The Currency of Politics

The Political Theory of Money from Aristotle to Keynes

Stefan Eich | 2023, Princeton University Press

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, critical attention has shifted from the economy to the most fundamental feature of all market economies—money. Yet despite the centrality of political struggles over money, it remains difficult to articulate its democratic possibilities and limits. The Currency of Politics takes readers from ancient Greece to today to provide an intellectual history of money, drawing on the insights of key political philosophers to show how money is not just a medium of exchange but also a central institution of political rule.

Money appears to be beyond the reach of democratic politics, but this appearance—like so much about money—is deceptive. Even when the politics of money is impossible to ignore, its proper democratic role can be difficult to discern. Stefan Eich examines six crucial episodes of monetary crisis, recovering the neglected political theories of money in the thought of such figures as Aristotle, John Locke, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. He shows how these layers of crisis have come to define the way we look at money, and argues that informed public debate about money requires a better appreciation of the diverse political struggles over its meaning.

“By reconstructing debates about the politics of money, I not only hope to recover money as a neglected site of political thought and a potential institution of democratic self-rule but also offer an account of how the politics of money came to be eclipsed in the first place. The book thus traces two parallel movements: the periodic reassertion of a political awareness of money especially at times of crisis; and a historical reconstruction of the thinkers and debates that contributed to the eclipse of the politics of money. As a study of how things become invisible, this book constitutes an attempt to understand how and why the political dimension of money
became obscured -without ever fully disappearing.” – Stefan Eich

Recovering foundational ideas at the intersection of monetary rule and democratic politics, The Currency of Politics explains why only through greater awareness of the historical limits of monetary politics can we begin to articulate more democratic conceptions of money.

“While I work broadly from a credit conception of money, in the course of the book, I introduce a normative conceptual distinction of my own: what I call money as political currency. Political currency, as I define it, does not refer to cash or legal tender. Instead, I use “currency” in a metaphorical sense to refer to money as a tool of democratic self-government, an idea whose genealogy I trace throughout the book. As a political theorist, I am concerned with the legitimacy of institutions. One account for understanding legitimacy – for example, the legitimacy of a particular law – is to stress the way in which an institution is not externally imposed from above but authored by those affected by it. This is the basic democratic idea of government of the people, by the people, for the people.” – Stefan Eich


Eich, S. (2023) The Currency of Politics: The Political Theory of Money from Aristotle to Keynes. Princeton, US: Princeton University Press.