Reading list

Political Theory Bookshelf

Our selection of key political theory titles, addressing the current state of politics, climate, technology and more.

Verso Books11 May 2020

Political Theory Bookshelf

Our Political Theory reading list features titles by Mike Davis, Jodi Dean, Erik Olin Wright's How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century, Astra Taylor's unflinching re-examination of democracy, what it means to rule and who counts as 'the people', two beautiful new editions of David Harvey's work on Marx, and more!

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Originally published in 1974, Kojin Karatani’s Marx: Towards the Centre of Possibility has been among his most enduring and pioneering works in critical theory. Written at a time when the political sequences of the New Left had collapsed into crisis and violence, with widespread political exhaustion for the competing sectarian visions of Marxism from 1968, Karatani’s Marx laid the groundwork for a new reading, unfamiliar to the existing Marxist discourse in Japan at the time.

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Henri Lefebvre saw Marx as an ‘unavoidable, necessary, but insufficient starting point’, and always insisted on the importance of Hegel to understanding Marx. Metaphilosophy also suggested the significance he ascribed to Nietzsche, in the ‘realm of shadows’ through which philosophy seeks to think the world. Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche: or the Realm of the Shadows proposes that the modern world is, at the same time, Hegelian in terms of the state, Marxist in terms of the social and society and Nietzschean in terms of civilisation and its values.

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Neoliberalism is dead. Again. Yet the philosophy of the free market and the strong state has an uncanny capacity to survive, and even thrive, in times of crisis. Understanding neoliberalism’s longevity and its latest permutation requires a more detailed understanding of its origins and development.

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Is revolution possible in the age of the Anthropocene?

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Capitalism has transformed the world and increased our productivity, but at the cost of enormous human suffering. Our shared values—equality and fairness, democracy and freedom, community and solidarity—can provide both the basis for a critique of capitalism and help to guide us toward a socialist and democratic society. 

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Democracy is not necessarily progressive, and will only be if we make it so. What Mondon and Winter call “reactionary democracy” is the use of the concept of democracy and its associated understanding of the power to the people (demos cratos) for reactionary ends.

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In this radical and visionary new book, McKenzie Wark argues that information has empowered a new kind of ruling class. Through the ownership and control of information, this emergent class dominates not only labour but capital as traditionally understood as well.  

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Second Wave feminism emerged as a struggle for women’s liberation and took its place alongside other radical movements. But feminism’s subsequent immersion in identity politics coincided with a decline in its utopian energies and the rise of neoliberalism. Now, foreseeing a revival in the movement, Fraser argues for a reinvigorated feminist radicalism able to address the global economic crisis.

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Chantal Mouffe is one of the most influential political theorists at work today. Her work has influenced political parties across Europe and continues to inform the direction of left politics. In this work, Mouffe argues that liberal democracy misunderstands the problems of ethnic, religious and nationalist conflicts because of its inadequate conception of politics.

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The publication of For Marx and Reading Capital established Louis Althusser as one of the most influential figures in the Western Marxist tradition. On Ideology charts Althusser’s critique of the theoretical system unveiled in his own major works, and his developing practice of philosophy as a “revolutionary weapon.”

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In the twentieth century, millions of people across the globe addressed each other as “comrade.” Now, among the left, it’s more common to hear talk of “allies.” In Comrade, Jodi Dean insists that this shift exemplifies the key problem with the contemporary left: the substitution of political identity for a relationship of political belonging that must be built, sustained, and defended. 

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What makes a fascist? Are there character traits that make someone more likely to vote for the far right? The Authoritarian Personality is not only one of the most significant works of social psychology ever written, it also marks a milestone in the development of Adorno’s thought, showing him grappling with the problem of fascism and the reasons for Europe’s turn to reaction. Over half a century later and with the rise of right-wing populism and the reemergence of the far-right in recent years, this hugely influential study remains as insightful and relevant as ever. 

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A different kind of politics for a new kind of society—beyond work, scarcity and capitalism. 

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Epic new biography of Karl Marx for the 200th anniversary of his birth.

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Charting the decline of the French intellectual, from the Dreyfus Affair to Islamophobia.

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A major rereading of Marx’s critique of political economy.

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For nearly forty years, David Harvey has written and lectured on Capital, becoming one of the world’s foremost Marx scholars. Based on his recent lectures, this current volume—finally bringing together his guides to volumes I, II and much of III—presents this depth of learning to a broader audience, guiding first-time readers through a fascinating and deeply rewarding text.

