Open Forum on Jeremy Adelman’s biography of Albert Hirschman

Open Forum on Jeremy Adelman’s biography of Albert Hirschman

Curated by Sean Mannion, Duke University

The career of Albert Hirschman was a brilliant and sustained act of what he liked to call “trespassing.” Trained as an economist, Hirschman refused to respect disciplinary boundaries and specialization, his oeuvre breathtakingly moving from the seventeenth-century origins of capitalism (1977’s The Passions and the Interests) and the nature of organizational and political dissent (1970’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty) to his two-hundred-year history of conservative narrative form (1991’s The Rhetoric of Reaction). Yet an important historical ground for this impressive array of interests and research was Latin America, where Hirschman worked as a World Bank consultant in Colombia and cultivated his many seminal contributions to development economics.

Jeremy Adelman’s monumental biography Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman thus provides an opportunity to assess the importance of this historical ground for Hirschman’s work. We invite you to participate in this forum aimed at reflecting upon not only the ways in which Latin America influenced the development of Hirschman’s thought, but also how Hirschman’s ideas might invigorate the study of Latin American history. Peter Coclanis offers an extended review of Adelman’s books and of all the insights that make Hirschman an important figure for the study of Latin America. Likewise, Jeremy Adelman, Paul Gootenberg, Joseph Love, Richard Salvucci, and David Sartorius offer their reflections on Hirschman’s influence on their own work and on the ways in which other Latin American historians can draw on Hirschman as well.

We invite all readers to provide their own reflections on Hirschman, either in response to the essays presented here or in response to Adelman’s book.  The senior editors of the Hispanic American Historical Review hope to create a rigorous interdisciplinary dialogue and debate through this open forum.

Peter Coclanis’s review of Worldly Philosopher, by Jeremy Adelman

6 Comments on “Open Forum on Jeremy Adelman’s biography of Albert Hirschman

  1. Commentary by Paul Gootenberg

    Recovering Hirschman—and Development—in Latin American History

    Paul Gootenberg, Stony Brook University HAHR Forum, February 2014

    I had the unforgettable privilege of working with Albert O. Hirschman as a postdoc in the mid-1980s, after which, to be honest, I sometimes marveled about my colleagues’ neglect of his work and its implications for the broader canvas of Latin America history. Perhaps most historians were and remain simply oblivious to his brilliant writings. Hirschman, an economist by training, was in fact actively neglected by the mainstream economics profession for his decidedly unorthodox stances, in contrast to his warm reception by Latin American developmental economists and sundry political theorists who have long appreciated and built upon his thought. The fact that Hirschman’s saga and ideas are now beautifully presented in a new full-length biography, Worldly Philosopher, by one of our very own, Jeremy Adelman, hopefully and finally will bring his suggestive “Weltanschauung” into the work of Latin American historians.[1]

    To me, it is a remarkable fact that one of the most cosmopolitan and profound social thinkers of the twentieth century had a strong, active, lifelong relationship to Latin America, beginning with his long sojourn in Colombia during the early 1950s. I believe he thought of himself above all as an interdisciplinary “Latin Americanist,” albeit with a decidedly European eye. Hirschman certainly loved Latin America and his countless colleagues there, even as he later wandered into fresh topics in eighteenth-century European intellectual history or “universal” political and moral theory, puzzles often inspired by Latin America dilemmas such as the unexpected turn to authoritarian regimes in the 1970s. As historians, our neglect of Hirschman still surprises me, akin to, in my mind, ignoring Marx had he used Argentina instead of England as his empirical frame of reference for the transition from feudalism to capitalism or overlooking Max Weber or Thorstein Veblen had they spent their formative intellectual years in, say, Mexico or Peru.

    Moreover, Hirschman often fruitfully used cases from Latin American history and had a real feel for it. For example, one of his best-known midstream essays, with the still provocative title “The Search for Paradigms as a Hindrance to Understanding” (1970), was actually a paean to John Womack’s then brand-new biography, Zapata and the Origins of the Mexican Revolution. Hirschman invidiously compared the arid, often pointless model-making of North American social scientists working on Latin America to Womack’s nuanced storytelling, empathy for ordinary people, and genuine sense of historical contingency.[2] Furthermore, Hirschman himself played a notable role in Latin America’s modern history and in hemispheric Latin American studies, of which we now know so much more thanks to Adelman’s wondrously intricate portrait. For example, in a kind of replay of his daring 1940s secret mission in Nazi-occupied France rescuing Jewish intellectuals, Hannah Arendt and Marc Chagall among them, during the 1970s Hirschman cajoled elite US foundations to foster think tanks and institutes to save from the fascist savagery of the military dictators the Southern Cone’s top intellectuals (people like Guillermo O’Donnell, Alejandro Foxley, Fernando Henrique Cardoso), helping to safeguard vital democratic and intellectual currents.

    So, why this neglect by our historians, and is it reversible? This is a kind of counterfactual knowledge problem I speculated about once in the related curious case of Alexander Gerschenkron (“Who??” I hear you cyber–Latin Americanists mumbling to your screens).[3] Gerschenkron, one of the century’s formative thinkers on “economic backwardness” and industrialization, was in fact a colleague of Hirschman, a kindred soul with his own erudite, wide-ranging, and paradoxical praxis of historical economics. Yet, as I noted in that essay, Gerschenkron, who worked mainly on the economic history of Central Europe, had no perceptible impact on raging contemporaneous debates about “underdevelopment” and “modernization” in midcentury Latin America. The young Hirschman, though original in so many ways, was also, it noted, a conduit of Gerschenkronian ideas to Latin America, particularly in his trenchant 1950s critique of “balanced growth” prescriptions (i.e., rigid economic stage or threshold theories) or his late 1960s conceptualization of the region’s frustrating “late-late [ISI] industrialization” processes. Gerschenkron, I figured, was not sexy enough to Latin American structuralist or dependency thinkers because his key economic metaphors lacked the heated notion of exploitative commercial ties found in Latin and Latin Americanist notions of “underdevelopment.”

