The good Life in an industrial Society

From Karl Polanyi
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Our wish is for a meaningful life. In our every-day existence we want to feel that we live and that what we do "matters" to our outer and inner self, which includes not only those close to us, but all men.

Considerations such as these do not, however, convey with a sufficient clarity what our true concern are. What are we lacking? Why do we all seem uncertain about the nature or our troubles? What is our quarrel with our civilization? What do we mean by a more human society? Why cannot we even give it a name?

The truth is that we do name it, but we do not ourselves quite believe what we say. There is perhaps no one demand we make more often than that for freedom. Yet, when we come to think of it, nothing can be more vague. Why do we assert that our religion insists on it? Where and when precisely does it do so? And why do we insist that we could not survive the loss of it? Paradoxically, the truth is that what we imagine to be merely paying lipservice to, is the one thing we truly value. We only do not believe it ourselves, because our current opinions make it appear impossible and the professing of it insincere.

The paradox is this: It is our own deepest conviction that we lack religious faith. Indeed, this is the most widely held belief of our day. Hence, when confronted with the picture of our own inner life, we refuse to recognize it, because it resembles what we imagine religion to be like, of which we are convinced we do not possess it. Such superficial prejudices prevent us from identifying our trouble to the point of making us unsure of our true wishes.

What is the freedom to recognize it, because resembles what we imagine religion to be like, of which we are convinced we do not possess it. Such superficial prejudices prevent us from identifying our trouble to the point of making us unsure of our true wishes.

What is the freedom we all believe in? Is it existence in an industrial society which causes the loss of it? What is the reality we try to reject?

[2] Three revelations have made what we are. The discovery of physical death; the discovery of eternal death; the discovery of society. We have resigned ourselves to the finiteness of our bodily life and created our life out of it: work, art, science, morality, personal dedication, service of mankind. We have resigned ourselves to the discovery of our own souls and the threat of eternal death. Out of it we have created a new life of freedom, which is what we are advised to live. It is a life of fear of eternal death and hope of eternal life; such a condition is freedom and we resume to live without it. In a complex society the unwilled results of our willed actions are revealed. Of these there are two which threaten us: power and economic value. These involve us in creating power which compells the inner life of others, whether we want it or not. This is the loss of freedom our lives suffer from. Inner life dwindles when it is deprived of meaning. Take away responsibility for creating power; the amount of it; the use made of it and so much of our meaning has been removed. Take away responsibility for inducing economic value for the human value of other lives and so much of meaning has been removed. The human life is personal.

The economy is to be humanized, (as the political life has been before our time). It was constitutionalized and personalized. Here we meet the true revisionist task: How to introduce the personal-moral requirements of human existence into the process of machine production. Capitalist organization subjected the process of production to institutional forms which adapted to the double requirements of technology and finance, both reduced to a problem of costing. The requirements of freedom – of adjusting continuity, discipline and efficiency to the personal existence of the producer; to his deeply felt preferences often expressive to family, friends and inner occasions, his adjustments, strong inclinations and aversions; the possibility of changing occupations, professions; start anew in life in other productive fields; developing gifts, special knowledge; contributing of improvements, discoveries, innovations, organizational [3] ideas, experimental attitudes, literary essays, promoted by through prizes, scholarships, travelling assistance, public recognition, presentation in mass media, periodical publications, etc. etc.………

Marx once described our understanding of the economy as a progressive humanizing of its concept. What struck the physiocrats as a natural-agricultural process of circulation; the mercantilists still conceiving of wealth as an extra-human entity of objects; Adam Smith humanized it further by deriving value from human labour; but only in its socialist organization does the economy eventually appear in its true human-personal form.

Text Informations

KPA: 42/13 (Two times 3 p. of draft typed)