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Dissertation/Book Manuscript

The Currency of Justice: Money and Political Thought

Dissertation committee: Seyla Benhabib (Chair), Bryan Garsten, David Grewal (Yale Law School), Karuna Mantena, Adam Tooze (Columbia University, Department of History).

This dissertation recovers and explores an account of currency as a central political institution. By studying five moments of monetary crisis and the imprint they left in the history of political thought I argue that currency was long seen as a constitutive political institution in the ancient polis as well as the modern state. For the classical polis, I show in the first chapter, Aristotle’s foundational account describes currency (nomisma) not merely as a medium of economic exchange but also, alongside speech, as an essential tool for fostering habitual bonds of reciprocity among citizens. The second chapter relies on John Locke’s influential involvement in the Coinage Crisis of 1695 to offer an integrated account of Locke’s philosophy of language and his political philosophy of money both of which are characterized by an ambivalent worry about the fragility of societal trust and the threat posed by semantic instability. The third chapter is framed through the introduction of paper money during the British suspension period (1797-1821) and traces how the experiment resonated with continental European thinkers such as the German Romantics, in particular J.G. Fichte and Adam Müller who both based their philosophies of the state on the new presence of fiat money. The fourth chapter turns to the interwar period and takes John Maynard Keynes as its guide. Starting with a reading of Keynes’s call for monetary reform the chapter sets out to recover Keynes as a political theorist of money and the politics of depoliticization. The fifth chapter concludes by contrasting the pervasiveness of monetary politics in the post-Bretton Woods world with its almost complete absence in political theory since the 1970s. If the main purpose of the project is to recover an appreciation for the political face of money, I frame this recovery through a probing of different analogies between money and speech that raise questions of reciprocity and trust.

Here is a detailed abstract and table of contents. Individual chapters available upon request.


Related writing

A summary piece drawing on different parts of the project:
Stefan Eich, “The Politics of Money,” IWMpost (Winter 2014/2015)

Occasioned by the European Central Bank’s announcement of its quantitative easing program in January 2015, I wrote for the Süddeutsche Zeitung on the politics of central banking and the poetics of modern money (in German).
Stefan Eich, “Die Poetik des Geldes,” Süddeutsche Zeitung (January 22, 2015)

In December 2013, Marketplace produced a short radio story with me on the suspension period’s opening weekend in February 1797 and the politics of fiat money.


Contact information

Princeton Society of Fellows
Princeton University
10 Joseph Henry House
Princeton, NJ 08544
E-Mail: seich@princeton.edu
Twitter: @stefeich