    However, Hirschman was a big part of that Latin American political economy conversation. Indeed, his legendary interdisciplinarity, if more scintillating and “trespassing” than most, was actually indicative of the kind of broad and genuine hemispheric debates about development that marked the conjuncture from the 1950s to the 1970s and which in turn helped launch a massive wave of modern archival research in Latin American economic and social history, north and south. These debates began a long retreat, starting in the late 1970s with the triumph of international neoliberalism and a related widespread disillusion and flight from development itself. Hirschman precociously and ambivalently announced this disillusionment (in his 1982 analysis “The Rise and Fall of Development Economics”), but he also warned against crashing into despair about developmental prospects—i.e., from the exuberant boom-and-bust psychology of pinning together too many unrealistic social and political expectations on industrialism per se.[4] By the next decade, when for a new complex of reasons the post-Marxist “cultural turn” overtook Latin American history like a storm, few young historians training in the Northern academy cared much anymore about economic history or “development” (usually put by then in scare “quotes,” since patently a farce, illusion, or imperial conspiracy). That bias, incidentally, was and is rarely found in the global South, at the time economically ravaged by the dire debt crisis, IMF interventions, and a painfully real “lost decade” of social progress. Meanwhile, what had been a stimulating and eclectically “soft” Latin Americanist political economy, open and amenable to many historians, was edged out by pseudoscientific, hardcore economic history, which still turns many of our colleagues off. This was a stunning intellectual reversal of our time: the capture of the field’s political economy tradition by the academic Right!

    My hunch here is that Hirschman’s rich ideas and roles were mostly lost on this post-1980s historical generation for his close association with development debates, a topic now to be studiously ignored, or abhorred, depending on the degree of culturalist temper. Rather than a result of our disillusion, development economics imploded largely through the “disciplinary wars” of Economics (to humanists, largely unknown)—ever more scientistic, mathematical, abstract, and free-market fundamentalist—and the megalomaniacal excesses and activities of some development practitioners, such as pre-1990s World Bank(ers) and pre-conversion economic missionaries like Jeffrey Sacks. Today the field is a shadow of itself, at least in the United States, mostly surviving in the nonacademic grassroots or in the NGO, UN, or IDB universe. And yet today, Hirschman’s pioneer views in development economics are also confirmed by decades of rigorous quantitative and other social science studies of the problem: there is no big or magic policy bullet that can “force” countries to grow faster and develop or, say, predict the outbreak and duration of economic growth.[5] Nor, all bogus political excuses aside, is economic growth directly tied into any particular brand of political regime, “authoritarian” or “democratic,” another classic insistence of Hirschman’s.[6] This growing consensus, however, is not the same as dismissing development, which has occurred, sporadically and unevenly, across the globe and stillsignificantly changed (mainly for the better, I’d say) the lives of hundreds of millions of people. There is also, to be expected, a live and lively debate about the best cross-national measures and meanings of categories like living standards, growth, productivity, well-being, and capacities, that all go into thinking about development. However, the fact that development remains essentially a causal mystery to the economics profession is actually a very good thing for historians: it means that the big interpretative and contextual questions are probably better addressed by scholars like us, with our close, qualitative, long-term insights into specific histories, places, and institutions. As an intellectual puzzle, development ain’t that different from what opened up historical questions about equally big ideas like “modernity” or the “nation” during the 1980s.

    Moreover, Hirschman’s insistent belief in the active possibility of “progress” was also not to win him popularity among the more nihilistic “postmodern” crowd of the 1980s or its poorer cousin, the “identity politics” variant that passed into our field. This is highly ironic since Hirschman himself was an important pioneering “interpretive” or reflexive thinker, along with his longtime close partner at the Institute for Advanced Study, “thick description” anthropologist Clifford Geertz, the idol and icon of new cultural historians.[7] His entire corpus was an extended, culturally and historically informed critique of teleological development and, particularly, economic determinist, reductionist, and overly academic approaches to development. He also believed strongly in the power of ideas—mobilizing metaphors, fictions, discourse, and demobilizing ideologies. His undaunted optimism—a critique of exoticizing Latin American “fracosomanía” (as in our “when did Peru become jodido?”–style historical questions)—probably also limited his consumption by historians, since many of us still love to believe in only the worst of historical outcomes. Thus, so I believe, our colleagues have lost sight of the thought of Albert O. Hirschman, despite its deep origins in and long engagement with Latin America.

    What I’m trying to suggest here, quickly moving beyond Hirschman himself, is that we might foster (building on the Mexicanist term) a “post-revisionist” history of development—for which Adelman’s high-brow intellectual history of Hirschman’s many involvements makes a good start. We surely have a rapidly evolving “revisionist” school—that is, the many new histories that analyze, deconstruct, or simply assume midcentury development as part and parcel of US-led Cold War “counterinsurgency” ideas and strategies, as top-down state-building politics, or as the authoritarian or civilizing project of managerial and industrial elites. Or exposés and histories that tabulate the (often considerable) social or environmental costs of development projects, such as road and dam building in the tropics.[8] Yet, other parts of the story are still glaringly missing—not only a fuller account of Latin American intellectual and political contributions to the global development debate (CEPAL, among many) —but also the social “demand” and the imaginary of development that upwelled from nationalist and labor movements in Latin America, its militantly proindustrial Left parties, and ordinary and poor peoples generally. And recognize that perhaps not history “made” as such actors “intended,” it surely happened, just like the vast migrations and rapid urbanization that have also remade the social and political landscapes of modern Latin America. My bet is that rather than unflinching “resistance” to material betterment for the sake of traditional lifestyles or culture (a rather nineteenth-century view itself of both Latin American poverty and of rural and darker folk), popular aspirations for economic change, as for good governance and enhanced public services, were a major facet of the development eras. So, just as “postrevisionist” historians restored the complex social content and meanings, too facilely denied earlier, of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, historians, I hope, may now think again the big issues in the region’s twentieth-century political economy.

