9780674768680

The Rhetoric of Reaction

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780674768680

  • ISBN10:

    067476868X

  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 1991-03-01
  • Publisher: Belknap Pr
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Summary

With engaging wit and subtle irony, Albert Hirschman maps the diffuse and treacherous world of reactionary rhetoric in which conservative public figures, thinkers, and polemicists have been arguing against progressive agendas and reforms for the past two hundred years. Hirschman draws his examples from three successive waves of reactive thought that arose in response to the liberal ideas of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, to democratization and the drive toward universal suffrage in the nineteenth century, and to the welfare state in our own century. In each case he identifies three principal arguments invariably used: (1) the perversity thesis, whereby any action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order is alleged to result in the exact opposite of what was intended; (2) the futility thesis, which predicts that attempts at social transformation will produce no effects whatever--will simply be incapable of making a dent in the status " (3) the jeopardy thesis, holding that the cost of the proposed reform is unacceptable because it will endanger previous hard-won accomplishments. He illustrates these propositions by citing writers across the centuries from Alexis de Tocqueville to George Stigler, Herbert Spencer to Jay Forrester, Edmund Burke to Charles Murray. Finally, in a lightning turnabout, he shows that progressives are frequently apt to employ closely related rhetorical postures, which are as biased as their reactionary counterparts. For those who aspire to the genuine dialogue that characterizes a truly democratic society, Hirschman points out that both types of rhetoric function, in effect, as contraptions designed to make debate impossible. In the process, his book makes an original contribution to democratic thought.The Rhetoric of Reaction is a delightful handbook for all discussions of public affairs, the welfare state, and the history of social, economic, and political thought, whether conducted by ordinary citizens or academics.

Table of Contents

Preface ix
One. Two Hundred Years of Reactionary Rhetoric
1(10)
Three Reactions and Three Reactionary Theses
3(5)
A Note on the Term "Reaction"
8(3)
Two. The Perversity Thesis
11(32)
The French Revolution and Proclamation of the Perverse Effect
12(7)
Universal Suffrage and Its Alleged Perverse Effects
19(8)
The Poor Laws and the Welfare State
27(8)
Reflections on the Perversity Thesis
35(8)
Three. The Futility Thesis
43(38)
Questioning the Extent of Change Wrought by the French Revolution: Tocqueville
45(5)
Questioning the Extent of Change Likely to Follow from Universal Suffrage: Mosca and Pareto
50(10)
Questioning the Extent to Which the Welfare State "Delivers the Goods" to the Poor
60(9)
Reflections on the Futility Thesis
69(12)
Four. The Jeopardy Thesis
81(52)
Democracy as a Threat to Liberty
86(24)
The Welfare State as a Threat to Liberty and Democracy
110(11)
Reflections on the Jeopardy Thesis
121(12)
Five. The Three Theses Compared and Combined
133(16)
A Synoptic Table
133(4)
The Comparative Influence of the Theses
137(3)
Some Simple Interactions
140(4)
A More Complex Interaction
144(5)
Six. From Reactionary to Progressive Rhetoric
149(15)
The Synergy Illusion and the Imminent-Danger Thesis
149(5)
"Having History on One's Side"
154(5)
Counterparts of the Perversity Thesis
159(5)
Seven. Beyond Intransigence
164(9)
A Turnabout in Argument?
164(3)
How Not to Argue in a Democracy
167(6)
Notes 173(14)
Acknowledgments 187(4)
Index 191

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