Abstract: For Aristotle, a just political community has to find similarity in difference and foster habits of reciprocity. Conventionally, speech and law have been seen to fulfill this role. This article reconstructs Aristotle’s conception of currency (nomisma) as a political institution of reciprocal justice. By placing Aristotle’s treatment of reciprocity in the context of the ancient politics of money, currency emerges not merely as a medium of economic exchange but also potentially as a bond of civic reciprocity, a measure of justice, and an institution of ethical deliberation. Reconstructing this account of currency (nomisma) in analogy to law (nomos) recovers the hopes Aristotle placed in currency as a necessary institution particular to the polis as a self-governing political community striving for justice. If currency was a foundational institution, it was also always insufficient, likely imperfect, and possibly tragic. Turned into a tool for the accumulation of wealth for its own sake, currency becomes unjust and a serious threat to any political community. Aristotelian currency can fail precisely because it contains an important moment of ethical deliberation. This political significance of currency encourages contemporary political theorists to think of money as a constitutional project that can play an important role in improving reciprocity across society.
Abstract: During the Coinage Crisis of 1695, John Locke successfully advocated a full recoinage without devaluation by insisting on silver money’s “intrinsick value.” The Great Recoinage has ever since been seen as a crucial step toward the Financial Revolution and it was long regarded as Locke’s most consequential achievement. This article places Locke’s intervention in the context of the post-revolutionary English state at war and reads his monetary pamphlets as an integral, if largely neglected, part of his political philosophy. Instead of taking Locke’s insistence on “intrinsick value” itself at face value, I argue that it was precisely money’s fragile conventionality that threatened its role as a societal bond of trust. In response to this fragility and corruptibility Locke tied money by fiat to an initially arbitrary but unalterable quantity of metal. While Locke’s argument contributed to the modern naturalization of money, it arose from a paradoxical political act of monetary depoliticization.
Abstract: This article argues that realist invocations of Max 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.
Human Rights in Financial Times: Samuel Moyn, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World and David Kinley, Necessary Evil: How to Fix Finance by Saving Human Rights, The Review of Politics, Vol. 81, Issue 1 (forthcoming, Winter 2018/2019).
Abstract: A revisionist strand of scholarship has recently recovered Rawls’s early interest in theology and highlighted the ways in which his philosophical project can be seen to provide a secularized response to earlier theological questions. A different literature has in the meantime stressed Rawls’s implicit reliance on the economic background conditions of the postwar welfare state. This paper brings these two revisionist trends into conversation with one another and places them in relation to the history of modern political thought, including Rawls’s reading of that history. In doing so I defend two claims. First, I argue that the key motivating concern behind Rawls’s philosophical ambition can be made legible through the lens of late eighteenth-century secular theodicies. Secondly, I show that Rawls’s theodicy, like earlier secular theodicies, crucially hinges on notions of political economy that can satisfy demands for stability and improvement.
“Untouchable Money: B.R. Ambedkar’s The Problem of the Rupee (1923)” (for The Cambridge Companion to Ambedkar, ed. Anupama Rao and Shailaja Paik).
"Does Money Talk? Money and Speech in Political Theory"
"John Maynard Keynes and Burkean Liberalism at the Dusk of Empire"
"Old Utopias, New Tax Havens: The Politics of Bitcoin in Historical Perspective," in Regulating Blockchain: Political and Legal Challenges, ed. P. Hacker, I. Lianos, G. Dimitropoulos, and S. Eich (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
Abstract: Cryptocurrencies are frequently framed as future-oriented, technological innovations that decentralize money and thereby liberate it from centralized governance structures and the political tentacles of the state. This is misleading on several counts. First, electronic currencies cannot leave the politics of money behind even where they aim to disavow it. Instead we can understand their impact as a political attempt to depoliticize money. Secondly, the dramatic price swings of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin challenge their claims to be currencies and place them more persuasively as speculative assets. Ironically, while the preferential tax and regulatory treatment of cryptocurrencies hinges on their nominal status as currencies, their success as speculative assets has undermined precisely such claims. Thirdly, far from heralding a radical break with the past, electronic currencies serve as a reminder of the still unresolved global politics of money of the 1970s. To support these three interrelated theses this chapter places the rise of cryptocurrencies in the historical context of the international politics of money since the 1970s and the response to the Financial Crisis of 2008.
"Restructuring Democracy and the Idea of Europe" (with Seyla Benhabib), The Cambridge History of Modern European Thought, ed. Warren Breckman and Peter E. Gordon (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).
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.
"The Great Inflation" (with Adam Tooze), Vorgeschichte der Gegenwart. Dimensionen des Strukturbruchs nach dem Boom, ed. Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Lutz Raphael, and Thomas Schlemmer (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016).
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.
Translations and Other Work
I have translated several essays, lectures, and prize speeches 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).
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 amazing first chapter on "perfectible apes" is available here.)