    So, which is the Albert O. Hirschman best suited to “bringing political economy back in” to research and thinking about Latin American history? There are so many key ideas, depending on the period, though Adelman and others have noted styles of thinking common to his entire oeuvre as well. There is, quite purposefully, no easily replicable Hirschman “model” to “apply” to history, an ambiguity historians can hopefully embrace. Is it the 1950s developmentalist Hirschman of counterintuitional unbalanced growth, paper-tiger “obstacles,” and developmental “linkages”? Is it the 1960s political Hirschman searching for “possibilisms,” constructivist “ideologies,” the problematizing of development, and surprising avenues of social reform? Is it the 1970s agency-minded Hirschman of grassroots projects, grounded observation, and collective social enterprise? Is it the intellectual historian of eighteenth-century “Passions and Interests,” the birthing ideologies of early capitalism? Is it the cutting and philosophical political theorist of “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty” or “Shifting Involvements”? Or the cartographer of the perversities of modern reactionary discourse?

    Personally, I think any of his multiple intellectual personalities make a good starting point. When I still routinely offered grad students “political economy” seminars, I’d whet their appetites with as much Hirschman as possible, especially his brilliant essays, to convey this rich, eclectic intellectual tradition as antidote to rising prejudices against it. I think, for a starter, that all budding historians should read his striking 1982 essay “Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilizing, Destructive, or Feeble?” not only for its ongoing message for debates about Latin America but also as a way to complicate our facile, literal views of economies, underdevelopment, and exploitation.[9] Over the past few years, rumors keep floating that any day now the venerable academic fields of “economic history,” “political economy,” and “historian capitalism” will become critical central topics again—though I see little hard evidence of it yet. We hear of culturalists flirting with Marx or searching for solid ground in materiality and power again. Certainly, there is growing recognition all around that wealth, income, and kindred social inequalities are the global scourge of our times, not necessarily “globalization” per se, and that Latin America lies at the heart of this issue, as the continent with the world’s sharpest and most persistent inequalities and with now a number of fascinating novel attempts to reverse that long history. (Did I mention that Hirschman also pioneered the modern study of inequality?)[10] The “development” side of the equation has also shifted, as significant and seemingly sustained growth since the 1990s has officially lifted a good number of Latin American economies out of the “under” category. As Hirschman’s old Brazilian friend (and then president) Cardoso suggests, shedding his own dependency past, the problem is no longer underdeveloped but fundamentally “unjust” societies.

    I really like this rumor of the return to economic histories, since I think historical political economy, wrongly abdicated in the 1990s, should be reclaimed in our field by progressive-minded scholars. Hirschman showed us, above all, ways to remain wary of overdetermined structures and theories while attentive to genuine developmental and peopled concerns. These are also goals of thoughtful historical practice. Yet few of our graduate students or aspiring historians, despite good words, seem willing either to seriously educate themselves about economics (to be fair, there are not a lot of humanistic or nonmathematical economists like Hirschman left to learn from), grapple with its challenges and ambiguities, or to transcend the now long culturally ingrained phobia of “development” that, in my humble opinion, has stultified the serious rethinking the social process and developmental imaginationmerits from historians of Latin America. Perhaps greater familiarity with Albert O. Hirschman—overlooked for his uncanny, perhaps quixotic hopes—can finally do that trick.


    [1] Jeremy Adelman, Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman (Princeton University Press, 2013); “Weltanschauung” an ironic nod to the day young Albert shockingly learns his father was missing one (41). For a couple of many appreciations, see Alejandro Foxley, Michael S. McPhearson, Guillermo O’Donnell, eds., Development, Democracy, and the Art of Trespassing: Essays in Honor of Albert O. Hirschman (Norte Dame, 1986); or Simón Teitel, ed., Towards a New Development Strategy for Latin America: Pathways from Hirschman’s Thought (InterAmerican Development Bank, 1992). As a caveat, I may be unaware of some colleagues who advanced his ideas; Hirschman knew Rebecca Scott well in Princeton as well as Tulio Halperín in his Historia contemporánea period, and Hirschman’s later theories (overtly historical The Passions and the Interests aside) inspired many historians of consumption. My modest Hirschman effort was Imagining Development: Economic Ideas in Peru’s “Fictitious Prosperity” of Guano, 1840–1880 (University of California Press, 1993) which contested his idea of self-incriminating Latin American economic thought.

    [2] A.O. Hirschman, “The Search for Paradigms as a Hindrance to Understanding,” World Politics, March 1970; another historical essay is “Ideologies of Economic Development in Latin America,” in Hirschman, ed., Latin American Issues: Essays and Comments (Twentieth Century Fund, 1961).

    [3] P. Gootenberg, “Hijos of Dr. Gerschenkron: ‘Latecomer’ Conceptions in Latin American Economic History,” in Miguel Centeno and Fernando López-Alves, eds., The Other Mirror: Grand Theory through the Lens of Latin America (Princeton University Press, 2001), 55–81: Hirschman himself not, fittingly, considered a grand theorist here.

    [4] A.O. Hirschman, “The Rise and Fall of Development Economics,” 1982; “The Political Economy of Import-Substituting Industrialization in Latin America,” Quarterly Review of Economics, 82, Feb. 1968, 2–32—the wonderful essay my mentor in developmental economics, Oxford’s Rosemary Thorp, used to alert me to Hirschman. The points about the loss of political economy and our simplistic demonization of “development” (our peers mesmerized by Escobar-style critiques) draws on my review in P. Gootenberg, “Between a Rock and Softer Place: New Trends in Latin American Economic History,” Latin American Research Review, 39/2 (June 2004), 239–57; Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton University Press, 1993).

    [5] See Jessica Cohen and William Easterly, eds., What Works in Development? Thinking Big and Thinking Small (Brookings Institution, 2009), for an overview of this huge paradox and, relatedly, Adam Przeworski, et al., Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Material Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990 (Cambridge University Press, 2002). There have been many turns in this road to this more blissful “ignorance”: growth and productivity factor analysis, endowment theories, market reform and adoration, and institutions….

    [6] A.O. Hirschman, “The Turn to Authoritarianism in Latin America and the Search for Its Economic Determinants,” in D. Collier, ed., The New Authoritarianism in Latin America (Princeton University Press, 1979).

