Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman: Books

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman: Books

Article excerpt

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman. By Jeremy Adelman. Princeton University Press. 758pp, Pounds 27.95. ISBN 9780691155678. Published 22 April 2013

Exit Albert O. Hirschman", ran the headline to a commentary in The Economist on the death of the maverick economist in 2012. In its nod to Hirschman's landmark 1970 study Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, the line attested to how oblivious we have become to the social and political constellations in which individual preferences were the focus of what was then called "political economy". Instead, we have only the reductionist snippets of truth that modern economics offers.

Jeremy Adelman's biography could have taken the easy route of applying those three concepts of exit, voice and loyalty to the economist's life. To be sure, there were plenty of exits in Hirschman's odyssey, and there was also a lot of voice and loyalty - or, as Hirschman would have put it, a lot of attempts "to prove Hamlet wrong". After leaving Berlin in 1933, the radical German Jewish exile's first stop was Paris, followed by a short stint at the London School of Economics. From there he went to Trieste, where he finished his PhD and became part of the liberal left opposition to Mussolini. When Italy introduced racist laws in 1938, he went to Spain to fight on the Aragon front. Traumatised by the Stalinist purges during the Spanish Civil War, he joined the French forces in their attempt to stop the German invasion - only to find himself again on the losing side against the Nazis. He discovered that in a topsy-turvy world in which rules changed rapidly, one had to play the cards that one was dealt in imaginative ways.

Equipped with false papers, Hirschman went to Marseilles where he teamed up with Varian Fry and his Emergency Rescue Committee, one of the more successful schemes to smuggle trapped academics, artists, politicians and intellectuals out of Vichy France. …

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