During a political debate -- in the USA, Italy or anywhere -- if a politician refers to his or her opponent as "Machiavellian", it is usually not meant as a compliment. To emulate the Renaissance-era historian, diplomat, civil servant and political philosopher is to suggest that someone is ruthless, sneaky, rapacious, cruel and simply not the kind of leader anyone should want to follow. Niccolo Machiavelli lived at the height of the Italian Renaissance, a period of unparalleled creativity as well as ongoing conflict and corruption, which might lead later generations to believe that a certain degree of monkey business was necessary to allow greatness to emerge. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-1030021.mp3
Machiavelli himself might be tarred as a bloodthirsty totalitarian but his book "The Prince" (which you can read here in English translation or in the original Italian here) is a reasoned discourse on practical politics based on Machiavelli's observation of political life in 16th century Europe. In his personal life he is more sinned against than sinning, the corruption of his time in both church and state are a result of unjust political structures. Machiavelli might even be good company, as we meet him in Joseph Markulin's epic novel "Machiavelli: A Renaissance Life". Machiavelli's life story, shaped to the exegencies of historical fiction, is marked by acts of courage and political activism but also torture and depression. His hometown of Florence is torn between followers of the charismatic monk Girolamo Savonarola, who predicts (almost calls for) the downfall of a sinful city-state, and Lorenzo de'Medici, whose reign has allowed Florence to become something of a party town. Young Niccolo is drawn to Savonarola -- whom he first meets when he rescues the frail young monk from a rare Florentine snowball fight -- and Savonarola's prophesies would be a strong influence on Machiavelli's ideals. Niccolo Machiavelli, more perspicacious than the average Florentine and more inclined to doubt and cynicism when it came to modern-day prophets, began to recover his wits. The force of the friar's onslaught had initially drawn him in, but now, with an effort of the will, he succeeded in resisting the magnetism -- in detatching himself a little from the rising tide of prophetic fury.