This article interrogates the form of the relationship between political theory and utopia through a consideration of the thought of Niccolò Machiavelli. This article argues that Machiavelli can be read as an exemplary theorist of utopia who gives expression to the antinomies internal to the tradition. It identifies in Machiavelli's thought two distinct models of utopia that exist in uneasy tension with one another: the thought of utopia as a critical expression of the inexhaustible human desire to be otherwise and the thought of utopia as an object to be fabricated by an instrumentally rational subject. After demonstrating the nature of the tension between these two utopias—and how they generate distinct conceptions of politics that differ in their relation to democracy—this article concludes by locating in Machiavelli's thought a germinal mode for overcoming the utopian contradiction, potentially allowing for a more productive relation between political theory and the utopian tradition.

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