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

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  516 ratings  ·  41 reviews
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 of ...more
Paperback, 20th Anniversary Edition, 184 pages
Published January 26th 1997 by Princeton University Press (first published 1977)
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Hirschman is a beast. I was hoping to find a few nuggets on the philosophies surrounding capitalism's original sin, but came away with so much more; and in such a short little book at that. No wonder this is a classic in political economy...
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
On this, my second trip through the history of economic thought with Albert Hirschman, I remain no less impressed that the first time around. The Passions and the Interests is Hirschman's examination of 17th and 18th century European thought, particularly as it related to the anticipated political, social, and economic effects of people acting in accordance with their material interests. On balance, and for a variety of reasons, the thinkers Hirschman discusses here--Montesquieu, James Steuart, ...more
Ralph Orr
Very good summary of the intellectual currents that lead from the early Christian view that the pursuit of money is less than virtuous, to the view that pursuit of self-interest in the form of commerce is beneficial to human freedom by its necessary restraint on the power of the state. Of course, this idealistic view has since proven flawed. However, it remains helpful in understanding the context in which Adam Smith and others wrote in favor of what would become capitalism, and for today of som ...more
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Explaining phenomena is hard. Physical phenomena have an advantage of periodicity and reproducibility, offering a potential avenue for falsifying hypotheses. And then there are paradigms, ala Kuhn, which may be used to string together regimes of applicability for various theories over both time and space.

For better or worse, phenomena of the social world, especially those in the domain of history, economics, and ideology are not afforded these liberties. Historical time proceeds linearly and ou
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This short book was included in the bibliographies of many books I've read, so I thought it was time to read it. Hirschman argues that capitalism developed as a means by the rising merchant class of the late middle ages to check the nearly tyrannical powers of the local aristocracy. Money making was a frowned upon activity, with avarice being sinful. Commerce, however, appealed to the rational interests of merchants and traders, and as their wealth and influence grew they counteracted the unruly ...more
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hirschman is a master rhetorician and scholar. His ability to explain complex concepts in a lucid, memorable manner makes even economic theory interesting to read, which is, in my mind, an incredible feat. His arguments for the prioritization of intellectual history over histories of events are compelling.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
History of arguments for 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, and more “one-dimen
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
If anyone wants to read a well-written book which summarizes the developments in economic philosophy before 20th century through a coherent narrative, this is the book for you! It was fascinating to see how economics evolved from seeing 'passions and interests' as the worst side of human beings, which should always be kept in check; to using the passion of greed and self-interest as a force which triumphs other 'harmful' passions and thus helps people to live 'good' lives. The model, most econom ...more
Jacob Vorstrup Goldman
I Enjoyed Hirschman's analysis, which, however, is quite narrow in its scope and is elucidated very early. This essentially means that the rest of the book is him reiterating the more or less same argument through the eyes of Montesquieu, Steuart, Smith etc.: that commerce and the aspiration for wealth can subdue negative 'passions', a broad term mostly embodied by the already wealthy. Capitalism thus sprung out of a dire necessity to deal with a war-mongering aristocracy and their inferior gove ...more
Ali Rahnamae
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
A very compact and a bit difficult reading of history of economic and political ideas. Hirschman tried to show that how many in 17th century believed that economic progress would lead to a more fair political system but the course of events and more careful analysis questioned that optimistic view. Adam Smith, he argued, was between the latter intellectuals who not only mentioned the possible negative effects of market society but by excluding the result of following individual passions by each ...more
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The original justifications for Capitalism have been lost because they were the intended consequences which have not come about, while the unintended consequences of Capitalism are now widely believed to be the original justifications. This book traces the economic thought that preceded and accompanied the rise of the Capitalist ethos in the period starting from 1600 to the present.
An interesting point made towards the end of the book is that even famous economists like Keynes, Schumpeter have u
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
it's not the easiest book to read, in that the language is overly complex and pretentious imo, but the content is super interesting, especially the parts about the evolution of language around commerce before and after smith/hume.
Roger B
Mar 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, history
a bit of a stodgy read but lots of important ideas on the backdrop of the emergence of capitalism and the pitting of avarice vs power in an attempt to find a way to assuage human nature. we forget the old arguments and ideas at our peril.
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great meditation on the evolution of the philosophical ideas that gave birth to capitalism.
Rhys Lindmark
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Impressive book on the history of arguments for capitalism.
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A classic
Heather Tang
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
class read
Nick Geiser
Oct 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Hirschman was in some sense a student of irony. The Passions and the Interests, for instance, is a study of how "capitalism was supposed to accomplish exactly what was soon to be denounced as its worst feature." One of of his other great books, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, is about how a seemingly taut and competitive economic system is filled with slack and sloth. Hirschman offers a revisionist intellectual history of capitalism in which, rather than revolution of bourgeois norms against aristocra ...more
Feb 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: study
An interesting, yet challenging, read ....

