Under the Star of Hirschman: The Doux Commerce Thesis and the Historians

AHA Session 235
Sunday, January 4, 2015: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
New York Ballroom West (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Rebecca E. Karl, New York University
What to Do about “Doux Commerce”?
Anoush F. Terjanian, East Carolina University
The Doux Commerce Thesis in Action after World War II
Sheryl Kroen, University of Florida

Session Abstract

All of the historians on this panel have spent many years trying to think better about capitalism, and all of them have done so in one way or another with Albert Hirschman in mind—especially the Hirschman who gave us The Passions and the Interests in 1977.  In her intellectual history of the eighteenth century Anoush Terjanian delves into the doux commerce thesis by re-situating Adam Smith in all kinds of conversations about political economy and moral philosophy in the 18th century. Reminding us how much more popular than The Wealth of Nations was Raynal's History of Two Indies, which went on and on about the odious aspects of commerce, she asks how we came to think that the idea of doux commerce was anywhere on the ascendant in the late 18th century. Hirschman's Passions and the Interests here emerges as an agent, itself affecting the tendency of historians to think about commerce in the eighteenth century as “doux.”  Sheryl Kroen suggests that even more important than Hirschman's 1977 text was the period after World War II that inspired it. She focuses not on the political economists of the 18th century (when the doux commerce thesis was in its heyday), but on the years after World War II, when regimes in Western Europe and America led the greatest experiment in fulfilling the promise of the doux commerce thesis the world has ever known.  Jeremy Adelman, who has just completed an intellectual biography on Hirschman, will round out the discussion with insights about the author himself.  Adelman argues that Hirschman’s work demonstrates, among other things, his keen awareness of the historical moment he inhabited.

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