Dilemmas of Liberal Democracies: Studies in Fred Hirsch's Social Limits to Growth

Dilemmas of Liberal Democracies: Studies in Fred Hirsch's Social Limits to Growth, London, Tavistock Publications, 1983, pp 212.
Edited by Adrian Ellis & Krishan Kumar

When the late Fred Hirsch's Social Limits to Growth appeared in 1977, it was immediately hailed for raising in a compelling form some of the most important and urgent questions facing present-day Western societies. The ten essays in this book are a response to Hirsch's provocative and stimulating analysis of these questions.

Hirsch himself was no opponent of economic growth, but in his brilliant and wide-ranging discussion he tried to show why growth had persistently turned out to be frustrating for the populations of industrial societies, and the source of many of our social discontents. The authors in this book use Hirsch's themes as the point of departure for a series of reflections on the political and economic crisis of contemporary Western democracies. Some take issue with his stoical pessimism, and argue that economic growth can be resumed and be of net benefit to the mass of the population. Others suggest that Hirsch is if anything too optimistic about the performance and promise of present-day capitalist societies. Others still are more interested in the theoretical and historical presuppositions of Hirsch's analysis, and use these as a means of exploring general aspects of the social and economic development of the West since medieval times. Throughout, Hirsch's contribution is compared with that of other major commentators on contemporary capitalism, such as Hayek and Habermas. In all cases, the main intention is not to praise or damn Hirsch but to use his immensly fertile book as a storrehouse of themes, each of which is central to contemporary political debate and to the concerns of a wide range of social science disciplines - especially politics, sociology, economics, and social policy.