The Currency of Politics: The Political Theory of Money from Aristotle to Keynes (under contract with Princeton University Press)

This book recovers and explores an account of currency as a central political institution. By studying six 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 Karl Marx's financial journalism of the 1850s and the global banking panic of 1857 to capture the rise of transatlantic banking and the politics of the gold standard. The fifth chapter introduces John Maynard Keynes and recovers his monetary internationalism alongside his better-known critique of the gold standard. 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 six 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. The conclusion relates this revisionist history to the Financial Crisis and the politics of global money today. In each episode I combine historical contextualism with attention to the diachronic reception of ideas. Applying my analysis to contemporary concerns, I show that modern monetary regimes result from diverse political struggles not only over money’s distributive effects but also over its uses as a speech-like tool of recognition and trust.

Individual chapters available upon request.


Related writing

The Politics of MoneyIWMpost (Winter 2014/2015). A summary piece drawing on different parts of the project.

 

Die Poetik des GeldesSüddeutsche Zeitung (January 22, 2015). Occasioned by the European Central Bank's announcement of its quantitative easing program , I wrote on the politics of central banking and the poetics of modern money (in German).

 

Radio story by Marketplace on my research concerning the British suspension period in February 1797 and what it tells us about modern central banking.