    [7] Among many subtleties that Jeremy Adelman captures in Worldly Philosopher, i.e., 539-41; I suppose the fact that Hirschman was an economist alone disqualified him from Geertzean adulation! Adelman notes that Hirschman was a 1960s style antistructuralist (in the big-scheme sense of the term) conveniently dismissed from memory by the later linguistic-turn “post”-structuralists. An intimate friend of figures like Salvador Allende, he was also never a darling of the “revolutionary” Left for his ingrained Nazi-era skepticism of dogma.

    [8] Actually, so far, mostly developed for the rest of the “Third World”; see intellectual histories, for example, in David Engerman et al. eds., Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003); the major set of revisionist studies for Latin America’s Cold War, Gil Joseph and Daniela Spenser, eds., In from the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounter with the Cold War (Duke University Press, 2008) barely engages economic history.

    [9] A.O. Hirschman, “Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilizing, Destructive, or Feeble?,” Journal of Economic Literature, Dec. 1982, followed by a 1986 collection of related essays.

    [10] A.O. Hirschman, “The Changing Tolerance for Income in the Course of Economic Development,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, Nov. 1973; for new views, try John H. Coatsworth, “Inequality, Institutions, and Economic Growth in Latin America,” Journal of Latin American Studies 40 (2008): 545-69; or P. Gootenberg, Luis Reygadas, eds., Indelible Inequalities in Latin America: Insights from History, Politics, and Culture (Duke University Press, 2010), an effort indebted to another interdisciplinary thinker, Charles Tilly.

  2. Commentary by Joseph Love

    ALBERT HIRSCHMAN was an outstanding figure in the founding generation of development economists, making his mark a little more than a decade after the first theorizations at the end of World War II. His contributions were many, and the power of his ideas was reinforced by his enormous erudition. Because Latin America, beginning with Colombia, was his principal laboratory, he came to the attention of my generation of Latin Americanists about the time we began graduate school. Like the historian Richard Morse, Hirschman was a masterly essayist, a fact that extended his appeal well beyond his discipline.

    I had encountered his Strategy of Econmic Development (1958), in a course at Harvard with J. K. Galbraith a year after the book was published. Later, as a graduate student at Columbia, I audited Hirschman’s course on economic development. It featured his thesis of unbalanced growth, as against the prevailing “Big Push” doctrine that called for simultaneous massive capital investments on a broad front.

    As Hirschman confessed and Jeremy Adelman notes in his biography, he was not a great teacher; he tended to lecture to the blackboard. But his brilliance was evident in his conversations, and of course, in his writings. I had numerous contacts with him over the years, and he helped me form the project that resulted in my book, Crafting the Third World: Theorizing Underdevelopment in Rumania and Brazil (1996), as well as giving me advice for an article published in LARR, “Raul Prebisch and the Origins of the Doctrine of Unequal Exchange” (1980).

    Hirschman’s commanding knowledge of modern European history was evident in his first book, National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade (1945), which wove together history, political science (focused on state economic power), and economics.

    As a historian of ideas, he wrote a now-classic essay, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before its Triumph (1977), showing how capitalism as an economic system was justified by writers such as Montesquieu, Sir James Steuart, and Adam Smith. Taken together, they argued that avarice, though a vice, was a way of channeling conflict and competition that otherwise might have resulted in military clashes and other types of violence. Trade gave men a mutual interest as “le doux commerce” developed over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. “Passion” as motivator in human interaction gave way to “interest.”

    Hirschman formulated his ideas about economic development during a 4 1/2 –year stay in Colombia, beginning in 1952. He later wrote about concrete issues in Brazil, Chile, and Colombia again (Journeys toward Progress, 1963). Each issue—regional development in Brazil, land reform in Colombia, and inflation in Chile, was developed historically.

    Hirschman was a steadfast optimist, and, as Adelman notes, he agreed with Lenin that there is no such thing as a hopeless situation. Adam Smith had identified the positive unintended consequence of self-interested agents acting in the market (the invisible hand), and Hirschman saw positive unintended consequences even in development schemes that went sour. He traveled around the world looking at failures and successes of economic development in his Development Projects Observed (1967). For instance, the Damodar Valley Corporation in India, modeled on the TVA in the United States, began work on a huge dam to supply water and hydroelectric power. But the costs were far greater than anticipated, and the government had greatly underestimated the demand for water. Though many Indian observers thought the project was a massive failure, Hirschman believed it had failed only in a narrow sense. Meanwhile, smaller irrigators and competing power companies were offering water and electricity more efficiently as rivals of government enterprise. In short, the government had created a rapid increase in demand, and the project created a “pressure point” stimulating more activity.

    Albert Hirschman made his mark not only in economic theory, economic history, and the history of ideas, but also in sociology, specifically on the theory of organizations in Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970). In Isaiah Berlin’s terms, Hirschman was a “fox,” grasping many things, and not a “hedgehog,” focusing on a single unifying vision.

    Yet as Paul Krugman has noted in Development, Geography, and Economic Theory, the influence of Hirschman and other founding fathers of “high development theory” in the 1940s and 1950s—Ragnar Nurkse, Paul Rosenstein-Rodan, Arthur Lewis, Raul Prebisch, etc.– waned in the economics profession after 1960. The reason: their propositions were not expressed (or expressable) in mathematical models. And Hirschman was not a great mathematician. His concept of backward and forward linkages (“up” and “downstream” from a given commodity in the supply chain) would take advantage of increasing returns to scale, but this undertaking implied an economy of imperfect competition. And no one has yet successfully modeled such an economy.

    But Hirschman’s influence was by no means limited to the discipline of economics. He had a broad influence across a range of disciplines, and it is notable that The Social Science Research Council’s highest award is the Albert O. Hirschman Prize. It honors “academic excellence in international, interdisciplinary social science research, theory, and public communication.” He won many other honors, including the Kalman Silvert Award of the Latin American Studies Association.

    Hirschman was a lone wolf, but he had great respect for the Latin American structuralist school of economics,[1] founded by Raul Prebisch at the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) in Santiago, Chile, in 1949-1950. He even supported the nomination of Prebisch for the Nobel Prize in economics. The Brazilian economist Celso Furtado wondered why his American colleague never acknowledged his affinities with the structuralists. Hirschman, however, did form a close friendship with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, whose “dependency theory” owed much more to structuralism than to Marxism—despite his later reflections on its genesis.[2] And Cardoso wrote Dependency and Development while in residence at CEPAL in the latter 1960s.

