Plasticity into Power works out, through historical examples, a major theme of Unger’s work—the relation between institutional and organizational flexibility and the development of our collective ability to produce or to destroy. The message of the book is that the practical success of a society depends on its capacity for permanent innovation. Certain practices and institutions—the history and content of which Unger explores—can nurture this capacity.
Unger pursues this topic through wide-ranging historical inquiries into the European escape from the recurring crises that foreclosed political and economic breakthroughs in the great empires of the past; the invention of revolutionary approaches to the governmental protection of wealth; and the social conditions of military success, viewed as sources of insight into the social foundations of economic growth. Throughout, Plasticity into Power exemplifies a conception of the relation between theory and history that remains faithful to the surprising, open-ended quality of lived experience.