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A philosophical and political exploration of the construction of popular identities.

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We Built the Wall is an immersive, engrossing look at the new front in the immigration wars. It follows the gripping stories of people like Saúl Reyes, forced to flee his home after a drug cartel murdered several members of his family, and Delmy Calderón, a forty-two-year-old woman leading an eight-woman hunger strike in an El Paso detention center.

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What is the “populist moment” and what does it mean for the left?

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Emily Apter develops a critical model of politics behind the scenes, a politics that operates outside the norms of classical political theory. She focuses on micropolitics, defined as small events, happening in series, that often pass unnoticed yet disturb and interfere with the institutional structures of capitalist parliamentary systems, even as they secure their reproduction and longevity.

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Grand Hotel Abyss combines biography, philosophy, and storytelling to reveal how the Frankfurt thinkers gathered in hopes of understanding the politics of culture during the rise of fascism. 

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In this established classic, sociologists Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello get to the heart of contemporary capitalism. Delving deep into the latest management texts informing the thinking of employers, the authors trace the contours of a new spirit of capitalism.

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In this hugely influential book, Laclau and Mouffe examine the workings of hegemony and contemporary social struggles, and their significance for democratic theory. With the emergence of new social and political identities, and the frequent attacks on Left theory for its essentialist underpinnings, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy remains as relevant as ever, positing a much-needed antidote against 'Third Way' attempts to overcome the antagonism between Left and Right.  

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Developing her groundbreaking political philosophy of agnostics—the search for a radical and plural democracy—Chantal Mouffe examines international relations, strategies for radical politics, the future of Europe and the politics of artistic practices.

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Byung-Chul Han, a star of German philosophy, continues his passionate critique of neoliberalism, trenchantly describing a regime of technological domination that, in contrast to Foucault’s biopower, has discovered the productive force of the psyche.

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In How Will Capitalism End?, the acclaimed analyst of contemporary politics and economics Wolfgang Streeck argues that the world is about to change. The marriage between democracy and capitalism, ill-suited partners brought together in the shadow of World War Two, is coming to an end.

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These early philosophical writings underpinned the Chinese revolutions, and Mao’s clarion call to insurrection has lost none of its ability to stir the blood and stimulate the mind. Drawing on a dizzying array of references from contemporary culture and politics, Slavoj Žižek’s introduction reaches unsettling conclusions about the place of Mao’s thought in the revolutionary canon.

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Written in the white heat of revolutionary Russia’s Civil War, Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism is one of the most potent defenses of revolutionary dictatorship. In his provocative commentary to this new edition the philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that Trotsky’s attack on the illusions of liberal democracy has a vital relevance today.

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Robespierre’s defence of the French Revolution remains one of the most powerful and unnerving justifications for political violence ever written. It has an extraordinary resonance in a world obsessed with terrorism and appalled by the language of its proponents. Yet today the French Revolution is celebrated as the event which gave birth to a nation built on the principles of Enlightenment. So how should a contemporary audience approach Robespierre’s vindication of revolutionary terror? Žižek’s introduction analyzes these contradictions with a prodigious breadth of analogy and reference.

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What is the contemporary legacy of Gramsci's notion of Hegemony? How can universality be reformulated now that its spurious versions have been so thoroughly criticized? In this ground-breaking project, Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek engage in a dialogue on central questions of contemporary philosophy and politics. 

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Previously only available in English in highly abridged form, this edition, appearing fifty years after its original publication in France, restores chapters by Roger Establet, Pierre Macherey and Jacques Rancière. It includes a major new introduction by Étienne Balibar.

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In Metaphilosophy, Henri Lefebvre works through the implications of Marx’s revolutionary thought to consider philosophy’s engagement with the world. Lefebvre takes Marx’s notion of the “world becoming philosophical and philosophy becoming worldly” as a leitmotif, examining the relation between Hegelian–Marxist supersession and Nietzschean overcoming.

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Lefebvre's classic analysis of daily life under capitalism in one complete volume.

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Democracy is in crisis. In every major company it has been stole by elites or in the hands of strong men. In democracy’s name we see a raft of policies that spread inequality and xenophobia worldwide. It is clear that democracy—the principle of government by and for the people - is not living up to its promise. 

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Jameson’s text is ideally placed to trigger a debate on the alternatives to global capitalism. In addition to Jameson’s essay, the volume includes responses from philosophers and political and cultural analysts, as well as an epilogue from Jameson himself.