"Both critics and defenders of capitalism would improve upon their arguments through knowledge of the episode in intellectual history that has been recounted here. This is probably all one can ask of history, and of history of ideas in particular: not to resolve issues, but to raise the level of the debate." (Hirschman, 1977)
Sep 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-of-ideas
This book is a brisk perusal of intellectual history from Machiavelli to late 18th century. The author wishes to highlight an intellectual process whereby the question of the earlier period, how to manage passionate people now that religion doesn't seem to work, gave rise to the idea that one can subsume the motives of men to one overarching idea of "interest". This in turn allowed the analysis of political economy based on private gain that accompanied the rise of capitalism in late 18th centur ...more
Dec 24, 2014 rated it liked it
He takes time to come to the point. Only after exhausting all genealogies and histories from all possible political philosophers and French intellectuals does he make a little statement of his own. Says that's assertion supported by evidence. I feel, yeah bro great job!!
This is what he means "accept some benign human proclivities at the expense of some malignant ones".

That's one reason why I hate political theorists sometime. One, their language and selection of words is very fancy and they go
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is an immensely fascinating book. Hirschman develops a compelling narrative centered on the historical development of the intellectual impulses that gave rise to Capitalism. One particularly interesting thread is the notion that avarice was once seen as (i) a rather innocuous passion, and (ii) a passion that can control, limit, and even diminish other, more harmful passions (e.g., lust, violence). So although discourse concerning the merits of Capitalism has changed form in recent decades, ...more
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
It is rare to pick up a book for academic research and find it a pleasure to read, but this was certainly the case with Hirschman's delightful prose. A concise history of the idea of capitalism, Hirschman provides a compelling counter-argument to Weber's Protestant Ethic. Capitalist activities came into favor among the intellectual elite "not because the money-making activities were approved in themselves, but because they were thought to have a most beneficial side effect: they kept the men who ...more
Vicky P
Nov 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was required reading for a class. It was difficult at some points to make sense of the language the author uses, but overall was a fascinating read and gave me a lot to think about. And I think, based upon his contemporary notes section, that this was his goal. He was not necessarily trying to convince me, his reader, of any one thing, but rather to open my eyes to the train of past arguments and to make me see that it is important to educate myself in past rhetoric before attempting m ...more
John Gillis
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I got into Hirschman recently,and I'm in a long-term read of a book about his fascinating life (Worldly Philosopher, 2013, lauded by Malcolm Gladwell), but I'm also reading a couple of his books along the way, including "Crossing Boundaries" (a delicious hors d'oeuvre of a book), and this one, which is short at 135 pages, but literally rewrites the historical underpinnings of the development of capitalism. Not for everybody, for sure, and there's a large "so what?" factor, but if you would appre ...more
Feb 06, 2008 rated it liked it
What was "lust for wealth" in Machiavelli's day has become "rational self-interest" since Adam Smith. This book traces the history of ideas that turned a "passion" (a danger to the body politic) into an "interest" (a beneficial principle of social organization). I was having trouble really caring about what Enlightenment thinkers (many of them a bit obscure) said about capitalism, but then this book got a lot more interesting in the second half of the last chapter, where Hirschman both gives the ...more
Paul Bard
Aug 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Hirshmann believes that economic history can raise the tone of debate about capitalism above simplistic cliche.

To that end, he says that Tawney's and Marx's theories about the rise of capitalism are to black-and-white, and he tacitly and modestly replaces a nuanced historical study of the actual rise of capitalism.

I should think the key idea of this nuanced essay comes from the Cardinal de Retz, who says that "interest governs the world." Sure, says Hirshmann, "interest governs the world", but
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Actually read this last spring, but recently looked into it again for a paper on passions and freedom in The Tempest. This text is fantastic. It reads incredibly quick and compellingly for the amount of information and insight it contains. I would recomend it to anyone looking to understand the theoretical basis for capitalistic society. A really impressive text.
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a book that changed the way I looked at capitalism, the enlightenment, pragmatism and also, loath to admit, made me realize the minds of that era were smarter in a more applied way than I ever gave them credit for (mind you, in my defense, I was eighteen (!) when I read this)
David Grönlund
Apr 02, 2015 rated it liked it
He certainly takes his time to come to the conclusion that history is important when discussing economics. Not very accessible for the layman. But that was probably never the point either. We do however need more advocates of history examination. Insane amounts of wisdom can come from that.
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Albert Otto Hirschman was an economist and the author of several books on political economy and political ideology. His first major contribution was in the area of development economics. Here he emphasized the need for unbalanced growth. He argued that disequilibria should be encouraged to stimulate growth and help mobilize resources, because developing countries are short of decision making skill ...more

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“Going further than Hobbes, who relied on the general convergence of interests between the Many and the One who rules, some of the Physiocrats invented institutional arrangements specifically designed to make the despot truly “legal.” On the one hand, they elaborated a system of judicial control that would see to it that the laws issued by the sovereign and his council are not contrary to the “natural order” that is to be reflected in the fundamental constitution of the state.43 But an even more important safeguard was the idea that the sovereign should be given a real stake in the prosperity of his commonwealth. This was the purpose of the institution of co-property that Le Mercier de la Rivière proposed in his Ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés politiques (1767).44 According to his plan, the sovereign would be co-owner, in a set and unchangeable proportion, of all the productive resources and of the produit net: as a result, any conflict of interests between him and the country at large would be inconceivable, and the Hobbesian identity of interests would be transparent even to the most obtuse and wicked despot.” 1 likes
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