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Book Report of The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi Report


In the Book The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi explores the issues of economic history and social theories. He explores changes in economy and society that appeared under the influence of the “great transformation” during and after the Industrial Revolution.

Under his consideration not only the “defects” of the self-regulated markets that appeared after the revolution, but, possible social consequences of capitalism. In this paper we are going to focus on two chapters of this book that deal with the transformation in the process of the Industrial Revolution.

The chapters under consideration are “History in the Dear of Social Change” and “Freedom in a Complex Society”. In these chapters, the author addresses the issues of emergence of capitalism and construction of market institutions, as well as explores the notion of freedom of the individual in a complex society.

In the chapter “History in the Dear of Social Change” the author addresses the problem of development of market society and self-regulating markets. He analyses his own present and the beginning of the conflict in a “deadlock” which was apprehended in different countries.

This process impacted the institutions of democracy which were the bases of the processes of the social protection. In this regard, he evaluates the concepts of racism and its role in the development of the economic society. He mentions that:

“The fascist solution of the impasse reached by liberal capitalism can be described as a reform of market economy achieved at the price of the extirpation of all democratic institutions, both in the industrial and in the political realm” (Polanyi n. p.).

He also provided the idea that emerging social classes could be the bearers of the social conflicts based on power relations. He described this process as a result of:

“The absence of the nineteenth century balance-of-power system, as well as the inability of the world market to absorb Russia’s agricultural produce, forced her reluctantly into the paths of self-sufficiency. Socialism in one country was brought about by the incapacity of market economy to provide a link between all countries; what appeared as Russian autarchy was merely the passing of capitalist internationalism” (Polanyi n. p.).

The next chapter explores the issues of freedom in the industrialized society. He provides that in the new economic society, the issue of freedom becomes an institutional problem. According to the author, there are two dimensions of freedom, institutional and moral.

He find the moral dimension of freedom more fundamental in the complex society and “the means of maintaining freedom are themselves adulterating and destroying it” (Polanyi n. p.). He provides that division of labor provides limits to the individual freedom and the ones who have low incomes experience lack of freedom. The author argues that:

“In an established society, the right to nonconformity must be institutionally protected. The individual must be free to follow his conscience without fear of the powers that happen to be entrusted with administrative tasks in some of the fields of social life. Compulsion should never be absolute. Thus will be secured the right to nonconformity as the hallmark of a free society” (Polanyi n. p.)

Thus, in these two chapters the author outlines the principles of the economic society and provides norms to follow. He emphasizes the importance of democracy and individual freedom that should be at the stake of the industrial society.

Works Cited

Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968. Web.

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