King Capital

I’ve been wanting to shout this from the rooftops, and now I can. I’ve just signed a contract for my next book, which is called King Capital, with Random House, where I’ll be working with Molly Turpin, who edited one of my favorite books of the last decade. After floundering around for a few years, with one false start after another, I’m thrilled to be writing this book and working with Molly. I feel more than lucky that Sarah Chalfant (The Wylie Agency), who did so much for this shidduch, is my agent. Now to write the book. In the meantime here’s a brief article on the sale, which was reported in yesterday’s Publishers Marketplace.

Jane Austen on the Post Office and State Capacity

“The post-office is a wonderful establishment!” said she.—”The regularity and dispatch of it! If one thinks of all that it has to do, and all that it does so well, it is really astonishing!” “It is certainly very well regulated.” “So seldom that any negligence or blunder appears! So seldom that a letter among the thousands that are constantly passing about the kingdom, is even carried wrong—and not one in a million, I supposed, actually lost! And when one considers the variety of hands, and of bad hands too, that are to be deciphered, it increases the wonder! “The clerks grow expert from habit.—They must begin with some quickness of sight and hand, and exercise improves them. If you want […]

Bloomsbury Bolsheviki and other topics

Long-time followers of this blog know that I’ve been promising, for several years, a piece on Smith and a piece on Keynes. I’m happy to say that they are finally out in successive issues of the New York Review of Books. The editors there were extremely generous with space, allowing me, across two consecutive issues and some 13,000 words, to write what has become a two-part article about these two economists. Looking over my notes, I see that my first note to myself about the piece I had hoped to write was in February 2020. So it’s taken me a really long time! But it was time well spent. Not only did I love digging into these two thinkers, but […]

Slavery and Capitalism, Neoliberalism and Feudalism

Next semester, I’ll be teaching American Political Theory (POLS 3404), meeting 9:30-10:45 on Mondays and Wednesdays. We’ll focus on two topics only: slavery and neoliberalism. Registration is now officially open for the class. During the first half of the course, we’ll be addressing the relationship between slavery and capitalism through a selection of primary and second readings. Our texts will include Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death, Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery, Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism, Eugene Genovese’s The Political Economy of Slavery, Frederick Douglass’ Narrative, Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction, and various texts and treatises from the slaveholders, including Thomas Dew, William Harper, James Henry Hammond, Josiah Nott, and […]

From Aeschylus to Alison Bechdel

This fall, I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar, “Politics Through Literature,” at Brooklyn College. Space is still open. Our syllabus runs from Aeschylus to Alison Bechdel, concentrating on the politics of the family, beauty, money, and sex. Along the way, we’ll read Vivian Gornick, Ralph Ellison, Bertolt Brecht, Plato, Marx, James Baldwin, Anton Chekhov, Barbara Fields, Euripides, Edward P. Jones, Jane Austen, Nietzsche, Wollstonecraft, Adam Smith, Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, and more. If you’re looking for a three-credit class on Monday and Wednesday mornings, from 11 to 12:15, feel free to reach out to me ( or sign up for POLS 3440. Feel free to share this post with any and all CUNY students or students who want to sign up […]

A People’s Guide to New York City

When I was growing up in Chappaqua, a suburb north of New York City, in the 1970s, my parents would take my five sisters and me to visit our Uncle Leo and Aunt Ruth. A bachelor for a good part of his younger life, Leo married Ruth sometime after the war, and they ultimately settled in Co-Op City in the Bronx. I vividly remember the drive there, the big dip on the Bronx River Parkway that made my stomach leap into my mouth, and then the view of Co-Op City from afar, a towering Oz of white buildings that stood out from the surrounding marshes and waterways of the Bronx. I also remember the parquet floors of their apartment, though […]

You may not be interested in Clarence Thomas, but Clarence Thomas is interested in you

In The New Yorker, I take on Clarence Thomas’s contributions to this last term of the Supreme Court: The most powerful Black man in America, Thomas is also our most symptomatic public intellectual, setting out a terrifying vision of race, rights, and violence that’s fast becoming a description of everyday life. It’s no longer a matter of Clarence Thomas’s Court. Increasingly, it’s Clarence Thomas’s America. I focus on the abortion and gun rights decisions, and try to limn their meaning for our moment. In the face of a state that won’t do anything about climate change, economic inequality, personal debt, voting rights, and women’s rights, it’s no wonder that an increasing portion of the population, across all races, genders, and beliefs, have […]

