The Rhetoric and Reality of Class Politics in Machiavelli’s “Istorie Fiorentine”

A- A A+

??????????MW Occasional Talk

John McCormick (University of Chicago)

16 March 2015, 17:30-19:30
MW Common Room


About the Speaker:

John P. McCormick is professor of political science at the University of Chicago.  He has been a Fulbright Scholar at Bremen University, Germany (1994-95); a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy (1995-96); a Radcliffe Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University (2008-09); and a Residence Fellow at the Rockefeller Center, Bellagio, Italy (April 2013).

Prof. McCormick is the author of “Machiavellian Democracy” (Cambridge University Press, 2011); “Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology” (Cambridge University Press, 1997); and “Weber, Habermas and Transformations of the European State: Constitutional, Social and Supranational Democracy” (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

He is presently working on a book titled, “The People¹s Princes: Machiavelli, Leadership and Liberty”.


In this talk, I hope to demonstrate that the specific details of Machiavelli’s historical account of the respective actions of the Florentine people and nobles within the Histories decisively undermine any general, evaluative statements on Machiavelli’s part that overtly criticize the people and that signal a newfound sympathy for the nobles.

I suggest, therefore, that proponents of the “late-conservative Machiavelli” thesis err when they rely overwhelmingly on the latter to the utter neglect of the former in their analyses of the Histories. They consistently ignore the blatant discontinuity between: on the one hand, Machiavelli’s demonstration of how peoples and nobles behave throughout the book, and, on the other, what he says about the 2 behavior of these respective groups in the work.

I will argue that the former contravene the latter, and that the literary-rhetorical method deployed by Machiavelli in the Histories—a mode of writing through which, even more so than in The Prince and the Discourses, deeds trump words–serves to substantially reinforce, rather than in any way undermine, Machiavelli’s previously expressed democratic republicanism in his later, seemingly more conservative, political writings.

Paper available to download (pdf)

Video of interview of John McCormick by MW Fellows Pablo Kalmanovitz and Or Bassok