Political Science Now

Meet NEH Grantee, Dr. John McCormick of University of Chicago

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States and supports research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. The organization funds projects across a range of disciplines, including political science, through a diverse array of opportunities.

John P. McCormick is Professor of Political Science. His research and teaching interests include political thought in Renaissance Florence (specifically, Guicciardini and Machiavelli), 19th and 20th century continental political and social theory (with a focus on Weimar Germany and Central European emigres to the US), the philosophy and sociology of law, the normative dimensions of European integration, and contemporary democratic theory. He is the author of Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology (Cambridge, 1997), and Weber, Habermas and Transformations of the European State: Constitutional, Social and Supranational Democracy (Cambridge, 2006). Professor McCormick has published numerous articles in scholarly journals such as the American Political Science Review (1992, 1999, 2001, 2006) and Political Theory (1994, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2006).

Tell us more about your research project.
My project is titled “The People’s Princes: Machiavelli, Leadership and Liberty.” I argue that Machiavelli, commonly considered a cynical adviser of tyrants, actually formulated a conception of leadership that uniquely facilitates what he called “popular government” and the “free way of life.” This project focuses on Machiavelli’s case studies of successful (and failed) leadership from ancient Roman and medieval Florentine history. From these case studies I delineate Machiavelli’s rhetorical-analytical method of “political exemplarity”; a method that sets forth the optimum interactions between leaders and citizens that Machiavelli considered indispensable for healthy democratic politics.  Moreover, I highlight the relevance of Machiavelli’s thoughts on leadership for our own age when democracy is challenged by economic inequality, oligarchic encroachment, failures of political representation and accountability and the rise of populism. Unlike previous interpreters, I show that Machiavelli advises democratic leaders and citizens to diligently pursue policies aimed at thwarting the efforts of socio-economic elites to oppress the people and violate the common good.

What are your next steps and plans for your research?
The NEH fellowship will release me from teaching and administrative responsibilities, and will afford me the time necessary to complete the book manuscript during the 2017-18 academic year.  The book already exists in separate pieces (several of which have been published independently) that need to be revised and molded together into a coherent whole.  I plan to submit the completed manuscript to academic presses in July of 2018.

How will the NEH Grant help you accomplish those steps?
As a scholar with small children and a professionally active and accomplished spouse, a fellowship like NEH, that allows me to reside in Chicago during the 2017-18 academic year, is an enormous blessing.  There are fewer and fewer fellowships that don’t require scholars to reside in places other than their home bases these days; it is very difficult to take-up such fellowships if one has small children and a working partner.  And then there are the transition/relocation costs of moving somewhere else for a sabbatical; costs that tend to significantly cut into one’s research time.

Why is federal funding for political science and humanities research important?
As public and even private universities cut research funding and support for faculty, it’s critical that the government maintain its present level of support–indeed, it ought to be increasing such funding.  This is tantamount to “wishing on the moon” in the current political context, but it has to be said nonetheless.

What advice do you have for young researchers/scholars?
Young researchers who are seeking support from sources like NEH, NEA, NSF, Guggenheim, ACLS, etc. should ask their institutions, their friends and their colleagues for samples of grant applications that have been successful in the past.  I found such samples to be enormously helpful to me as I prepared my applications.  Not only did I immediately recognize the common elements of successful applications, but, more importantly, I observed how varied, even idiosyncratic, such applications can be.  That took a lot of pressure off me in the process, as I realized I could be myself while formulating my proposal.  It was a great relief to realize that I didn’t need to conform to some cookie-cutter model in order to gain funding.

Read more about Professor McCormick here. Learn more about NEH opportunities by visiting their website. Learn about APSA grants and fellowship opportunities here.