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Machiavellianism is defined as the political theory of Niccolò Machiavelli, especially the view that any means can be used if it is necessary to maintain political power.[1] The word comes from the Italian Renaissance diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, born in 1469, who wrote Il Principe (The Prince), among other works.

In modern psychology however, Machiavellianism is also the name of a personality trait, characterized by a duplicitous interpersonal style, an absence of morality, a lack of empathy, and a focus on self-interest and personal gain.[2][3]


Political thoughtEdit

After his exile from political life in 1512, Machiavelli took to a life of writing, which led to the publishing of his most famous work, The Prince. The book would become infamous for its recommendation for absolute rulers to be ready to act in unscrupulous ways, such as resorting to deceit and cunning, political assassination, and the usage of fear as a means of keeping power.[4] Machiavelli's view that acquiring a state and maintaining it may require evil means has been noted as the chief theme of the treatise.[5] He has become infamous for this advice, ensuring that the term Machiavellian would be defined as "marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith".[6]

While Machiavelli has become widely popular for his work on principalities, his other works, such as The Discourses on Livy, focused mainly on republican statecraft, and his recommendations for a well ordered republic. Machiavelli noted how free republics have power structures that are better than principalities. He also notes how advantageous a government by a republic could be as opposed to just a single ruler. However, Machiavelli's more controversial statements on politics can also be found even in his other works.[7][8] For example, Machiavelli notes that sometimes extraordinary means (such as violence) can be used in reordering a country.[9] in one area, he praises Romulus, who murdered his brother and co-ruler in order to have power by himself to found the city of Rome.[10] In a few passages he sometimes explicitly acts as an advisor of tyrants as well.[11][12][13]

Some scholars have even asserted that the goal of his ideal republic does not differ greatly from his principality, as both rely on rather ruthless measures for aggrandizement and empire.[14]

In one passage of The Prince, Machiavelli subverts the advice given by Cicero to avoid duplicity and violence, by saying that the prince should "be the fox to avoid the snares, and a lion to overwhelm the wolves". It would become one of Machiavelli's most notable statements.[15]

Because cruelty and deception play such important roles in his politics, it is not unusual for related issues—such as murder and betrayal—to rear their heads with regularity.[16]

Machiavelli's own concept of virtue (which he calls "virtù") is original and is usually seen by scholars as different from the traditional viewpoints of other political philosophers.[17] Virtú can consist of qualities such as being bold, forceful, skillful, and even being ready to engage in necessary evil when it is advantageous.[18][19]

Due to the treatise's controversial analysis on politics, in 1559, the Catholic Church banned The Prince, putting it on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

Machiavelli criticized the classical biblical and Christian thought as he viewed that it celebrated humility and otherworldly things, and thus it made the Italians of his day "weak and effeminate".[20] While Machiavelli's own religious allegiance has been debated, it is assumed that he had a low regard of contemporary Christianity.[21]

In the 16th century, immediately following the publication of The Prince, Machiavellianism was seen as a foreign plague infecting northern European politics. Reginald Pole read the treatise while he was in Italy, and on which he commented: "I found this type of book to be written by an enemy of the human race. It explains every means whereby religion, justice and any inclination toward virtue could be destroyed".[22] Machiavelli's works were received similarly by other popular European authors, especially in England.

The English playwrights William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe incorporated their views into some of their works. Shakespeare's Gloucester, later Richard III, refers to Machiavelli in Henry VI, Part III, for instance:

I can add colours to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.

In The Jew of Malta (1589–90) "Machevil" in person speaks the Prologue, claiming not to be dead, but to have possessed the soul of the Duke of Guise, "And, now the Guise is dead, is come from France/ To view this land, and frolic with his friends".[23] Marlowe's last play, The Massacre at Paris (1593) depicts the Duke of Guise and Catherine de' Medici both as Machiavellian plotters, bent on evil from the start.