Covid Reading

I’m in the midst of recovering from covid—my family and I were hit with it two weeks ago—and doing a fair amount of reading. Just prior to getting sick, I had completed a long piece on oligarchy and the Constitution, which is actually the fourth in a series of pieces I’ve completed over the last few months that I expect to appear in print this summer. (The other three are on Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and the idea of late capitalism.) The combination of being sick, and finishing those pieces, left me with time and energy for little more than resting in bed and reading. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Here is what I’ve been reading or re-reading: […]

Talking Heads

On Sunday, I was interviewed by Kai Wright on his excellent NPR show “The United States of Anxiety.” The other guest who came on after me was some musician named David Byrne. Wright and I talked about Biden, his State of the Union Address, and why his presidency hasn’t turned out to be an FDR-style transformational presidency. You can catch the show here. In other news, I’ve got some pieces in the hopper. Look for some mammoth essays on Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, both of which I’ve been working on for about two years, and a shorter take on the idea of late capitalism. Will share them when they’re out.

On the anniversary of January 6 and other matters

I had two pieces and an interview come out today. In Politico, I address the anniversary of January 6, arguing that the events of that day have misled us about the real challenges we face. A quick taste: While scholars warn of fascism on the one side and pundits bicker over wokeness on the other, the larger and longer view reveals how blinkered both of these assessments are. The right’s road to power does not run through street violence, mass rallies, fake news or lawless coups. The left’s weakness has nothing to do with critical race theory and cancel culture. Both claims suffer from the same shortcoming: They focus on the margins rather than the matrix. Driving the initiatives of […]

An Assessment of the Biden Presidency

During the Trump days, I argued that the Trump presidency signified the waning power, if not end, of the Reagan regime. To that extent, Trump bore comparison to Jimmy Carter, whose presidency also signaled the end of another political order (the New Deal). I was wrong about that, and I explained how and why in a lengthy piece in 2019. My argument about Trump was based on two theories: one, my own, about conservatism and the right; the other, Steve Skowronek’s theory of the presidency. In the New York Times this weekend, I take stock of the Biden presidency, asking, essentially, this: if Trump turned out not to be Carter, how does that help us understand Biden? The Skowronek theory […]

Janet Malcolm on the moral evasion of psychological language

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer: “The book’s [Harry Cleckley’s The Mask of Sanity] thesis…is that there is a kind of evildoer called a psychopath, who does not seem in any way abnormal or different from other people but in fact suffers from ‘a grave psychiatric disorder,’ whose chief symptom is the very appearance of normality by which the horror of his condition is obscured. For behind ‘the mask of sanity’ there is not a real human being but a mere simulacrum of one…. “Cleckley’s ‘grave psychiatric disorder’ is, of course, the same disorder that afflicted Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and a host of other wonderful literary creations. The attempt to solve the problem of evil and perpetuate the […]

Janet Malcolm and Joshua Cohen

Janet Malcolm has died. I, along with three other writers, wrote something about her for The New Republic. Like Orwell, who thought Homage to Catalonia would have been a good book had he not turned it into journalism, Malcolm described her writing as a failure of art. Only writers who invent, she said, can write autobiographies. Journalists like her could not. They lacked the ability to make themselves interesting. The light of their work was powered, almost entirely, by the self-invention of their subjects. You can read the rest of it here. On Tuesday, at 7:30 pm (EST), I’ll be interviewing Joshua Cohen about his amazing new novel, The Netanyahus. You can sign up for the online event here. I can’t say […]

Double Trouble: The Identity Politics of Philip Roth and Hannah Arendt

Philip Roth has been in the news, as has Palestine. By sheerest coincidence, a piece I’ve been mulling over for some time—on the uncanny convergence between the lives and concerns of Roth and Hannah Arendt, particularly when it came to Jewish questions such as Zionism—came out in The New York Review of Books last week. The piece starts with the Blake Bailey controversy, but goes on to explore what the surprising parallels between Roth and Arendt, who knew and respected each other, has to say about the left, Jewish identity politics, and American political culture today. In 2014, the mystery writer Lisa Scottoline wrote an instructive essay for The New York Times about two undergraduate seminars she took with Philip Roth at the University of Pennsylvania […]

What was the “Is Trump a Fascist?” Debate Really All About?

