Advice from Italy’s (In)famous Military Strategist

While Machiavelli’s reputation is that of a ruthless political advisor and theorist, UT Professor Maurizio Viroli — recognized as the world’s leading authority on his life and writings — insists his legacy is misconstrued.
Niccolò Machiavelli was a high-ranking military strategist in Florence, Italy, and, says Viroli, impeccably honest. It was that blunt, forthright manner that Machiavelli himself blamed for his removal from office in 1512 — and it’s his unapologetic tone that’s made him famous (or infamous) 500 years later.
Whether it’s Machiavelli's style or substance that makes readers bristle, Viroli says there is no doubt he was politically astute. What’s more, he possessed “a rare wisdom of life — that is to say, the wisdom that would teach us to live a meaningful life.”
The problem for those in industry, says Viroli, is that Machiavelli knew nothing of business, nor was he even tempted to learn. But most pieces of usable wisdom often have applications beyond their intended topic. Viroli, who taught at Princeton before joining the Liberal Arts faculty at UT, cautions that before dissecting Machiavelli’s writings, one thing above all must be remembered: He aimed to inspire and instruct great political leaders, not the ordinary or mediocre. “If we want to apply his counsel to business, it must be to inspire great leaders — a prince of business.” Can it be done?
“Let’s see,” says Viroli. “You judge.”