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The Passions and the Interests

The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph (New in Paperback)

Foreword by Amartya Sen
With a new afterword by Jeremy Adelman
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    The Passions and the Interests
    Book Description:

    In this volume, Albert Hirschman reconstructs the intellectual climate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to illuminate the intricate ideological transformation that occurred, wherein the pursuit of material interests--so long condemned as the deadly sin of avarice--was assigned the role of containing the unruly and destructive passions of man. Hirschman here offers a new interpretation for the rise of capitalism, one that emphasizes the continuities between old and new, in contrast to the assumption of a sharp break that is a common feature of both Marxian and Weberian thinking. Among the insights presented here is the ironical finding that capitalism was originally supposed to accomplish exactly what was soon denounced as its worst feature: the repression of the passions in favor of the "harmless," if one-dimensional, interests of commercial life. To portray this lengthy ideological change as an endogenous process, Hirschman draws on the writings of a large number of thinkers, including Montesquieu, Sir James Steuart, and Adam Smith.

    Featuring a new afterword by Jeremy Adelman and a foreword by Amartya Sen, this Princeton Classics edition of The Passions and the Interests sheds light on the intricate ideological transformation from which capitalism emerged triumphant, and reaffirms Hirschman's stature as one of our most influential and provocative thinkers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4851-5
    Subjects: Economics, History, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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    (pp. ix-xx)
    Amartya Sen

    Albert Hirschman is one of the great intellectuals of our time. His writings have transformed our understanding of economic development, social institutions, human behavior, and the nature and implications of our identities, loyalties, and commitments. To describe this book as one of Hirschman’s finest contributions is therefore a very strong claim. It is more so because this is a book—indeed a slim monograph—on the history of economic thought, a subject that receives little attention and even less respect these days, and that has almost disappeared from the economics curriculum at most of the major universities around the world....

    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
    Albert O. Hirschman
    (pp. 3-6)

    This essay has its origin in the incapacity of contemporary social science to shed light on the political consequences of economic growth and, perhaps even more, in the so frequently calamitous political correlates of economic growth no matter whether such growth takes place under capitalist, socialist, or mixed auspices. Reasoning about such connections, I suspected, must have been rife at an earlier age of economic expansion, specifically the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. With the “disciplines” of economics and political science not yet in existence at the time, there were no interdisciplinary boundaries to cross. As a result, philosophers and political...

  4. PART ONE. How the Interests were Called Upon to Counteract the Passions

    • The Idea of Glory and Its Downfall
      (pp. 9-12)

      At the beginning of the principal section of his famous essay, Max Weber asked: “Now, how could an activity, which was at best ethically tolerated, turn into a calling in the sense of Benjamin Franklin?”¹ In other words: How did commercial, banking, and similar money-making pursuits become honorable at some point in the modern age after having stood condemned or despised as greed, love of lucre, and avarice for centuries past?

      The enormous critical literature on The Protestant Ethic has found fault even with this point of departure of Weber’s inquiry. The “spirit of capitalism,” it has been alleged, was...

    • Man “as he really is”
      (pp. 12-14)

      The beginning of that story does come with the Renaissance, but not through the development of a new ethic, that is, of new rules of conduct for the individual. Rather, it will be traced here to a new turn in the theory of the state, to the attempt at improving statecraft within the existing order. To insist on this point of departure proceeds of course from the endogenous bias of the tale I propose to tell.

      In attempting to teach the prince how to achieve, maintain, and expand power, Machiavelli made his fundamental and celebrated distinction between “the effective truth...

    • Repressing and Harnessing the Passions
      (pp. 14-20)

      The overwhelming insistence on looking at man “as he really is” has a simple explanation. A feeling arose in the Renaissance and became firm conviction during the seventeenth century that moralizing philosophy and religious precept could no longer be trusted with restraining the destructive passions of men. New ways had to be found and the search for them began quite logically with a detailed and candid dissection of human nature. There were those like La Rochefoucauld who delved into its recesses and proclaimed their “savage discoveries” with so much gusto that the dissection looks very much like an end in...

    • The Principle of the Countervailing Passion
      (pp. 20-31)

      Given the overwhelming reality of restless, passionate, driven man, both the repressive and the harnessing solutions lacked persuasiveness. The repressive solution was a manner of assuming the problem away, whereas the greater realism of the harnessing solution was marred by an element of alchemical transformation rather out of tune with the scientific enthusiasm of the age.

      The very material with which the moralists of the seventeenth century were dealing—the detailed description and investigation of the passions—was bound to suggest a third solution: Is it not possible to discriminate among the passions and fight fire with fire—to utilize...

    • “Interest” and “Interests” as Tamers of the Passions
      (pp. 31-42)

      Once the strategy of pitting passion against passion had been devised and was considered acceptable and even promising, a further step in the sequence of reasoning here described became desirable: for the strategy to have ready applicability, to become “operational” in today’s jargon, one ought to know, at least in a general way, which passions were typically to be assigned the role of tamers and which ones, on the contrary, were the truly “wild” passions that required taming.

      A specific role assignment of this sort underlies the Hobbesian Covenant, which is concluded only because the “Desires, and other Passions of...

    • Interest as a New Paradigm
      (pp. 42-48)

      The idea of an opposition between interests and passions made its first appearance, to my knowledge, with the previously noted work of Rohan, which is wholly concerned with rulers and statesmen. In subsequent decades the dichotomy was discussed by a number of English and French writers who applied it to human conduct in general.

      The occasion for the discussion was a phenomenon that is familiar in intellectual history: once the idea of interest had appeared, it became a real fad as well as a paradigm (à la Kuhn) and most of human action was suddenly explained by self-interest, sometimes to...

