26

REVISED QUESTION

Is there an eponymous adjective with equivalent cultural weight and recognition that could be considered an antonym of Machiavellian? I am after the basic idea of an adjective that describes a person who leads or influences others in ways that elicit cooperation and admiration with a Machiavellian person who may use fear as a motivator for desirable outcomes. So, the dichotomy I'm interested in here is **loved leader who elicits cooperation vs. feared leader who wields power in a more ruthless way. The idea is that both people are effective leaders.

In a way, I am interested in the fact that Machiavelli and his eponymous adjective are so poorly understood, but bear such cultural significance and negative connotation. I wanted to know what the antonym of Machiavellian was from the point of view of people who answer my questions, but also whether the positive eponymous adjectives have similar cultural heft.


Original Question and Addenda

Is there an eponymous adjective, i.e.based on a person's or literary character's name, that is the opposite of Machiavellian that refers to a person who behaves unselfishly with good intention and collaboration in clear, open ways?

Machiavellian is an eponymous adjective used to describe a person or behavior that is underhanded, manipulative, unscrupulous and interested in one's own benefit, despite appearances to the contrary. Merriam Webster has similar definition, provides example sentences and explains the origin of the adjective from Niccolo Machiavelli's name.

I am interested in a word that is not confined to politics, but might be more general. I have consulted lists of eponymous adjectives including this one. I have also searched on EL&U past questions and could not find any that ask or answer my question. I would prefer an adjective with gravitas that conveys a sense of efficacy through open, collaborative, generous behavior. Think of different style of bosses in a small institution or business settings.

Example sentences:

Jesse employs Machiavellian tactics and really fools the team into believing that they have made a group decision for the benefit of all. The team has good success, it's true, but only people with a certain kind of mentality seem to stay.

Alex, on the other hand, displays __________ intention, honesty and candor in leadership of the team. Most people prefer to work on Alex's team and can point to examples of both team and individual success.

Addendum:

NB: As pointed out in comments, I am using Machiavellian in its contemporary usage. I understand that scholars and many educated people think this is a misrepresentation of Machiavelli.

Addendum 2

While I figure out whether to edit the question to ask for an eponymous adjective that describes behavior that is unselfish, collaborative, open and effective, you have a few choices:

  1. Give eponymous adjectives that make sense to you and are interesting to you. Please post them as answers. All the comments have been good ones.

  2. Continue to educate me on the flaws in my question. Consider me on the way to fuller awareness of my ignorance in relation to the word, Machiavellian, and perhaps a remedy to that.

  3. My emerging understanding is that the main contrast I am after is competitive behavior that is manipulative and hidden vs. collaborative behavior that is more transparently aimed at goals reached by concensus.

21 Answers 21

7

Note, the present nuance of the question is:

"with equivalent cultural weight and recognition..."

Indeed, really the only one I can think of is Churchill, or possibly Gandhi (but Gandhi is just so different, not an "opposite").

I can't really think of any, at all, historical, classical figures who are a trope for "good, decent politics" (which is pretty disappointing!) Maybe Elizabeth 1, and that's a stretch.


Might as well throw in an answer, I'd go with

Churchillian

Obvious, right?

Why is it a good possible choice?

It occurred to me: quite simply, among "negative" eponymous adjectives ... quite simply, the most well-known "negative" eponymous adjective, in the political milieu, is indeed Machiavellian.

So....

among "positive" eponymous adjectives ... quite simply the most well-known "positive" eponymous adjective, in the political milieu, is indeed .... Churchillian.

If you were trying to explain to a 6 year old Machiavellian, you'd really just say ......... "bad". (Subtleties like "scheming", "devilishly clever" etc wouldn't be relevant at the simplest level of definition of Machiavellian.) Similarly for Churchill, plain "good".

So Machiavelli - very basic "bad" trope, Churchill, very basic "good" trope.

On the "good" side, the only other political figures for 5000 years I can think of that are a basic trope of "good" is "Gandi-esque" (but he was just a completely different type of political figure, it doesn't fit), and maybe Good King Wenceslas. (Kind of a damming commentary on 5000 years of leaders!)

