What better way to celebrate Presidents’ Day than by reading Albert O. Hirschman’s slim little book, The Passions and the Interests (1977). Hirschman quotes Alexander Hamilton on the dangers of a greedy President:

“An avaricious man, who might happen to fill the office, looking forward to the time when he must at all events yield up emoluments he enjoyed, would feel the propensity, not easy to be resisted by such a man, to take the best use of the the opportunity he enjoyed while it lasted, and might not scruple to have recourse to the most corrupt expedients to make the harvest as abundant as it was transitory…” (Number 72, The Federalist)

And Samuel Butler wrote that foolish and incapable persons in government: “have one advantage, above those who are wiser, and that of no mean importance: for no man can guess nor imagine, beforehand what course they will probably take in any business that occurs…” (p. 50)

Sound like someone we all know?
Acknowledgements vii
Introduction 3
PART ONE: How the Interests were Called Upon to Counteract the Passions 7
The Idea of Glory and Its Downfall 9
Man “as he really is” 12
Repressing and Harnessing the Passions 14
The Principle of the Countervailing Passion 20 “Interest” and “Interests” as Tamers of the Passions 31
Interest as a New Paradigm 42
Assets of an Interest-Governed World: Predictability and Constancy 48
Money-Making and Commerce as Innocent and Doux 56
Money-Making as a Calm Passion 63
PART TWO: How Economic Expansion was Expected to Improve the Political Order 67
Elements of a Doctrine 70
1. Montesquieu 70
2. Sir James Steuart 81
3. John Millar 87
Related yet Discordant Views 93
1. The Physiocrats 96
2. Adam Smith and the End of a Vision 100
PART THREE: Reflections on an Episode in Intellectual History 115
Where the Montesquieu-Steuart Vision Went Wrong 117
The Promise of an Interest-Governed World versus the Protestant Ethnic 128
Contemporary Notes 132
Notes 137
Index 147

13 thoughts on “THE PASSIONS AND THE INTERESTS By Albert O. Hirschman

  1. Deb

    I’m guessing the founding fathers, as brilliant and courageous as they were—could not foresee a time when enough of the voting population was so disconnected from their own economic reality that they’d elect a thuggish grifter whose sole view of the presidency was the enrichment of himself and his family.

    1. george Post author

      Deb, Alexander Hamilton foresaw the possibility of a President like Trump. But, you’re right about the people who elected Trump. As Mike Pence found out in Munich that the rest of the world doesn’t think much of Trump. Pence waited for applause when he mentioned Trump’s name…and he received silence from the world leaders.

      1. wolf

        Have you heard that Ivanka Trump also was at the Munich conference?
        Many people wondered about her function there …
        And our outgoing chancellor Mrs Merkel found some strong words for Trump’s utterings on the dangers of German cars.
        The funny side of this is that BMW (whose home is Munich) produces more cars in South Carolina in its biggest factory worldwide (!) than it sells in The USA.
        I learned about that when we flew on holiday to Miami via Atlanta and wondered why there was a daily DELTA flight from Stuttgart (a provincial airport … ) to Atlanta. And the I realised that it was filled with engineers, technicians etc from BMW and Mercedes – which also has a factory in the Southeast …

      2. george Post author

        Wolf, plenty of Americans are concerned about our alliances with European nations. Trump and his people have done a lot of damage.

    2. Jeff Meyerson

      What Deb said. When exactly is he going to give up emoluments? Only when they drag him away in leg irons (which, one prays, is soon).

      Much, much worse in my opinion: the hypocrites of the Republican Party (McConnell, Graham) who ranted about Obama being a “dictator” but have no problem ignoring all of Trump’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

      /gets off Deb’s soapbox

  2. Patti Abbott

    I think there will be no competition for Trump in the worst President ever sweepstakes. Maybe also the worst American ever. Or the most selfish man ever. Or the least informed man ever. Or the biggest misogynist ever. Oh, yes, he could win a lot of contests. And having his name at the top of lists is enough for him.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, we had better plans for President’s Day–a lunch and then a movie–but it’s snowing here. It’s 23 degrees with a windchill of 15. The idea of leaving our nice warm home isn’t appealing under these conditions.


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