    To conclude, I believe Albert Hirschman’s influence in Latin American history is diffuse and largely indirect, based on his wide-ranging books, articles, and essays. He was a public intellectual, and he often published in intellectually demanding but largely jargon-free media such as The New York Review of Books, Encounter, Dissent, Daedalus, and The Atlantic, and such cross-disciplinary journals as Latin American Research Review and World Development. His elegant prose and his broad culture made his work appealing to historians in a way his fellow social scientists could only envy.

    Joseph L. Love

    Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


    [1] Structuralism conceptualized the world economy as one formed by a commanding industrialized Center surrounded by an agricultural and minerals-exporting Periphery, in which productivities were heterogeneous in the Periphery and relatively homogeneous in the Center. Structural heterogeneity was in fact the defining feature of underdevelopment. In this scheme, the balance of payments of the peripheral countries was a critical bottleneck, and their commerce with the Center over the long term was characterized by deteriorating terms of trade.

    [2] Love, “The Origins of Dependency Analysis,” in Journal of Latin American Studies, 22, 1 (Feb., 1990), pp. 143-168.

  3. Commentary by Richard Salvucci

    My late colleague Woodrow Borah was never one to let history stand in the way of a good story. I once invited him to lecture on the Conquest to what was then the beginning class in Latin American history at Berkeley, History 8A. It was a vintage Borah performance. He finished, with a flourish, by giving the students what I take to be an apocryphal version of the death of Pedro de Valdivia, the first Royal governor of Chile, at the hands of the Mapuche. “You like gold so much,” Borah said Valdivia’s captors taunted him, “Now eat it.” And so they poured molten gold down Valdivia’s throat, killing him. The lecture, needless to say, was a wild success and I, for one, never forgot the ending. I doubt many others there did, either.

    I’d like to think Albert Hirschman would have appreciated the story as well, for if there was an economist who appreciated that market incentives could cut both ways, it was Hirschman. This I gathered less from his perhaps better-known Strategy of Economic Development, or even Exit, Voice and Loyalty, a book that exercised a profound personal influence on me, than from his brilliant excursus into the history of economic thought, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph. It isn’t just a matter of the sheer “old-fashioned” erudition it deploys, although it’s difficult to envision anything similar emerging from a senior practitioner of the discipline today, where even the suggesting that Keynes might be worth revisiting (because demand matters) is greeted with derision (still) in some quarters. Perhaps it’s just the narrowness of my reading, but Hirschman’s injunction “Let us beware of excessive parsimony,” does not seem a prominent concern of colleagues who warn that economic history can only be done through specification and estimation, rather than the usual navel gazing that one expects from historians.[1]

    The conceit that undergirds the Passions and the Interests is relatively simple, even if the scholarship is not. Early modern philosophers in search of the principle of a stable political order, and heartily tired of the “heroism” of the man on horseback, concluded that reason alone was incapable of putting a brake on aggression. It was, instead, trade and commerce that would produce a community of interests that might ultimately prove even stronger than potentially rivalrous behavior. This belief found its highest expression in Hume’s Of Interest, “in which [capitalism] would activate some benign human proclivities at the expense of some malignant ones.”[2] Specifically, Hirschman points to Montesquieu’s belief that commerce, exchange arbitrage and bills of exchange were capable of moderating the arbitrary behavior of sovereigns. This all sounds eerily modern, and, in fact, it is.

    Hirschman, of course, is of a rather different mind. He ascribes the triumph of capitalism not to its civilizing effects, but to a radical underestimation of the power of markets not only do good, but also to wreak havoc. In part, this reflected not only Hirschman’s antifascist sensibilities, but also the ambiguous legacy of Adam Smith, who wrote at the crest of a century of wars provoked by the struggle for trade and empire. As Hirschman observed, the fear of the loss of wealth, of reaction in a larger sense, could be every bit as powerful as the drive to accumulation. There was, in fact, no good reason that the two impulses could not coexist, especially in the minds of different classes, not to say in the minds of different nations. This was a lesson that both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries had taught.

    Where The Passions and the Interests becomes especially provocative is where it induces one to think about the underside of economic development, and of the not only unintended, but perverse consequences that markets sometimes produce. For someone interested in the economic history of Latin America in the long run, it is just this feature of “capitalism” that is so arresting. On the one hand, it takes little wisdom, or a great capacity for self-deception, to ignore the economic disasters that have been produced with the best of intentions in the name of popular welfare. On the other hand, it seems equally blinkered to act as if the inequalities and distortions that we once complacently associated with any society other than our own have nothing to do with the way in which markets operate. Yet at the risk of sounding trite, markets themselves do nothing but reveal scarcities. Under an admittedly demanding set of assumptions, they can help agents to identify social needs and satisfy them efficiently without relying on—and indeed, obviating—centralized direction. It is the attractive vision of capitalism and freedom.

    But Hirschman’s work suggests—and only suggests, for the vision is not fully worked out or realized in this book—that something rather different can and does happen. Well organized groups, employing the mechanisms of the state, even at a primitive level, can work to defeat scarcities that are of no conceivable benefit to themselves, or which, indeed, threaten their very existence. This, at least, is the message to be drawn from the Conquest, which was not a market process, but the very antithesis of one. And so it continued, because the relative scarcities of land and labor produced by demographic catastrophe represented a poor recipe for any group bent on enriching itself. The opposite is true: scarce labor is its own reward, but it requires a legal and institutional, not to say social framework that rules alternative plausible outcomes: coercion and slavery. The result, strictly speaking, is not capitalism but rent-seeking. This sort of activity juxtaposed markets and personal power in a way designed to baffle anyone who came at it from an orthodox Marxian perspective. I am surely not the only one who remembers graduate seminars in Latin American history in the 1970s that ended up concluding that the Phoenicians were capitalists. I am certain Hirschman heard similar unhelpful conversations. Neoclassical economics may have carried the day in Latin America, but it never convinced the historians, and for good reason.

