people / faculty / David Bates


David Bates

PhD (History), Univ. of Chicago
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7315 Dwinelle Hall
Research Interests
Modern European Intellectual History
History of Media and Technology
Cognition and Epistemology
History of Political Thought
Artificial Intelligence


I received my PhD in European History from the University of Chicago, where I specialized in the French Enlightenment and the Revolutionary period. As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia I worked for two years on early twentieth-century thought, with a focus on theology, history, and political theory in Britain, Germany, and France. Since coming to Berkeley in 1999, I have been working on two main research tracks: one on the history of legal and political ideas, and the other on the relationship between technology, science, and the history of human cognition. My undergraduate courses and graduate seminars are usually divided between these two main topic areas. Future work will bring these interests closer together, first with the themes of reason, technology, and the state, and by investigating the conceptual history of what I am calling "political physiology," the interplay between biological and political ideas in the modern period.

My recent book, States of War: Enlightenment Origins of the Political, explores the invention of an autonomous idea of political community in natural law thinkers, from Grotius and Hobbes to Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. The argument is framed by Carl Schmitt's work on the "concept of the political." I claim that an existential vision of the political, rather than undermine modern constitutional theory, in fact grounds our conception of the "legal state." I continue to work in the history of political thought. Current interests include: the constellation of ideas around crisis, revolution, and catastrophe; Carl Schmitt's idea of the katechon; and political theology in early modern and contemporary thought.

I am now completing a new book, entitled Human Insight: An Artificial History of Natural Intelligence.  This project focuses on the problem of insight, or radical novelty, at the intersection of theories of knowledge, media networks, machine technologies, concepts of the body, and practices of industrial organization. Beginning with an examination of Cartesian robotics and early modern reflection on automata, I then demonstrate the ways in which the rationalist notion of creative thought has helped frame the definition of the human in the machine age and the post-industrial information era. Topics incude: Enlightenment analogy, 19th-century thinking machines, electrical communication, psychological theories of discovery, cybernetics, digital thinking, AI, and the cognitive science of insight.

I am past director of the Berkeley Center for New Media (2010-13) and co-organizer, with Abigail de Kosnick (TDPS), of the BCNM lecture series History and Theory of New Media.


Enlightenment Aberrations: Error and Revolution in France (Cornell Univ. Press, 2002)
States of War: Enlightenment Origins of the Political (Columbia Univ. Press, 2012)

Ed. (with Dan Edelstein), Forum on Sovereignty, Republic of Letters 2:2 (2011)

"Penser l'automaticité sur le seuil du numérique," in Digital Studies: Organologie des savoirs et technologies de la connaissance, ed. Bernard Stiegler (Editions FYP, 2014), 27-42.
"Unity, Plasticity, Catastrophe: Order and Pathology in the Cybernetic Era," in Operative Catastophes, ed. Andreas Killen and Nitzan Lebovic (De Gruyter, forthcoming)
"Cartesian Robotics," Representations, 124 (2013): 43-68. (link)
"Enemies and Friends: Arendt on the Imperial Republic at War," History of European Ideas 36 (2010): 112-24 (pdf)
“Super Epistemology,” in Dan Edelstein, ed., The Super Enlightenment: Daring to Know Too Much (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2009) (pdf)
“Creating Insight: Gestalt Theory and the Early Computer,” in Jessica Riskin, ed., Genesis Redux: Essays in the History and Theory of Artificial Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 237-259 (pdf)
“Political Theology and the Nazi State: Carl Schmitt’s Concept of the Institution,” Modern Intellectual History 3: 3 (Nov. 2006): 415-442 (pdf)
“On Revolutions in the Nuclear Age: The Eighteenth Century and the Postwar Global Imagination,” qui parle 15 (Fall 2005): 171-195 (pdf)
“Crisis between the Wars: Derrida and the Origins of Undecidability,” Representations 91 (Summer 2005): 1-27 (pdf)
“Political Unity and the Spirit of Law: Juridical Concepts of the State in the late Third Republic,” French Historical Studies 28: 1 (Winter 2005): 69-101 (pdf)
Legitimität and Légalité: Political Theology and Democratic Thought in an Age of World War,” in Religion und Nation / Nation und Religion: Beiträge zu einer unbewältigten Geschichte, ed. Michael Geyer and Hartmut Lehmann (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2004) (pdf)
“Cartographic Aberrations: Epistemology and Order in the Encyclopedic Map,” in Daniel Brewer and Julie C. Hayes, eds., Using the “Encyclopédie”: Ways of Knowing, Ways of Reading (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002) (pdf)
“Idols and Insight: An Enlightenment Topography of Knowledge,” Representations 73 (Winter 2001): 1-23 (pdf)
Creative Negations: Defining the Space of Politics in Revolutionary France (Berkeley, CA.: Doe Library, University of California, 2000) (Morrison Inaugural Lecture) (pdf)
“The Mystery of Truth: Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin’s Enlightened Mysticism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 61:4 (October 2000): 623-655 (pdf)
“Rediscovering Collingwood’s Spiritual History (In and Out of Context),”  35:1 (February 1996): 29-55 (pdf)


"L'amplification de l'intelligence: penser avec les machines après la guerre," Institut de recherche et d'innovation, Paris, March 25, 2014. Video available
"Psychologies of the Automaton," Le nouvel âge de l'automatisation: algorithmes, données, individuations, Pompidou Center, Paris, Dec. 16-17, 2013. Video available
"Catastrophe and Human Order: From Political Theology to Political Physiology," Copeland Humanities Center, Amherst College, Dec. 9 2013
"Analogy and the Ends of Reason," The Ends of the Eighteenth Century, Columbia University, Nov. 15-16, 2013.
"Thinking Automaticity on the Threshold of the Digital," Digital Studies: New Industrial World Forum, Pompidou Center, Paris, Dec. 17-8, 2012. Video available
"Rousseau and Schmitt," Rousseau and the Great Thinkers, CUNY Graduate Center, New York, Nov. 2, 2012
"The Secret Nature of Insight," Genealogies of Genius, Huntington Library, LA, May 18-19, 2012
"Understanding Insight in the Age of the Computer," Digital Inquiry: Forms of Knowledge in the Age of New Media, Berkeley Center for New Media, April 27, 2012
"Unity, Plasticity, Catastrophe: Forms of Order in the Cybernetic Era," Operative Catastrophes, Deutsches Haus, Columbia University, March 2, 2012
“The Nature of Insight,” The Unconscious, 8th annual Bloomington Eighteenth-Century Workshop, Indiana University, May 11-13, 2011.
“Centering Enlightenment in a Networked Age,” Translating the Encyclopédie in the Global 18th Century, Fordham University/New York University, March 4-6, 2011

Thesis Supervision:

Nima Bassiri (PhD, 2010): Dislocations of the Brain: Subjectivity and Cerebral Topology from Descartes to Nineteenth-Century Neuroscience
James Harker (PhD, 2010): The Limits of the Mind: Cognition and Narrative Form in the Modernist Novel
Alenda Chang (PhD, 2013): Playing Nature: The Virtual Ecology of Game Environments
Katherine Chandler (ABD), on drone aircraft military technology (co-chair, with Charis Thompson, Gender and Women’s Studies)
Alexandra Kleeman (ABD), on experimental poetics and cognitive theory
Osita Udekwu (ABD), on financial systems and organization
Claudia Salamanca (ABD), on violence, media, and representation in Colombia (Co-chair with Samera Esmeir)