Revealed: Machiavelli never wrote nor believed that 'the end justifies the means'

By Jean-Christophe Piot

“The end justifies the means” is a well-known phrase that for many represents the height of political cynicism, a notion that justifies any crime, and is very often thought to have been first used by Italian Renaissance diplomat, political philosopher and writer Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli. Indeed, to be “Machiavellian” is to be underhand, cunning, unscrupulous and scheming. But, as Jean-Christophe Piot sets out here, the much-maligned Florentine thinker never wrote nor believed in the phrase that has been stuck to him.

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There can be few political treatises better known around the world than The Prince, a short, accessible, well-presented text by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli. Written in 1513 when Machiavelli’s employers, the Medici family, had him imprisoned, it became an immediate success as of its first publication in 1532.