(On the evil side you have "Hitler", "Mao", "Stalin" (way to go, 20th century, just lovely) and, really, a broad choice of historical figures :O )

As a bonus ....

Nicely, Churchill and Machiavelli were the same type of thing ...

They were both "real politicians", both "real operators", both central to Language and writing, both gambled at Monaco, married beautiful Americans, drank Scotch all day, greatest orators, etc - but, nicely, Churchill was a "good" guy (for the six-year old explanation); Machiavelli a "bad" guy (for the six-year old explanation).

Note that, say, "Hitleristic" is not an antonym to "Churchillian" - they're just totally different sorts of things. Churchill was just an ordinary politician, with good and bad speeches; Hitler of course was a despotic madman.

Similarly, for an antonym to "Machiavellian" you wouldn't say "Christ-like" or "Buddha-like" - it's just a whole different thing.

So again - let us say, almost setting aside the very subtle shades of meaning, "Machiavellian" is simply the outright most-used negative ("most infamous") political eponymous adjective; Churchillian is the most-used positive ("most positively famous") political eponymous adjective.

So in many ways it's a good choice - it's the "trope choice" if you will.

Does it pass the sitcom test? Yes; "George is acting rather Churchillian today, Kramer." "More like Machiavellian, Jerry!"

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jun 4 '17 at 13:58
48

Call me cynical, but my candidate is quixotic. Merriam-Webster says:

foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially : marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action.

The word is derived from the name Don Quixote, the hero of a 17th century novel by Cervantes, and, according to M-W (link above)

....has been used to describe unrealistic idealists since at least the early 18th century.

My cynical point is that anyone who is successful cannot be entirely free from Machiavellian behavior (in the modern sense) all the time.

  • 2
    Nice. And eponymous. – Mitch May 30 '17 at 1:36
  • 1
    I'd agree with this. Machiavelli overwhelmingly knew what he was about, you know? He was a bit of a lad. This answer is nicely put, especially the last sentence. – Fattie May 30 '17 at 1:38
  • 2
    I like this. It wasn't quite what I was after, but in a way, maybe I wasn't sure what I was after. Quixotic ...I could go for this, if it weren't that Don Q. was a bit delusional. That goes too far. Thank you, ab2. This is the sort of thoughtful answer I wanted. And I take your point that realism is necessary for effectiveness. – user227547 May 30 '17 at 2:55
  • 3
    And it just goes to show that, while evil is always a real thing (Machiavellian), good is always man-made (Quixotic). – ΥΣΕΡ26328 May 30 '17 at 12:59
  • 3
    As a confirmed cynic and one who has read Machiavelli, I would say the antonym is "naive". – RedSonja May 31 '17 at 8:46
16

Before we can suggest terms that might stand as opposites to Machiavellian, we need to nail down what people mean by that term. Here is the entry for Machiavellian in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003):

Machiavellian adj. {Niccolo Machiavelli} (1572) 1 : of or relating to Machiavelli or Machiavellianism ["the political theory of Machiavelli; esp : the view that politics is amoral and that any means however unscrupulous can be justifiably used in achieving political power"] 2 : suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli; specif : marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith

So we're looking for something that sums up in a single word an absence of cunning, duplicity, bad faith, unscrupulousness, deceptiveness, underhandedness, power hungriness, pursuit of a hidden agenda, amorality, and unprincipled self-interest.

There certainly are antonyms for some of these ideas: scrupulous, fair, honest, upright, honorable, aboveboard, disinterested, ethical, and principled, for example. But these words fail to negate (or even address) another aspect of Machiavellian—its incorporation of such notions as skeptical, sly, streetwise, opportunistic, flexible, realistic, and even unblinkered. The opposites of these notions are (or may be seen as) somewhat less admirable than those in the last group: trusting, naive, rigid, straitlaced, unbending, impractical, and even deluded.

It seems to me that the true opposite of Machiavellian would comprehend both groups of opposite notions listed above. The central idea of such an opposite word would be its countering of Machiavellianism's protean adaptability to circumstance in order to find and exploit an advantage by any means possible with a devotion to doing things by the book—whether that book is the Bible, A Short Treatise of the Game of Whist, or Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette.

