Albert Hirschman

Recent Articles

The Rhetoric of Reform

How to thwart reactionary rhetoric.

T here are various reasons that an author may wish to return not to the "classic" that he wrote 30 years ago (this is a widely practiced form of narcissism) but to a book he has just recently published. The book I have in mind is my 1991 work, The Rhetoric of Reaction , in which I identified three staple claims of reactionary rhetoric which have recurred since the French Revolution. I labeled them futility --the claim that all attempts at social engineering are powerless to alter the natural order of things; perversity --the argument that interventions will actually backfire and have the opposite of their intended effect; and jeopardy --the idea that a new, possibly more radical reform will threaten older, hard won liberal reforms. Largely drafted between 1985 and mid-1989, my book was no doubt written in part as a polemic against the then aggressive and seemingly triumphant neo-conservative positions on social and economic policymaking. Since then, new opportunities have opened up...