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In Crowds and Party, Dean argues that previous discussions of the party have missed its affective dimensions, the way it operates as a knot of unconscious processes and binds people together. Dean shows how we can see the party as an organization that can reinvigorate political practice.

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Revolution in the Revolution? is a brilliant, pragmatic assessment of the situation in Latin America in the 1960s. First published in 1967, it became a controversial handbook for guerrilla warfare and revolution, read alongside Che’s own pamphlets, and remains fully as important as the writings of Guevara. Lucid and compelling, it spares no personage, no institution, and no concept, taking on not only Russian and Chinese strategies but Trotskyism as well.

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Here, key intellectuals—inspired by the new movements and by the seminal work of the scholar Cedric J. Robinson—recall the powerful tradition of Black radicalism while defining new directions for the activists and thinkers it inspires. 

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General Intellects argues we no longer have such singular figures, but there are, instead, general intellects whose writing could, if read collectively, explain our times. Covering topics such as culture, politics, work, technology, and the Anthropocene, each chapter is a concise account of an individual thinker, providing useful context and connections to the work of the others. McKenzie Wark’s distinctive readings are appreciations, but are nonetheless critical of how neoliberal universities militate against cooperative intellectual work that endeavors to understand and also change the world.

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Perry Anderson’s essay, first published in New Left Review in 1976, was an explosive analysis of the central strategic concepts in the thought of the great Italian Marxist. Since then it has been the subject of book-length attacks across four decades for its disentangling of the hesitations and contradictions in Gramsci’s highly original usage of such key dichotomies as East and West, domination and direction, hegemony and dictatorship, state and civil society, and war of position and war of movement. A new preface considers the objections the essay provoked and the reasons for them. This edition also includes the first English translation of Athos Lisa’s report on Gramsci’s lectures in prison.

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Few terms are so widely used in the literature of international relations and political science, with so little agreement about their exact meaning, as hegemony. In the first full historical study of its fortunes as a concept, Perry Anderson traces its emergence in Ancient Greece and its rediscovery during the upheavals of 1848–1849 in Germany. He then follows its checkered career in revolutionary Russia, fascist Italy, Cold War America, Gaullist France, Thatcher’s Britain, post-colonial India, feudal Japan, Maoist China, eventually arriving at the world of Merkel and May, Bush and Obama.

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Karl Marx was not only the great theorist of capitalism. He was also a superb journalist, politician, and historian. This book brings together all of his essential political and historical writings in one volume for the first time. These works allow us to see the depth and range of thought in the mature Marx, covering a period from the tumultuous revolutions of 1848 that rocked Europe through to the end of his life. With a foreword by Tariq Ali, and including The Communist ManifestoThe Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis BonaparteThe Class Struggles in France, and The Critique of the Gotha Programme, this volume shows Marx at his most astute, analysing the forces of global capitalism as they played out in the world around him. 

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Confronting liberal thought with its own limitations, Steven Lukes’ work is more relevant than ever. While recognizing the dangers of moral imperialism, Lukes argues that a relativist position based on identifying clearly distinct cultural and moral communities is incoherent. Drawing on work in anthropology and philosophy, he examines the nature of social justice, the politics of identity and human rights theory.

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A reflection on everyday existence in the 'sphere of consumption of late Capitalism', this work is Adorno's literary and philosophical masterpiece.

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In her most impassioned and personal book to date, Judith Butler responds in this profound appraisal of post-9/11 America to the current US policies to wage perpetual war, and calls for a deeper understanding of how mourning and violence might instead inspire solidarity and a quest for global justice.

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Written by one of political theory’s leading thinkers, The Philosophy of Marx examines all the key areas of Marx’s writings in their wider historical and theoretical context—including the concepts of class struggle, ideology, humanism, progress, determinism, commodity fetishism, and the state. Etienne Balibar opens a gateway into the thought of one of history’s great minds.

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Althusser's legacy has come under renewed examination and it is increasingly recognized that the influence of his ideas has been wider and deeper than previously thought: reading For Marx, in its audacity, originality and rigor, will explain why this impact was so significant.

ALL our books are 50% off until January 1 as part of our end-of-year sale! See full details here, as well as our Gift GuideEnd of Year Highlights, and Top 10 Books of the Year.

