With performances from Peter Capaldi, this documentary marks the 500th anniversary of Machiavelli’s notorious book The Prince. Famous for lines like ‘It is better to be feared than loved’, The Prince has been a manual for tyrants from Napoleon to Stalin.
But how relevant is The Prince today, and who are the 21st century Machiavellians? Alan Yentob talks to contributors including Colonel Tim Collins, who kept a copy of The Prince with him in Iraq; plus Hilary Devey, Alastair Campbell and Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin.
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527) was an Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer of the Renaissance period. He has often been called the father of modern political science. For many years he was a senior official in the Florentine Republic, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry. His personal correspondence is renowned by Italian scholars. He was secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512, when the Medici were out of power. He wrote his most well-known work The Prince (Il Principe) in 1513, having been exiled from city affairs.
“Machiavellianism” is widely used as a negative term to characterize unscrupulous politicians of the sort Machiavelli described most famously in The Prince. Machiavelli described immoral behavior, such as dishonesty and the killing of innocents, as being normal and effective in politics. He even seemed to encourage it in some situations. The book gained notoriety due to claims that it teaches “evil recommendations to tyrants to help them maintain their power”.
Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy, the third child and first son of attorney Bernardo di Niccolò Machiavelli and his wife, Bartolomea di Stefano Nelli. The Machiavelli family is believed to be descended from the old marquesses of Tuscany and to have produced thirteen Florentine Gonfalonieres of Justice, one of the offices of a group of nine citizens selected by drawing lots every two months and who formed the government, or Signoria; but he was never a full citizen of Florence because of the nature of Florentine citizenship in that time even under the republican regime. Machiavelli married Marietta Corsini in 1502.