As we commemorate the fifty years since Karl Polanyi’s death, we may also recall
the three people responsible for the fact that we are all here today: number one,
Kari Polanyi Levitt, who invented this Institute; number two, Margie Mendell, who
directed it all of this time; and finally, Ana Gomez who did all of the hard work.
Today in their presence, I feel somehow that I was an also-ran.
The late Frank Scott, when he was honoured on a similar occasion, said with his
characteristic touch of humour, ‘I feel that this is
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.
on Polanyi’s understanding of theRealityofSociety. Thomasberger
reveals how Polanyi really understood the ‘double movement’. Lacher illuminates
Polanyi’s understanding of the incompleteness of the great transformation in the
US. Finally, Brie not only rejects the portrayal of Polanyi as a social democrat seeking only to re-embed markets but also provides a deeply insightful account of what
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socialism meant to Polanyi and how he delinked socialism from liberal ‘freedom
that kills’ and founded
Karl Polanyi’s quest for an alternative to the liberal vision of freedom
This freedom kills
The 1921 paper ‘Believing and unbelieving politics’ marked the end of the
preparatory phase of the formation of Polanyi’s guiding question. Freedom and
therealityofsociety, moral reflection and individual scientific knowledge, ideals
and interests were still put against each other in an abstract way. This changed
with Polanyi’s post-war intrusion into the contradictions of socialist politics, the
intensive discussion of the various wings of socialist theorists and politicians.
The formulation of the guiding
of human existence that we can choose only between different kinds of power, and
different uses to which to put it, but we cannot choose not to originate power or not to
influence its use once it has been created. (Polanyi,  2018b: 152)
In TGT he comes back to this argument when he speaks of a necessary ‘reform of
human consciousness to be reached through the recognition of therealityofsociety’ (Polanyi,  2001: 133). ‘No society is possible’, he stresses, ‘in which power
and compulsion are absent, nor a world in which force has no
, the children of these times, have different beliefs. We hold that
history is not made by individuals. Individual views, individual wishes and
desires are of no account; reality is the creation of the collective destiny alone.
The longings and laments of the isolated soul do not exist for us; we only believe
in therealityofsociety, we only believe in impersonal facts. We believe that
capital exists, and labour, war, economic crisis and class war. And we believe
that they and they alone constitute the life of man.
And yet, my brothers, we have come together here to
, however, was a Garden of Eden of reason and humanity: it is still not today. Pretending to oneself and one’s peers that existing society is already reasonable and humane does not in fact help the cause of reason. Here Horkheimer for the first time uses the term ‘Critical Theory’: what we need to develop now ‘is not a mathematical science of nature which claims to be the eternal Logos, but a critical theory of therealityofsociety directed by a concern for reasonable conditions of life’ (198–199). This implies that society as it is now is not reasonable, but it could
life’ of course, the
corporal existences of the two individuals, and therealityofsociety which both identifies and incorporates different
name-groups, rule out any question of serious confusion.
Conventionally, the inviolable personality which is me is unaffected
by the existence of another person bearing the same name.
In literary discourse, names are distinguishable from
Tone lacked serious intent or that it was not sometimes
overtly political, but that the ‘political objectives of Two Tone were
more modest. The targets were more clearly defined: unemployment, the
police, and authoritarian government.’69
Two Tone co-opted past styles of music and fashion to create an image of
a racially harmonious present and future, while their lyrics often acknowledged that therealitiesofsociety were far from utopian. Dammers recalls
that the band adopted the Rude Boy look after their encounters with rightwing youths on The Clash tour ‘in order
argued, failed to properly appreciate the interdependence of individual and society – in his phrase, ‘therealityofsociety’.117 In the
course of this intellectual transformation he attempted to reconcile an ‘idealist’
commitment to action with a recognition of the determining function of social
structures – but with little success, either at the level of practical activity or
theoretical reflection. He would periodically reiterate his lifelong commitment
to ‘energetic intervention’ in the political process, but, unlike Ilona, he remained
largely aloof from social