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The Political and Psychological Premises of Machiavellianism

While most people are familiar with the concepts of narcissism and psychopathy, most remain largely unaware of what Machiavellianism entails. In psychology, Machiavellianism is part of the "dark triad" of mental traits.

Mental health has recently become a focal point of discussion as the World Health Organization among other national initiatives have recently started to advocate mental health research and provide comprehensive responses and services to those suffering from mental illnesses. For more information on how the United States compares to other nations globally please vist: https://www.who.int/mental_health/action_plan_2013/en/ . Furthermore, many recent shows have sparked debate over alleged glamorization of mental illnesses and/or promotion of poor practices.

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Photo From (average faces of those with high/low traits): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S009265661100136X

While most people are familiar with the concepts of narcissism and psychopathy, most remain largely unaware of what Machiavellianism entails. In psychology, Machiavellianism is part of the “dark triad” of mental traits with the others being narcissism and, as aforementioned, psychopathy. Though Machiavellianism originated as a political ideology as posited by Niccolo Machiavelli in his work II Principe, it also became recognized as a psychological term in the 1970s.

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Photo From: https://theunityprocess.com/is-it-the-patriarchy-or-the-dark-triad-thats-exploiting-western-society/

The Political Premises of Machiavellianism

Niccolo Machiavelli, a political theorist among other things, put forth his views on government in his most well-known work: II Principe (“The Prince”). This book promoted the idea that leaders should achieve glory and survival through any means, including the immoral and cruel. The biggest responsibility of the leader, according to Machiavelli, must be to seem strict, but reasonable and thus a leader, when choosing between whether to be loved or feared, should err on the side of being feared to keep stability within his nation. As he states in his book, “love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

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Photo From: https://radiowest.kuer.org/post/machiavellis-advice-citizens

Machiavelli is associated with the term “criminal virtue” which promotes the use of conventionally immoral “means” in order to achieve a crucial, but often brutal “end.”  However, brute force is also not simply what he advocates for as he wrote, “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.” Furthermore, he popularized the terms virtù and prudenza and utilized them as inevitable parts of human nature. His argument was that virtue and prudence, in place of fortune, can help one to control their future.

Machiavelli lived during a time where the Medicis had been both removed and re-instated to power which resulted, ultimately, in large periods of political instability. Thus, when formulating his political theory, we must take into account the circumstances which he lived through and how they could shape his perspectives and outlooks on the means with which to achieve political stability.

In the modern day, we can see the stereotypes of the “corrupt politician” or the “ruthless CEO.” Professions in a variety of fields may deal with or experience ethical trade-offs such as lying or deception which, as Machiavelli posits, is the price of dealing with a world that isn’t as utopic or idyllic as most would like to believe.

Psychological Premises and Machiavellianism

Machiavellianism has become synonymous with being crafty, scheming, conniving and opportunistic. It is known as a personality trait with the following tendencies:

  • focused on their own ambition and interests
  • money and power over relationships
  • come across as charming and confident
  • exploit and manipulate others to get ahead
  • lie and deceive when required
  • use flattery often
  • lacking in principles and values
  • can come across as aloof or hard to really get to know
  • cynical of goodness and morality
  • capable of causing others harm to achieve their means
  • low levels of empathy
  • often avoid commitment and emotional attachments
  • can be very patient due to calculating nature
  • rarely reveal their true intentions
  • prone to casual sex encounters
  • can be good at reading social situations and others
  • lack of warmth in social interactions
  • not always aware of the consequences of their actions
  • might struggle to identify their own emotions

 

Disclaimer: It is never a good psychological practice to attempt to self-diagnose or diagnose someone else with a mental disorder or trait without a commensurate level of psychiatric expertise.

There is, however, a test developed in the 1970s with a scoring system between 0-100. The Mach IV, a first test of Machiavellianism, was crafted by Richard Christie and Florence Geis and outlines various Machiavellian traits. Those who score above 60 are “high Machs” or people who have some of the tendencies as outlined  above whereas “low Machs” (below 60) have less of a tendency towards Machiavellianism as defined above.

It is important to know that every psychopath is narcissistic, but every narcissist is not a psychopath as they are capable of feeling guilt and shame. Machiavellianism is a collection of traits, but “machs” possess a regular range of emotions which they may purposefully choose to ignore. Sociopathy is a diagnosable personality disorder, which has been posited to be a result of traumatic experiences early on in life, and sociopaths cannot feel some emotions like fear or guilt. It is always important to not confound or confuse “dark triad”traits, which are often present on a spectrum, for diagnosable mental illnesses like Sociopathy, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Psychopathy.

 


References:

(1) https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/machiavellianism-psychology.htm

(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOXl0Ll_t9s

(3) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/machiavellians-gulling-the-rubes/201509/meet-the-machiavellians

(4) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/machiavellians-gulling-the-rubes/201509/meet-the-machiavellians

(5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dv8zJiggBs

(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niccolò_Machiavelli

(7) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S009265661100136X

I'm a rising sophomore at the LSA Honors College at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Currently, I'm on a pre-medical track. In my free time, I write articles, volunteer at a chronic pain outpatient facility with UM Medicine, do research, compete in HOSA, and, of course, enjoy photography and singing.

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