Editorial Note: Nomocracy in Politics extends a special welcome to our newest Contributor, Coyle Neal. Professor Neal teaches political science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and he has a Ph.D. in Politics from the Catholic University of America. We are particularly grateful to Coyle for his willingness to pursue his new reading group (discussed below) on Niccolò Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Both works are obviously very relevant to our core themes of Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law, and we will benefit through participating with Coyle in his systematic study of their contents.
Hobbes and Machiavelli in 2015
Throughout 2014, Colin Garbarino led an online reading of Augustine’s City of God. I don’t know about any of the other people in the Facebook group, but I found the exercise useful both for maintaining a disciplined daily reading schedule and for the thoughtful comments and insights of others along the way. Over the next year, the Nomocracy in Politics blog is going to try something similar by reading through Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy and Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Briefly, this project has three goals:
1) To pursue the discipline of reading and thinking carefully at least twice a week about a key work of political theory.
2) To read two books that often are either only read in part, or not read at all.
3) To read in a communal setting with others interested in reflecting on these same goals. (So please do read along and comment!)
For the record, Harvey Mansfield has already done this for Machiavelli in his 1979 work Machiavelli’s New Modes and Orders. To the best of my knowledge, this has not yet been done for the Leviathan.
From January through the end of June (full schedule below), we will be reading Machiavelli’s great work on republican liberty, Discourses on Livy. Twice per week, a short summary and commentary will be posted—though the emphasis will be on “summary” rather than “commentary.”
There are any number of translations of the Discourses available. I will be using the (Authorized?) version translated by Harvey Mansfield. My Italian isn’t strong enough for me to be able to comment on the quality of this or other translations, but I can point out that in general Oxford and Penguin both tend to put out excellent editions in areas I do know about. (The Modern Library can be hit or miss—but usually hit.)
If you are going to use an electronic version, as with all digital books be sure to exercise discretion in what you purchase. Because Machiavelli was not writing in Classical Greek or Latin, it may very well be that the free translations are fine, unlike many of the 19th century translations of works from the Classical world which sometimes intentionally use archaic language.
Background Reading Suggestions
There is of course far more available on Machiavelli and his world than anyone could ever hope to read, especially those of us who are not experts in Renaissance studies. Feel free to make additional reading suggestions in the comments.
- The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burkhardt is a classic, and should be on everyone’s required reading list.
- The Renaissance by Allison Brown is an excellent modern survey of Machiavelli’s general setting.
- Facets of the Renaissance by William Werkmeister (ed). The book is unfortunately only available as a reprint, but the essay “Machiavelli’s Prince and More’s Utopia” by E. Harris Harbison is necessary background reading.
- Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for Renaissance Florence by Lauro Martines introduces the immediate context for Machiavelli’s work and writing, as well as the mysterious reformer Girolamo Savonarola.
- History of Rome by Livy; available in several decent print editions from Oxford (the Penguin translations are solid as well), or in various electronic editions.
- De Officiis by Cicero
- The Aeneid by Virgil
- Essays by Seneca
Any modern edition to Machiavelli’s works will provide a good introduction to his life and thought. For those who want a bit more depth, these books are useful:
- Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction by Quentin Skinner
- Machiavelli in 90 Minutes by Paul Strathern
- On Machiavelli by Alan Ryan
- Machiavelli by Robert Black
For those with more time, these longer and more difficult works are worth picking up:
- The Machiavellian Moment by J.G.A. Pocock
- Thoughts on Machiavelli by Leo Strauss
- Machiavelli’s Virtue by Harvey Mansfield
The goal is to cover roughly 10-15 pages of text per week, with posts going up on Nomocracy Tuesdays and Fridays. The full schedule is also available as a JPEG download here. I’ve tried to cleanly divide the text into sections, where necessary sections have been subdivided into paragraphs.
Many thanks to Peter Haworth and the editors of Nomocracy in Politics for this opportunity. May it be a fruitful one for all of us!