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The Passions and the Interests - Essay Example

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In The Passions and the Interests, Albert Hirschman traces the rationale for capitalism from its intellectual roots spread over the Western history of last three centuries . Through the course of the history of ideas which he relates quite succinctly, Hirschman raises some interesting questions about the continuum of modern capitalism, especially about economic expansion (or development), correlation between economic growth and political stability and the role of culture in economic growth thus reshaping contemporary understanding of the beliefs underpinning the concept of modern market economy…
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Download file to see previous pages The point of departure in Hirschman's thesis is that "[capitalism] would activate some benign human proclivities at the expense of some malignant ones." In a "cash is king" or "money makes the mayor go" environment which basically elevates capitalism to the status of a savior ideology and a panacea to all social and individual ills, his commentary on capitalism stands out for which the proponent needs intellectual courage.
One of the findings of Hirschman points towards the repression of human passion in favor of harmless commercial interests which became the centerpiece of capitalism but soon denounced as a negative feature emerging out of it. Thus nobel laureate Amartya Sen creates a scenario to elucidate the interplay between violent passion in society and individual's interest in acquiring wealth in what he calls a "crude example": consider a situation in which you are being chased by murderous bigots who passionately dislike something about you-the color of your skin, the look of your nose, the nature of your faith, or whatever. As they zero in on you, you throw some money around as you flee, and each of them gets down to the serious business of individually collecting the notes. As you escape, you may be impressed by your own good luck that the thugs have such benign self-interest, but the universalizing theorist would also note that this is only an example of the general phenomenon of violent passion being subdued by innocuous interest in acquiring wealth. Hirschman makes the point that individuals are better off trading with each other rather than fighting with each other.

Hirschman relives the intellectual climate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to highlight the changes in the capitalist ideology, wherein the pursuit of wealth which was once condemned as greed was later on upheld as a contributing factor towards harnessing and taming the destructive passions of individual. Compared with the Marxian interpretation wherein capitalism would cease to exist as an ideology with the withering away of the state, Hirschman's interpretation of capitalism and its rise takes an innovative form in that he maintains that capitalism is an unending ideology and that it only transformed itself through a series of internal processes into the modern market economy or its various off-shoots witnessed in many parts of the world.

Hirschman taking inspiration from a large number of thinkers including Montesquieu, John Miller and Sir James Steuart "to gain a perspective on the meaning and significance of the views" spends some time narrating different views on the impact of economic activity on politics, and though the different views often advocate different policies, the common thread in the argument is that economic growth including betterment of the masses leads a society towards stabilization and which in turn may lead towards a process of democratization. According to Hirschman, if passions represent the state, and interests represent capitalism, the state regulates capitalism and capitalism is expected to regulate or tame the rulers' passions.. ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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