What does “Machiavellian” mean?

The word Machiavellian has come to invariably refer to an “unscrupulous schemer for whom the ends justify the means,” notes the animated TED-Ed video above, a description of characters “we love to hate” in fiction past and present. The adjective has even become enshrined in psychological literature as one third of the “dark triad” that also features narcissism and psychopathy, personalities often mistaken for the Machiavellian type.

The term’s “lasting notoriety comes from a brief political essay known as The Prince,” written by Renaissance Italian writer and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli and “framed as advice to current and future monarchs.” The Prince and its author have acquired such a fearsome reputation that they seem to stand alone, like the work of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who likewise lent their names to the psychology of power. But Machiavelli’s book is part of “an entire tradition of works known as ‘mirrors for princes’ going back to antiquity.”

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