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Machiavellian Democracy

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  • Date Published: January 2011
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521530903

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About the Authors
  • Intensifying economic and political inequality poses a dangerous threat to the liberty of democratic citizens. Mounting evidence suggests that economic power, not popular will, determines public policy, and that elections consistently fail to keep public officials accountable to the people. John P. McCormick confronts this dire situation through a dramatic reinterpretation of Niccolò Machiavelli’s political thought. Highlighting previously neglected democratic strains in Machiavelli’s major writings, McCormick excavates institutions through which the common people of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance republics constrained the power of wealthy citizens and public magistrates, and he imagines how such institutions might be revived today. Machiavellian Democracy fundamentally reassesses one of the central figures in the Western political canon and decisively intervenes into current debates over institutional design and democratic reform. Inspired by Machiavelli’s thoughts on economic class, political accountability and popular empowerment, McCormick proposes a citizen body that excludes socioeconomic and political elites and grants randomly selected common people significant veto, legislative, and censure authority within government and over public officials.

    • Radical reevaluation of Machiavelli as a democrat
    • Using historical and contemporary analysis, it rethinks the need to combat the influence of wealth over democratic politics constitutionally
    • Part of recent intellectual/practical efforts in institutional design aimed at enhancing democratic participation
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    • Winner of the 2013 Spitz Prize, International Conference for the Study of Political Thought

    Reviews & endorsements

    "McCormick’s book is something of a model for political theory that is engaged directly with problems in the world and only indirectly with texts. The aim is not so much to figure out Machiavelli, but to figure out what to think and do about a problem by drawing upon the intellectual resources to be found in Machiavelli. The result is a freshness and sensitivity to questions of institutional design that is notably lacking in, say, much of the interminable Rawlsian literature. One hopes that McCormick’s approach will become the professional norm."
    Adrian Vermeule, Harvard Law School, The New Republic

    "Machiavellian Democracy offers a radical interpretation of Machiavelli in the service of an equally radical critique of modern aristocratic democracy. Its bracingly original arguments will be debated fruitfully by historians of political thought and democratic theorists alike."
    David Armitage, Harvard University

    "This is a timely and politically salutary work which interrogates the history of political theory with tenacity and insight in quest of effective remedies for acute and unmistakably contemporary political ills we direly need to overcome."
    John Dunn, University of Cambridge

    "John P. McCormick’s Machiavellian Democracy is a remarkable and outstanding exercise in political theory. A work of impeccable scholarship, it shows a profound grasp of Machiavelli, his thought and his politics. The book is a significant contribution to contemporary civic republican thought and to democratic theory. McCormick’s is a dazzling achievement: fluent and thoughtful, theoretically trenchant, penetrating and insightful in its originality and power."
    Benedetto Fontana, Baruch College, City University of New York

    "McCormick resourcefully mines Machiavelli's Discourses for overlooked insights into the enduring problem of political inequality. His proposals for ‘institutional affirmative action for common citizens’ are a deft contemporary adaptation of a rich tradition in republican thought. This is first-rate political theory, both engaged and engaging."
    Larry M. Bartels, Princeton University, and author of Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age

    "This is the best book on Machiavelli in decades. John McCormick has provided a bold new reading of the great master that places his arguments at the center of contemporary debates about democracy … Machiavellian Democracy takes popular control deadly seriously, yet it avoids the standard objections to 'populism'. [This] account will be of great interest to Machiavelli scholars, democratic theorists, and partisans of democracy beyond the walls of the academy."
    Ian Shapiro, Yale University, and author of The Real World of Democratic Theory

    "John McCormick's Machiavellian Democracy provides a welcome challenge to a series of settled assumptions in political and constitutional scholarship. The reading offered of so controversial a thinker in the history of political thought is compelling, as are the lessons McCormick’s Machiavelli offered to his readers. This is a book deserving of a wide readership."
    Gregoire C. N. Webber, London School of Economics and Political Science, Modern Law Review

    "John McCormick has … offered a bold and compelling reading of an under-appreciated democratic strain in Machiavelli's thinking by highlighting the elite-controlling and citizen-empowering aspects of democratic institutions within Machiavelli's major writings. The book is an excellent work of scholarship that is sensitive to the nuances of the tradition in which Machiavelli was writing and the settled assumptions he sought to overturn."
    Theory and Event

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2011
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521530903
    • length: 266 pages
    • dimensions: 234 x 156 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.41kg
    • contains: 1 table
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction: class, liberty and popular government
    Part I:
    2. Peoples, patricians, and the prince
    3. Democratic republics and the oppressive appetite of young nobles
    Part II:
    4. The benefits and limits of popular participation and judgment
    5. Elections, lotteries and class specific institutions
    6. Political trials and 'the free way of life'
    Part III:
    7. Republicanism and democracy
    8. Post-electoral republics and the people's tribunate revived.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Democratic Theory and Practice
    • Ideas in Action
    • Selected Topics in Political Theory: Democratic Theory
    • Shakespeare and Political Theory
  • Author

    John P. McCormick, University of Chicago
    John P. McCormick is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He was educated at Queens College, CUNY and the University of Chicago. He has been a Fulbright scholar in Bremen, Germany; a Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute, Florence; and a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University. McCormick is the author of Carl Schmitt's Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology and Weber, Habermas and Transformations of the European State: Constitutional, Social and Supranational Democracy. He has published numerous articles on contemporary democratic theory, Florentine political and constitutional thought, and twentieth-century German legal, political and social theory in scholarly journals, including the Modern Law Review, the American Political Science Review and Political Theory.


    • Winner of the 2013 Spitz Prize, International Conference for the Study of Political Thought

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