Marx: Towards the Centre of Possibility
Originally published in 1974, Kojin Karatani’s Marx: Towards the Centre of Possibility has been among his most enduring and pioneering works in critical theory. Written at a time when the political...
Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche
Henri Lefebvre saw Marx as an ‘unavoidable, necessary, but insufficient starting point’, and always insisted on the importance of Hegel to understanding Marx. Metaphilosophy also suggested the sign...
Nine Lives of Neoliberalism
Neoliberalism is dead. Again. After the election of Trump and the victory of Brexit in 2016, many diagnosed the demise of the ideology of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Augusto Pinochet, and the...
Old Gods, New Enigmas
Old Gods, New Enigmas is the highly-anticipated book by the best-selling author of City of Quartz and Planet of Slums. Mike Davis spent years working factory jobs and sitting behind the wheel of an...
How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century
Capitalism has transformed the world and increased our productivity, but at the cost of enormous human suffering. Our shared values equality and fairness, democracy and freedom, community and solid...
Reactionary Democracy
Democracy is not necessarily progressive, and will only be if we make it so. What Mondon and Winter call ‘reactionary democracy’ is the use of the concept of democracy and its associated understand...
Capital Is Dead
In this radical and visionary new book, McKenzie Wark argues that the all-pervasive presence of data in our networked society has given rise to a new mode of production, one not ruled over by capit...
Fortunes of Feminism
Second Wave feminism emerged as a struggle for women’s liberation and took its place alongside other radical movements. But feminism’s subsequent immersion in identity politics coincided with a dec...
The Return of the Political
Chantal Mouffe is one of the most influential political theorists at work today. Her work has influenced political parties across Europe and continues to inform the direction of left politics. In t...
On Ideology

On Ideology

The publication of For Marx and Reading Capital established Louis Althusser as one of the most influential figures in the Western Marxist tradition. On Ideology charts Althusser’s critique of the t...
Comrade
In the twentieth-century millions of people across the globe addressed each other as “comrade”. Now, it’s more common to hear talk of “allies” on the left than it is of comrades. In Comrade, Jodi D...
The Authoritarian Personality
What makes a fascist? Are there character traits that make someone more likely to vote for the far right? The Authoritarian Personality, written in the shadow of Fascism and the Holocaust, looked t...
Fully Automated Luxury Communism
Fully Automated Luxury Communism promises a radically new left future for everyone. New technologies will liberate us from work, providing the opportunity to build a society beyond both capitalism ...
A World to Win

A World to Win

Karl Marx has fascinated and inspired generations of radicals in the past 200 years. In this new, definitive biography, Sven-Eric Liebman makes his work live once more for a new generation. Despite...
The End of the French Intellectual
Internationally acclaimed Israeli historian Shlomo Sand made his mark with books such as The Invention of the Jewish People and The Invention of the Land of Israel. Returning here to an early fasci...
The Limits to Capital
Now a classic of Marxian economics, The Limits to Capital provides one of the best theoretical guides to the history and geography of capitalist development. In this edition, Harvey updates his cla...
A Companion To Marx's Capital
In recent years, we have witnessed a surge of interest in Marx’s work in the effort to understand the origins of our current predicament. For nearly forty years, David Harvey has written and lectur...
On Populist Reason
In this highly prescient work - which has had a big impact on figures such as Pablo Oglesias of Podemos in Spain - Ernesto Laclau continues the philosophical and political exploration initiated in ...
We Built the Wall

We Built the Wall

For decades, the American political asylum process has been used to punish enemies and reward friends of the US government. Refugees from Cuba can walk through an open door. People fleeing Eastern ...
For a Left Populism
We are seeing the rise of a populist moment around the world on both the left and the right. Movements like Bernie Sander, Jeremy Corbyn, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have emerged in the midst of the ...
Unexceptional Politics
Unexceptional Politics develops a vocabulary of terms drawn from a wide range of media (political fiction, art, film, and TV serials), highlighting the scams, imbroglios, information trafficking, b...
Grand Hotel Abyss
In 1923, a group of young radical German thinkers and intellectuals came together to at Victoria Alle 7, Frankfurt, determined to explain the workings of the modern world. Among the most prominen...
The New Spirit of Capitalism
In this major work, sociologists Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello go to the heart of the changes in contemporary capitalism. Via an unprecedented analysis of the latest management texts that have fo...
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy
In this hugely influential book, Laclau and Mouffe examine the workings of hegemony and contemporary social struggles, and their significance for democratic theory. With the emergence of new soci...
Agonistics
Political conflict in our society is inevitable, and the results are often far from negative. How then should we deal with the intractable differences arising from complex modern culture?In Agonist...
Psychopolitics