There is one book (or written code) that has become synonymous with fair play in violent circumstances, although people in recent decades have tended to bring it up derisively, as a set of rules that the bad guys (and therefore, of necessity, we) don't abide by. I speak of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules—the code of pugilism under which honorable gentlemen attempt to beat each other senseless in the most sporting way possible.

Queensberrian is everything that Machiavellian is not: strict, codified, honor-based, constrained, predictable, principled. It is also deeply artificial, denying fighters the (arguable) natural right to identify and pursue their immediate advantage by any means necessary, including fighting dirty, cheating, and exploiting forbidden unfair advantages. And unfortunately, it scarcely exists as an adjective. A Google Books search turns up a single match, from Our Navy, the Standard Publication of the U.S. Navy (April 1917):

HOW THINGS BROKE FOR OUR SCRAPPY SHIPMATES LAST MONTH.

Events pugilistic, as applied to our numerous sea-Faring shipmates who seek Queensberrian glory while serving under the Union Jack, were well seasoned last month. Seasoned with wins, losses, draws and ALSO SOME PUNKERINO DECISIONS on the part of some poor blind men who, pitied by fight promoters, were given jobs as referees or judges.

An Elephind search turns up a second instance of the term, from "Dempsey's Legs Hold Answer," in the DeKalb [Illinois] Daily Chronicle (August 19, 1926):

Within the week I have talked with two former champions who tried to "come back," just as [Jack] Dempsey is trying, after an extended abstinence from the Queensberrian feasts.

More regrettable still, both of these instances of Queensberrian use the term to mean, essentially, "boxing-related." But the word is so little used that you could easily repurpose it to mean "anti-Machiavellian"—performed in accordance with high-minded rules of conduct that may or may not have anything in common with how people actually behave when left to their own devices.

  • 1
    This is the sort of interesting and well-reasoned response I wanted in asking the question, Thank you, Sven Yargs. Your discussion sharpened my sense of what it is I'm contrasting. Queensberrian is definitely and interesting answer and illuminating. The contrast that interests me is idealistic and altruistic, so Mandela is the best fit so far. – user227547 May 30 '17 at 3:09
  • 1
    "we need to nail down what people mean by that term" but you cannot, Sven. Especially for an "antonym". Quite simply, as I mentioned by way of example above ........ state whether you think the "opposite of Hitler" is Gandi, or, Lincoln? It's unanswerable. BTW Queensberrian is a fantastic solution and I like it! – Fattie May 30 '17 at 16:32
  • 2
    @Fattie: My initial reason for responding to this question was that I think Machiavelli is utterly misunderstood in popular culture. The idea that he is a royalist who idolizes Cesare Borgia will seem untenable to anyone who has read his History of Florence or Discourses on Livy. In my opinion, his central motive for writing his various books on politics and history was to counteract what he viewed as the pernicious effects of books predicated on human behavior as it should be rather than human behavior as it is. Only in his respectful recognition of the real world is he an anti-moralist. – Sven Yargs May 30 '17 at 18:11
  • 1
    Sadly, the quote I could find in Google Books from Our Navy is even more abridged than what you offered so I am still wondering what business U.S. sailors had sailing under the British flag. I don't suppose the rest of the text gives any clarification? – terdon May 30 '17 at 19:33
  • 1
    @terdon: The U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917 (the month of publication of the cited issue of Our Navy) and it may be that, as the country slid toward open warfare with Germany and its allies, it began to lend its sailors to the British Navy. The article is quite casual about U.S. sailors "serving under the Union Jack," which indicates to me that the phenomenon was so familiar to U.S. sailors at the time that it didn't require explanation or background. The article seems to focus on the boxing fortunes of U.S. sailors stationed in California. I'm sorry the link doesn't work for you. – Sven Yargs May 30 '17 at 22:16
8

The biblical King Solomon became proverbial for his wisdom and justice — as opposed to Machiavellian cunning and advantage-seeking.

