Niccolo Machiavelli is one of those rare writers so well known that his name has become an adjective; ‘Machiavellian’ means crafty and ruthless. And over the centuries, Machiavelli’s most famous book, The Prince, has vexed moralists for its seeming defiance of all moral laws.
The ruler, Machiavelli tells us, must not just learn to do good; he must learn to do evil — and learn to do it well. It is better, he tells us, to be feared than to be loved. A ruler must not be afraid to commit atrocities — but he must commit them at the right time so that they will serve their intended purpose. It is wise to break promises to the weak, and often necessary for a successful ruler to lie. It is useless to think of wars as just or unjust — it is only necessary to know when wars can bring success.