Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Political Science

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 179 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Peter Breiner

Committee Members

John G Gunnell, Torrey Shanks


Class Conflict, Democratic Theory, Founding, Machiavelli, Necessity, Republicanism, Necessity (Philosophy), Fortune, Political science

Subject Categories

History | Philosophy | Political Science


This dissertation is an attempt to recast the political thought of Niccolò Machiavelli in his Discourses on Livy in a far more radical light than it has been previously understood. Rather than trying to overcome fortune, I argue that Machiavelli was encouraging political actors to embrace it by embracing the force which fortune generates: necessity. Along with this orientation towards fortune and necessity, Machiavelli also was engaging in an additional subversive project: the systematic undermining of the conventional republican wisdom of his predecessors and his contemporaries. On a practical level, the necessity central to Machiavelli’s thought is that of “founding,” of beginning a political order. But I argue that Machiavelli dramatically reinvents this term, because for him there is no such thing as a world without a prior political history and culture upon which to found. Instead, he shows us that there can only be what I have termed “(re)founding,” that is, a process of creating a new order from that which was prior to it, utilizing the logic of prior (re)foundings in light of novel circumstances. These novelties, produced by fortune, generate new necessities—particularly fear—that can compel human beings to act. What Machiavelli teaches is how to utilize these unruly, chaotic necessities—some “natural,” some “situational,” and some “artificial”—as opportunities to (re)create political order. This runs contrary to the standard interpretation of political history that seeks to find a solid “founding” of a political community, and Machiavelli systematically undermines any notion of a pure, one-time beginning. By illustrating the similarities and differences in Machiavelli’s presentation of Rome’s several (re)foundings, I also show how, in contrast to conventional conceptions of necessity which view it as a restriction, Machiavelli shows how it is more than mere constraint, but how on the very basis of such constraint it can be liberating, challenging the notion that constraint and freedom are necessarily antithetical. Machiavelli reinterprets the history of Rome from the standpoint of necessity and shows how, by embracing and utilizing it, Rome’s dynamism might be (re)created for others daring enough to try.