By the middle of the 1970s, Albert O. Hirschman’s bias for hopefulness was under siege. Gloom pervaded the social sciences. And the real world gave ample justification to those who preferred to analyze failure and futility. By then, Hirschman had left Harvard University and had joined Clifford Geertz in the creation of a School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, one which would resist the quantifying and formalizing turns in American social sciences. There, the pair would become a formidable intellectual team.

But while they shared a common intellectual agenda, they were hardly likeminded, as this hitherto unpublished document testifies. Hirschman remained committed to empirical research on economic policymaking in Latin America, but he had also plunged, since 1972, into a project that would yield the landmark book, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before its Triumph (Princeton University Press, 1977). As he was preparing a long research trip to Latin America, McGeorge (“Mac”) Bundy, the President of the Ford Foundation and ex-Dean of the Faculty at Harvard, contacted his former colleague Carl Kaysen, now Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, expressing his interest in convening a meeting with “Messrs. Hirschman and Geertz and their colleagues on the question of the Ford Foundation priorities in the area which we have chosen to call ‘the hungry, crowded, competitive world’.” The very topic of the gathering expressed the prevailing mood. Hirschman was determined to challenge it by, as he told “Mac” Bundy, showing “that I am less of a mindless optimist than people (and sometimes my closest colleagues and friends) tend to think.” On January 27th, 1976, an interlocutor from Ford sat down withHirschman, Geertz, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was then in residence at the Institute. What follows is a transcription of that conversation.


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