(And, in response to ab2's cynicism, he still got things done!)

Therefore, Solomonic goes at least in the right direction. I'm not sure whether it fits your example sentence properly because Solomonic is emphasizing conflict solution more than mundane day-to-day governing, and it is not quite fitting to speak of "Solomonic intent"; a group leader would only be described as Solomonic if there were conflicts which s/he solved well without seeking personal advantage. But still.

7

a Pollyanna

is a

person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything or pollyannish, after the title character of a novel displaying such properties.

Machiavellian isn't necessarily malevolent or paranoid, just realistic or realpolitik, but in the instances where one would contrast with the other extreme, 'pollyanna' usually fits.

  • 3
    Pollyannna-ish is one antonym for a certain sense of Machiavellian, but not the one I'm looking for. My desired adjective focuses more on generosity and openness than sunny optimism. Also, I have no idea how effective Pollyanna was in achieving aims. I guess I'm looking for an eponym for someone who gets things done in an opposite manner to Machiavellian types. – user227547 May 29 '17 at 21:19
  • 2
    There's no word for it because it doesn't exist. hahaha. No, really. – Mitch May 29 '17 at 21:48
  • 2
    I appreciate your answer and didn't downvote you. You may be totally right that I'm looking for a word that doesn't exist. I may have fun and learn something while I ask the question though. – user227547 May 29 '17 at 21:53
  • 1
    Oh, I didn't think you downvoted me. My answer really doesn't get at the perfect counterpart. It is certainly eponymous, but doesn't hit all the right semantic features. You may want to accept one that is semantically correct but not necessarily from someone's name – Mitch May 30 '17 at 0:16
5

One option is Confucian. What constitutes good government is an essential question with which Confucian thought concerns itself, and its methods and foundations are the opposite of your "Machiavellian": Confucianism emphasises that human nature is fundamentally good, that one must practice virtue in daily life, and that harmony and loyalty are essential in a well governed community.

Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life.

...

The this-worldly concern of Confucianism rests on the belief that human beings are fundamentally good, and teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucianism

  • I think it is sad sign that the only person so strongly related to concept of fairness and ethic behavior in governing is from Far East, no one from Europe passes the test. And even the concept itself is not know enough to be upvoted more. – Peter M. Jun 22 '17 at 22:10
4

As Mitch's answer and comments point out, there may be no counterpart to Machiavellian.

However, consider Mandelian (maybe it should be Mandellian) (Nelson Mandela ) among recent political figures.

Also Reaganesque (Ronald Reagan).

  • Thank you, Xanne, Mandela is definitely the right idea. Mandelian sounds too close to Mendellian, I think. I just found "Mandela-esque" in a New Yorker piece as a descriptor of Obama's speech in 2004 at the DNC. – user227547 May 30 '17 at 3:03
  • I agree with the deleted comment in that I don't remember Reagan that fondly, but that brings up a good point. Just as you can say that any politician, even dictators, have done good and bad during their careers, (Mussolini "made the trains run on time") you could probably say the same about whether they operated openly or underhandedly. BUT after enough time has passed, history tends to paint them exclusively one way or the other. So after enough time, "Reaganesque" will seem like a really appropriate term because everyone who thinks otherwise will be long gone. – Shawn V. Wilson Jun 2 '17 at 22:46
3

I don't think there really is an antonym, especially a positive one. Though perhaps that's my personal bias showing, as I don't consider Machivellian particularly negative :-)

But in a certain sense, perhaps Panglossian, after the character in Voltaire's "Candide" to whom "all is for the best in this best of possible worlds".

  • Thanks, for you answer. I've already decided that Churchillian fills the bill. See Fattie's excellent answer. Panglossian is more negative than Machiavellian in my mind and somewhat related to Pollyanna, now that I think of it – user227547 May 30 '17 at 4:18
2

"Christlike", as people of the Christian persuasion would often argue that Jesus Christ's leadership style is that of self sacrifice and love.

Note that skeptics might argue that a strong theme underlying this claimed virtuosity is the threat of eternal damnation for those who refuse to follow Him (thereby, being ironically "Machiavellian" in nature itself).

