Current Research


My essay “Democracy and Disgust” is forthcoming this fall in a symposium on “Democracy in the Nineteenth Century” at J19: The Journal of Nineteenth Century Americanists. Other contributors are Danielle Allen, Kelvin Black, Sandra Gustafson, and James Sanders.

My chapter “Populism and Praxis” has just been published in The Oxford Handbook of Populism, edited by Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Paul A. Taggart, Paulina Ochoa Espejo, and Pierre Ostiguy.

My essay “Is radical democracy a tradition?” was recently published by Contemporary Political Theory in a symposium honoring the work of Sheldon Wolin.  The other contributors were Robyn Marasco, Joan Tronto, Antonio Vázquez-Arroyo, and Nick Xenos.

Perspectives on Politics has recently published a “Critical Exchange” between me and Robert Martin on our recent books (Publius and Political Imagination and Government by Dissent).
The Democratic Sublime: Assembly and Aesthetics in the Age of Revolution (under contract at Oxford University Press)

Many of the most profound theorists of modern democratic politics—from Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville to Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt—have associated the transformation from royal to popular sovereignty during the Age of Revolution (1776-1848) with the debasement of public life and the lowering of political aspiration to interests, material needs, negative liberties, instrumental rationality, utility, and the preservation of mere life. Aesthetic considerations, once essential to the production and maintenance of public authority, have withdrawn into the private realm, we are often told, making democratic politics more reasonable, transparent, secular, and just…but also more ugly, low-sighted, etiolated, and base.

My current book project rejects the familiar disassociation of popular sovereignty and political aesthetics by recovering—and theoretically mobilizing—the largely forgotten discourse of the democratic sublime. The Democratic Sublime examines aestheticized responses to the appearance of the people on the stage of political history during the Age of Revolution, and the continued—but usually disavowed—significance of these instances of popular aesthetic judgment for contemporary democratic theory.
Post-revolutionary radicals invoked a widely disseminated idea of the collective manifestation of the people’s ineffable and sublime will as the basis of an aesthetic critique of the narrowly procedural and instrumental politics of parliamentary liberalism.  The aesthetic critique of liberalism associated with the democratic sublime is, I argue, a radically egalitarian alternative to the more familiar counter-revolutionary critique of liberalism’s disavowal of political theology, martial glory, and hierarchical distinction.
The Democratic Sublime will make an historically situated contribution to political theory’s recent aesthetic turn and argue for restoring the importance of aesthetic considerations to our understanding of democratic politics, in particular the aesthetics of popular assembly.

Books and Collected Volumes

Publius and Political Imagination

Publius and Political Imagination is the first volume of the Modernity and Political Thought series to take as its focus not a single author, but collaboration between political thinkers, in this very special case the collective known by the pseudonym: Publius. The book’s revisionist reading of The Federalist Papers–perhaps the most canonical text in American political thought– counters familiar realist and deliberativist interpretations and demonstrates the neglected importance of political imagination to both Publius’s arguments and to the republic he was invented to found.

In this thoughtful and provocative collection of essays, Jason Frank challenges conventional understandings of Publius as a legalistic, mechanistic, and decidedly undemocratic thinker. Instead he has given us a new Publius, one more imaginative in his vision of a modern democratic nation and more expansive in his expectations about the possibilities of modern democratic politics.

— Michael Lienesch, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Jason Frank has written a penetrating study of the Federalist Papers and its place in American political thought and practice from the Founding period to the present…The book is a model of scrupulous and engaged scholarship.

— George Kateb, Princeton University


While accepting the centrality of The Federalist Papers to American politics, Frank argues that the success of the text has made some of its key insights ‘obscure or illegible.’ A shared vision of the authors is defended (Publius), while the attempt to unlink the contributions of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay is refuted. . . .Chapter 1 addresses the challenge of constituency, or the means citizens assume in creating a republic. Chapter 2 explicates the importance of political imagination in the promotion of ratification. . . .Chapter 3 examines the role of interest as central to Publius’s theory of political obligation. Chapter 4 surveys the influence of Leo Strauss and his epigones in the interpretation of the text. . . .The last chapter convincingly connects The Federalist Papers with the continued evolution of and need for civic engagement. Summing Up: Recommended. All readership levels.  

