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Machiavelli’s Discourses and the Tragedy of Two Imperial Republics

September 13 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Posthumous painted portrait of Niccolo Machiavelli. Monday Seminar:

Daniel J. Kapust

Senior Fellow (2019-2023)

Professor, Political Science, UW-Madison


Rome was at the center of Machiavelli’s historical imagination. This is the case not only in his most (in)famous book, The Prince, but also in his less (in)famous book, the Discourses on Livy. Drawing on the Rome he encountered in the first ten books of Livy’s History of Rome, Machiavelli argued that we are better off living under republics than princes and that liberty is a key good. Yet within this same book, he also argues for the synthesis of two concepts typically thought to be incompatible by republican writers, both past and present – republic and empire – and seems to be an avid supporter of imperialism. How are we to make sense of his paradoxical attachment to both republic and empire? I argue that making sense of this puzzle requires us to delve into Machiavelli’s deep ambiguity toward empire, an ambiguity no less relevant today than it was 500 years ago.


Daniel J. Kapust is a Professor of Political Science at UW-Madison, and also serves as director of the Political Economy, Philosophy, and Politics Program and the Center for Early Modern Studies. A political theorist with a focus on the history of political thought, his research interests include rhetoric, republicanism, imperialism, and classical reception, interests he pursues through work on Roman, early modern, and 18th-century political thought. His first book, Republicanism, Rhetoric, and Roman Political Thought, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011; his second book, Flattery and the History of Political Thought, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2018. His research has appeared in journals including the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Political Theory, History of Political Thought, and Journal of the History of Ideas.


September 13
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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