Machiavellian Democracy, John P. McCormick, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011

In: Historical Materialism
Filippo Del Lucchese Brunel University

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McCormick’s book engages with the theoretical and political positions discussed by the Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli about five centuries ago, and, in particular, the creation of the tribunes of the plebs. In ancient Rome, plebeian power had been institutionalised through the creation of tribunes. According to McCormick, a similar institution would offer a legitimate forum for expression to the people in modern democracies. In fact, following Machiavelli’s suggestions, this would contribute to the implementation of a new form of democracy, more respectful of the people and more eager to defend values such as freedom and independence from the influence of the powerful and the rich. In this review, Filippo Del Lucchese comments on McCormick’s book from a Marxist point of view. One of the strongest points of the book is the discussion of the opposition between democracy and republicanism. Over the last decades, the latter has in fact been absorbed into the sphere of influence of the Cambridge School, and neutralised, or at least defused its most interesting and radical aspects. McCormick’s attempt to repoliticise the Machiavellian discourse is indeed praiseworthy, yet, by mainly focusing on the ‘institutionalisation’ of popular power, McCormick fails to discern the most radical elements of Machiavelli’s thought. From this angle, the review discusses McCormick’s use of the category of ‘class’ and offers a different perspective on the revolutionary dimension.

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