I currently am engaged in four major areas of research. The first is nearing completion and concerns Cicero and the origins of liberal constitutionalism. The second explores the moral and conceptual boundaries of political rhetoric, drawing especially from African-American political thought. The third deals with the relationship between moral norms and military and diplomatic strategy. The fourth is a comparative study of political philosophy in the Christian and Islamic worlds. Below are descriptions and links to my work in each area.
1. Cicero and the Origins of Liberalism
Monograph: Natural Law Republicanism: Cicero’s Liberal Legacy (Oxford University Press). In print in November 2021.
Based on my dissertation, this book is prompted in part by the challenges posed by the renewed rise of populism and begins with a conceptual problem. Republicanism from the very beginning has proceeded from the foundational presumption that the people are the rightful owners and sovereigns of the political community. But, the nature of sovereignty is such that it admits of no higher authority. How, then, can republicanism reconcile popular sovereignty with any kind of universal moral norms? Put differently: how can we justify any checks on the sovereign people? Natural Law Republicanism: Cicero’s Liberal Legacy, excavates a tradition of answering this question that stretches from classical Rome to the American founding.
From the back cover:
“An important and original book… will help us rethink the fundamental tension in modern liberal democracy between a voluntarist conception of justice and a commitment to moral objectivism, or natural law.” –Benjamin Straumann (NYU)
“Destined to become a ‘must read’ for professors and graduate students interested in the historical and philosophical relationship between natural law, republican self-government, and the rights to liberty and property.”-Gary Remer (Tulane)
Other publications that have emerged from this project include:
2019. “Cicero’s Duties and Adam Smith’s Sentiments: How Smith Adapts Cicero’s Account of Self-interest, Virtue, and Justice,” History of European Ideas. (ungated)
2. Preaching to the Choir: Rhetoric Beyond Persuasion
Monograph: Preaching to the Choir: Prophetic, Persuasive, and Demagogic Rhetoric. (In preparation)
This project builds on my earlier work on the relationship between classical and American political thought. In it, I bring Cicero, Aristotle, and Augustine into conversation with Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King. I aim to explore the theoretical and normative stakes of motivational political rhetoric. This is rhetoric that aims not to persuade members of an audience to change their judgments, but rather takes audience agreement for granted and instead seeks to inspirit or motivate listeners to vigorous action. This kind of rhetoric has been ignored by many of the classical theorists of rhetoric, as well as by modern scholars reviving the study of political rhetoric. Yet, such non-persuasive speech abounds in political discourse (for instance, when a politician leads an audience in chants of “yes, we can” or “lock her up”). Black rhetorical theorists and practitioners like Douglass and King can help us think through these thorny issues, as they were masters of this motivational form of rhetoric, and deployed it in response to situations where persuasion was unlikely to avail. Such rhetoric may be a spur to healthy democratic activity, but it also has the potential to stoke dangerous passions. Moreover, it raises complicated questions about democratic discourse, the agency of citizens as consumers of political speech, and the problem of demagoguery. For these reasons, I believe coming to grips with it is an urgent theoretical task.
The core of what is likely to be the first chapter of this book is forthcoming as an article:
“Beyond Persuasion: Rhetoric as a Tool of Political Motivation.” Journal of Politics. (ungated).
3. Justice in War, Strategy, and Hegemony
This project arose out of my interest in Cicero’s just war theory and broader Roman thought about the appropriate use of hegemonic power. In particular I am interested in how political theory can address the firmly non-ideal world of international strategy and diplomacy. Some of my work here has been drawn from historical texts, but some also engages purely in contemporary debates about the application of just war theory.
Forthcoming: “Can Just Wars Be Fought Proportionately?” Journal of Military Ethics (no link available yet).
2021 “Cicero on Justice, Empire, and the Exceptional Republic,” Classics of Strategy and Diplomacy.
4. Comparative Political Philosophy: the Christian and Islamic Worlds
This project arose out of an undergraduate research project into the divergent ways in which Christian and Islamic thinkers responded to their common Greek philosophical heritage. After leaving the project dormant for a while, I have since returned to it.
Under review: “Good Weeds? Alfarabi’s Virtuous Subversives” (with Laura Howells)
Under review: “Averroes’ Decisive Treatise: A Coverup and an Exposé?” (draft presented at the 2019 Duke Conference in honor of Ruth Grant).
*In addition, I have several working papers, as well as a forthcoming book chapter in an edited volume and book reviews at the Review of Politics and American Political Thought. I am happy to e-mail them upon request. Information about all other work can be found on my CV.