The Anti-Machiavel is an 18th-century essay by Frederick the Great, King of Prussia and patron of Voltaire, rebutting The Prince, and Machiavellianism. It was first published in September 1740, a few months after Frederick became king, and is one of many such works.[24]

Denis Diderot, the French philosopher, viewed Machiavellianism as "an abhorrent type of politics" and the "art of tyranny".[25]


Machiavellianism is also a term that social, forensic and personality psychologists use to describe a person's tendency to be unemotional, uninfluenced by conventional morality and more inclined to deceive and manipulate others.[26] In the 1960s, Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis developed a test for measuring a person's level of Machiavellianism (sometimes referred to as the Machiavelli test).[27] Christie wanted to study those who manipulated others, and used truncated statements from Machiavelli's works to that end. Their Mach - IV test, a twenty-statement personality survey, became the standard self-assessment tool of Machiavellianism. People scoring high on the scale (high Machs) tend to endorse manipulative statements such as, "Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so,". Using their scale, Christie and Geis conducted multiple experimental tests that showed that the interpersonal strategies and behavior of "High Machs" and "Low Machs" differ.[28] Their basic results have been widely replicated.[29] Measured on the Mach - IV scale, males score, on average, slightly higher on Machiavellianism than females.[28][30] A recent behavioral genetics study noted that Machiavellianism has both significantly genetic and environmental influences.[31][32] There has also been some research on Machiavellianism in the youth.[33][34]


A 1992 review described Machiavellian motivation as related to cold selfishness and pure instrumentality, and those high on the trait were assumed to pursue their motives (e.g. sex, achievement, sociality) in duplicitous ways. More recent research on the motivations of high Machs compared to low Machs found that they gave high priority to money, power, and competition and relatively low priority to community building, self-love, and family commitment. High Machs admitted to focusing on unmitigated achievement and winning at any cost.[35][36]


Due to their skill at interpersonal manipulation, there has often been an assumption that high Machs possess superior intelligence, or ability to understand other people in social situations. However, some research has established that Machiavellianism is unrelated to IQ.[37] Recently, new research indicates a contrary viewpoint.[38]

Furthermore, studies on emotional intelligence have found that high Machiavellianism is usually associated with low emotional intelligence as assessed by both performance and questionnaire measures.[39] Both emotional empathy and emotion recognition have been shown to have negative correlations with Machiavellianism.[40] [41]Additionally, research has shown that Machiavellianism is unrelated to a more advanced theory of mind, that is, the ability to anticipate what others are thinking in social situations. If high Machs actually are skilled at manipulating others, this appears to be unrelated to any special cognitive abilities as such, and may simply be due to a greater willingness to engage in manipulation.[35]

Relations with other personality traitsEdit

Machiavellianism is one of the three personality traits referred to as the dark triad, along with narcissism and psychopathy. Some psychologists consider Machiavellianism to be essentially a subclinical form of psychopathy,[42][43] although recent research suggests that while Machiavellianism and psychopathy overlap, they are distinct personality constructs.[35] [44]Psychopathy differs from Machiavellianism in impulsivity and a lack of self control.[2] A greater tendency to lie, being one of the core aspects of the Machiavellian character, has been tightly connected to psychopathy.

Machiavellianism has been found to be negatively correlated with Agreeableness (r = −0.47) and Conscientiousness (r = −0.34), two dimensions of the Big Five personality model (NEO-PI-R).[2] However, Machiavellianism correlates more highly with the Honesty-humility dimension of the six-factor HEXACO model than with any of the Big Five dimensions.[35] Machiavellianism has also been located within the interpersonal circumplex, which consists of the two independent dimensions of agency and communion. Agency refers to motivation to succeed and to individuate the self, whereas communion refers to motivation to merge with others and to support group interests. Machiavellianism lies in the quadrant of the circumplex defined by high agency and low communion.[35] Machiavellianism has been found to lie diagonally opposite from a circumplex construct called self-construal, a tendency to prefer communion over agency. This suggests that people high in Machiavellianism do not simply wish to achieve, they wish to do so at the expense of (or at least without regard to) others.[35][45]

Game theoryEdit

In 2002, the Machiavellianism scale of Christie and Geis was applied by behavioral game theorists Anna Gunnthorsdottir, Kevin McCabe and Vernon L. Smith[30] in their search for explanations for the spread of observed behavior in experimental games, in particular individual choices which do not correspond to assumptions of material self-interest captured by the standard Nash equilibrium prediction. It was found that in a trust game, those with high MACH-IV scores tended to follow homo economicus' equilibrium strategies while those with low MACH-IV scores tended to deviate from the equilibrium, and instead made choices that reflected widely accepted moral standards and social preferences.


