Cover: The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy, from Harvard University PressCover: The Rhetoric of Reaction in PAPERBACK

The Rhetoric of Reaction

Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy

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Product Details


$33.00 • £26.95 • €29.50

ISBN 9780674768680

Publication Date: 03/01/1991


224 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

Belknap Press


Related Subjects

The Rhetoric of Reaction is a study of the reactionary’s tool kit, identifying the standard objections to any and all proposals for reform… Hirschman’s work changes how you see the world. It illuminates yesterday, today, and tomorrow… There can be no question about his most characteristic [book]: The Rhetoric of Reaction. The sustained attack on intransigence, the bias in favor of hope, the delight in paradox, the insistence on the creative power of doubt—all these prove a lot of people wrong.—Cass R. Sunstein, The New York Review of Books

Albert Hirschman’s gift to intellectual history is his capacity to subsume complex ideas under simple—indeed smaller than bumper-sticker-size—labels. Mention the word exit at any gathering of social scientists, and everyone will free-associate with the idea that complex organizations and processes renew themselves because people will leave for opportunities elsewhere instead of remaining and fighting for change. Likewise not only with voice and loyalty but also with passions and interests. There is no contemporary social scientist anywhere in the world who has said more (profound) things in fewer (elegant) words than Albert Hirschman. New candidates for inclusion in the Hirschmanian lexicon are perversity, futility, and jeopardy… Hirschman is a master of our art.—Alan Wolfe, Contemporary Sociology

Events, and the example of a thinker like Hirschman, make it possible at least to hope that the finer side of the Enlightenment—that is, a skeptical but optimistic engagement with the world as it is, as distinct from blindingly overexcited visions of how it might be, if only progressives would stop interfering with it—could soon have its day.—Geoffrey Hawthorn, The New Republic

Propelled by an ecumenical motive—to explain the ‘massive, stubborn, and exasperating otherness of others’, in this case conservative thinkers—and guided, as he himself muses, by ‘an inbred urge toward symmetry’, Albert Hirschman has written an enjoyable and profound book. He argues that a triplet of ‘rhetorical’ criticisms—perversity, futility, and jeopardy—‘has been unfailingly leveled’ by ‘reactionaries’ at each major progressive reform of the past 300 years—those T. H. Marshall identified with the advancement of civil, political and social rights of citizenship… Charmingly written, this book can benefit a diverse readership.—Diego Gambetta, The Times Higher Education Supplement

It is a marvelously intelligent and original and provocative volume, marked by Hirschman’s usual qualities of intellectual playfulness and deep commitment to liberal values… The reader has a sense of being in the presence of a brilliant mind and of a writer at the top of his form.—Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard University

A brilliant and beautifully written book. It is breathtakingly simple, yet deep with implications… Hirschman provides a kind of Reader’s Guide to Reactionary Culture.—Stephen Holmes, University of Chicago

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Books influence us in untold ways, and the ones that influence us the most are often read in childhood. Harvard University Press Senior Editor Julia Kirby is reminded of this on the anniversary of the birth of one of this country’s most celebrated economists. This month would have brought Thomas Schelling’s one-hundredth birthday—and he got closer to seeing it than many mortals. The Nobel laureate economist died just five years ago, after a brilliant career as both a scholar and an advisor to US foreign policy strategists. What better day to dip into his classic work