Born in Florence in 1469 from an ancient but decayed family, from his adolescence he was familiar with the Latin classics. He began his career in the government of the Florentine Republic at the fall of Girolamo Savonarola. Elected gonfalonier Pier Soderini, first became secretary of the second chancellery and, later, secretary of the council of the Ten.
He carried out delicate diplomatic missions at the French court (1504, 1510-11), the Holy See (1506) and the imperial court of Germany (1507-1508), which helped him to develop his system of thought; moreover, he kept the official communications between the central government bodies and the ambassadors and army officers engaged in the foreign courts or in the Florentine territory.
As noted by the great historian of nineteenth-century literature Francesco De Sanctis, Machiavelli with his political science theorises the emancipation of man from the influence of supernatural and fantastic elements created by the powerful, not only because of the concept of superior providence (or Fortuna ) which supports human affairs alongside the concept of the creator of history (thanks to the power of his spirit and his intelligence), but above all because to the concept of obedience to the "auctoritates", which everything predisposes and orders (and of course legislate), replaces an approach that takes into account the observation of reality in its "actual truth", as defined by the writer. Going on the ground of praxis, therefore, he suggests that instead of the so-called "morality", a set of abstract rules that are often disregarded by individuals, the rules of daily political practice must be replaced, which have nothing to do with morality. what to do, let alone with religious morality. And we must bear in mind that when Machiavelli writes, morality is precisely identified almost exclusively with religious morality, being still far from facing the idea of a secular morality.
On the plane instead of institutional reflection, Machiavelli takes further steps forward with respect to the logic of his time, thanks to the fact that the concept of Feudo replaces the modern and broader one of the State, which, as pointed out several times in his writings, must be strictly separated from religious power. In fact, a State worthy of this name and wishing to act coherently with the new logic set by the Florentine, could not subordinate its action to the rules imposed by an authority that drops them so to speak "from above". In a very audacious way, Machiavelli goes so far as to say, even if for the truth in a still immature and embryonic way, that it is instead the Church that must be subordinated to the State.
It is important to emphasize that the reflections of Machiavelli always draw their own "humus" and their raison d'etre starting from the realistic analysis of the facts, as they present themselves to a dispassionate and prejudiced gaze. That is, more commonly called, on everyday experience. This factual reality and everyday life affect the prince as well as the scholar, therefore both from the private point of view, "as a man", and from the more generally political point of view, "as ruler". This means that there is a double movement in reality, that of everyday life and that of the political fact, certainly more complex and more difficult to understand.
In any case, it is precisely the diplomatic missions in Italy that give them the opportunity to get to know some Princes and to closely observe the differences in government and political direction; in particular, he got to know and work for Cesare Borgia and on this occasion showed interest in the political astuteness and the iron fist shown by the tyrant (who had recently established a personal domination focused on Urbino).
Precisely starting from this, later in most of his writings he will sketch very realistic political analyzes of the situation that is contemporary to him, comparing it with examples taken from history (especially from the Roman one).
For example, in his most famous work, "The Prince" (written in the years 1513-14, but published only in 1532), he analyzes the various genres of principalities and armies, trying to outline the qualities necessary for a prince to conquer and preserve a state, and to obtain the respectful support of the subjects. Thanks to his precious experience he outlines the figure of the ideal ruler, able to hold a strong state and to successfully face both the external attacks and the uprising of the subjects, without being too bound by moral considerations but only by realistic political evaluations. For example, if the "actual reality of the thing" is presented as violent and dominated by the struggle, the prince will have to impose himself by force.
The belief, moreover, is that it is better to be feared rather than loved. Of course, in truth it would be desirable to obtain both, but having to choose (since it is difficult to combine the two qualities), the first hypothesis is much safer for a prince. According to Machiavelli, therefore, a prince should be interested only in power and feel constrained only by those rules (taken from history) that lead political actions to success, overcoming the unforeseeable and incalculable obstacles at stake by Fortuna.
Even the writer, however, was able to apply himself as a politician, unfortunately not with great luck. Already in 1500, when it was at the court of Cesare Borgia, on the occasion of a military camp, he realized that foreign mercenaries were weaker than Italian ones. He then organized a popular militia with which to assure the patriotic defense of the common good of the Republic of Florence (he had the task of organizing the military defense of Florence from 1503 to 1506). That militia, however, fails in the first action in 1512 against the Spanish infantry in Prato, and so is decided the fate of the Republic and the career of Machiavelli. After the end of the Republic of Florence the Medici recovered power over Florence with the help of the Spaniards and the Holy See and Machiavelli was fired.
In 1513, after a failed plot, he was unjustly arrested and tortured. Shortly after the election of Pope Leo X (of the Medici family), he was finally granted his freedom. He then retires to Sant'Andrea, on his property. In that sort of exile he writes his most important works. Later, despite attempts to reach the favor of his new rulers, he fails to obtain a position similar to the past in the new government. He died on 21 June 1527.
Among the other works of the great thinker, there are also the novella "Belfagor" and the famous comedy "La Mandragola" two masterpieces that make regret the fact that Machiavelli never dedicated himself to the theater.
Even today, however, when we speak of "Machiavellism" we mean, not exactly rightly, a political tactic that seeks, without respecting morals, to enlarge its own power and well-being, hence the famous motto (which seems Machiavelli not had never pronounced), "the ends justify the mean".