    • Assets of an Interest-Governed World: Predictability and Constancy
      (pp. 48-56)

      The belief that interest could be considered a dominant motive of human behavior caused considerable intellectual excitement: at last a realistic basis for a viable social order had been discovered. But a world governed by interest offered not only an escape from excessively demanding models of states that “have never been seen nor have been known to exist”; it was perceived to have a number of specific assets of its own.

      The most general of these assets was predictability. Machiavelli had shown that some powerful propositions about politics can be extracted from the assumption of a uniform human nature.⁵⁸ But...

    • Money-Making and Commerce as Innocent and Doux
      (pp. 56-63)

      The insight about the characteristic persistence of the “interested affection” (Hume) is rather apt to strike the modern reader as alarming, because he will immediately think of the likelihood that a drive so powerfully endowed would sweep everything else out of its path. This reaction found its most vigorous and famous articulation a century later, in the Communist Manifesto. To be sure, some notes of alarm were sounded already in early eighteenth-century England where the Bank crisis of 1710, the South Sea Bubble of 1720, and the widespread political corruption of the age of Walpole gave rise to concerns that...

    • Money-Making as a Calm Passion
      (pp. 63-66)

      In the course of the eighteenth century the positive attitude toward economic activities was bolstered by new ideological currents. Grounded though it was in the somber seventeenth-century views on human nature, it survived remarkably well the sharp attack on those views that was mounted in the succeeding age.

      The earlier views on the interests and passions were subjected to several critiques. For one, as has already been shown, the proposition that man is wholly ruled by interest or self-love came to be strongly disputed. At the same time, a number of novel distinctions were made among the passions for the...

  5. PART TWO. How Economic Expansion was Expected to Improve the Political Order

    • [PART TWO. Introduction]
      (pp. 67-70)

      It appears that the case for giving free rein and encouragement to private acquisitive pursuits was both the outcome of a long train of Western thought and an important ingredient of the intellectual climate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. If the “interests-versus-passions thesis” is nevertheless quite unfamiliar, it is so partly owing to its having been superseded and obliterated by the epochal publication, in 1776, of The Wealth of Nations. For reasons to be discussed, Adam Smith abandoned the distinction between the interests and the passions in making his case for the unfettered pursuit of private gain; he chose...

    • Elements of a Doctrine
      (pp. 70-93)

      Montesquieu saw many virtues in commerce, and the relation he asserted between the expansion of commerce and the spread of gentleness (douceur) has already been noted. The cultural impact of commerce is for him paralleled by its political impact: in the central political Part One of Esprit des lois, Montesquieu argues first along classical republican lines that a democracy can ordinarily survive only when wealth is not too abundant or too unequally distributed, but he then proceeds to make an important exception to this rule for a “democracy that is based on commerce.” For, he says, the spirit of commerce...

    • Related yet Discordant Views
      (pp. 93-114)

      The Montesquieu-Steuart view of the political consequences of economic expansion was by no means universally shared. In fact, the most influential writers on economic affairs in France and England, the Physiocrats and Adam Smith, not only failed to add to the specific line of thought that has been developed; as will be shown, they—particularly Adam Smith—contributed in various ways to its demise.

      A number of important ideas and concerns are shared by the two groups, but emphasis and conclusions often differ markedly. For example, the idea of the economy as an intricately built mechanism or machine that functions...

  6. PART THREE. Reflections on an Episode in Intellectual History

    • Where the Montesquieu-Steuart Vision Went Wrong
      (pp. 117-128)

      In an old and well-known Jewish story, the rabbi of Krakow interrupted his prayers one day with a wail to announce that he had just seen the death of the rabbi of Warsaw two hundred miles away. The Krakow congregation, though saddened, was of course much impressed with the visionary powers of their rabbi. A few days later some Jews from Krakow traveled to Warsaw and, to their surprise, saw the old rabbi there officiate in what seemed to be tolerable health. Upon their return they confided the news to the faithful and there was incipient snickering. Then a few...

    • The Promise of an Interest-Governed World versus the Protestant Ethic
      (pp. 128-131)

      In comparison to what ought to be called the Proudhon argument on the political merits of capitalism, the Montesquieu-Steuart doctrine seems odd, if not extravagant. But therein lies much of its interest and value. It is precisely because it strikes the contemporary mind as odd that it can throw some light on the still puzzling ideological circumstances of the rise of capitalism.

      An obvious way of entering into this topic is to compare the account of the emergence of money-making as an honored occupation that has been presented in this essay with Weber’s thesis on the Protestant ethic and with...

    • Contemporary Notes
      (pp. 132-136)

      The extent to which the ideas that have been discussed in this essay have been erased from the collective consciousness can be gauged by recalling some contemporary critiques of capitalism. In one of the most attractive and influential of these critiques, the stress is on the repressive and alienating feature of capitalism, on the way it inhibits the development of the “full human personality.” From the vantage point of the present essay, this accusation seems a bit unfair, for capitalism was precisely expected and supposed to repress certain human drives and proclivities and to fashion a less multifaceted, less unpredictable,...

    (pp. 137-144)
    Jeremy Adelman

    ALBERT O. Hirschman was not just in dialogue with his readers, inviting us to puzzle through changes in the meanings of words, laugh at ironies, worry about dangerous paths. He was also in conversation with the ancients. Throughout his life, he made of his intellectual ancestors a virtual family to whose members he turned to routinely for consolation, disputation, and inspiration. It is for this reason that the experience of reading Hirschman has the feel of watching a dialogue between one of our great modern thinkers with the ancients. In a sense, the subtitle of The Passions and the Interests...