Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) was an Italian statesman and political philosopher who argued that the “end justifies the means” when it comes to how political rulers can keep power. While most political theories up until his time discussed how governments could promote the common good and act morally, Machiavelli stated that those in power should use immoral and unethical means to stay in control and maintain the law.
Machiavelli’s most famous work was The Prince. Written in 1513 but not published until Machiavelli’s death in 1532, The Prince argues that princes should use any means possible, including deceit, to maintain their territories. While arguing that a leader should do what he can to avoid being hated, he argued that death sentences would deter crime and that the people should often be dealt with severely. He also argued that it is better for a ruler to be feared than loved. Machiavelli’s views were instantly controversial and Pope Clement VIII condemned his teachings.
To this day, rulers and leaders who act dishonestly are often referred to as being “Machiavellian.”