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Aaron Cotkin

History of Political Thought (Renaissance and Early Modern), Machiavelli, Hobbes, Republicanism, Leadership, Virtue, Approaches to Textual Interpretation. 

Dissertation Title: The Recovery of Virtù: Imitation and Political Practices in the Works of Niccolò Machiavelli

Description: In my dissertation I present a new interpretation of Machiavelli’s concept of virtù, which is the principal quality he finds in politically successful individuals and states. I provide an account of Machiavelli’s concept of virtù through an examination of how exemplars of political virtù are deployed throughout his major political, historical, and military writings. I show that Machiavelli exhorts his readers to learn from political history and to imitate the virtuous practices of successful individuals and states. I assert that previous scholarship misinterpreted virtù because it inadequately accounts for Machiavelli’s use of exemplars of political virtù in his theory of statecraft. My focus on his use of exemplars allows me to assert the following: (1) The virtù of individuals is less important to Machiavelli’s theory of statecraft than the virtù of states. (2) Machiavelli prefers a republican form of government to principalities because republics better preserve the virtù of the state. (3) Political virtù is necessary for political liberty, which for Machiavelli is roughly equivalent to maintaining the state free from outside interference and, for republics, maintaining the republic free from corruption. These conclusions provide the secondary literature on Machiavelli with novel contributions that will facilitate avenues for further research into recovering a conception of political virtù which provides us with previously untapped resources for examining contemporary political practices.

Committee: Tracy Strong (Co-chair), Harvey Goldman (Co-chair), Fonna Forman, Marcel Hénaff (Literature), Peter Stacey (History-UCLA)