Why does society oscillate between intense interest in public issues and almost total concentration on private goals? In this classic work, Albert O. Hirschman offers a stimulating social, political, and economic analysis dealing with how and why frustrations of private concerns lead to public involvement and public participation that eventually lead back to those private concerns. Emerging from this study is a wide range of insights, from a critique of conventional consumption theory to a new understanding of collective action and of universal suffrage. Hirschman believes there is a collective swing or cycle back and forth between the private and public. The idea that the pursuit of one’s private, material interests is a “wholly legitimate form of conduct, one that may in fact be preferable, from the point of view of society, to a life of intensive involvement with public affairs” is a recent phenomenon.
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