From the Bennington Lectures to our presentage of transformation
Kari Polanyi Levitt
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.
Karl Polanyi (1886–1964) returned to public discourse in the 1990s, when the Soviet Union imploded and globalization erupted. Best known for The Great Transformation, Polanyi’s wide-ranging thought anticipated twenty-first-century civilizational challenges of ecological collapse, social disintegration and international conflict, and warned that the unbridled domination of market capitalism would engender nationalist protective counter-movements. In Karl Polanyi and Twenty-First-Century Capitalism, Radhika Desai and Kari Polanyi Levitt bring together prominent and new thinkers in the field to extend the boundaries of our understanding of Polanyi's life and work. Kari Polanyi Levitt's opening essay situates Polanyi in the past century shaped by Keynes and Hayek, and explores how and why his ideas may shape the twenty-first century. Her analysis of his Bennington Lectures, which pre-dated and anticipated The Great Transformation, demonstrates how Central European his thought and chief concerns were. The next several contributions clarify, for the first time in Polanyi scholarship, the meaning of money as a fictitious commodity. Other contributions resolve difficulties in understanding the building blocks of Polanyi's thought: fictitious commodities, the double movement, the United States' exceptional development, the reality of society and socialism as freedom in a complex society. The volume culminates in explorations of how Polanyi has influenced, and can be used to develop, ideas in a number of fields, whether income inequality, world-systems theory or comparative political economy. Contributors: Fred Block, Michael Brie, Radhika Desai, Michael Hudson, Hannes Lacher, Kari Polanyi Levitt, Chikako Nakayama, Jamie Peck, Abraham Rotstein, Margaret Somers, Claus Thomasberger, Oscar Ugarteche Galarza.