Although there have been myriad proposed factor structures, two dimensions emerge most consistently within factor-analytic research - differentiating Machiavellian views from tactics.[46] Although the Mach-IV scale is unable to reliably capture the two dimensions, a 10-item subset of the scale known as the Two-Dimensional Mach-IV (TDM-V), reproduces the views and tactics dimensions across countries, genders, sample types, and scale category length.[47] [48] The views dimension appears to capture the neurotic, narcissistic, pessimistic, and distrustful aspects of Machiavellianism, while the tactics component captures the more unconscientious, self-serving, and deceitful behavioural aspects. Although no research has so far identified the causal direction of the two-dimensions, it is likely that the views generate and validate the use of Machiavellian tactics.

In the workplaceEdit

Machiavellianism in the workplace refers to individuals who behave in a cold and manipulative manner in business settings. It is an increasingly studied phenomenon. Machiavellianism has been studied extensively over the past 40 years as a personality characteristic that shares features with manipulative leadership, and amoral tactics. It has in recent times been adapted and applied to the context of the workplace and organizations by many writers and academics.

Oliver James wrote about the effects of Machiavellianism and other dark triadic personality traits in the workplace, the others being narcissism and psychopathy.[49]

Workplace behaviors associated with this concept are centered around using aggressive and exploitative means in order to ensure self success.[50]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Definition of MACHIAVELLIANISM". Retrieved 2018-11-07.
  2. ^ a b c Paulhus, Delroy L.; Williams, Kevin M. (2002). "The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy". Journal of Research in Personality. 36 (6): 556–563. doi:10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00505-6.
  3. ^ "PsycNET". Retrieved 2019-02-25.
  4. ^ Skinner, Quentin (1978-11-30). The Foundations of Modern Political Thought: Volume 1, The Renaissance. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521293372.
  5. ^ Strauss, Leo; Cropsey, Joseph (2012-06-15). History of Political Philosophy. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226924717.
  6. ^ "Definition of MACHIAVELLIAN". Retrieved 2019-02-26.
  7. ^ Mansfield, Harvey C. (1998-02-25). Machiavelli's Virtue. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226503721.
  8. ^ Mansfield, Harvey C. (2001-04-15). Machiavelli's New Modes and Orders: A Study of the Discourses on Livy. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226503707.
  9. ^ "Niccolo Machiavelli | Biography, Books, Philosophy, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  10. ^ "Discourses on Livy: Book 1". Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  11. ^ Strauss, Leo (2014-07-04). Thoughts on Machiavelli. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226230979. pg. 48
  12. ^ Machiavelli, Niccolò, The Discourses on Livy trans. by Harvey Mansfield. Chap 16
  13. ^ See Harvey Mansfield's essay at the beginning of The Discourses.
  14. ^ Rahe, Paul A. (2005-11-14). Machiavelli's Liberal Republican Legacy. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139448338.
  15. ^ Skinner, Quentin (2000-10-12). Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191540349.
  16. ^ "Niccolò Machiavelli, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy".
  17. ^ Mansfield, Harvey C. (1998-02-25). Machiavelli's Virtue. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226503721.
  18. ^ Hulliung, Mark (2017-07-05). Citizen Machiavelli. Routledge. ISBN 9781351528481.
  19. ^ Skinner, Quentin (2000-10-12). Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191540349.
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  22. ^ Benner, Erica (2013-11-28). Machiavelli's Prince: A New Reading. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191003929.
  23. ^ Project Gutenberg Jew of Malta text
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  27. ^ Christie, R.; Geis., F. L. (1970). "How devious are you? Take the Machiavelli test to find out". Journal of Management in Engineering. 15 (4): 17.
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