I have a new piece up at The New Yorker. I take stock of the debate over whether Trumpism is an authoritarian/fascist/tyrannical formation. Throughout the Trump years, I consistently argued that that what I call the strongman thesis (just as a catch-all way of describing the various terms that were used for Trumpism) was not the most helpful way of thinking about what was going on with Trump or on the right. In this piece, I try to step back from that debate and examine what was really driving it. Long story short: where liberals and leftists saw power on the right, I saw, and continue to see, paralysis. Not just on the right, in fact, but across the political […]

Keynes thought he was ugly. What does that mean for political theory?

Throughout his life, John Maynard Keynes was plagued by the thought that he was ugly. In his diary, Keynes’s father notes that his six-year-old son “thinks no one ever was quite so ugly.” When he was 23, Keynes complained to Lytton Strachey that “I have always suffered and I suppose always will from a most unalterable obsession that I am so physically repulsive….The idea is so fixed and constant that I don’t think anything—certainly no argument—could ever shake it.” Keynes didn’t lack for sexual partners. He kept a detailed list of his sexual experiences, and it’s long. Nor was he an unhappy person, prone to self-doubt. He was just convinced that he was ugly. Interestingly, his lack of confidence in […]

The End of the Academic Washingtonian Complex?

I have some doubts about what a Biden administration will or can do, but I’d be grateful if Biden delivers on this: He relishes freewheeling discussion, interrupting aides and chiding them for what he deems overly academic or elitist language. “Pick up your phone, call your mother, read her what you just told me,” he likes to say, according to aides. “If she understands, we can keep talking.” Aides made a point of editing out all abbreviations other than U.N. and NATO. Politicians have their own jargon, but one of the irritating features of the Obama administration (Professor in Chief?) was the proliferation of academic tropes in everyday political conversation, among leaders, their staffers, organizers, and journalists. Go to the […]

On the question of impeachment and what it could mean

Over the last four years, I’ve argued that this is a potential moment of realignment, where the Reagan regime we’ve been living under could be shattered and repudiated, and replaced by a new political regime. One of the reasons I’ve pressed so hard on the Trump/Carter comparison is to point out that the Reagan regime, like the New Deal regime in the 1970s, is more vulnerable than we realize. I continue to maintain that Trump’s inability to rule—most spectacularly put on display this past week—reflects the crumbling power of that regime. That doesn’t mean the regime can’t do damage on its way out—the last sentence of The Reactionary Mind makes a point of saying “how much it [the Reagan regime] […]

Max Weber: Worst Colleague Ever

In my New Yorker piece on Max Weber, which came out yesterday, I alluded to Weber’s many, often failed, forays into political life. Several folks on social media have expressed surprise about these expeditions. The facts of Weber’s political involvement don’t seem to fit with the aura of political detachment that surrounds his writing. Indeed, some of Weber’s writing can make him seem almost hermetically sealed off from the barest of political obligations, which is to communicate clearly. But Weber was intensely involved in the political life of his day. In fact, I had an entire section of my piece devoted to these involvements, and was originally going to open the essay with that as a kind of set piece. […]

Max Weber: Man of Our Time?

Max Weber died at the tail end of a pandemic, amid a growing street battle between the right and the left. What could he possibly have to say to us today? I try to answer this, and some other questions, in my review this morning, in The New Yorker, of an excellent new translation, by Damion Searls, of Weber’s Vocation Lectures. I have to confess, a little guiltily, that I get in a few shots against older leftists, of the ex-SDS type, who like to use (or misuse) Weber’s “ethics of responsibility” against the putative transgressions of younger leftists who are allegedly in thrall to an “ethics of conviction.” It’s one of those tropes in contemporary argument that I really […]