Santi di Tito, Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli: Power, Realism, and Political Theory (In-Person)

Instructor: Robyn Marasco
BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #425
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Read by everyone from Josef Stalin to Tupac Shakur, Machiavelli’s The Prince has become synonymous with a cold, calculating, strategic, and power-based approach to politics. In a word: “Machiavellian.” Machiavelli, hoping to return to his advisory role for the powerful Medici family of 16th-century Florence, penned a truly groundbreaking work: at once, one of the founding works of modern political science, a how-to manual for rulers, and a political work in which morality—save perhaps a glimmer of the normative value of order—is utterly absent. For Machiavelli, political inquiry is fundamentally the study of power: how it’s achieved, how it operates, and how it’s preserved. Yet, if a “realist” politics, denuded of morality, is a temptation to evil, it also reveals horizons for radical political change—which is why Left thinkers ranging from Antonio Gramsci to Louis Althusser have regarded Machiavelli as not only a precursor to Marx, but also in some respects an alternative. But how can we understand Machiavelli’s theoretical project—its context, motivation, and meaning? Why did it prove so groundbreaking? And why does it remain a fruitful resource for contemporary political theorizing, not least for thinkers in the Marxian tradition?

In this course, we will extensively study Machiavelli’s major political works, reading The Prince in its entirety while also considering selections from The Discourses on Livy. We will also read and discuss one of Machiavelli’s best-known dramatic works, Mandragola. Along with primary texts, we will consider a number of twentieth-century thinkers (Gramsci, Claude Lefort, Althusser, and Antonio Negri) who drew from Machiavelli as they rethought Marxism within the upheavals of their own time. Throughout we will ask: What does it mean to think politically? Are morality and politics incommensurate? Is Machiavelli, as Leo Strauss accused, “a teacher of political evil”? Do the arguably republican predilections of The Discourses alter our understanding of The Prince? How did Machiavelli figure in the reflections and revisions of Marxist thinkers like Gramsci (whose “Modern Prince” directly appropriated Machiavelli to address questions of fascism, leadership, and revolution)? And how can Machiavelli’s work help us consider problems of political organization and strategy? Are we all Machiavellians now?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 10 — July 31, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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