The Allure of Dark Times: Max Weber, Politics, and the Crisis of Historicism (with Adam Tooze), History & Theory, Vol. 56, Issue 2, June 2017
Abstract: This article argues that realist invocations of Weber rely on an unrealistic reading of Weber’s realism. In order to escape the allure of Weber’s dramatic posture of crisis, we place his seminal lecture on “Politics as a Vocation” (1919) in its historical and philosophical context of a revolutionary conjuncture of dramatic proportions, compounded by a broader crisis of historicism. Weber’s rhetoric, we argue, carries with it not only the emotion of crisis but is also the expression of a deeper intellectual impasse. The fatalistic despair of his position had already been detected by some of his closest contemporaries for whom Weber did not appear as a door-opener to a historically situated theory of political action but as a telling and intriguing impasse. Although the disastrous history of interwar Europe seems to confirm Weber’s bleakest predictions, it would be perverse to elevate contingent failure to the level of retrospective vindication.
The Currency of Justice: Aristotle on the Politics of Monetary Reciprocity (Revise & Resubmit at Political Theory)
Abstract: This article reconstructs Aristotle’s conception of currency (nomisma) as a political institution of civic reciprocity. For Aristotle, a just political community depends on its ability to find similarity in difference and foster habits of reciprocity. Conventionally, speech and law have been seen to fulfill this role. In this article, I argue that currency issued by the polis was another tool of political commensurability and reciprocity in the classical Greek world. By placing Aristotle’s treatment of currency in the Nicomachean Ethics in the context of an Athenian politics of money, currency emerges not merely as a medium of economic exchange but also as a bond of political reciprocity and the conventional measure of excess and deficiency. As a tool of reciprocity analogous to rhetoric and law, currency sustains habits of citizenship and forms an important pillar of Aristotle’s account of the just political community.
John Locke and the Politics of Monetary Depoliticization (Revise & Resubmit at Modern Intellectual History)
Abstract: This article offers a reading of John Locke’s monetary thought as an integral aspect of his political philosophy. Tracing Locke’s philosophical treatment of money in analogy to language, the paper argues that for Locke it was precisely money’s malleable and fragile semiotic conventionality that threatened its role as a societal bond of trust. Hoping to insulate money against discretion and abuse Locke insisted on stabilizing its fickle reliance on human opinion by fixing an arbitrary quantity of metal by fiat and then declaring it unalterable. Instead of a simple naturalization or commodification of money, Locke’s intervention constituted a political act of depoliticization. This argument proved vastly influential during the Coinage Crisis of 1695 and was subsequently celebrated in both Whig historiography and nineteenth-century economic liberalism. But ironically precisely because the argument succeeded, it erased its political nature over time. Recovering the political underpinnings of Locke’s argument not only renders the performative contradiction of his intervention intelligible but also sheds light on his treatment of property in the formation of civil society and contributes to our understanding of the modern politics of monetary depoliticization.
Does Money Talk? Money and Speech in Political Theory
Book Chapters in Edited Volumes
Restructuring Democracy and the Idea of Europe (with Seyla Benhabib) (for The Cambridge History of Modern European Thought)
Abstract: The collapse of the Soviet Bloc dramatically recast the European project and reopened the question of what Europe is. Radical nationalism returned in the Balkans to challenge western Europe’s belief that it had overcome such old demons, while Eastern enlargement and Turkey’s quest for membership in the European Union (EU) revived old debates about where Europe ends. Debates about Europe’s exterior boundaries have intersected with discussions about the nature of European identity, European constitutionalism, and the formation of a European single market and currency union. Embattled debates over European identity dovetailed with a return of age-old discussions of Christian Europe and its Islamic other. Today, echoes of the EU’s self-image as a bastion of humanitarian reason and a beacon of democracy find their test in the refugee crisis. Stuck between seemingly perennial austerity and managed inhospitability, the EU’s “thin cosmopolitanism” appears all too content with integrating markets and merely fulfilling minimalist human rights norms. In a painful twist of irony, the only ones who still appear to take seriously the preamble of the failed European Constitution that described Europe as “a special area of human hope” are the refugees landing on Europe’s shores or, more often, drowning in the Mediterranean. While Europe’s politicians are working hard to discourage potential asylum seekers and appear determined to prove that Europe is not a special area of human hope, refugees are voting with their feet for a life in Europe.
Forthcoming as Seyla Benhabib and Stefan Eich, “Restructuring Democracy and the Idea of Europe,” in Warren Breckman and Peter E. Gordon (eds.), The Cambridge History of Modern European Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Abstract: As the 20th century ended, a reappraisal began of the 1970s as a crucial turning point in modernity. For some historians the 1970s were marked as the moment “after the boom”. For others the epoch was defined by the shock of the global. For cultural historians it was an age of fragmentation. The 1970s were clearly an age of economic crisis, but this too could be understood in different ways. Deindustrialization and the end of Fordism were two options. Globalization another. The discovery of the limits to growth provided a resonant phrase to announce the environmental age. But, for economists and policy-makers, the 1970s stood for another type of epochal break, a revolution in monetary affairs. The end of Bretton Woods between 1971 and 1973 marked the universalization of fiat money. From the 1970s onwards, for the first time since the invention of money, nowhere, anywhere in the world was money directly anchored on gold. How would monetary systems be managed without this anchor? What would be tested in the 1970s and 1980s was a fundamental institutional question of the modern world: the relationship between capitalism, fiat money and democratic policy-making. If it is the double ending both of the postwar boom and the Great Inflation that defines our present, the history of anti-inflationism was never as simple as it appeared in narratives of a “great moderation” designed to legitimate currency policy. In light of recent events we conclude that it is time to revisit the history of the Great Inflation – both the events of the epoch and the stories told about them – and to pose the question put to modernity by Alexander Kluge. Was the refoundation of democratic capitalism through the overcoming of inflation a “a learning-process with a fatal outcome?”
Published as Stefan Eich and Adam Tooze, “The Great Inflation,” in Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Lutz Raphael, Thomas Schlemmer (eds.), Vorgeschichte der Gegenwart. Dimensionen des Strukturbruchs nach dem Boom (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016).
Translations and Other Work
I have translated several essays and lectures by Seyla Benhabib into German. In 2012, I translated her Leopold Lucas Prize Lecture, which appeared as Gleichheit und Differenz (Mohr Siebeck, 2013). An abbreviated version also appeared in Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik. In 2014, I translated her Meister Eckhart Prize Lecture, which was published in Kosmopolitismus ohne Illusionen: Menschenrechte in unruhigen Zeiten (Suhrkamp, 2016).
In 2011 I assisted — in a minor capacity — in editing a collection of essays by the late Robert Wokler: Rousseau, the Age of Enlightenment, and their Legacies (Princeton University Press, 2012). The volume was edited by Bryan Garsten and includes an introduction by Christopher Brooke. (The highly recommended first chapter on Rousseau and perfectible apes is available here.)