With engaging wit and subtle irony, Albert Hirschman maps the diffuse and treacherous world of reactionary rhetoric in which conservative public figures. Editorial Reviews. Review. Propelled by an ecumenical motive–to explain the ‘ massive, Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy – Kindle edition by Albert O. Hirschman. With engaging wit and subtle irony, Albert Hirschman maps the diffuse and treacherous The Rhetoric of Reaction is a delightful handbook for all discussions of.

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Albert Hirschman was an amazing writer and his three slim books written for a general readership make their points with incredible efficiency.

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The Passions and the Interests is an excellent history of why capitalism seemed like such a savior when Adam Smith and others were promoting it, and how those arguments have persisted and mutated.

The Rhetoric of Reaction is a bit more diffuse and abstract than those books.

It is at its best when most concrete. Hirschman, an admitted progressive, examines reactionary and conservative arguments of three types:. These do map uncannily onto my own Three Versions of Conservatism.

The mapping is Elitist Conservative: I think the three theses do not in fact cleave as cleanly as Hirschman wants them to. Futility is something of a lesser version of the other two, as any action that is useless can then easily be portrayed as wasteful or dangerous.

Futility often exists reactio a fallback position: I think Hirschman misses one significant reason why it is more successful than jeopardy. Futility is less hyperbolic and scary than the other two and so easily loses out.


Jeopardy is multidimensionalwhile perversity is monodimensional. Jeopardy requires one to think about trade-offs between two or more separate but interdependent axes of goods and values, while perversity simply argues that we will go the wrong way along a single axis. Far more efficient to argue that welfare will make people poor, that affirmative action will hirechman minorities, that antitrust will destroy competition. Simple, elegant, and utterly specious.

Albert O. Hirschman: The Rhetoric of Reaction – waggish

The same neocons who tell us how we should be aping Athenian democracy today are reversing the same pattern used by Fustel de Coulanges inwho said that the democracy of Athens was only possible through a complete absence of what we call liberty.

Now, according to Kagan and Smith and Hanson, democracy is only possible through an increasing absence of liberty. Hirschman also critiques progressive rhetoric for having too sunny a view, but despite his claims of even-handedness, he seems to be a lot harder on the reactionaries.

Maybe this is just my own bias: The more conservatives argue the danger, the more they argue that there are never legitimate grounds for change, the more it pushes radicals to say that the danger is necessary and justified.

The Rhetoric of Reaction – Wikipedia

I think that the French Revolution itself did force progressives to look at the potential costs of revolution more closely, and that itself may have helped to radicalize the rhetoric.


If the events, in their fatality, have been such that a people does not find, or does not know how to find, its own entitlements in its annals, if no epoch of its history has left behind a good hirscman memory, then all the morals and all the archeology one can mobilize will not be able to endow that people with the faith it lacks nor with the attitudes this faith might have forged.

If to be free a people must have been so in the past, if it must have had a good government to be able to aspire to one today or if at least it must be able to imagine having had these two thingsthen such a people is immobilized by its own past, its future is foreclosed; and there are nations that are condemned to dwell forever in despair. Hirschman, an admitted progressive, examines reactionary and conservative arguments of three types: According to the perversity thesis, any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, fo, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy.

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