Political Theory

Machiavelli: Discourses on Livy

OrigenDeLaRepublicaRomana_CastoPlasenciaThe Discourses on the First Ten Book of Titus Livius, (Italian: Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio), often known simply as The Discourses, were written by Niccolo Machiavelli in the second decade of the sixteenth century, in the sme period as his most famous book, The Prince. In contrast to the monarchical concerns of that work, Machiavelli focuses in The Discourses on the political of republican government, through a commentary on Livy's account of the early history of Rome. Many scholars have argued that The Discourses provide a fuller picture of Machiavelli's political beliefs than does the Prince.

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Free online texts

Biblioteca Philosophica: Discorsi sopra la Prima Deca Di Tito Livio. Italian text. HTML format.
Gutenberg: Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius, translated by Ninian Hill Thomson. Multiple formats. 
Internet Archive: Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio. Vol I | Vol II. Italian text. Multiple formats.
Internet Archive: The Prince and the Discourses. The Discourses translated by Christian E. Detmold. With an Introduction by Max Lerner. Modern Library (1940). Multiple formats.
Marxists.org: Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, translated by Christian Detmold (1882). HTML format.
Online Library of Liberty: Niccolo Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 2 (The Prince, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, Thoughts of a Statesman). Translated by Christian Detmold. Multiple formats.
University of Adelaide: Discourses of Niccolo Machiavelli on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy. English translation. Multiple formats.
Wikisource: Italian text and English translation by Henry Neville. HTML and other formats.

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Machiavelli: The Prince

800px-Santi_di_Tito_-_Niccolo_Machiavelli's_portraitThe Prince (Italian: Il Principe) by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), one of the most influential political texts ever written, was dedicated to Lorenzo II de Medici in the early sixteenth century, a time when Machiavelli's native Florence was teetering between monarchical and republican rule. The fact that Machiavelli worked on this manual of advice for monarchs at the same time as his fervently republican Discourses on Livy, suggests that his deepest interest may have been the institute of the state itself.

Although he was writing in a long tradition of 'mirrors for princes', Machavelli's ruthless pragmatism was a new departure which damned him in the eyes of many then and since, but which contributed to a tradition of political realism taken up by Hobbes among others. The emergence of modern elite theory from the late nineteenth century underlined his lasting influence on Italian political thought.

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Free online texts

Constitution Society: The Prince, translated by William Kenaz Marriott. HTML format.
Early Modern Texts: The Prince, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.
Feedbooks: The Prince, translated by Ninian Hill Thompson. EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats.
Gutenberg: The Prince, translated by William Kenaz Marriott. Multiple formats. 
Ibiblio.org: Il Principe, Italian text, edited by Sálvio Marcelo Soares (2009). PDF format.
Internet Archive: The Prince and the Discourses. The Prince translated by Luigi Ricci and revised by E.R.P. Vincent. With an Introduction by Max Lerner. Modern Library (1940). Multiple formats.
Marxists.org: The Prince, translated by W.K. Marriott. HTML format.
Online Library of Liberty: Niccolo Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 2 (The Prince, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, Thoughts of a Statesman). Translated by Christian Detmold. Multiple formats.
The Prince Book Free. Marriott English translation and other languages. Multiple formats.
University of Adelaide: The Prince, translated by W.K. Marriott Multiple formats.
Wikisource: Italian text and multiple translations. HTML and other formats.

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Cicero: On the Laws

On the Laws (Latin: De Legibus) is a dialogue by Cicero written about 51 BC, which survives only in fragmentary form. In contrast to his other major political dialogue, the De Re Publica, Cicero gave On the Laws a contemporary setting, portraying a conversation between himself, his brother Quintus, and his friend Atticus, about the appropriate constitution for an ideal Roman state. The system which emerges reflects Cicero's pragmatic conservatism. It is defended in terms of an early and influential conception of natural law.

On the Laws at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

Free online texts

Internet Archive: The treatises of M.T. Cicero: On the nature of the gods; On divination; On fate; On the republic; On the laws; and On standing for the consulship. Literally translated chiefly by the editor, C.D. Yonge (1878). Multiple formats.

Latin Library: De Legibus. Latin text, HTML format.

Online Library of Liberty: The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero, vol. 2 (Treatise on the Laws), translated by Francis Barham (1841). Multiple formats.

Perseus: De Legibus. Latin text, HTML and XML format.

Wikisource: De Legibus. Latin text, multiple formats.

Other Resources

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Rhetorical Questions: Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Raphael Woolf on Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cicero.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ancient Political Philosophy.

Librivox: On the Laws - public domain audiobook.

