The reality of society
in Karl Polanyi and twenty-first-century capitalism
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In these remarkably stirring reflections, delivered at the 2014 conference from which most of the contributions to this volume emerge, the late Abe Rotstein, Polanyi’s student and collaborator, recalls the projected sequel to The Great Transformation, to be titled Freedom and Technology. Whereas the former was built on a social sciences approach using institutional analysis, the sequel was to follow the intention Hegel expressed in the words ‘Wir die religiöse Vorstellung in Gedanken fassen’ (We want to turn religious expression into philosophical thought). Polanyi took religion seriously – not its outer ceremonial trappings but the important truths that lay behind and beneath these beliefs and practices. The sequel was to trace humanity’s progression through three major revelations: the knowledge of death, the discovery of our inner life and conscience, and the realization of freedom amid our social obligations. This was the idea of ‘the reality of society’ around which the whole book was to be built. It was the precursor of our cherished civil freedoms and closely connected with Polanyi’s idea of freedom in a complex society; it is also deeply threatened in an age of state and corporate cyber surveillance.

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