Michele Alacevich, "Albert O. Hirschman: An Intellectual Biography" (Columbia UP, 2021)


Despite the virtually unanimous agreement about his importance, describing Hirschman’s legacy and influence on others is not an easy task— arguably because he was indeed in a league of his own. His search for fresh perspectives was so eclectic that, as many have noted, no recognizable school has ever developed in his footsteps …

– Michele Alacevich, Albert O. Hirschman – An Intellectual Biography (2021)

These thoughts from the concluding chapter of Michele Alacevich’s latest book Albert O. Hirschman: An Intellectual Biography (Columbia University Press, 2021), speaks to the remarkable life and scholarship as analyzed and described in the professor’s concise and stimulating book of 330 pages including notes and index. In this episode Professor Alacevich explains the significance and ongoing relevance of the interesting work of the political economist and social scientist Hirschman who was a product of the Weimar Republic, and who later became a founding member of The Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. As many listeners know, Hirschman authored books such as Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, The Passions and The Interests, and The Rhetoric of Reaction – just a few of his more recognizable titles as Michele discusses many others in this interview.

For instance, Professor Alacevich describes the 1977, The Passions and The Interests, as a history of ideas wherein Hirschman tried to make sense of political developments of the time in Latin America by examining the link between economic growth and dictatorship. He also talks about the 1967, Development Projects Observed, as insightful analysis that the original publisher reissued in 2015 with a Foreword by Cass Sunstein and an Afterword written by Michele even though he modestly does not mention his own contribution in this conversation.

This new book examines the ideas and scholarly debate surrounding Hirschman’s scholarly work and is a nice complement to the 2013, The Worldly Philosopher, a Hirschman biography by Jeremy Adelman. Professor Alacevich shares many interesting insights about the relevance of Hirschman’s approach today – from how the problem of democracy was a unifying theme in his scholarship including the more formal economic analysis, as well as his emphasis on how ‘doubt’ must be at the heart of a working democracy. Michele’s thoughtful analysis of Hirschman’s important ideas and works is well-worth a listen as is a reading of his engaging intellectual biography.

Michele Alacevich is a professor of Economic History and Thought at the University of Bologna, and is currently working on a history of development economics in relation to the three questions of economic growth, democracy, and environmental sustainability.

Keith Krueger lectures at the SILC Business School in Shanghai University.

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