“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian author, playwright, and political theorist. He wrote a wide range of genres including plays, fiction, history, and political theory but his most famous work was The Prince. This book was a guide for how a prince should conduct himself to maintain and maximize his power. It was written for Lorenzo de Medici, and its cunning ideas about statecraft were groundbreaking at the time.
Politics and Ethics
Machiavelli was the first political thinker to separate politics and ethics. Since Aristotle, political thought had been intertwined with ethics. Machiavelli separated these two spheres and went as far as advocating unethical ideas.
In Christian Florence, Italy Machiavelli’s ideas stood the status quo on its head “The prince, and most of all a new prince, will often be necessitated in order to preserve the state to work against good faith, against charity, against humaneness, against religion.” A key word here is necessitated. Machiavelli knew for a prince to maintain power he would need to make choices that went against moral and religions guidelines.
A prince needs to do unholy things to maintain their power. “a prince, and most of all a new prince… should…not depart from the good [as long as] being able to, but [he should] know how to enter evil [for whenever he is] necessitated”.
If people know the prince to be capable of using evil to maintain political order they will be more obedient. If the prince tortures and kills a group of revolutionaries, this behavior is less likely to be repeated. Machiavelli knows the importance of a prince being well liked and highly regarded, but this is not enough to maintain power. “It is better to be feared than loved if one cannot be both. In modern usage this ruthlessness is what we associate with Machiavelli.
Machiavellianism, it is the art of manipulation. People are socially manipulated like pawns, to benefit the manipulator. Similarly, machiavellian intelligence is the ability of a person to be in a successful political engagement with social groups. If someone can successfully manipulate people socially to gain power they have a high machiavellian intelligence. Just as the prince in Machiavelli’s era can rationalize his behavior, the modern machiavellian can as well. Humans are gifted with an incredible gift of rationalization, particularly people with little regard for other people around them. These are common explanations machiavellians give for their manipulation:
“I did it for the good of the company – they were a lazy, weak employee”
“I needed to do this, I have a family to feed.”
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world”
The Dark Triad
Machiavellianism is one of the three personality traits referred to as the dark triad, along with narcissism and psychopathy. Although not as well known as the other disorders, machiavellians are tricksters and backstabbers. People should be more aware of and cautious of people possessing machiavellian behaviors.
Some people make the argument that any goal oriented activity is manipulative. One needs to manipulate and establish themselves in the world to achieve anything. Attempting to gain success, money, and power inevitably changes your surroundings and manipulates the world.
Any type of sales or marketing is by definition, manipulation. Choosing to dress well rather than dressing poorly is manipulation – if you dress well people will think more highly higher of you. Since peoples perception are so easily influenced it is impossible to exist in the world without some manipulation. The issue is the word manipulation has a pejorative meaning, and people will use the above argument to rationalize any abusive behavior or wrongdoing; particularly machiavellian people.
No society can function without morality
The issue with Machiavellianism is that it is about attaining a goal or outcome without any regard for other people. It is an amoral tactic and overall strategy. Individuals can successfully function being amoral, a society cannot succeed without being maintained by a collection of moral individuals.
In a world that idealizes individual achievement it becomes harder and harder to criticize machiavellian people. In western countries there is no overarching ideal and golden standard of human behavior. The Christian foundations our society was built on are crumbling.
The golden rule – “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you.” is becoming replaced by the Machiavelli rule – “Do unto others as they would do unto you.” The difference is subtle and most people won’t understand it, but instead of acting out of goodness you act differently to everyone. You make judgements and keep your guard up all the time.
The crazier thing is that people don’t see the issue with this kind of thinking. People will do bad things to you but if you are always thinking like a machiavellian you will always be seeing the badness is people. Whenever someone does something bad to you, you will become a more negative person and you will view people and society negatively, and this cycle will continue as your outlook worsens. You will create a negative feedback loop and the more negative you become the worse the world will treat you.
This isn’t “The Secret”, and you cannot control everything in the world, but people treat happy enthusiastic people a lot better than bitter, cynical, negative people. It is important to realize one can cultivate power by being a good, positive person in the world. More so than a handbook on power, The Prince was written for 16 century Italian princes. The world is different now, men may have the same nature, but our form of justice isn’t to quarter someone in the town square.
For Machiavelli, results justify methods
Niccolo Machiavelli’s overall political philosophy was that the end result justified the means used. In modern times, machiavellianism is often associated with modern politics and workplaces. The presence of machiavellianism in a workplace has been positively correlated to counterproductive workplace behavior and workplace deviance. (reference = Kessler, SR; Bandeiii, AC; Spector, PE; Borman, WC; Nelson, CE; and Penney, LM 2010. Reexamining Machiavelli: A three dimensional model of Machiavellianism in the workplace. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 1868–1896 ) Machiavellianism is an individualistic trait – a person can function without empathy and cooperation but an organization cannot.
Machiavellianism in the workplace is characterized by 3 factors
- Maintaining Power
- Harsh Management Tactics
- Manipulative Behaviors
A high presence of machiavellians and individuals possessing other dark triad characteristics will create a toxic workplace. It creates an issue for employees in the workplace, and people who overhear complaints about “some asshole at my work” while riding public transport. High machiavellians will spread false rumors, flatter management, undermine the work of others, fail to cooperate on teamwork, withhold important information, and bully others in the workplace.
The Machiavelli Test (Mach-IV)
The Mach-IV test (Machiavelli test) is the standard self-assessment tool of machiavellianism. Measured on the Mach – IV scale, males are, on average, slightly more machiavellian than females. Similarly with the other two dark triad traits Narcissism and Psychopathy, all three dark triad traits are more common in males than females. This is consistent with the stereotypes of 2 demographics over-represented by dark triad individuals – prisoners and business executives. Male prisoners and business executives greatly outnumber their female counterparts.
Relation To The Wider Psychological Literature
In relation to the greater psychological literature, machiavellianism has no relation to IQ, and is negatively correlated with emotional empathy. machiavellianism has been found to be negatively correlated with Agreeableness (r = −0.47) and Conscientiousness (r = −0.34).
Conscientious people are hard-working, organized, and reliable people. Very high conscientiousness people are what we commonly call perfectionists. On the contrary, low conscientiousness people are unorganized and aren’t industrious.
Agreeable people are characterized by warmness, sympathy, and consideration. The opposite of this, put bluntly, is the personality of the jerk. When manifested with machiavellianism simultaneously the result are antisocial behaviors.
This helps to explain the dangers of the machiavellian. In the workplace the machiavellian bullies people below him and brown noses people above him. This is the “kiss up, kick down strategy”, he plays office politics to win advancements but is often less productive than other workers. This can lead to a toxic AND less efficient environment.
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (Amazon)
Machiavelli in Hell by Sebastian De Grazia (Amazon)