Machiavellian theory of entrepreneurship

Niccolo Machiavelli  (born 1479) in Italy is an infamous strategist who wrote extensive letters teaching cunning strategies to "princes" that ruled over fiefdoms throughout feudal Europe at the time. 16th century Europe was very divided compared to today, especially in and around Italy, which was composed of a large number of small autonomous and semi-autonomous territories.

Although Machiavelli is often considered as a figure in the history of political science, fiefdoms were ruled by what Baumol describes as entrepreneurs. Thus, Machiavelli's letters can be thought of as elaborating entrepreneurial strategies to get ahead in feudal times.

Many regard Machiavelli's strategies as unethical, yet his famous book "The Prince" continues to be cited and read within the business school community and by business and military practitioners. That work, along with Sun Tzu's Art of War, are considered classic works on strategy, but they also have much to say about entrepreneurship.

If a young prince wants to achieve, he needed to topple another or an older incumbent. The core ideal of the theory is that the ends justify the means, as the end is total power over a territory and its resources. For example, he recommended strategies including the use of killing to eliminate competitors. He viewed this strategy as superior to imprisonment or exile because these alternatives could allow a return to be staged by the competitor and their networks. Axioms credited to Machiavelli include:
  1. It is better to be feared than to be loved
  2. Loyalty must be strong and resistance crushed
  3. The ends justify the means
Perhaps Machiavelli was a realist writing during a time of weak institutions. Today, entrepreneurs often find themselves in trouble with the law when they pursue Machiavellian strategies to usurp incumbent firms. The modern institutional systems that are in place regulate Machiavellian behaviors, act as a barrier to entry. However, these types of barriers may be considered desirable because they prevent what is now understood to be a destructive form of entrepreneurship, in terms of its effects on the society or network.


Machiavelli, N. (1940). The Prince and Discourses On the First Decade of Titus Livius. New York: The Modern Library.
Baumol, W. J. (1996). Entrepreneurship: Productive, unproductive, and destructive. Journal of business venturing, 11(1), 3-22.921.



Unknown said…
Well, this theory explains a lot of the unethical and generally immoral streak which powered a lot of entrepreneurship. I would add that nowadays it would be considered outdated and unwise model considering not many still would agree to the old "ends justify the means" mentality but perhaps now it's just a bit more subtle?
stenote said…
I like to quote what Machiavelli said in The Prince: "It is about a citizen who becomes the prince of his country not by wickedness or any intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow citizens. We can call this ‘civil principality’. Now, this kind of principality (princely state)—·this way of becoming a prince·—is obtained with the support of the common people or with the support of the nobles."

I tried to write a blog about him, see whether you like it:

Buy the book or e-book here