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

Product Details


$33.00 • £28.95 • €30.95

ISBN 9780674768680

Publication Date: 03/01/1991


224 pages

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

Belknap Press


Add to Cart

Media Requests:

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, New York Review of Books

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, 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, Times Higher Education Supplement

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

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

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500, by Peter Wilson, from Harvard University Press

A Lesson in German Military History with Peter Wilson

In his landmark book Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500, acclaimed historian Peter H. Wilson offers a masterful reappraisal of German militarism and warfighting over the last five centuries, leading to the rise of Prussia and the world wars. Below, Wilson answers our questions about this complex history,