The return of Karl Polanyi
From the Bennington Lectures to our presentage of transformation
in Karl Polanyi and twenty-first-century capitalism
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Continuing previous work on the power of ideas, this chapter frames developments since the publication of The Great Transformation in terms of the successive intellectual influence of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek, and explores the historical possibility that a, if not the, critical intellectual influence in our time will be Karl Polanyi’s. Surveying Polanyi’s Central European experience, reflections and writings from Budapest, Vienna and England, as well as brief visits to the United States, it focuses on the recently discovered Bennington Lectures on ‘The Present Age of Transformation’ delivered late in 1940. While the first three lectures anticipate The Great Transformation, the last two outline original approaches to America and Russia. The chapter concludes with hypothetical reflections of Karl Polanyi on the future of humankind. We roll back the canvas of history to the advent of the machine age 200 years ago and contemplate what Polanyi would have to say on the current state of world affairs. We tell him of the successes of his intellectual adversary Mises and ask him how he might conceive of a socialist response to the challenges facing humanity in our own age of transformation.

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