Peter Drucker, The Polanyis

From Karl Polanyi
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[137] […] But Karl himself became a deeply disappointed man. Prehistory and cultural anthropology were, to him, secondary to his quest for the viable alternative, that is, for the good society beyond capitalism and communism. What he hoped to find in economic history was the key to the future. But he found only an increasingly cryptic past. The more he dug into prehistory, into primitive economies and into classical and pre-classical antiquity, the more elusive did the good non-market society become. Karl was too much intelligent to expect the Negro Kingdom of Dahomey to have been the earthly paradise that Alex Haley's popular semi-fictional Roots presents is as. Yet he was attracted to the Dahomey of Haley's ancestors because it had built a stable society and a sound economy on reciprocity and redistribution, with market trade confined to exports and imports and strictly separated from the internal economy. Then he found, to his profound shock, that this stability had rested squarely on the slave trade. Indeed he found - as, incidentally, had been known for centuries - that it simply is not true that slave trade and slave raids were forcibly imposed by wicked outsiders [138] (…) on a freedom-loving and harmonious black tribal society. […]

And when Karl then turned from West Africa in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to classical Greece, the Greece of Plato and Aristotle, he got the same shock. It was slavery and organized slave raids against people of their own race, their own language, their own flesh and blood, that enabled the Greek city-states, and Athens above all, to have economic development and freedom for their citizens and to set up an economic system in which reciprocity and redistribution, rather than the market forces, ruled relations within the community, with “labor” kept outside the market system.

If there was one article of the faith to which all the Polanyis suscribed … […] But the more Karl delved into prehistory, primitive economics, and classical antiquity, the more proof did he find the hated and despised market creed of Ricardo and Bentham, and also of Karl's contemporary bogeymen, Ludwig von Mises and Frederick[1] Hayek of the Austrian School. So Karl retreated into footnotes, into more and more anthropological studies, and into academic busyness. […] [139] He still divined the “real truth” behind the news, and was as conspiratorial, as labyrinthine, as clever as ever. […] He still talked of the search for the “alternative and of harmony between human freedom and economic development. He still expected to find “alternative every time he tackled the study of a new primitive or early culture. […] But soon he would turn antiquarian, concerned with minutiae, with textual criticism and emendation, and with “scholarship for its own sake. Where earlier he had been prone to sweeping generalizations, he increasingly became a footnote hound.

Text Informations

Chapter 6 of [1978] Adventures of a Bystander, USA, John Wiley & Sons, 1997, 336 p., p. 123-140

See Also

  1. Sic.