Prisoners of Reason

No future

Prisoners of ReasonIs capitalism inherently predatory? Must there be winners and losers? Is public interest outdated and free-riding rational? Is consumer choice the same as self-determination? Must bargainers abandon the no-harm principle? Prisoners of Reason recalls that classical liberal capitalism exalted the no-harm principle. Although imperfect and exclusionary, modern liberalism recognized individual human dignity alongside individuals' responsibility to respect others. Neoliberalism, by contrast, views life as ceaseless struggle. Agents vie for scarce resources in antagonistic competition in which every individual seeks dominance. This political theory is codified in non-cooperative game theory; the neoliberal citizen and consumer is the strategic rational actor. Rational choice justifies ends irrespective of means. Money becomes the medium of all value. Solidarity and good will are invalidated. Relationships are conducted on a quid pro quo basis. However, agents can freely opt out of this cynical race to the bottom by embracing a more expansive range of coherent action.




“In a deep re-thinking, S.M. Amadae shows that game-theoretic thinking, especially in the form of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, underpins not only American nuclear strategy, but neoliberalism in the domestic political economy and also multiple arguments from a different part of the political spectrum for the powerful role of institutions in international politics. Far from being value-neutral, this way of thinking has changed more than reflected much of American policy and life.”

Robert Jervis
Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University

“S.M. Amadae has a wonderfully arresting thesis concerning why winning the Cold War has proved so disappointing. Game theory’s strategic model of rational agency became the animating model of liberal society. We lost the Classical liberal ‘no-harm’ principle and gained the ‘no-holds barred’ premise of today’s neo-liberalism. This is a forensic analysis of how game theory has in this way led us astray.”

Shaun Hargreaves Heap
Professor of Political Economy, King’s College London

“A groundbreaking study of the appalling political consequences of a disastrously impoverished and distressingly dominant understanding of human rationality.”

Stephen Holmes
Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law, NYU School of Law

“S.M. Amadae has written a fascinating account that links the most important recent advances in social science with major events in political, military, and intellectual history in the twentieth century. This book adds to our understanding of economic and social theories through an in-depth analysis of people involved and institutions of that time.”

Jerry Green
David A. Wells Professor of Political Economy; John Leverett Professor in the University

Chair of Ph.D. Program in Business Economics at the Harvard Business School, Harvard University

“Prisoners of Reason is an impressive, indeed encyclopedic, overview and critique of the use of game theory to analyze social and political life – from theory to policy. Even those of us friendly to game-theoretic analysis will better appreciate its limits and abuses, and the narrow view of human motivation with which it has been too-often associated.”

Gerald Gaus
James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona

“Prisoners of Reason is a remarkable combination of the insights of game theory and political philosophy, especially as applied to the problem of nuclear deterrence.  Thoroughly researched and insightfully argued, it probes and criticizes the basic assumptions that are embedded in the modern analysis of international relations.  In doing so, it reveals neglected opportunities for how we can think about cooperation and accommodation in an increasingly dangerous era of world politics.”

Michael W. Doyle
Columbia University
Director, Columbia Global Policy Initiative