Given past history, I’m probably not the best person to write disinterestedly about David Graeber’s Debt. Still, I think that both critics and fans of his work ought to read this comprehensive critique by Mike Beggs in the new issue of Jacobin. Begg admires the energy and ambition of the book, but is also blunt.
Debt, then, does not need any more kind words from me. It’s enough to say that there is a lot of fantastic material in there. The breadth of Graeber’s reading is impressive, and he draws from it a wealth of insightful fragments of history. The prospect of a grand social history of debt from a thinker of the radical left is exciting. The appeal is no mystery. I wanted to love it.
Unfortunately, I found the main arguments wholly unconvincing.
The very unconvincingness poses the question: What do we need from our grand social theory? The success of the book shows there is an appetite for work that promises to set our present moment against the sweep of history so as to explain our predicament and help us find footholds for changing it. What is wrong with Graeber’s approach, and how could we do better?