Machiavellianism is a personality disorder that, unlike psychopathy and narcissism, is little known.
People with ‘Machiavellian’ traits are unemotional and regularly deceive and manipulate others.
People with Machiavellian traits tend to agree with statements like these:
- “It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.”
- “Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so.”
- “It is safest to assume that all people have a vicious streak and it will come out when they are given a chance.”
- “It is wise to flatter important people.”
Those with Machiavellian traits — named for a 15th century Italian diplomat — are very good at getting others to do what they want by using lying and flattery, as needed.
Their motto, if they had one, would be: “The ends justify the means.”
In other words, do whatever you have to in order to get what you want.
They understand what motivates other people and display cold selfishness in getting it from them.
Despite this, they are so good at manipulation that they are often well-liked by others who do not realise their evil intentions.
The Machiavellian personality is one of the so-called ‘dark triad’ of malevolent personality types.
Drs Daniel N. Jones and Delroy L. Paulhus, experts on dark personalities, explain:
“They were so named because individuals with these traits share a tendency to be callous, selfish, and malevolent in their interpersonal dealings.”
While most people know about psychopaths and narcissists, few have heard of the Machiavellian — perhaps that is the way they prefer it!
Machiavellian people’s personality tends to be disagreeable and undependable, which leads them to lie, cheat and betray, when it suits them.
Unlike the psychopath, the Machiavellian keeps a close eye on his or her reputation.
The Machiavellian personality type is named after a 15th century politician, Niccolò Machiavelli, Jones and Paulhus explain:
“Early in the 16th century, Niccolo Machiavelli acted as chief political advisor to the ruling Medici family in Florence, Italy.
The details of his counsel are well known because Machiavelli laid them out for posterity in his 1513 book, The Prince.
The gist of his advice for maintaining political control is captured in the phrase “the end justifies the means.”
According to Machiavelli, a ruler with a clear agenda should be open to any and all effective tactics, including ‘manipulative interpersonal strategies such as flattery and lying.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The quotes are from Jones & Paulhus (2009). Machiavellianism. Handbook of individual differences in social behavior.