I do not wish to discuss the merits of the opposing views or get into a religious debate, but would rather point out that depending on your intended audience, "Christlike" might or might not be the adjective you are looking for.

2

Straightforward

If you mean Machiavellian in the sense of

2 : suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli; specif : marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith

Then the antonym would be Straightforward

  • Bob is Machiavellian - you never know what he is really up to or whether he will stab you in the back.

  • Andy is straightforward - what you see is what you get, and he always keeps his promises.

1

Christian has been used in this way. The following defintions from dictionary.com are relevant:

  1. exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ; Christlike: She displayed true Christian charity.
  2. decent; respectable: They gave him a good Christian burial.
  3. human; not brutal; humane: Such behavior isn't Christian.

and

  1. a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ: He died like a true Christian.
  • I see after the fact that someone made this suggestion in a comment above. – bruised reed May 30 '17 at 16:39
  • But this is in serious conflict with the actions of a large number of actual Christians. See e.g. Westboro Baptist Church: godhatesfags.com (And don't blame ME for the offensive URL!) – jamesqf May 30 '17 at 17:21
  • 3
    @jamesqf What is an "actual" Christian? Are you saying that these definitions are invalid and only your definition of the word is the right one? – bruised reed May 30 '17 at 19:29
  • 2
    @jamesqf If someone found a text where Machiavelli wrote that actually you should love kittens and be kind to your neighbor it wouldn't really change the definition of "Machiavellian." So the objection seems rather beside the point. – Casey May 30 '17 at 19:37
  • 1
    @bruised reed: No, what I'm saying is that to part of a general audience, using the adjective "Christian" is likely to convey a different meaning than intended. – jamesqf May 31 '17 at 5:12
1

Jeffersonian

From Dictionary.com:

pertaining to or advocating the political principles and doctrines of Thomas Jefferson, especially those stressing minimum control by the central government, the inalienable rights of the individual, and the superiority of an agrarian economy and rural society.

  • 4
    Let's all just pick our favorite politicians and lay them out there. Jeffersonian is already a word, and it is not an antonym for Machiavellian. The same goes for the accepted answer Churchillian. – 9fyj'j55-8ujfr5yhjky-'tt6yhkjj May 30 '17 at 16:59
1

Arthurian, especially if you're talking to someone who is mostly familiar with the modernized stories more than the historical realities of the time period that they are set in.

0

I don't think there's an antonym to Machiavellian, but the question is to fill the gap in Alex, on the other hand, displays __________ intention, honesty and candor in leadership

Possibilities include straightforward, altruistic and even naive.

Straightforward is, well, straightforward: what you see and hear is what you are getting. (My ideal boss, though some people always interpret plain speaking as hostile!)

Altruistic suggests one of those rare people who is more interested in helping and educating his colleagues than in self-advancement. He's not naive; if one person is letting the rest of the team down, he won't fail to act in the interests of the whole team and the organisation.

Naive has to be a criticism. Alex is far too nice for his own good, and his colleagues are taking advantage of him without him realizing it. The team needs a new leader.

  • 1
    "Eponymous" means "named after someone", but none of your suggestions are named after a person. – mskfisher May 30 '17 at 14:08
  • Sorry. missed "Eponymous" altogether when I read the question. Thought it was just after an antonym. – nigel222 May 30 '17 at 14:15
  • @nigel222, thanks for your answer. I am actually interested in seeing how people interpret Machiavellian, so this answer was useful for my purpose. – user227547 May 30 '17 at 18:19
0

Platonic - without ulterior motive, peaceful intent

0

saint-like

he's a Saint - she's a saint both strongly suggest that the person goes out of their way to help others .. to an extreme of self-sacrifice

Mother Teresa had it's time in the sun, although it was so frequently used in the "I'm no Mother Teresa" or (I'm no saint) way, and it was a term that does not seem to be standing the test of time

0

stand-up guy from wiktionary English[edit] Alternative forms: stand up guy Noun stand-up guy (plural stand-up guys)

(informal) An honest and straightforward man of good character

similar to the separate 'straightforward' answer in thread, I'd also suggest the more idiomatic

Straight shooter at Dictionary.com noun

1. a person who is forthright and upstanding in behavior.

