The First Machiavellian Moment in America


  • My thanks are due to Eldon Eisenach and Jonathan Scott for comments on previous drafts of this article, and especially to the Political Theory Convocation at Texas A&M, where a previous draft was subjected to the scrutiny of Judy Baer, Lisa Ellis, Cary Nederman, Jim Rogers, Diego von Vacano, and several graduate students from the Department of Political Science.

J. S. Maloy, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078 (


Standard interpretations of early American political thought and of the classical-republican tradition fit uneasily with an overlooked episode in the history of ideas: the reception of Machiavelli in seventeenth-century New England. Some puritans there not only found ways to justify bad means for good ends but also adopted a deeper, properly political Machiavellism, upholding the priority of popular judgment over elite wisdom and of institutionalized accountability over discretionary political authority. Unlike the eighteenth-century republicanism that has preoccupied modern scholarship, the theory of radical democracy associated with the first Machiavellian moment in America puts fundamental institutional reform and accountability with teeth on the agenda of democratic theory.