    I read Hirschman’s work, and especially The Passions and the Interests, as the most interesting of cautionary tales. It is a commonplace of development economics today argue for alternative pathways or as Dani Rodrik (now, fittingly, the incumbent in the Hirschman Chair of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Studies), puts it “one economics, many recipes.” This does not mean anything goes, as we have been warned, but it does mean anything can happen when you combine markets, factor endowments, political power and randomness. We should all approach the economic history of Latin America in the spirit of Albert Hirschman: complicating discourse, not necessarily minimizing variance. We would all be better historians for it. As Valdivia learned the hard way, all that glitters is not gold.

    Richard Salvucci

    Trinity University


    [1] Albert O Hirschman, “Against Parsimony: Three Easy Ways of Complicating Some Categories of Economic Discourse,” AEA Papers and Proceedings (May 1984), pp. 89-96.

    [2] The Passions and the Interests, p. 66.

  4. Commentary by David Sartorius

    I should profess some humility at the outset. It’s a daunting task to weigh in on a scholar as prolific and creative as Albert Hirschman, and then try to present a new take on his work that isn’t already covered in the new biography of Hirschman that weighs in at just under 800 pages. So my contribution to this forum will be quite modest. I’d like to discuss how one of Hirschman’s works—especially one particular aspect of it—helped me think through the central question that guided the research and writing of my recent book, Ever Faithful: Race, Loyalty, and the Ends of Empire in Spanish Cuba. I intend this is as more than an exercise in self-promotion: a fresh look at Hirschman’s widely read 1970 book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States promises analytical yields for many of us who study popular politics (and many other phenomena) in Latin American history.

    I first learned about Exit, Voice, and Loyalty when I read an essay by Rebecca Scott in a 1986 festschrift for Hirschman, Development, Democracy, and the Art of Trespassing. In discussing the effects of the 1880 law in Cuba that established an apprenticeship period (patronato) as part of the gradual abolition of slavery, Scott illustrated one of the principal insights of Hirschman’s book. Rather than making a total exit from a disadvantageous situation—a slave running away from a master, for example—Hirschman postulated that some individuals could complain, organize, or protest in order to improve conditions. There is an inverse relationship, then, between exercising exit and voice, and Scott showed how Cuban slaves (renamed patrocinados under the new laws) used the 1880 measure to challenge their conditions and, in some cases, win their freedom. But she also showed that Hirschman’s schematic could be modified to demonstrate “voice in pursuit of exit,” as slaves worked within the terms of the law with the ultimate goal of exiting slavery altogether. Reading her essay, and reading Hirschman’s book soon thereafter, opened my eyes to a new framework for understanding how historical actors made sense of their worlds. As I began my research about racial politics in nineteenth-century Cuba, I was excited, like so many Latin Americanists at the time, to locate historical examples of exit and voice among the subaltern: rebellion, revolt, revolution, protest, defiance, exile, escape. (Reading Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” several years later punctured my optimism, but I trudged on.)

    But exit and voice didn’t tell the whole story. The third term of Hirschman’s triad attended to what he called “that special attachment to an organization known as loyalty,” which “holds exit at bay and activates voice.” And this was the surprising phenomenon that I encountered as I explored Cuban and Spanish archives. Abundant documents showed that many Cubans, including those of African descent, slave and free, supported Spanish rule rather than joining the struggle for national independence—a struggle that acquired multiracial participation and an antiracist ideology. Those individuals routinely explicitly described their actions as loyalty—lealtad or fidelidad. What had long been understood as an outlook limited to the island’s economic elite now acquired new popular dimensions, and I saw an opportunity to contribute to the exciting conversations among historians of Cuba about race and nationalism.

    When I looked to Exit, Voice, and Loyalty for some guidance, I didn’t find all of the answers that I had hoped for. Certainly Hirschman had much to offer, especially in acknowledging that loyalty could “retain an enormous dose of reasoned calculation.” He appeared sympathetic to critiques of individual African Americans’ integrationist “exits” (he cited Stokely Carmichael) and of indigenous Bolivians who left behind the Andean highlands to “pass” as mestizos. Neither of these strategies, he observed, did much to improve the impoverished conditions of those who remained within their communities. Moreover, the exit-voice-loyalty framework seemed well suited to the context of the “Ever-Faithful isle” and to questions of empire and nation in the Americas. Jeremy Adelman draws on the idea in his sweeping study of Latin American independence movements, Sovereignty and Revolution in the Iberian Atlantic (2006). But in Worldly Philosopher (2013), he expresses some disappointment that Hirschman had not fleshed out his ideas about loyalty, either in the book or in his later retrospective scholarship, “with the same dexterity as voice or exit.” Hirschman wrote in his book of “primordial human groupings such as family, tribe, church, and state” to which people cling; he referred to some cases of loyalty as self-deception and “an ex-post (or ex-nunc) justification of opportunism”; in A Propensity to Self-Subversion, he noted that those prone to exit are “unburdened by feelings of loyalty.” For a book that appealed to an audience of such broad political range that even Henry Kissinger had a copy, there is something confining in a characterization of loyalty (in some parts of the book) as primordial, opportunistic, or burdensome.

    That certainly wasn’t the image that came into view from my archival research. Despite few extended theorizations of loyalty by political writers in nineteenth-century Cuba and Spain, I found examples of ordinary Cubans acting as theorists of loyalty in their own right. They routinely clashed with colonial authorities over what constituted loyal behavior, and their definitions emerged in the records of various proceedings. Those claims usually rendered loyalty to Spain not as inert or primordial but as a normative political orientation rooted in longstanding principles of inclusion and privileges bestowed upon imperial subjects. Slaves who fought with the Spanish during the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878), the island’s first major challenge to colonial rule, could earn their freedom in reward for their service. (Loyalty in pursuit of exit?) But during interrogations by Spanish officers, they took care to explain their loyalty as willful choice—but not so willful as to worry anyone that they might change their mind. (Loyalty conditioning voice?) In newspapers, members of sociedades de color at the end of the century eloquently defended themselves against claims that loyalty to race trumped loyalty to the Spanish patria. The “reluctance to exit” that Hirschman described as loyalty gave way to much more deliberate affective politics and decision-making.