Wikipedia: CiceroDe Legibus

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Cicero: De Re Publica.

Plato: The Republic.

Plato: The Laws.

Latin resources: Learn to read Latin texts in the original.


Cicero: De Re Publica

De Re Publica, variously translated as The Republic, On the Republic or On the Commonwealth, is Cicero's major work on political theory. It was written between 54 and 51 BCE, years when Cicero was politically marginalised by the First Triumvirate whose break-up would shortly lead to civil war.

The dialogue is set in an earlier turbulent period in the preceding century. It's central character is Scipio Aemilianus, the victorious general of the Third Punic War, and leader of the aristocratic opposition to the popular faction of the Gracchi.

The Middle Ages knew only a single major fragment of the De Re Publica, the passage known as Scipio's Dream. A palimpsest found in the Nineteenth Century contributed to the other surviving portions.

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Free online texts

Internet Archive: The treatises of M.T. Cicero: On the nature of the gods; On divination; On fate; On the republic; On the laws; and On standing for the consulship. Literally translated chiefly by the editor, C.D. Yonge (1878). Multiple formats.

Latin Library: De Re Republica. Latin text, HTML format.

Online Library of Liberty: The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero, vol. 1 (Treatise on the Commonwealth), translated by Francis Barham (1841). Multiple formats.

Perseus: De Republica (Teubner, 1889). Latin text, HTML and XML format.

Wikisource: De Re Publica. Latin text, multiple formats.

Other Resources

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Rhetorical Questions: Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Raphael Woolf on Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cicero.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ancient Political Philosophy.

Wikipedia: CiceroDe re publica.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Cicero: Letters to his Brother Quintus - include discussion of the composition of the work

Plato: The Republic.

Polybius: The Histories - significant precursor of Cicero's ideas on the mixed constitution.

Latin resources: Learn to read Latin texts in the original.


Aristotle: The Athenian Constitution

The Athenian Constitution (Greek: Αθηναίων Πολιτεία) is thought to be the only text by Aristotle rediscovered in modern times, based on papyri recovered in the Nineteenth Century. It may be the last remnant of a project Aristotle is said to have initiated to collect the constitutions of all the Greek states.

The work should not be confused with another of the same title, once thought to be by Xenophon, but now generally attributed to an anonymous 'Old Oligarch'.

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Free online texts

Gutenberg: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. Multiple formats.

Gutenberg: Αθηναίων Πολιτεία by Aristotle. Greek text. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: The Works of Aristotle Vol X: Politica, Oeconomica, Atheniensum Respublica, the latter translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. Multiple formats.

Internet Classics Archive: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. HTML and TXT formats.

Internet History Sourcebook: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. TXT format.

Loebulus. L285 - Aristotle -- Athenian Constitution. Eudemian Ethics. Virtues and Vices. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Perseus: Greek text, edited y Frederic G. Kenyon. English text, translated by H. Rackham. HTML and XML formats.

University of Adelaide: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. Multiple formats.

Other Resources

Librivox: The Constitution of Athens - public domain audiobook.

Wikipedia: Constitution of the Athenians.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Plato: The Republic, The Laws.

Aristotle: The Politics

Xenophon: The Spartan Constitution.

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.


Augustine: The City of God

The City of God Against the Pagans (Latin: De Civitate Dei contra Paganos) is a major philosophical work written by the Latin Christian St Augustine of Hippo in the early 5th Century AD.

Written as a refutation of those who blamed Christianity for the sack of Rome in 410 AD, the work cast history as a cosmic struggle between the Earthly City and the City of God, with the latter destined to be victorious. It had profound effect on the worldview of the Latin West in the Middle Ages.

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Free online texts

Bibliotheca Augustana: de Civitate Dei. Latin text, HTML format.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library: St. Augustine's City of God and Christian Doctrine, translated by Philip Schaff. Multiple formats.

Gutenberg: The City of God, Volume I, Volume II. Multiple formats. 

Internet Archive: City of God Complete Vols 1 and 2. Translated by Dods (1871). Multiple formats.

Latin Library: Augustine of Hippo, Latin texts.

Wikisource: Latin text. English translation by Marcus Dods. Multiple formats.

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Xenophon: The Spartan Constitution

Lycurgus of Sparta, by Merry-Joseph Blondel. Wikimedia CommonsThe Spartan Constitution or Constitution of the Lacedaemonians (Greek: Λακεδαιμονίων Πολιτεία, Latin: De republica Lacedaemoniorum) by Xenophon is the most comprehensive extant account of Spartan institutions. As an oligarchically-inclined exile from Athens, who had fought alongside Spartan generals in the Persian Expedition, and later against Athens at the battle of Coronea, Xenophon was a well-placed and highly sympathetic observer of Spartan customs.

