Spring 2016

Machiavelli and the Politics of Appearances

Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-404

Moodle site: Course


Nicholas Xenos (Section 01)


[PT] The Florentine Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) can be credited with proclaiming that political reflection should be concerned with the way things actually are rather than with what they should be or the way we would wish them to be. In his comedies, Mandragola and Clizia, and in his most famous work, The Prince, Machiavelli investigated the question of identity in light of the propensity of people to judge by appearances rather than essences. With a contiguity between the divine and the earthly no longer presupposed, Machiavelli made the radical proposal that perhaps appearances were all that mattered in political life, and he did not flinch at the consequences of such a proposal. At the same time, in his Discourses, Machiavelli proposed an understanding of the foundations of citizenship in “civic virtue” that seemed to demand something more than appearances. The antagonism, if that is what it is, between these two imperatives largely defines the conflict that is modernity in political thought and that, in particular, troubles recent democratic political demands for political transparency. This seminar will explore the theme of appearance and transparency in politics through a reading of Machiavelli’s major works and selected secondary sources. Students will be required to complete response essays on each week’s readings and a seminar paper upon the seminar’s conclusion.

Requisite: Previous course in political theory or permission of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Five College Visiting Professor Xenos.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to senior and junior Political Science majors who require the class, then to majors by rank, then to non-majors


Attention to Writing


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016