Topics in Political Philosophy, Machiavelli

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Course Level:
Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Objectives:

This course will examine the thought of Niccolò Machiavelli through a consideration of both original source material and a few outstanding secondary treatments. By the end of the term a clear picture of both Machiavelli and Machiavellianism should emerge. Machiavelli’s place in the Great Tradition of political thought will thus be made more clear. By extension, the Tradition itself will also be clarified.


Course Requirements:

  • There will be two papers assigned in this class. There will be one short essay (7-10 pages) assigned sometime before the mid-point in the semester. There will also be a term paper, which will be due at the time that your in-class final exam is scheduled to conclude. Your first essay will be worth 25% of your course grade. The term paper will be worth 50% of your course grade.
  • Your grade in this class will be largely determined by the quality of your writing assignments. I urge you to take your work seriously. I fully expect your papers to be grammatically perfect . If it takes me longer to address your spelling and grammar errors than it takes me to address the quality of your argument you will not receive a passing grade.
  • You must keep up with your reading in this class. Please bring all assigned readings to class with you, as we will be reading aloud extensively. If you come to class unprepared, in terms of both having your reading materials with you and having completed the readings ahead of time, you will be asked to leave, and you will be marked absent for the day.
  • The remaining 25% of your grade will be reflective of your attendance and participation. Please be aware that although attendance is only worth 25% of your grade (or less, given the participation component) I will penalize you in excess of 25% of your final grade for excessive absences. You can (and will) fail this class as a result of poor attendance. Please note that you will be marked absent if it becomes clear to me that you have not completed your assigned reading. To be clear, every absence after your first will cost you a letter grade on your course grade. Further, you will receive no credit if you do not participate in the class. I expect you to be in class on time. Cell phones and pagers are not allowed in class at any time. If yours goes off, you will be asked to remove yourself and you will be marked absent for the day. You will also need to schedule an appointment with me during office hours to explain yourself, and you will have to complete a 20 page paper on a topic of my choosing.
  • Learning begins with reading and thinking, but is greatly enhanced by argument and debate with others who hold dissimilar views. While argument and debate is expected and encouraged, so too is respect for your fellow students with whom you will invariably disagree. Discussion is the fastest way to master the material at hand. Once you have spent time reading and thinking, your writing assignments and exams will become much easier.
  • Please note that this syllabus is not a contract, and should not be understood as such. I reserve the right to alter any of the terms and conditions contained herein as I deem necessary.


Required Texts:

  1. Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov, trans., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). ISBN: 0226500365
  2. Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, Quentin Skinner, ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). ISBN: 0521349931
  3. Sebastian De Grazia, Machiavelli in Hell, (New York: Vintage, 1994). ISBN: 0679743421
  4. Leo Strauss, Thoughts On Machiavelli, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). ISBN: 0226777022


Course Outline

  • 8/31 Introduction-No Class. No Readings.
  • 9/7 The Prince, entire. Strauss pp 9-84.
  • 9/14 The Discourses, Introduction, Book 1.
  • 9/21 The Discourses, Book 2.
  • 9/28 The Discourses, Book 3.
  • 10/5 de Grazia, chapters 1-5.
  • 10/12 de Grazia, chapters 6-10.
  • 10/19 de Grazia, chapters 11-15.
  • 10/26 Strauss, pp 85-174.
  • 11/2 Strauss, pp 175-299.
  • 11/9 Machiavelli’s Fiction: Belfagor, The Devil Who Took A Wife (handout), Mandragola (handout).
  • 11/16 Founder’s Day-No Class. Please see me during office hours this week to discuss your final essay.
  • 11/23 Thanksgiving Recess-No Class.
  • 11/30 Liberty or Brutality? Quentin Skinner, “The Philosopher of Liberty,” (handout).
  • 12/7 A Modern Treatment: A Bronx Tale.