Top Menu

The Postmodern Prince: Critical Theory, Left Strategy, and the Making of a New Political Subject


Paperback, 272 pages
ISBN: 1-58367-090-4
Released: June 2003

John Sanbonmatsu’s Postmodern Prince is an work of political theory with a focus on questions of strategy. At the same time it provides an original and illuminating intellectual history of the Left from the 1960s to the present. It examines the politics of the New Left in the 1960s, showing how its expressivism led to political division and also prepared the ground for postmodernism. It shows also how the political economy of academic life in an increasingly commodified society strengthened the basis of postmodernism.

The Postmodern Prince provides a historically-grounded critique of postmodernism, and a history of how the socialist Left has helped to create its ideas. In the course of this two-sided critique, it develops a brilliant account of a Marxism that sets itself the task of building a collective political subject—a successor to Machiavelli’s Prince and Gramsci’s Modern Prince—capable of challenging capitalism in its moment of global crisis.

Sanbonmatsu demonstrates the limitations of the work of Michel Foucault, and more recently, Hardt and Negri’s much-acclaimed Empire. In the process he validates for Marxism the classical idea of politics as hegemonic in scope, revolutionary in aspiration, and dependent on the capacity of leadership to rise to unforeseen challenges. He draws on an extraordinary range of historical, political and philosophical analyses to set out the preconditions for a renewal of strategic and theoretical vision for the Left.

In a well-argued, often insightful book, Sanbonmatsu traces the rise of postmodern theory to the ‘expressivist’ politics of the New Left; he shows that the postmodern attempt to promote differences and question notions of universality has undercut the possibility of a unified radical movement. Going back to the work of Antonio Gramsci, the author argues for the need to develop a theory of a ‘postmodern prince,’ one that assumes unity and difference by squarely lodging its analysis in the experiential realm where solidarity can arise. In the process of such an argument, Sanbonmatsu admirably explicates the problems associated with postmodern theory, particularly the work of Michel Foucault, and clearly lays out the relevant arguments associated with Gramsci’s theory … Highly recommended.

—B.J. MacDONALD, Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

A wide-ranging and well-researched book. As a welcome change, it also happens to be a deeply-felt work.

—Emanuele Saccarelli, New Political Science

Possesses an admirable urgency, unity of purpose, and clarity, as an intervention around strategy and as a critique of postmodern theory.

Thesis Eleven

Combines a devastatingly precise critique of postmodernism with a visionary and realistic account of the necessity for ethical and political unity among progressive movements. This brilliant and provocative book is in the best tradition of Marx, Gramsci, and Marcuse—and should be read by anyone who still believes that the task of left theory is to help create a better world.

—Roger S. Gottlieb, author of Marxism 1844-1990

Fascinating and provocative from beginning to end, this book weaves together a compelling study of how the language of politics has evolved through its various complex and difficult encounters with such traditions as Gramscian Marxism, existentialism, postmodernism, feminism, radical ecology, and religion.

—Carl Boggs, National University, Los Angeles, author of Imperial Delusions: American Militarism and Endless War

This is a stunning survey and critique of left practice and theory … Sanbonmatsu argues that the Left has undermined itself in pursuit of difference and expressiveness at the expense of unity and strategic action, and that postmodernist theory has deepened these problems by associating its campaign against coherence with the Left. He calls for a new radical ethos based on empathy for all living creatures. This book should be taken seriously by anyone who wants a revitalized Left.

—Barbara Epstein, University of California, Santa Cruz




  • A Romantic Structure of Feeling
  • Faith vs. Works
  • The Pentecostal Mysticism of Norman O. Brown
  • Morbid Symptoms Appear
  • The Expressivist Legacy


  • The Cyborg Speaks in Tongues
  • “Breaking the Silence”: Postmodernist Identity Politics
  • La Lingua Continua
  • Expressivism as Reification


  • “Use Value” and the Baroque Arsenal of Theory
  • Commodity Aesthetics
  • Trend Innovation in Theory
  • Against the Autonomy of Theory
  • Theory as Practice


  • Althusser, Foucault, and the Liquidation of Experience
  • “Two, Three . . . Many Geists”: Reification and the Automaton Empire
  • The Catechism of Praxis


  • Exemplary Lives
  • The Virtú of the Modern Prince
  • Strategy and the Modern Prince
  • Foucault’s Great Refusal of Strategy
  • Teaching Literacies of Power
  • Against Pedagogy
  • Reversal of Fortune


  • Form in Modern Political Thought
  • Lenin’s Leviathan
  • Enter, stage left: The Modern Prince
  • Unity and Difference: The Challenge of Translation
  • The Postmodern Prince
  • Totality and Perception
  • Toward a New Theory of the Whole


  • Empathy and Attentiveness to Others
  • Humanism, Suffering, and Love
  • New Gnosis
  • The Fight for Eros




John Sanbonmatsu is assistant professor of Philosophy and Religion at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA.

Format Clear
SKU: mrp0904 Categories: ,

Publication Date: August 2003

Number of Pages: 272

Paperback ISBN: 9781583670903