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Free online texts

Gutenberg: The Polity of the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians by Xenophon. Multiple formats.

Loebulus: L183 - Xenophon -- Scripta Minora: Hiero. Agesilaus. Constitution of the Lacedaemonians. Ways and Means. Cavalry Commander. Art of Horsemanship. On Hunting. Constitution of the Athenians. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English. Also available from the Internet Archive.

Perseus: Greek text (Oxford, 1920). English text translated by E. C. Marchant, G. W. Bowersock (1925).

Wikisource: Λακεδαιμονίων Πολιτεία - Greek text. Multiple formats.

Other Resources

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: Xenophon. Melvyn Bragg with Paul Cartledge, Edith Hall and Simon Goldhill.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Xenophon.

Leo Strauss Center: Xenophon, Winter 1963 - audio of lectures on works including The Spartan Constitution.

Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Xenophon: Hellenica, Anabasis, Agesilaus.

Aristotle: The Politics, The Athenian Constitution

Plutarch: Parallel Lives - includes lives of a number of Spartan statesmen: Lycurgus, Lysander, Agesilaus, Agis and Cleomenes.

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.


Aristotle: The Politics

The Politics of Aristotle is, like many of his works, the oldest extant treatise on the subject, although it allude to, and sometimes criticizes, the discussion of political issues in Platonic dialogues like the Republic.

Book One opens with the famous declaration that the human being is by nature a political animal, and includes discussions of slavery and of economics that are still of significance for contemporary debates, in part because of their distance from modern views. Book Two looks at the best form of government, critiquing philosophical proposals including those of Plato in The Republic and The Laws. Book Three provides a classification of constitutions, something that Plato had already undertaken in The Republic. Books Four to Six look at the multiplicity of existing constitutions and the changes to which they are subject, while Books Seven and Eight return to the subject of the ideal constitution and the form of education appropriate to it.

Free online and downloadable texts

Gutenberg: Politics, translated by William Ellis, 1912. Multiple formats.

Internet Classics Archive: The Politics, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text and downloadable. .txt file.

Loebulus. L264 - Aristotle - Politics. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Perseus: Greek text (W.D. Ross ed., 1957). English translation (H. Rackham, 1944). Online texts.

Other Resources

BBC In Our Time: Aristotle's Politics - archived radio discussion with Melvyn Bragg.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Constitutional Conventions: Aristotle's Political Philosophy - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Archive for the History of Economic Thought: Aristotle as Sociologist, by Charles A. Ellwood, 1902.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Aristotle: Politics, by Edward Clayton.

Librivox: Politics - public domain audiobook.

Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy: Aristotle's Political Theory, by Fred Miller.

Wikipedia: Aristotle - Politics (Aristotle).

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.


Plato: The Statesman

The Statesman or Politicus is a late Platonic dialogue, a sequel to The Sophist, addressing similar themes. The discussion seeks to identify the kind of knowledge proper to the true statesman, distinguishing it from the knowledge of appearances that characterizes the sophist.

Free online and downloadable texts

Gutenberg: The Statesman, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Perseus: The Statesman. Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Fowler, 1921). Online texts.

Wikisource: The Statesman, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Other resources

Librivox: The Statesman - public domain audiobook.

PhilPapers: Plato - Politicus - bibliography with open access option.

Wikipedia: The Statesman.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.


Plato: The Laws

The Laws is Plato's last and longest dialogue, and the only one in which Socrates does not appear, unless indeed he is the mysterious Athenian Stranger who joins the Spartan Megillos and the Cretan statesman Clinias. While it is not a dialogue one would choose as introduction to Plato, for serious students of his political theory it is an essential counterpart to the Republic, presenting an apparently more realistic set of proposals than the earlier dialogue. Plato's final word is, in the eyes of some, the product of a man disillusioned by his attempts to put his political ideals into practice at the courts of the tyrants of Syracuse.

Free Online and Downloadable Texts

Gutenberg: Laws by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Loebulus. L187 - Plato -- Laws I: Books 1-6. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Loebulus. L192 - Plato -- Laws II: Books 7-12. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Perseus: The Laws. Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Bury, 1967-68). Online texts.

Wikisource: The Laws (Plato), translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Other Resources

Librivox: The Laws - public domain audiobook.

PhilPapers: Plato - Laws - bibliography with open access option.

Wikipedia: The Laws (Dialogue).

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.