PSCI 430
Senior Seminar in Political Theory: Machiavelli Spring 2010
Division II
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Niccolo Machiavelli, a Florentine diplomat and among the most infamous thinkers of the Renaissance period, has been called the inaugural thinker of the modern world. Few figures in the western political tradition have been so closely studied by theorists and practitioners alike and still fewer have been so hotly contested. In this course, we will explore the enigmatic and scandalizing character of Machiavelli’s political thought, guided by the following questions: What can we learn from Machiavelli and how should we interpret his texts? Was he a teacher of political evil, with The Prince as his gospel of diabolical cruelty and immoralism? Or is his “true” political thought to be found in his less infamous, Discourses on Livy? Is Machiavelli an apologist for ruthless despotism or a republican patriot? Does his work mark the origins of realpolitik, the study and practice of politics based primarily on practical considerations and independent of loftier considerations? Or is he primarily a partisan and a revolutionary thinker, aspiring to craft new modes and orders for an otherwise enfeebled and weakened Italian state? Is he an early advocate of ragion di stato? A realist? A utopian? A scientist of statecraft? A satirist and cynic? A misogynist? An anti-philosopher? Are we all Machiavellians? Students can expect an intensive study of Machiavelli’s political writings (with emphasis on The Prince and The Discourses on Livy), as well as his comedic plays, poems, short stories, and selected letters from his personal correspondence. In the process, we will also have occasion to survey the wide range and diversity of interpretive methods in political theory, as Machiavelli appears to be the single writer who distinctively belongs to political theory and it is over him that political theorists have fought. We will look at commentaries from Ernst Cassier, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Isaiah Berlin, Leo Strauss, Quentin Skinner, Sheldon Wolin, Hannah Pitkin, Mary Dietz, Victoria Kahn, and Antonio Negri.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 13
Class#: 3059
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: class discussion, oral presentation, one short essay (4-6 pages), a thesis statement and outline, and one final paper (14-16 pages)
Extra Info: Political Theory Subfield in Political Science major
Prerequisites: open to juniors and seniors with a background in political theory (or permission of instructor)
Enrollment Preferences: senior Political Science majors with concentration in political theory
Distributions: Division II
Attributes: PSCI Political Theory Courses

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