If you say the name Machiavelli today, the first thing many people may think of is his most famous writing, The Prince. They may also have negative thoughts about his philosophies, in particular "that the end justifies the means". (Machievelli 164) Niccolo Machiavelli was more than just the author of a controversial book, and his impact is still felt today. The dictionary contains the word "machiavellian" and defines it as an adjective "suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli; specifically: marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith".(Webster's Dictionary 275) Machiavelli left a legacy that has caused abuses of power in government, business, and a negative attitude towards politicians.
Niccolo Machiavelli grew up in Florence, Italy when it was a thriving center of the Rennaisance. In his personal life, he lived by high standards and had a good reputation amongst the people that knew him. He lived through the French invasions of Italy and was educated not only through formal schooling, but through experience of working his way up through the governmental system and paying attention as history happened around him. Machiavelli could be considered a sincere student of history and he believed in the republican form of government and wanted to live in a free society. Machiavelli began his political career in 1504 as an assistant in the chancellery of the Florentine government for one of his teachers, Piero Soderini, and advanced to the position of Secretary to the Council of Ten .(Kishlansky 340) He served as an administrator, traveling with the Council to Germany and France, working tirelessly on diplomatic negotiations and supervising military operations at a time that Italy was in political chaos. Through his duties he met many political leaders and studied their styles and political tactics. He was not always in favor of the methods that were being used by the leaders, but he was loyal to his duties and used the experiences to develop his own political strategies for power. Soderini had passed legislation that banned references or association with the Medici family and Machiavelli worked to prepare Florence's army to withstand any attempts to overthrow the government. In 1512, the Medici invaded Florence and Machiavelli's troops were no match. Soderini surrendered Florence to the Medici rule. Machiavelli's loyalty to Soderini was abandoned and he worked hard to gain a position of power within the new Medici government. His efforts back-fired and after being tortured Machiavelli was sent into solitary exile for a short time.
Machiavelli spent his time during and after his exile channeling his political knowledge and frustrations into writings. He drew on his own experiences, seeing what worked and what didn't work and wrote a manual for Lorenzo di Medici, on the current political situation and how it should be dealt with, in hope of once again getting his job back. This manual was called The Prince. Machiavelli was never allowed to return to a governmental position and retired to his estate near Florence. He also wrote poetry, short stories and other historical reference books. (Cantor 554)
In The Prince, which became his most famous writing he outlined the methods necessary to establish a state that could resist a foreign attack and the principles of power, or maxims, that are needed to accomplish that. Machiavelli believed that Italy needed a strong leader to pull it out of the crisis it was in and stop the violence and he wrote The Prince to help inspire Medici or someone else to recognize what needed to be done and take action. The book teaches how to be the most effective ruler possible, with little regard to the population that they were serving. He never ruled in that manner, but became associated with cut-throat ethics and was reviled. The Catholic Encyclopaedia includes the reference that "Old Nick", one of the names...