“I keep waiting for someone intelligent to explain it to me. The way they enlighten me about Stalin, Lenin, Bolshevism. Or the way they keep hammering away at their “Market! Market! Free market!” But we—we who were raised in a world without Chernobyl, now live with Chernobyl.”
from “On Chernobyl” by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Keith Gessen
The Passions and The Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before Its Triumph is a slim, unintimidating book of intellectual history, good for English majors who like their economic histories prosy and Foucauldian-inflected. Albert O. Hirschman recalls the theses of 17th and 18th-century thinkers who believed man’s base and wicked “passions” could be tamed by his economic “interests”—the old “doux-commerce”—and his book offers a convincing case for how capitalism first got traction on promises of political stability and social control. He also spends some time quoting the theses’ detractors—mainly Adam Smith—sparing you the drier swaths of Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments with a sampling of their tastier quotes. Still, Hirschman is kind to the reader’s intelligence, and mentions the “invisible hand” only once.
In the mornings, we watched another group of women hail jitneys to the outskirts of town, surrounded by street kids and begging amputees who lost their limbs to land mines. These women sewed clothes and reported to Chinese factory contractors, who reported to American managers, who reported to shareholders. Every once in a while, an exposé about the sweatshops reached American televised news. To Z, shareholders had an astoundingly predictable, biannual ritual of expressing shock about the sweatshop conditions in which these women earned less than $2 a day.
by Bruce Robbins
§ American government is run by and for capital and capitalists. In other election news, we recommend the following pieces from the n+1 archives:
The Bad Logic of the 2010 Midterm Elections
§ Most Americans hate government.
§ Most Americans love capitalism and capitalists.
Therefore either a. Most Americans really love their government.
or b. Most Americans really hate capitalism.
§ Contemporary American politics exists in the absurd space defined by the impossibility of openly acknowledging either a or b.
Aziz Rana on Barack Obama
Mark Greif on Sarah Palin
Benjamin Kunkel on swing voters
Elif Batuman, Keith Gessen, Marco Roth, and others on election memories
See you at the polls tomorrow.
§ American government is run by and for capital and capitalists.
In other election news, we recommend the following pieces from the n+1 archives: