The Revolt of Political Spiritedness: Machiavelli's Martial Modernity and the New Birth of Politics

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McKinnell, Ryan A.




This thesis discusses the role of the political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli in the origins of modern political thought. In particular, his teaching regarding political spiritedness. In discussing Machiavelli’s attempt to re-introduce the political practice of the ancients, this thesis discerns and describes the original nature of Machiavelli’s teaching in contrast to ancient and liberal modern political science. This difference can be traced to how these three schools of thought envision the role of political spiritedness in their respective political projects. Where the ancients seek to harness spiritedness and the liberal moderns intend to purge it, Machiavelli hopes to unleash it. Machiavelli’s plan to liberate political spiritedness is founded on three important roots; his goal to replace the classical gentleman-ruler with his Captain-Prince, the aristocratic republic of the ancients with his martial republic, and finally his founder-prophet takes the place of the classical philosopher and Christian saint. These three elements taken together form the basis of Machiavelli’s attempt to restore ancient virtue to his native Italy in order to reverse the political corruption he sees in Florence, Italy, and the West in general. By doing so he founds a version of modernity; one that emphasizes martial virtue and imperial glory. Liberal moderns reject this Machiavellian modernity though and in contrast found a new version of modernity that accentuates comfortable self-preservation via the relief of man’s estate and commercial republicanism. Machiavelli therefore, while not belonging to camp of Plato and Aristotle, cannot be called the founder of the modernity of Hobbes and Locke. This thesis begins and concludes with a discussion of the absence of a debate on the role of political spiritedness in contemporary political science and advocates its return to a prominent position via the study of the history of political thought in order to provide political science with the necessary tools to understand the nature of citizens who desire political distinction.


Political Science




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Political Science

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Theses and Dissertations

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