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.

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 (crobin@brooklyn.cuny.edu) 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 […]