The Fascist Virus

From Karl Polanyi
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Text in English to type

First version

[1] About the turn of the century some imaginative writers indulged in what were felt to be gloomy forebodings in regard to the future of our civilisation. Their prophecies {oeniered} on the fate of the working ____ which would be enslaved, and deprived of the attributes of common human equality. H. G. Wells inverted utopias were haunted by the spectre of labouring population reduced to sub-human level, and in Jack London's awful visions of the people {crused} under the iron wheel of big business the crudities of physical torture were combined with the abominations of psychological emasculation. A great religious mind had developed the same theme before. Dostojevski, in a small master piece, argued that the demand for an 'impossible freedom' …

Chapter 1. Market Economy is born

[2] Edmund Burke was the first among modern statesmen to be fascinated by the philosophy of the market. He was quick to discover in it an other argument in favour of his innate conservatism. His politics were anti-democratic also by economic conviction. Briefed by commercial corporations of Liverpool and Manchester, he held the laws of the market to be the laws of God. Interference with the market was an unnatural act that would work its own defeat. Compulsory equalisation of income would merely produce misery, want, wretchedness and beggary, consequently, there should be allowed no increase in the number of voters in England. No wonder that the paper currencies of the New England colonies tend to be worthless, having been issued by popular governments. Of Connecticut and Rhode Island he wrote with horror: 'By the charters of these colonies the exorbitant power which was given to the proprietary governments to single men, was here vested, and I apprehend much more dangerously, in the whole body of the people. It is all purposes a more democracy'. Since poverty of the masses was a law of nature, the people should be denied the deceptive privilege of applying rainous remedies to their economic ills.

Even devoted friends of the labouring classes believed that the popular vote would destroy the new economy and all its achievements. A Robert Owen opposed the extension of the franchise to the masses. A Godwin declared himself an enemy of the revolution. In principle, they agreed with Malthus and Ricardo that no politics but education alone could meet the needs of the situation.

[4] The Chartist decade theory …

Adam Smith Jeremy Bentham

[5] Macaulay

[6] [7]

Chapter 2. Man versus Market

[8] It is easy to get used to the sound of words, and eventually, forget their meanings. …


[13] Speenhamland …

[16] Owen's description of his workers. Harriet Martineau. Engels and Manchester. The 1883 Report. (even though exaggerated).

The impossibility of establishing a selfsupporting economic class. The truth of the economic argument., ie {Char} Wages would rises…

The Poor Laws Reformers argued that humanitarianism must go. Inverted humanitarians. Figures and Facts.

The reeducation arguments. Abolish the right to live, without establishing the right to work. Consequently compelling the labourer to accept any kind of wages, or voluntarily apply for admission to the Poor House transformed into a workhouse. (Not sent to the workhouse, but admitted to it). Less eligibility principle. A the same time, rationalisation of administration, purification from corruption, creating moral and hygienic standards.

This type of reeducation of the masses involved some thing akin to psychological torture. Although of a mild kind, it was nevertheless meant to create unbearable conditions, such as would be preferred only to rank starvation, and not even that unconditionally. Often the genteel poor preferred starvation.

Such reeducation involved dictatorial methods. One of the assumptions was: final inferiority of the people. They are altogether sub-human. They are ignorant and deserve to be.They are powerless and rightly so. Contempt, in institutionalised forms was the only adequate [17] response. It might have been often deserved -- that indeed is our poin[t]. But the in[hu]man situation had to be maintained whether deserved or not… The disfranchisment of the pauper allowed from the Lack of civic status… From here derived the idea that civic institutions should be shaped in such a way as to educate the poor. Education would morally endanger him if it were gratuitous. etc. etc.

The political disfranchisment followed from this also as a political necessity. How could the tortured be put by their torturers in power, without danger of their removing their torturers? But that would have been the end of the labour market.

Hardly any middle class Mitlaüfer joined the Chartists. The anti-working class feeling now hardnessed into a metaphysical conviction of the moral superiority of the owning classes over the propertyless classes[,] and the corresponding huma[n] inferiority of the latter as compared with the former.

Chapter 3. The Fascist Virus

Second Version

The Fascist Virus

[18] [19] [20] [21]


[21] [22] [23] [24]

Sheet of paper alone, numbered -2-


Text Informations

Original Publication: 1940-1944?
KPA: 18/08 (25 p.; typewritten)
Recent Publication in English: in Polanyi 2018b, p. 108-122
Other Languages:

Lge Name
DE Der faschistische Virus
FR « Le virus fasciste »