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The Passions and the Interests

The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph

Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 180
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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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2223-2
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (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. xxv-xxvi)
    (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...

  7. PART ONE How the Interests were Called Upon to Counteract the Passions
    (pp. 7-66)

    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 onThe Protestant Ethichas found fault even with this point of departure of Weber’s inquiry. The “spirit of capitalism,” it has been alleged, was...

  8. PART TWO How Economic Expansion was Expected to Improve the Political Order
    (pp. 67-114)

    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 “interestsversus-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...

  9. PART THREE Reflections on an Episode in Intellectual History
    (pp. 115-136)

    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...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 137-146)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 147-157)