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New Left Review 3, May-June 2000


Gopal Balakrishnan on Louis Althusser, Machiavelli and Us. The French philosopher on the Italian consigliere: a Parisian Marxism in the mirror of the Medici.

GOPAL BALAKRISHNAN

FROM FLORENCE TO MOSCOW

The posthumous publication of Louis Althusser’s reflections on Machiavelli offers an unsettling occasion to return to both thinkers. If we except the more limited cases of Della Volpe and Colletti, Althusser was the only figure in the Western Marxist tradition to engage with a number of the classics of Western political theory. But his writings on Montesquieu, Rousseau and Hegel—remarkable, even at times coruscating, as they could be—were still beholden to the idea that such theorists might be judged by how closely they came to anticipating the discoveries of historical materialism. His unpublished text on Machiavelli, dating from a later period, exhibits a different spirit. Here relations are if anything reversed—the Florentine figured as a more radical and original theorist than any successor in the Communist tradition. According to his pupil Emmanuel Terray, he once confessed that Machiavelli was ‘without doubt the author who has most fascinated me, much more so than Marx’.

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