0

Good Samaritan n. A compassionate person who unselfishly helps others, especially strangers.

Good Samaritan deeds are opposite to the selfish deeds exhibited by Machiavellian characters.

0

Strictly speaking, we are looking for the antonym of a writer, who advised a prince, or wrote in that form. That rules out many of the candidates so far. The writer has to be a household word for the ideas s/he put forward, as is M. That rules out many of the candidates so far. Churchill, Mandela and Ghandi were political actors in their own right. Ghandian is perhaps the best candidate, because, though he was a political actor himself, he also wrote and had a significant political idea. And he was successful at least once. And his name is widely associated with ideas that are in strong contrast with those of Machiavelli.

Confucius would be perfect except that Confucianism has become associated with something nearer to a faith, even though, properly understood, it concerns good governance.

There is one other who, rather like Machiavelli, tried to educate a head of state, but in his own uncompromising ideas of justice and law: Plato in the early 4th century BCE, reluctantly agreed to educate the future and later tyrant of Sicily, Dionysius II of Syracuse. It was a complete failure, and Dionysius proved as spectacular a monsters as several in the last an present centuries. Plato strongly contrasts with Machiavelli, both in his political ideas and in his success in promoting them. The adjective ‘Platonic’ is even widely known. However, it is already known for something else: a loving non-sexual relationship.

Panglossian. was a witty idea, which would fit well, were Voltaire’s character better known. It is found in dictionaries, and its usage does bring it as close as I could imagine to being an antonym for Machiavellian.

Another comic alternative might be quixotic. Quixote was the polar opposite of the prince of Machiavelli: an overeducated idealistic has-been ingenue.

My money would be on quixotic. It is the most common. Both are pejorative, and you can argue that they are the unsatisfactory extremes, with good governance as the Aristotelian happy medium between the two

-1

I have been trying to break this down for some time now. Here are my thoughts…

It is my understanding that the definition of the traits found to be “Machiavellian” in nature contain both negative and positive aspects. To me, that is the heart of the reason why it is difficult to ascertain a true opposite.

Here is where I am right now. If you take Machiavellian behaviors, they are categorized as:

Negative Traits: amoral, unscrupulous, cunning, duplicitous, deceitful, manipulative

Positive Traits: Strategic, goal-oriented, planning

The opposite I would postulate could be:

Anti-Negative Traits: Moral, judicious, transparent, collaborative, open, authentic and trustworthy

Anti-Positive Traits: Directionless, lethargic, content, satisfied, and unprepared

I would think that the singularly best term that fits as an anti-Machiavellian would be "Hippie", or as Dictionary.com describes them, "a person... who rejected established institutions and values and sough spotaneity, direct personal relations expressing love, and expanded consciousness"

Thoughts?

  • While a hippie may well be non-ruthless, "hippie" is not a term for a person in a position of leadership or influence. Asker is looking for a term that would describe "a person who leads or influences others", but in a non-ruthless, "anti-Machiavellian" way. – MetaEd Oct 18 '17 at 19:27
  • Thanks for the warm welcome MetaEd. To my defense, the OP has asked for multiple outcomes. Their first request is to determine "an antonym of Machiavellian". While I have not answered the entirety of their question, I am attempting to provide a route to discover the answer. To expound, If the term "hippie" would satisfy as an antonym to Machiavellianism, then perhaps a famous "Leader" related to the hippie movement would work. If that is the case, then perhaps Mazdak the Younger, or for the more modern example of Jerry Garcia or John Lennon. – Thomas Perry Oct 20 '17 at 17:58
-1

This is one of the most thought provoking questions i've come across in a very long time...So thank you for watering my muses, firstly!

I humbly submit my opinion that if there is an antonym to Machiavellian to be found in that lurching frankenstein's monster of a language called "english", it would be found in "Nobel-esque". As in Nobel's peace prize, given in stockholm every year, and STILL functioning very much as Alfred Nobel intended it to.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy