BRIAN MILSTEIN


Research Associate and Lecturer in International Political Theory at Goethe University Frankfurt

Peer-Reviewed Articles

“Perpetual Peace and Cosmopolitical Method:

The Systematic Grounds of Kant’s Cosmopolitan Vision,”

Danish Yearbook of Philosophy, vol. 50 no. 1 (forthcoming 2017)

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This article explores the bases of Kant’s cosmopolitanism in his more systematic writings on freedom, judgment, and community. My argument is that, if we peer beneath his more explicitly normative prescriptions for achieving “perpetual peace,” we find the tools not just of a cosmopolitan vision but what we might call a “cosmopolitical method.” While many assume Kant’s political thought descends directly from his moral philosophy, a look back at relevant passages in the first Critique reveals an alternative reading that points toward his theory of reflective judgment, which combines practical freedom with judgments based on theoretical concepts. Of particular importance is Kant’s conception of community as commercium, through which Kant discerns all matters of right to concern the way free actors are constrained to share the earth in common. These considerations allow for a broader way of thinking about Kantian cosmopolitanism, one that is responsive to the reflective judgment of world citizens as they encounter new challenges.

 

A Tale of Two Demoi:

Boundaries and Democracy beyond the Sovereign Point of View,”

Philosophy and Social Criticism, OnlineFirst, doi: 10.1177/0191453716658691 (2016)

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Recent years have witnessed an explosion of debate about what democratic theory has to say about the boundaries of democratic peoples. Yet the debate over the “democratic boundary problem” has been hindered by the way contributors work with different understandings of democracy, of democratic legitimacy, and what it means to participate in a demos. My argument is that these conceptual issues can be clarified if we recognize that the “demos” constitutive of democracy is essentially dual in character: it must be defined from a third-person, observer’s perspective from which it can be represented as a whole entity; but it must also be seen as arising out of an association of numerous and ongoing second-person relationships that participants negotiate among each other. Both perspectives are essential to conceptualizing the demos, but their relation to each other has been obscured by democratic theory’s historical reliance on the imaginary of the sovereign state. Drawing on literature from deliberative democratic theory, this article reconstructs the concept of the demos in a way that better distinguishes the logic of democracy from the logic of the state, allowing us to think more clearly about how demotic boundaries may be subjected to standards of democratic legitimation.

 

Thinking Politically about Crisis: A Pragmatist Perspective,”

European Journal of Political Theory, vol. 14 no. 2 (2015): 141-60

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“Crisis” is a key concept in our political lexicon. Since the beginning of the modern age, it has arguably been, as much as anything, the experience of crisis that has calibrated the aims of both politics and political theory. But as central as crisis experiences have been for the shaping of our political imaginary, the concept itself has proven difficult to incorporate into the political theory enterprise. In this article, I argue that we can think politically about crisis by taking up a “pragmatist” perspective that focuses on how we deploy crisis as a conceptual tool for guiding judgments and coordinating actions. I argue that crisis is a fundamentally reflexive concept that bridges our traditional distinctions between objective phenomena and normative experience, and whose very usage implies the active participation of those involved in it. Only by examining these crucial aspects of the crisis concept can we begin to grasp its normative political content, as well as how it may be deployed in the service of political action and social change.


Kantian Cosmopolitanism beyond ‘Perpetual Peace’:

Commercium, Critique, and the Cosmopolitan Problematic,”

European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 21, no. 1 (2013): 118-43

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Most contemporary attempts to draw inspiration from Kant's cosmopolitan project focus exclusively on the prescriptive recommendations he makes in his article, “On Perpetual Peace.” In this essay, I argue that there is more to his cosmopolitan point of view than his normative agenda. Kant has a unique and interesting way of problematizing the way individuals and peoples relate to one another on the stage of world history, based on a notion that human beings who share the earth in common “originally” constitute a “commercium” of thoroughgoing interaction. By unpacking this concept of “commercium,” we can uncover in Kant a more critical perspective on world history that sets up the cosmopolitan as a specific kind of historical-political challenge. I will show that we can distinguish this level of problematization from the prescriptive level at which Kant formulates his familiar recommendations in “Perpetual Peace.” I will further show how his particular way of framing the cosmopolitan problematic can be expanded and expatiated upon to develop a more critical, reflexive, and open-ended conception of cosmopolitan thinking.

 

 

Other Writings

“What Is Critical Theory Today? (and What Is It For?)”

Zeitschrift für Politische Theorie, vol. 2017, no. 2 (forthcoming 2018)

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Written for inclusion in a special symposium of “Critical Theory Today”

 

The Diversity and Unity of Critical Theory in Prague,”

Philosophy and Social Criticism, vol. 43, no. 3 (2017): 335-6

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Written as part of a special issue commemorating the 25th year of the annual “Philosophy and Social Sciences” Conference in Prague

 

Emergency Politics are the Wrong Path for Today's Europe,”

openDemocracy, 8 February (2016)

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Written as an op-ed in reaction to President François Hollande's proposed constitutional changes following the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015

 

 

Working Papers

“Emergency Powers and Democratic Equality” (currently under peer review)

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This paper explores in what sense emergency securitarian measures (ESMs) may not only be illiberal or dictatorial but also inegalitarian. Political theorists who study the uses of emergency powers in reaction to threats such as terrorism are familiar with how such measures become instruments of discrimination and abuse, but they are apt to explain these inegalitarian consequences in terms of populist overreaction or elite fear-mongering. The argument here is that there is a deeper tension between ESMs and democratic equality, which is not reducible to the more familiar debate over civil liberties and has to do with the role of law in integrating new or previously subjected groups into a democratic community. As liberal democratic societies become increasingly diverse and multicultural in the present era of mass immigration and global interconnectedness, this tension between security and equality is likely to become more pronounced.


“Justification Crisis: A Discourse-Theoretic Critique of Faltering Hegemony” 

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After the 2007/8 economic recession, many anticipated a “legitimation crisis” of neoliberal capitalism, which could provide new opportunities for a reassertion or even an expansion of social democracy. The developments that followed have greatly frustrated such hopes. Instead of a resurgence of socialist or democratic politics, what we see now is a wave of right-wing populism flooding the political systems of the U.S. and Europe. Applying Rainer Forst’s recent work to Antonio Gramsci’s analysis of hegemony, I argue we can speak of a “justification crisis” as a pathological form of legitimation crisis: it occurs when the hegemony of a prevailing narrative of justification begins to crumble, but the major institutions of society cannot marshal the resources necessary to generate an alternative. In this situation, the public sphere is too corrupted to facilitate deliberative processes of opinion and will-formation, while the mechanisms of aggregative democracy remain in place, leaving discontented citizens to vote on the basis of snap judgments and prejudices untested by criteria of reciprocal and general justification. This makes the political system prone to erratic decision-making, producing the “morbid symptoms” Gramsci considered typical of a crisis in which “the old is dying but the new cannot be born.”


“Whither Justice in Times of Crisis?” 

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John Rawls published his Theory of Justice in the early 1970s at the tail end of the Trente Glorieuses—the decades following World War II that were marked by the absence of major economic crisis and the supremacy of Keynesian economics. This may partly explain the relative absence of political economy and crisis management in his model of political justice, even when he turns his attention to matters of non-ideal theory. But not only have events since 2008 indicated that crises are still very much a part of the economic, social, and political life of liberal-democratic society, there are many studies suggesting that the frequency of crises under advanced capitalism may be accelerating. What does this mean for our theories of justice, which typically presume the background of an already stable society, with predictable rules of economic, social, and institutional performance? At first glance, this may seem to give credence to the so-called “realist” claim that questions of ideal justice must take a back seat to “more fundamental” issues of order and basic legitimacy. Drawing on the work of Nancy Fraser and Rainer Forst, I argue this need not be the case; however, it does require us to clarify certain distinctions and rethink others in the way we theorize justice. It also requires additional attention to the role of power, justification, and reflexivity in the way we conceive and construct such theories.