Revisiting the violence of Machiavelli

Asli Calkivik*

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)


In this essay I focus on the conceptualization of political violence in Machiavelli's The Prince and explore the extent to which the appropriation of his ideas on the role of violence by the discipline of International Relations (IR) does justice to the complexities, nuances of his discussion on the theme. Despite deep ontological, epistemological schisms among various approaches in IR, I suggest, one can discern an implicit consensus among scholars concerning Machiavelli's political language on violence, in that, they remain wedded to an instrumental ontology of violence. Taking as my starting point this implicit consensus and probing its limits, I draw on the works of scholars who explore the rhetorical dimension of Machiavelli's political theory and argue that his theorization of political violence both complicates and remains in excess of such an ontology: a surplus constituted by the symbolic, affective dimension of violence. On such a reading, Machiavelli emerges not only as a political theorist who grasps the violent foundations of modern political authority, but also as a thinker, whose perceptive account figures political violence as a discursive medium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-518
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Politics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

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© 2016 Macmillan Publishers Ltd.


  • foundational violence
  • Niccol Machiavelli
  • political violence
  • rhetoric
  • use of force


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