Sunday, January 22, 2012

jeremy adelman on hirschman

Hirschman's "Rival Views" is a fascinating look at the
origins of moral and political critiques of capitalism
The following excerpt is from a "flavor essay", so to speak, of a forthcoming biography (by Jeremy Adelman) of one of the most interesting and important thinkers in institutional economics and political economy of the last century: Albert O. Hirschman. Hirschman is perhaps most popular for Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, which is a highly original discussion of how individuals behave in political and economic relationships. The following excerpts is from his early years at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, in the 1970s. A very interesting story indeed:

Several weeks later, [Hirschman] walked before the podium in Dodds Auditorium at Princeton University to deliver the Janeway Lectures to large crowds of students and faculty on the theme of “Private and Public Happiness: Pursuits and Disappointments.” For Hirschman there was no basic choice between the two types of happiness; it was not “or” that conjoined public to private. If there was a choice, the point of the lectures was to argue that people were always choosing depending on their moods and inclinations, and it was this activity that Hirschman wanted to draw out. Hirschman’s Janeway Lectures addressed experiences and emotional responses to them—anger at educational institutions, self-incrimination for buying a large house and regretting it (“buyer’s remorse”), and the ever disappointing “driving experience,” which, far from yielding to the lyrical joy ride, more often plunged the BMW-driving pleasure-seeker into traffic jams and car payments. Pursuits of happiness wherever it was being dispensed left trails of disappointment.
In contrast to Olson’s “logic,” Hirschman presented a “dialectic” that unfolds within the self, a self comprised of a complex amalgam of drives. Hirschman’s pendular dialectic was the theme of Shifting Involvements: Private Interest and Public Action (Princeton University Press, 1982), in which he stuck his neck out to formulate an alternative to the gathering political and intellectual orthodoxy. “I have rarely felt so uncertain about a product of mine,” he told his daughter Katia. “Perhaps this is because, as I say in the preface, what I have written is less a work of social science, than the conceptual outline of one or several novels.” Indeed, the preface suggests that there is much more of Hirschman’s personal philosophy and life story stirred into the prose. It threatened to become a bildungsroman “with, as always in novels, a number of autobiographical touches mixed in here and there.”
If there were autobiographical touches, they were not so easy to see. Certainly, no reviewer picked them out, though many did pick on the book as a disappointing one. Compared to earlier books this one was a flop. Nowadays, it is often overshadowed. But one might read Shifting Involvements as a resistance against ideas of triumphalism of any one side and defeatism of any other. To both he insisted there was always more choice, there were always more possibilities, always hope.
More at the Institute for Advanced Study website here.

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