What is the point of working out visions of the best possible society? This has been much debated in recent political philosophy, with the focus largely being on philosophical methodology—whether we should begin with concrete situations and real struggles, for instance, as opposed to picturing ourselves as founding legislators just off the boat. Yet the question surely also pertains to our lives as citizens. That, at least, is the argument of my first book, Plato as Critical Theorist, which claims that excellent citizenship in a liberal democracy requires one to engage in ideal theory. To make this case I turn to Plato, who on my reading argues that ideal theory will have a role to play in the ideal society itself. The first half of the book justifies and explores this interpretation of the Republic by way of one chapter on the metaphysics, one on political power and another on symbolic power. The second half shows that the relevant parts of Plato’s politics can be made compatible with liberal democracy; each and every citizen would have to work out their own conception of the best possible society and adjust their work in light of it. This is of course an ideal, but that does not make it idle—I end by showing how it both illuminates and bolsters a central strand in Marx’s critique of capitalism. For more on this project, please see my interview with Andy Fitch for the Los Angeles Review of Books as well as an earlier article, Moneymakers and Craftsmen: A Platonic Approach to Privatization, published in the European Journal of Philosophy.

I am currently working on a series of articles that extend and deepen the work undertaken in Plato as Critical Theorist. One piece (published in the Cambridge Handbook of Privatization) considers the debate between Plato and Aristotle on public and private ownership; another asks why Aristotle didn’t take moneymaking more seriously as a threat to the polis; a third reads the Republic in light of Cornelius Castoriadis’s ideal of an autonomous society; a fourth suggests a Hegelian resolution to the problem of basic equality; a fifth considers what it means to work for the common good. Together these articles represent a bridge between Plato as Critical Theorist and my second and third book projects.

The second book will be a historical work that explores the importance of social ontology to political philosophy and the importance of imagination to social ontology. Roughly speaking, the goal is to show read Plato, Aristotle, Hegel and Marx against the background of Castoriadis’s work on the Imaginary Institution of Society, showing both how their respective conceptions of what a society is, or what it is made of, shape their normative political philosophies and how those conceptions are themselves grounded in imagination. Thus far I have completed articles on Aristotle and Hegel that will form part of this project.

The third book, meanwhile, will treat socialism as a normative ideal upstream from particular policies like restrictions on markets and private property. My proposal is that the socialist ideal concerns the orientation of our day-to-day labours: whereas the left-liberal ideal is concerned primarily with how to distribute goods, the socialist ideal as I conceive it focuses primarily on what is actually produced. The overall goal is to provide a philosophically satisfying articulation of the tradition of utopian and/or ethical socialism that runs from Plato to G. A. Cohen. Here is a draft of an article sketching the overall approach: Neo-Socialism – A Sketch.