85105 - Italian Political Thought (1) (LM)

Academic Year 2021/2022

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Italian Studies, European Literary Cultures, Linguistics (cod. 9220)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students will have the tools for gaining a basic understanding of the theoretical and practical issues debated in the history of Italian political thought in the modern and contemporary ages. By directly analysing the sources, students will define the theoretical specificities of the main authors of the history of Italian political thought and relate these to one another, communicating them in an effective, coherent way.

Course contents

This course will examine how in different historical moments ranging from the 16th century to the end of the 20th century some of the most renowned Italian thinkers have figured out the people and the multiple facets this notion has assumed in modern politics. In doing so, classes in Italian Political Thought will also explore some important specificities of modern Italian history, society and culture.

After a short methodological and theoretical introduction that will provide some basic elements and concepts to frame the overall issue (classes 1 and 2), the course will be structured in four parts, respectively focused on:

- Niccolò Machiavelli’s ideas on popular republic and civil principality, which emphasize the collective virtù and the conflictual agency of the people and Giovanni Botero's theories on the reason of state intended as a tool for achieving a firm domination over peoples through a careful government of the population (approximately, classes 3 to 6; the main readings during these classes will be drawn from Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy and The Prince; Botero’s Reason of State).

- The way in which 19th century writers such as Giacomo Leopardi and especially Alessandro Manzoni have represented the Italian people and envisioned the role of literature in the development of a modern and national consciousness in the aftermath of the French Revolution (approssimately, classes from 7 to 9; these classes will focus on a selection of passages on government, the French revolution and the Italian nation taken from Giacomo Leopardi’s Zibaldone and his Discorso sui costumi degli italiani; and the chapters on the bread revolt, the famine and the plague in Milan contained in Manzoni’s Betrothed).

- Antonio Gramsci's analysis of the shortcomings of the Italian process of national unification and its efforts to reckon with the emergence of modern mass societies and develop new strategies aimed at the involvement of the subaltern classes in political life (approximately classes from 10 to 12, which will focus on a selection of passages taken from Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, particularly those on the Italian History, those on Machiavelli, those on State and civil society).

- The critical positions of contemporary thinkers such as Mario Tronti and Giorgio Agamben, who have both challenged the image of the people intended as a unitary and homogeneous political subject in one case from a heterodox marxist viewpoint, in the other from a biopolitical perspective (approximately classes from 13 to 15; which will focus on Mario Tronti’s Workers and Capital and Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer and Stasis).



A reading list including the passages or chapters from Machiavelli's Prince and Discourses on Livy; Botero's Reason of State; Leopardi's Zibaldone; Manzoni's Bethroted; Gramsci's Prison Notebooks and Tronti's and Agamben's essays that will be read and commented in class will be available on Virtuale [https://virtuale.unibo.it/] before the beginning of the course and, together with the slides, will constitute the basic bibliography for the final examination of students attending at least the 75% of the course.

The bibliography for non attending students will be based on the following groups of texts (including sources but also at least a critical essay which can serve as a guide):

Group A

N. Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy (any edition, Book I, chapters 1-13, 16-20, 37, 55, 58; Book II, chapters 1-2, 17-18, 20, 29; Book III, chapter 1, 8-9).

N. Machiavelli, The Prince (any edition).

F. Del Lucchese, The Political Philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2015 (pp. 1-113).

Group B

G. Botero, The Reason of State, Cambridge University Press (Book 1, 2, 3, 4, 7).

M. Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2007 (particularly pp. 87-134; 227-361).

Group C

A. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. by Q. Hoare - G. Nowell Smith, New York, New York International Publisher, 2014 (pp. 1-276).

J. Schwarzmantel, The Routledge Guidebook to Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, London-New York, Routledge, 2015 (pp. 1-212).

Group D

M. Tronti, Workers and Capital, New York, Verso Books, 2019 (IntroductionFactory and SocietyThe Plan of CapitalA New Type of Political Experiment: Lenin in EnglandThe Strategy of Refusal).

S. Wright, Storming Heaven. Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism, London, Pluto Press, 2002.

Group E

G. Agamben, Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1998.

R. ten Bos, Giorgio Agamben and the Community Without Identity, «The sociological Review", n. 53 (supplement 1), 2005: 16-29.

A. Norris, Giorgio Agamben and the Politics of the Living Dead, «Diacritics», vol. 30, n. 4, Winter 2000: 38-58.

K. Attel, Potentiality, Actuality, Constituent Power, «Diacritics», vol. 39, n. 3, Fall 2009: 35-53.

T. Lemke, Biopolitics: ad advanced introduction, pp. 33-64.

Teaching methods

Classwork will be structured in part as lectures aimed at introducing the different authors, their context and their fundamental arguments, in part as a reading and a collective discussion of their texts. Students will be encouraged to read the texts indicated on Virtuale before attending classes if possible in order to actively take part in the debate and to contact the professor when they need further clarifications.

Assessment methods

Attending students may choose either to take a full oral exam based on the texts analyzed in class and aimed at verifying their ability to read the sources and illustrate and connect their fundamental arguments, or to propose a paper on a specific topic agreed with the teacher and discuss it as part of the oral exam, during which it will be in any case necessary to display an overall understanding of the topics discussed during the lectures (papers are to be sent at least 5 days before the date of the exam, but the final assessment will consider both the essay and the student's capacity to discuss it and answer to possible questions and objections coming from the teacher).

Non attending students will have to choose at least two of the groups of texts listed above.

At any rate, non attending students or students who cannot attend classes with regularity are strongly recommended to get in touch with the professor before the exam in order to have more detailed information and set a specific program according to their necessities.

Assessing methods:

The assessment will consider both the knowledge of the subject and the student’s skill in summarizing and exposing the different themes and problems addressed in the texts with consistency and a proper terminology.

- In order to receive an excellent final grade, students should display their capacity to correctly analyze the sources and to clearly and critically discuss about them with a proper language and a confident mastership of the issues addressed in class and in the course's bibliography.

- Good or average marks will be awarded to students who display an acceptable knowledge of the texts combined with a fair capacity to expose their content and with an overall understanding of the issues discussed in class, though with some minor imperfections and a less appropriate lexicon.

- A basic and mnemonic knowledge of the texts and of the main points addressed during classes will receive a lower or sufficient assessment.

- An unclear or significantly inaccurate exposition of the texts and the course's contents will be evaluated as insufficient to pass the examination.

Teaching tools

Slides with texts, summaries and other materials. The page of this course on Virtuale will be constantly used to provide additional materials, to suggest further readings or to keep a dialogue between the teacher and the class during the lessons' period.

Office hours

See the website of Antonio Del Vecchio


Reduced inequalities Peace, justice and strong institutions

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.