    To borrow the useful phrasing of Frederick Cooper and Rogers Brubaker, these popular invocations of loyalty enabled me to recast the concept as a category of practice as well as a category of analysis. And that allowed me to return to Hirschman’s exit-voice-loyalty model with a sense that expressions of loyalty could be as dynamic and contingent as expressions of exit and voice. My experiences thinking with Exit, Voice, and Loyalty suggest, I hope, two lessons that might be relevant to the study of Latin American history writ large. First, the region’s history is undoubtedly full of exit and voice—the rebellions, revolts, and revolutions mentioned above that have often captured our imaginations. But Hirschman’s triad encourages greater attention to the phenomenon of loyalty, which might appear less heroic and inspirational than resistance, but which can provide a richer accounting of the passions and interests of historical actors. And second, those actors can be more than “cases” to which North Atlantic theory can be fruitfully “applied.” As historians, we can also look for opportunities to let our subjects themselves lend a hand with our theoretical and interpretive work; or, as Hirschman put it in A Bias for Hope, they can help us comprehend “that peculiar open-endedness of history that is the despair of the paradigm-obsessed social scientist.”

    David Sartorius, University of Maryland

  5. Commentary by Amy C. Offner

    (This piece was published originally in Public Books on October 10, 2013, and is reproduced with kind permission from Public Books. The original can be found at )

    Masters of Reinvention

    For the first 40 years of his life, Albert O. Hirschman was a little-known accessory to world-historic events. Born in Berlin in 1915, he was a refugee from Nazi Germany who wound his way through Europe’s anti-fascist movements, US wartime intelligence, the Marshall Plan, a McCarthyist investigation, and the World Bank’s first foray into Third World development. Sometimes he operated under assumed names, at others he sought recognition, but as he approached middle age, Hirschman seemed destined to remain a minor character on the world stage, a figure of wide experience but no real repute.

    All that changed in 1958, when he published The Strategy of Economic Development. This foundational text of development economics launched its author into an academic career that made him one of the most influential social scientists of the 20th century. Hirschman wrote a kind of political economy that delighted and confounded his peers. His books transported readers across the First and Third Worlds, through the early modern and modern periods, and into urgent, intertwined problems of economy, politics, philosophy, and psychology. Near the end of his career, Hirschman claimed to have had only one student and lamented his inability to shape public policy. But his unruly curiosity, tireless travel, and literary talents made him a magnetic figure who attracted readers worldwide, and whose concepts—linkages, exit, and voice, to name a few—traversed the academy. Examining the life of a great intellectual living in extraordinary times, Jeremy Adelman has produced a special kind of biography: “a personal history of the world and a global history of an intellectual life.”

    Hirschman spent his early years wriggling out of binds. He cheated death as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War, helped spirit two thousand artists and intellectuals out of Nazi-occupied France, and remade his life in Bogotá, Colombia, after anti-communist hysteria ended his career in the Treasury Department. Adelman finds novelistic beauty in the fact that this master of escape and reinvention became a theorist of social change, captivated by the paths that people and societies contrived out of apparent impasses.

    During the 1950s and ’60s, development economics presented the sorts of puzzles that Hirschman loved. How could economic growth occur in a society that lacked capital, skilled labor, and entrepreneurial talent? How could a government controlled by landowners ever pass a land reform law? Economists had failed to answer these questions, he believed, because they could not recognize the seeds of a different society in an existing one. When Hirschman first encountered development economics during the 1950s, its exponents struck him as incapable of imagining theprocess of social change. A self-styled alternative to Third World revolution, development economics in fact resembled prevailing theories of revolution in promising social transformation through planned, linear cataclysm, a “big push” that would refashion every salient feature of a society.

    Studying real initiatives in the Third World, Hirschman considered such a course of events extraordinarily unlikely. Instead, he championed what he actually saw producing growth and reform: bottlenecks, incomplete knowledge, limited plans, and policy sequences that seemed to put the cart before the horse. His heroes were the Third World’s least romantic personalities: local capitalists and government officials who somehow managed to pass land reform laws, steer capital toward profitable investments, and found development banks. Partial, sequential solutions spearheaded by elites were clearly possible in the present day, and Hirschman argued that their flaws inspired corrective reactions, spurring the dynamic, unpredictable process of change that was the essence of capitalist development.

    The same man who had scouted routes through the Pyrenees in 1940 delighted in the idea that the world as it existed contained twisted paths to redemption. We read Hirschman today not because he was right, but because his judgment was so creative, his powers of observation so unusual, and, perhaps, because there is something satisfying about elegant, mischievous optimism, just as there is something satisfying about the full-throated denunciations of injustice that he could never write.

    Adelman beautifully captures Hirschman’s intellectual temperament, not only by describing it but also by crafting a book that recapitulates it. Worldly Philosopher is a book of rhymes, in which Hirschman’s writing recalls his personal experience, early and late projects betray enduring habits of mind, and Adelman’s own judgment and style bear traces of his subject’s.

    Distinctive modes of explanation recur across Hirschman’s career. Shifting Involvements, published in 1982, explored people’s oscillations between public and private pursuits. On the face of it, the book was a reaction to the rise of public choice theory and the New Right’s denigration of government. At a deeper level, it carried forward the search for an endogenous theory of social change that had animated The Strategy of Economic Development.

    Hirschman’s objects of study emerge as his muses, and even partners, in games of call-and-response. In 1963, he was both analyst and devotee of Latin American reformers in Journeys Toward Progress. A decade later, he was forced to confront the failure of programs he had championed, as the “development decade” gave way to dictatorship throughout the region. Curious about capitalism’s relationship to dictatorship and democracy, he cast his gaze back to the 18th century, when Adam Smith, James Steuart, and Montesquieu had speculated on the political implications of capitalist commercial relations. Their arguments had no clear contemporary application—The Passions and the Interests appeared in 1977 as Hirschman’s first contribution to the history of ideas—but they exemplified an intellectual style that he embraced, that of a world before formalized disciplines, in which economics and politics were analyzed together.

