Portrait of Cesare Borgia by Altobello Melone, 15th-16th century

The Modern Prince: Machiavelli and Gramsci

Instructor: Ajay Singh Chaudhary
The Workmen’s Circle
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018

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 where morality – save perhaps a glimmer of the normative value of order – is utterly absent. Unlike his ancient political philosophy forerunners, Machiavelli placed the descriptive functioning of power as the basis of political inquiry as opposed to normative ideals of what society should be. But for one reader in particular – the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci – The Prince was nothing short of a manifesto, a radical blueprint that, when read in modern terms, spelled out the struggles and challenges faced in contemporary attempts to create a new state.

In this class, we will read both Machiavelli’s The Prince and Gramsci’s commentaries on it from his Prison Notebooks, “The Modern Prince.” First, we will interrogate Machiavelli’s traditional reception. What are the different ways we can understand Machiavelli’s project in The Prince? Does his later work in The Discourses on Livy which reveal a more Republican predilection change our understanding of The Prince? Second, we will turn to Gramsci’s text to understand why Gramsci – languishing in prison under the Italian fascists and thinking of the recent Bolshevik advances in the Soviet Union – turned to, of all things, a synthesis of Marx and Machiavelli to radically advance his own thought. How did Gramsci read Machiavelli? What did Machiavelli provide for Gramsci that was lacking in Marx and previous Marxist thought? How did the Gramscian versions of concepts like hegemony and praxis germinate in his reading of Machiavelli? What do these concepts mean and how can we understand them today? Who – or what – is the “Modern Prince”? Finally, students will ask what lessons for contemporary political organization and theory can be gleaned through the careful study of Machiavelli and Gramsci.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
June 05 — June 26, 2017
4 weeks


Registration Open