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.

Arno Mayer, 1926-2023

The historian Arno Mayer, who had such an influence on my work and eventually became a friend, has died at 97. He wrote books on everything from the French Revolution to the First World War to the Holocaust to the creation of the State of Israel. He was one of a cohort of brilliant scholars at Princeton University who made the study of history, in which I majored as an undergraduate in the 1980s, the most exciting discipline and department in the world. I have a tribute to him at the New Left Review. Some excerpts: Mayer liked to attribute his in-betweenness to being born Jewish in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The child of a marginal people in a […]

We’re all norm eroders now

Up at The New Yorker this morning, I’ve got a double review of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s new book, Tyranny of the Minority, and Joseph Fishkin and William Forbath’s The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution, which came out last year. My essay addresses the Constitution and the rise of the right, and asks whether any part of the Constitution might help us counter the right. I come out, surprisingly, thinking that, maybe, yes, it might. That’s what I learned from Fishkin and Forbath’s “wonderfully counterintuitive” book, as I say. The other surprise, for me, is the shift in Levitsky and Ziblatt’s position. Five years ago, you may recall, they were the leading scholarly voices arguing against the norm erosion of Donald Trump […]

How ChatGPT changed my plans for the fall

Until now, I’ve avoided getting myself worked up about ChatGPT. Prompted by this article by a Columbia undergraduate this past spring, I thought that if a student knows enough about paper-writing to make ChatGPT work for them, in the way this student describes in his piece, without detection by a minimally alert instructor, that student has probably already mastered the skills of essay-writing far more than the author of this piece seems to realize. I at least could rest easy with the knowledge that if a student used ChatGPT to write a paper for me, and it was good, I wasn’t not teaching that student what they needed to learn how to do. But this recent article, by a Harvard […]

We are all totalitarians now

One of the most interesting dimensions of our contemporary crisis of democracy discourse and literature is its moralism. If you listen to the talking heads on MSNBC or read more sophisticated academic treatments of the topic, you’ll find a frequent claim that mainstream Republican leaders who are not Trump—people like McConnell or McCarthy—are cowards or careerists. Unlike the Greenes and Gaetzes of the party, goes the argument, these men are not ideologically opposed to democracy. They’re just insufficiently committed to democracy. That’s the problem. If they were ideologically principled, if they were honorable, if they were dedicated, out of conviction, to democracy, these leaders would take on the authoritarians in their midst. In the past, the argument continues, Republican leaders […]

Alan Arkin, 1934-2023

Alan Arkin was a part of my childhood. He lived in Chappaqua, where I grew up. His son Tony was in my grade. Arkin used to come to our elementary school, I’m guessing, though I can’t remember for sure, for something like career day. He’d be spotted around town. More important to me was “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.” Not only was it one of my favorite movies as a kid; it was also one of my dad’s. It’s one of the few movies where I remember my dad laughing out loud. The other was Mel Brooks’s “Spaceballs.” Anyway, I have fond memories of my dad and I laughing through “The Russians Are Coming.” In memory of […]

Markets and Speech: Where Does the Public Reside?

If you were to do an informal poll of conventional progressive opinion—asking where is the public to be found, in acts of speech or in the marketplace—I suspect most liberals, and probably not a few leftists, would say: in acts of speech. Since the eighteenth century, speech has been firmly associated with the public sphere or the public square. “The people’s darling privilege”: that’s how freedom of speech was understood, as the instrument of the people, assembled in their sovereign and public capacity. There’s a long history behind the notion, stretching back to Aristotle, whose justification for the claim that man is a political animal rests upon the fact that human beings, unlike other animals, have the capacity for speech. […]

We’re slowly moving past the clichés of Clarence Thomas

If you haven’t been following all the Clarence Thomas news, I’ve been talking with a lot of media outlets about him, the corruption scandal, how it fits with his larger life story, and where things are headed with Thomas and the Court. At the bottom of this post is a roundup of all the interviews and programs and pieces I’ve been involved in. Aside from tooting my own, I’ve for a reason for listing all my media appearances about Thomas. As you’ve probably noticed, there has been a demonstrable uptick in interest about Thomas—and his Black nationalist origins—since last year. It began with his infamous concurrence in the Dobbs decision, which I wrote about at The New Yorker, and it […]

A Watergate for Our Time

If you haven’t caught an episode of “White House Plumbers,” the new HBO series on Watergate, I highly recommend it. For people my age, Watergate will always be connected to All the President’s Men, not the book by Woodward and Bernstein but Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 film. I can’t think of Ben Bradlee without thinking of Jason Robards, Deepthroat without Hal Holbrook, or Hugh Sloan without Meredith Baxter Bierney, who played Sloan’s wife in the film. The point of the film, and those actors, was to supply a sense of gravitas to a country stricken by the sordidness of the affair. No matter how criminal Nixon may have been, his criminality was redeemed by the feel of the film, with […]

The real problem of Clarence Thomas

I’ve got a piece up at Politico this morning, setting out what I think the real Clarence Thomas scandal is, why corruption may not be the best way to think about it, and what the proper approach of the Left should be to the problem of Clarence Thomas: As a description of the problem of Clarence Thomas, however, corruption too has its limits. Morally, corruption rotates on the same axis as sincerity — forever testing the purity or impurity, the tainted genealogy, of someone’s beliefs. But money hasn’t paved the way to Thomas’ positions. On the contrary, Thomas’ positions have paved the way for money. A close look at his jurisprudence makes clear that Thomas is openly, proudly committed to […]

The real culture war between the left and the right is about money: On the Clarence Thomas scandal

Briahna Joy Gray, who is one of my favorite podcasters and interviewers, and I went deep into the Clarence Thomas scandal. I trace his actions back to an obscure speech he delivered to a libertarian outfit in San Francisco in 1987, where he set out his basic agenda and philosophy: “The real culture war between the left and the right is about money.” You can watch it here on YouTube.

Talking fascism, the Constitution, and history with Jamelle Bouie

Last week, as I was losing my voice, I had a really fascinating conversation with Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times, moderated by Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation, about the state of American democracy. You can watch it here. It was a wide-ranging discussion: we talked about whether fascism is a good model for understanding the contemporary American right, the helps and hindrances of the Constitution, the virtues and vices of returning to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for insights into current events, and more. Bouie is one of those rare political writers who really knows his history; it’s almost never that I read one of his Times columns without learning something I didn’t know about the American […]

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 […]