Someone Machiavellian is sneaky, cunning, and lacking a moral code. The word comes from the Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote the political treatise The Prince in the 1500s, that encourages “the end justifies the means” behavior, especially among politicians.

Machiavellian describes fans of Machiavelli, the Renaissance philosopher who wrote things like “It is much safer to be feared than loved” and “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” Modern psychiatrists even use it to describe a kind of personality disorder, a cold selfishness. When Machiavelli's first works were published, they were seen by some to be dangerous and amoral, and the word Machiavellian was coined.

Definitions of Machiavellian
  1. adjective
    of or relating to Machiavelli or the principles of conduct he recommended
    Machiavellian thinking”
  2. noun
    a follower of Machiavelli's principles
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    type of:
    a person who accepts the leadership of another
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