    There are, most strikingly, echoes of Hirschman in Adelman’s writing. A historian of Latin America, Adelman came of age intellectually at the height of Hirschman’s celebrity, and drew on Hirschman’s work throughout his own career. In preparing the biography, Adelman relived his subject’s intellectual trajectory, immersing himself in the art, literature, political tracts, and scholarly research that influenced Hirschman from childhood to old age. Just as important, he earned the trust of Hirschman, his wife, Sarah, and their daughter, Katia, all of whom provided interviews, personal papers, and family photographs. Adelman’s proximity to Hirschman allows him to interpret a public record that is extensive but opaque, and the resulting book is a sympathetic, internal account of a life complex enough to profit from such treatment. For anyone who knows one part of Hirschman’s life, the book opens entire worlds. For anyone who has pored over his cryptic papers, Adelman’s mastery of them is revelatory.

    Worldly Philosopher not only explains Hirschman from the inside out, it gives the reader a taste of his style as a writer: his eye for beauty, love of literature, and sheer range. Chapters begin with passages from Kafka, one of Hirschman’s favorite authors. Throughout, the prose is spry and high-spirited, communicating the adventure of Hirschman’s life and his fascination with the world around him; it can, by the same token, drain the righteousness and horror from social conflict, just as Hirschman could in distilling curious propositions from the brutality of the 20th century.

    Adelman’s and Hirschman’s harmonious styles suggest convergences of political judgment. For Adelman, Hirschman is a model of an engaged intellectual, a principled social democrat who could not abide Robert McNamara and quietly resisted dictators from Hitler to Pinochet. From another perspective, Hirschman’s greatest intellectual contributions were strangely bloodless and politically inert. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, a scholarly sensation in 1970, explored the intertwined uses of protest and “dropping out” in the face of state and corporate transgressions. The book was an elegant analysis of human behavior, but an awfully sterile response to the social movements, wars, and political repression of the late 1960s.

    Indeed, while Adelman highlights some of Hirschman’s limitations—his refusal to see catastrophes in the making, his failure to influence policy—he hews close to his subject’s interpretation of events. As Hirschman traverses the globe and the 20th century, Adelman makes dozens of knotty contexts intelligible by taking an extraordinarily clear view of them: Hirschman’s. In accounts of debates between European socialists and communists of the 1930s, Hirschman’s perspective appears as truth: the communist brutes and stooges he encountered are all we see of a complex political movement. In descriptions of battles among economists, Hirschman’s criticisms of postwar planning methods, disciplinary specialization, and mathematical expression appear to be just as iconoclastic as their author considered them. Likewise, Hirschman’s theoretical and methodological disagreements are weighted with moral and social significance that they cannot quite bear. Worldly Philosopher is, as promised, a sweeping history of the world, and a highly personal one.

  6. Thank you to the editors of the HAHR for inviting me into this form. I am all for the idea that the journal should become interactive, and thereby archive a discussion about ideas. Thanks also to the very kind reviewers for their thoughts and reflections. So much has been said here — and of course I have taxed the patience of so many readers — I hesitate to add more words. But let me reflect on one basic tension I pick up across all these interventions: Hirschman is at once so compelling and attractive (as a figure and producer of ideas), and yet he is so elusive; he is attached to us and yet remote at the same time.

    One is, as many have noted, that Hirschman was famously hybrid. He combined so many intellectual and cultural traditions that he at once belonged to them all while standing above them all. This of course made him hard to categorize, and thus elusive; but it helps explain his appeal across so many national boundaries.

    Being hybrid is not quite the same as being heterodox or contrarian. Seldom did Hirschman actually develop an opposing doctrine or view, an alternative theory to the orthodoxy. Where he did was over the balanced growth debate, as Peter notes. But more often, he stood outside the orthodoxy an observed that it did not have to be this way; it was not a natural theory. When it came, for instance, to free market doctrines, he was not an opponent of the ideas; he was, rather, cautionary about where singlemindedness or dogma could lead. The same held for his attitude to ideas on the Latin American Left. This made Hirschman a sympathetic critic of all sides. But it’s why all sides were often so frustrated with him because he so seldom aligned with either one. The major political exception, we should remind ourselves, was his struggle against fascism. There was an ethical line he was never prepared to cross.

    As many commentators have noted below, he touched people in many ways; through personal contacts (as with Joe Love) or the sheer readerly experience of Richard’s encounter Passions or David’s with Exit. There were so many ways to be affected — that I have been struck in the course of working ion Hirschman’s life story how we might think about the histories of being affected, as intellectuals, by other intellectuals. And what a complex process that is, one that historians of ideas might consider more deeply. But why Hirschman? Here’s a theory: he appealed to French, Italian, and Latin American thinkers because his concepts were not universalized from the Anglo-American experience. So, we could actually see in the machinery of Hirschman’s ideas reflections of social processes we could see out in the streets on in our archives. This made the theoretical arsenal one that carried a great deal of intrinsic sympathy and recognition. As someone who allowed the “south” to inform his global thinking as few others of the 20th century did, the accent on contingency and complexity made him hard to digest in other social science traditions searching for certainty and parsimony; this Peter captures very well in his essay. It is important to recognize where this duality came from.

    Finally, a point that Paul in particular raises: how might Hirschman inform our rethinking of political economy and economic history? Here, there is so much to discuss and it would be great to see this space fill with controversy and debate. But let me pick up on something that Paul notes, and bring in Richard. Thinking in a “Hirschmanian” way (a term he would have probably smiled while chafing at) means pressing at the boundaries of what we think of as economic or political, to think in terms of an économie élargie as he once famously put it. This means not focusing so much on the story of the experience of capitalism from the inside out (though even here, Hirschman would want to reserve some space for a fallible, unreasonable, funny homo economicus), but rather to think about the boundaries and overlaps with other domains of life — and the tensions and happiness produced by those convergences.

    Here is a question for us all: are their particular directions that you think the Hirschman life-history or inventory of ideas opens up for Latin Americanists. What are they?

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