My first book, An Age of Risk: Politics and Economy in Early Modern Britain, focuses on four thinkers—Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith. Their epistemological, political, and economic writings show a new way of understanding the future. In particular, human beings were turning away from seeing the future as a domain of providence, fate, or chance, and toward viewing it as an object of calculation and prediction.
In the source materials I interpret for this project, we see crucial developments in thought on risk and politics. While these thinkers differentiate uncertainty about the future from probabilistic calculations of risk, they still remain attentive to the ways uncertainty and risk remained in a conceptual tangle, a problem that constrains good decision-making. They develop sophisticated theories of trust and credit as background conditions for prudent risk-taking, and offer complex depictions of the relationships and behaviors that make risk-taking more palatable.
Lastly, they establish two narratives that persist in subsequent accounts of risk—risk as a threat to security, and risk as an opportunity for profit. By looking at how these narratives are entwined, I locate the origins of our own ambivalence about risk-taking. By the end of the eighteenth century, a new type of political actor—who approaches risk with fear rather than hope—emerges from this ambivalence.