule effectively.


The objective of the leader is to secure and retain political power, by whatever means necessary, in order to become a successful and effective leader. His negative view of the average person, "...ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, greedy for gain..."2 underlies his philosophy.

Machiavelli recognized only two types, leaders who are cunning and ruthless, and the rest who are ungrateful, fickle etc. He believed that if a leader behaved both morally and ethically, when the going gets tough his followers would desert him. This belief might be more to do with the facts that the major political leaders of his era had to be ruthless to survive due to the environment in which they lived. Perhaps he never witnessed good moral and ethical leadership that was also successful. If he had witnesses 20th century leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi in India or Nelson Mandela in South Africa, perhaps his beliefs would have been different.

In todays world, Machiavellian leadership behavior appears to be more common than ever, both in political and business environments. Dictators around the world have found that cunning, scheming and unscrupulous behavior, is one way to reach the top; even some democratically elected leaders seem to have succeeded despite, or maybe because of, their Machiavellian behavior. As Plato wrote, "The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." Many contemporary leaders use unscrupulous behavior, manipulation, control, projection and blame to get to the top. These behaviors also bear the hallmarks of narcissism.

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism, happiness, and evil read Finding Happiness.

1 Machiavelli (The Prince, Chapter 16)
2 Machiavelli (The Prince, Chapter 17)