— Choice


Publius and Political Imagination is a study of The Federalist Papers, but not a conventional one. This is promising. Although a classic cannot be exhausted, the scholarship of the past half-century has canvassed The Federalist to a point near redundancy. Yet, Jason Frank does not offer yet another commentary on The Federalist but a highly nuanced interpretation that frequently hovers above the text to reveal a facet of the work overlooked by standard accounts. More importantly, Professor Frank links this facet to a critical . . . aim of Publius that goes well beyond the merits of the Constitution and the case for ratification. He calls this political imagination, and argues that the authors of The Federalist adroitly drew upon it to bestow legitimacy on the (irregular) act of the Founding as well as buoy the attenuated republicanism it embodied.

 — Publius: The Journal of Federalism


Constituent Moments: Enacting the People in Postrevolutionary America


Since the American Revolution, there has been broad cultural consensus that “the people” are the only legitimate ground of public authority in the United States, but for just as long there has been disagreement over who the people are and how they should be represented or institutionally embodied. This book explores the political dilemmas that spring from “constituent moments,” moments when claims to speak in the people’s name are politically felicitous, even though those making such claims break from established rules and procedures for representing popular voice.  Constituent Moments examines how these dilemmas are navigated across multiple contexts of enactment—from revolutionary riots and constitutional conventions to Frederick Douglass’ oratory and the poetry of Walt Whitman.  These are all moments when under-authorized actors seize the mantle of authority, and, by doing so, change the inherited rules of authorization and produce new spaces and conditions for political representation.  The people is, in this sense, neither an empirical entity nor a legal fiction,  but an ongoing effect of successful claims to speak on their behalf.  The people, and democratic politics more broadly, emerge from the dynamic tension between popular politics and representation.


Significant and exciting. . .offers compelling readings of important texts and thinkers, and suggest[s] whole new trajectories of research linking the American past and present to an evolving American future.
—Andrew R. Murphy, Perspectives on Politics


Frank demonstrates the creative potential of a relatively rare type of scholarship that bridges the gap between political theory, on the one hand, and the writing of history, on the other…Frank situates himself, with Constituent Moments, as an important emerging voice in this ambitious collective project.
—Sophia Rosenfeld, William and Mary Quarterly


Constituent Moments offers yet another version of how historical experience might be understood as shot through with aesthetic- in this case, largely performative – dimensions.
—Jonathan Elmer, Early American Literature


Elegant and rich exploration of postrevolutionary dilemmas of popular authorization. . . . Masterful and confident work.
—Vicki Hsueh, Theory & Event


Jason Frank has written an essential work of scholarship, a book that is destined to become a primary resource for democratic theorists, scholars of American political thought, historians of the postrevolutionary era, and anyone else who is interested in seeing the politics of democratic revolution in a new light.
—Thomas Dumm, Amherst College



A Political Companion to Herman Melville


Contributors: Kevin Attell, Lawrie Balfour, Roger Berkowitz, Jennifer L. Culbert, Thomas Dumm, Kennan Ferguson, Jason Frank, Roger W. Hecht, Michael Jonik, Shannon Mariotti, Susan McWilliams, Sophia Mihic, George Shulman, Tracy B. Strong.


Herman Melville is widely considered to be one of America’s greatest authors, but this is the first volume dedicated entirely to his political thought.  Melville’s collected work—from Typee (1846) to Billy Budd (posthumously published in 1924)—offers what is arguably nineteenth-century America’s most sustained interrogation of the American political imaginary, of the narratives and norms, principles and presuppositions, that animate the American political tradition and give shape to American political identity.  While Melville was not actively engaged in the political struggles of his time, the essays in this volume show that his fiction wrestled with the conflicting values and commitments underwriting these struggles with a philosophical depth and subtlety unsurpassed by his contemporaries.  Melville’s writing strikes a note of tragic dissonance in the pre-established harmonies of the American political tradition.


