Niccolo Machiavelli, born May 3, 1469 in Florence, Italy, is commonly considered the first modern political thinker. While little is known about his early life, it is known that he was educated in the classics and was proficient in Latin which, at the time, was the language of diplomacy. This knowledge served him well as he spent a great deal of his life involved in government and diplomatic missions. His experience as an embassador, public servant and even as a man of war provided him with plenty of knowledge to form political philosophies. In one of his most famous literary works, The Prince, Machiavelli introduced a new perspective into the objectives of gaining, maintaining and increasing political power. While these concepts influenced the people and society of his time, their application and influence are useful in modern times as well.
Machiavelli’s literary pursuits began after losing political office under the Medici rule. Although The Prince is the work most often cited by commentators as containing the essential elements of Machiavelli’s reason of state he further develops the idea in The Discourses, The Art Of War, and even to some degree in his ribald comedic play Mandragola. As with The Prince, however, the concept of reason of state is implicit in these works and is derived from the examples of conduct and the subsequent discussion of the merits of the conduct. It was in a noble attempt to gain favor and return to politics that he introduced these new concepts concerning political power as they relate to governing in his book The Prince. Unfortunately, Medici was not impressed with what appeared to be Machiavelli’s support of corrupt ruling, nor was the the public. This contributed to his bad reputation and he was unfairly attacked for the remainder of his life. It wasn’t until much later that this work would be viewed as political genius. For today, Machiavelli’s The Prince, though it appears cruel and uncaring at times, can provide valuable instruction for modern leaders, whether political or corporate who are facing difficult challenges involved in leadership. It might be wise, however, to note that some of the most famous students of his philosophies include the likes of Lenin, Hitler and Mussolini.