From Speciation to Specialization

Published in Social Research Vol. 85: No. 3: Fall 2018, 661-685.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin

For a social scientist, reading Darwin’s origin of species is a simultaneously humbling and reassuring experience. What an achievement! Science and scientific writing at their best. A book that is the product of long thinking, such as we today, haunted by deadlines, can only dream of, and written in a clear, engaging language, immensely readable for even the (educated and interested) layperson. Everything is as simple as possible but no simpler, as allegedly demanded by none less than Albert Einstein himself. And profoundly honest: the open questions, the remaining mysteries carefully exposed, careful attention paid to the difficult spots, and the arguments of the opposition, both real and anticipated, treated with polite respect. (…)

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Taking Back Control? The Future of Western Democratic Capitalism

Published in Efil Journal of Economic Research, Vol. 1 (2018), No. 3, 30-47

The international state system is in turmoil, due to pressures on its architecture that emanate from capitalist-economic globalization. Large states in particular seem to be losing the capacity to hold their societies together through economic redistribution from prospering to lagging sectors and regions. The results are centrifugal tendencies toward decentralization and secession, as well as toward exit from international organizations. To defend centralized rule, governments of large political units tend to turn authoritarian. Experimentation with small-scale units of governance seems attractive in many places, given the example of successful small countries that have preserved their national sovereignty, like Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland. Small states tend to be more homogeneous, more suitable for democratic self-government, and more capable of specializing on niches in the global economy where they are comparatively safe from head-on competition. (…)

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Between Charity and Justice: Remarks on the Social Construction of Immigration Policy in Rich Democracies

Appeared in Culture, Practice & Europeanization, August 2018, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 3-22

As a sociologist working on political economy, one of the most difficult questions I encounter is how social norms, the location of actors in the class structure and the collective construction of reality, present and future, hang together. How are facts construed to fit, justify and make appear possible moral or economic practices, or economic practices defended as moral ones, and how do socially constructed factual accounts of the world reflect, preserve and produce political identities and cleavages and the prevailing interpretations of structurally based social interests? This is the classical theme of Ideologiekritik and, later, Wissenssoziologie. Both interrogate the collective “ideas”, the legitimacy-enhancing “narratives” and the conceptual “frames” of the common sense of the time as to the hidden impact on them of material interests growing out of the social locations of actors and the specific cognitive and moral perspectives they impose on them. It cannot possibly be my intention here to try to present a complete analysis of this extremely complicated subject. Rather, I will limit myself to exploring a few selected facets of the interconnections between interests, politics and moral values, drawing for illustration on one of the most intriguing moral-political-economic issues in the rich democracies of today, which is immigration. (…)

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L’Europe sous Merkel IV : l’équilibre de l’impuissance

Original title: Europe under Merkel IV: Balance of Impotence, appeared in American Affairs Journal Volume II, Number 2 (Summer 2018): 162–92. French translation.

L’Europe, telle qu’elle est organisée – ou désorganisée – dans l’Union européenne (UE), est un étrange animal politique. Elle comprend d’abord les politiques intérieures de ses États membres qui, au fil du temps, se sont profondément entrelacées. Deuxièmement, les États membres, qui sont encore des États-nations souverains, poursuivent des intérêts définis au niveau national par le biais de politiques étrangères nationales dans le cadre des relations internationales intra-européennes. Troisièmement, ils ont le choix entre s’appuyer sur une variété d’institutions supranationales ou sur des accords intergouvernementaux entre coalitions choisies de volontaires. (…)

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Europe under Merkel IV: Balance of impotence

Appeared in American Affairs Journal Volume II, Number 2 (Summer 2018): 162–92.

Europe, as organized—or disorganized—in the European Union (EU), is a strange political beast. It consists, first, of the domestic politics of its member states that have, over time, become deeply intertwined. Second, member states, which are still sovereign nation-states, pursue nationally defined interests through national foreign policies within intra-European international relations. Here, third, they have a choice between relying on a variety of supranational institutions or on intergovernmental agreements among selective coalitions of the willing. Fourth, since the start of the European Monetary Union (EMU), which includes only nineteen of the EU’s twenty-eight member states, another arena of European international relations has emerged, consisting mainly of informal, intergovernmental institutions looked at with suspicion by the supranational EU. Fifth, all these are embedded in the geopolitical conditions and geostrategic interests of each nation, which are related in particular to the United States on the one hand and to Russia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East on the other. And sixth, there is at the bottom of the European state system an ongoing battle for hegemony between its two largest member countries, France and Germany—a battle that both deny exists. Each of the two, in its own way, considers its claim to European supremacy to be only just and indeed self-evident, Germany so much so that it doesn’t even recognize its ambitions as such.1 Moreover, both would-be hegemons are aware that they can realize their national projects only by incorporating the other within them, and for this reason they present their national aspirations as “European integration” projects based on a special relationship between Germany and France. (…)

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The fourth power?

Review of Joseph Vogl (2017), The Ascendancy of Finance, trans. Simon Garnett, Cambridge: Polity Press.
First published in German as Der Souveränitätseffekt (2015), Zürich-Berlin: diaphanes.

Appeared in New Left Review 110, March-April 2018, pp. 141-150

Like blood in Goethe’s Faust, money ‘is a very special fluid’. It circulates in the body political-economic, whose sustenance depends on its liquidity. [1] And it is surrounded by mystery. In fact, money is easily the most unpredictable and least governable human institution we have ever known. Allegedly invented as a general equivalent, to serve as an accounting unit, means of exchange and store of value, it has over time penetrated into the remotest corners of social life, constantly assuming new forms and springing fresh surprises. Even Keynes had to admit that his attempt at A Treatise on Money (1930) ran into ‘many problems and perplexities’. How money came to be what it is today, in capitalist modernity, may perhaps with the benefit of hindsight be reconstructed as a process of progressive dematerialization and abstraction, accompanied by growing commodification and state sponsorship. But how money functions in its present historical form is more difficult to say; where it is going from here, harder still. This social construction has always been beset with, and driven by, unanticipated consequences—caused by human action, but not controlled by it. (…)

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La dette souveraine

New publication in La dette souveraine: Économie politique et État
Buying time. Preface to the second edition.

Nouvelle publication dans La dette souveraine: Économie politique et État
Du temps acheté. Préface à la séconde edition.

Wolfgang Streeck: Il y a plus de quatre ans que j’ai terminé le manuscrit de Du temps acheté. Bien que la crise dont il traite soit aujord’hui moins explosive qu’elle ne l’était à l’été 2012, je n’y retrouve pourtant rien qui mériterait d’être retranché ou réécrit. Certes, davantage d’explications, de contextualisations et d’éclaircissements sont toujours bienvenus, et ce également à titre de remerciements pour les nombreuses recensions dont le livre a bénéficié en Allemagne, et ailleurs, en si peu de temps – à la surprise de son auteur, dont les précédentes publications avaient été principalement réservées à des parutions scientifiques spécialisées. […]

Pour continuer: Julia Christ en Gildas Salmon (2018), La dette souveraine: Économie politique et État, Paris: Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS).

Autres contributions de: Colin Crouch, Jürgen Habermas, Robert Boyer, Bruno Karsenti, Benjamin Lemoine, Marie Cuillerai, Jean-Michel Rey, Yves Duroux, Julia Christ et Gildas Salmon.