Psychopolitics

Byung-Chul Han, a star of German philosophy, continues his passionate critique of neoliberalism, trenchantly describing a regime of technological domination that, in contrast to Foucault’s biopower...
How Will Capitalism End?
After years of ill health, capitalism is now in a critical condition. Growth has given way to stagnation; inequality is leading to instability; and confidence in the money economy has all but evapo...
On Practice and Contradiction
These early philosophical writings underpinned the Chinese revolutions, and their clarion calls to insurrection remain some of the most stirring of all time. Drawing on a dizzying array of referenc...
Terrorism and Communism

Terrorism and Communism

Written in the white heat of revolutionary Russia’s Civil War, Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism is one of the most potent defenses of revolutionary dictatorship. In his provocative commentary to t...
Virtue and Terror

Virtue and Terror

Robespierre’s defense of the French Revolution remains one of the most powerful and unnerving justifications for political violence ever written, and has extraordinary resonance in a world obsessed...
Contingency, Hegemony, Universality
What is the contemporary legacy of Gramsci’s notion of Hegemony? How can universality be reformulated now that its spurious versions have been so thoroughly criticized? In this ground-breaking proj...
Reading Capital
Originally published in 1965, Reading Capital is a landmark of French thought and radical theory, reconstructing Western Marxism from its foundations. Louis Althusser, the French Marxist philosophe...
Metaphilosophy
In Metaphilosophy, Henri Lefebvre works through the implications of Marx’s revolutionary thought to consider philosophy’s engagement with the world. Lefebvre takes Marx’s notion of the “world becom...
Critique of Everyday Life
The three-volume text by Henri Lefebvre is perhaps the richest, most prescient work about modern capitalism to emerge from one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers and is now availabl...
Democracy May Not Exist But We'll Miss it When It's Gone
Democracy is in crisis. In every major company it has been stole by elites or in the hands of strong men. In democracy's name we see a raft of policies that spread inequality and xenophobia worldwi...
Paperback
An American Utopia

An American Utopia

Fredric Jameson’s pathbreaking essay “An American Utopia” radically questions standard leftist notions of what constitutes an emancipated society. Advocated here are—among other things—universal co...
Crowds and Party
Crowds and Party channels the energies of the riotous crowds who took to the streets in the past five years into an argument for the political party. Rejecting the emphasis on individuals and multi...
Revolution in the Revolution?
Revolution in the Revolution? is a brilliant, pragmatic assessment of the situation in Latin America in the 1960s. First published in 1967, it became a controversial handbook for guerrilla warfare...
Futures of Black Radicalism
Black rebellion has returned, with dramatic protests in scores of cities and campuses, bringing with it a renewed engagement with the history of Black radical movements and thought. Here, key schol...
General Intellects
What happened to the public intellectuals that used to challenge and inform us? Who is the Sartre or De Beauvoir of the internet age? General Intellects argues that we no longer have such singular ...
The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci
An explosive analysis of the central strategic concepts in Gramsci’s thought, as revelatory today as on first publication in New Left Review in 1976. This landmark essay has been the subject of kee...
Paperback
The H-Word
Few terms are so widely used in the literature of international relations and political science, with so little agreement about their exact meaning, as hegemony.In the first full historical study o...
The Political Writings
Karl Marx was not only the great theorist of capitalism, he was also a superb journalist, politician and historian. For the first time ever, this book brings together all of his essential political...
Liberals and Cannibals
Can the tension between relativism and the moral universalism current in contemporary politics be resolved within the framework of liberalism? How is liberal society to interpret the diversity of m...
Minima Moralia

Minima Moralia

Written between 1944 and 1947, Minima Moralia is a collection of rich, lucid aphorisms and essays about life in modern capitalist society. Adorno casts his penetrating eye across society in mid-cen...
Precarious Life
In her most impassioned and personal book to date, Judith Butler responds in this profound appraisal of post-9/11 America to the current US policies to wage perpetual war, and calls for a deeper un...
The Philosophy of Marx

The Philosophy of Marx

Written by one of political theory’s leading thinkers, The Philosophy of Marx examines all the key areas of Marx’s writings in their wider historical and theoretical context—including the concepts ...
For Marx

For Marx

This is the work in which Louis Althusser formulated some of his most influential ideas. For Marx, first published in France in 1968, has come to be regarded as the founding text of the school of “...
Paperback

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