Frank has put together a wonderful series of essays that capture the diversity of Melville’s thought in all its intensity, complexity, and nuance. This is a fantastic book that is well deserving of the attention of political theorists, literary critics, and Melville scholars alike.

— Simon Stow, The College of William and Mary


‘America’s Marx’” (as Michael Rogin called him)? Or ‘American’s Ishmael’ (as Jason Frank proposes)? Either way, Herman Melville is, as Jason Frank suggests in his fine introduction to this comprehensive volume, a writer ripe for political theoretical inquiry, right alongside Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. Timely and long overdue, this volume puts Melville on the map of political theory, right where he belongs. No course on American Political Thought will leave Melville out now, nor will students in those classes be able to proceed without consulting this valuable collection.

–Bonnie Honig, Brown University


“The scholars in this excellent collection confront the towering genius of Melville with remarkable intellectual courage. They explore with open minds the overt and implicit political meanings of his work and collaborate to make a fresh contribution to the literature on Melville.

–George Kateb, Princeton University


This collection brings together fourteen consistently stimulating and often profound meditations on the political theory at work in the writings of Herman Melville. Indeed, I have seldom read a collection of essays offering such stunningly diverse insights and of such uniformly high quality. The volume will interest all Melville readers and scholars, but perhaps especially those in US literary and cultural studies, who may discover here that the questions posed by cutting-edge political theory can illuminate — and transform our understanding of — a major American author.

–Nick Bromell, University of Massachusetts, Amherst



Special Issue of Diacritics: “Taking Exception to the Exception” (co-edited with Tracy McNulty)


Contributors: Susan Buck-Morss, Gert Buelens and Dominiek Hoens, Jason Frank, Bonnie Honig, Jeffrey S. Librett, Tracy McNulty, Andrew Norris, Kam Shapiro, Erik Vogt.


“The exception,” Carl Schmitt wrote in Political Theology, “is more interesting than the rule. The rule proves nothing; the exception proves everything. In the exception the power of real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid by repetition.” Embracing the extraordinary vitality of “the event,” while decrying the pale repetition of the norm, contemporary theoretical discourses across multiple fields and disciplines—law, political theory, theology, history, literature, and philosophy—would seem to concur with Schmitt’s high estimation of the exception “in its absolute purity.” And this high estimation has assumed an obvious and global political urgency in the wake of 9/11. This special issue of Diacritics is motivated by our sense that the contemporary theoretical and political imagination is captivated by the dramatic logic of the exception. A certain picture of law and normativity seems to hold us captive, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, and our theoretical vocabularies seem to repeat this picture inexorably. The essays in this collection offer critical analyses of this captivation, while also providing resources—theoretical, theological, literary, and technical—for diminishing its hold (if not definitively refuting its claims). Without retreating to a lost normativity, foundationalism, formalism, or legalism, the essays in this special issue raise a number of pressing political and theoretical questions: What conceptual rubrics are maintained and reiterated by the seemingly inexorable logics of norm and exception? What kinds of theoretical investigation are authorized and precluded by this preoccupation? How do they structure our political discussions, and direct and constrain our political options?


Vocations of Political Theory (co-edited with John Tambornino)


Contributors: Mark B. Brown, Wendy Brown, William E. Connolly, Thomas L. Dumm, J. Peter Euben, Russell Arben Fox, Jason Frank, Samantha Frost, Shane Gunster, Jill Locke, David Paul Mandell, John Tambornino, Lon Troyer, Sheldon S. Wolin, Linda M.G. Zerilli.

Whether challenging the settlement between political theory and political science, whereby theorists stuck to the “old texts” and left the “real world” to their empirical colleagues, or interrogating the relationship between political theory and political action, these essays return to the question of political theory’s “vocation,” so powerfully posed by Sheldon Wolin 40 year ago.


Articles (Selected)


Chapters (Selected)

Reviews (Selected)