The Great Transformation

From Karl Polanyi
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Foreword by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Introduction by Fred Block

Note on the 2001 Edition


Part One: The International System

1. The Hundred Years' Peace

2. Conservative Twenties, Revolutionary Thirties

Part Two: Rise and Fall of Market Economy

I. Satanic Mill

3. "Habitation versus Improvement"

4. Societies and Economic Systems

[48][1] … Max Weber was the first among modern economic historians to protest against the brushing aside of primitive economics as irrelevant to the question of the motives and mechanisms of civilized societies.

[59] Pour juger du changement, on cessait de se rapporter au bon sens ; avec un empressement mystique, on se résignait aux conséquences de l’amélioration économique.

5. Evolution of the Market Pattern

6. The Self-Regulating Market and the Fictitious Commodities: Labor, Land, and Money

[75] …the postulate that anything is bought and sold must have been produced for sale.

7. Speenhamland, 1795

8. Antecedents and Consequences

9. Pauperism and Utopia

10. Political Economy and the Discovery of Society

II. Self-Protection of Society

11. Man, Nature, and Productive Organization

12. Birth of the Liberal Creed

[148] Liberal writers like Spencer and Sumner, Mises and Lippmann offer an account on the double movement substantially similar to our own, but they put an entirely different interpretation on it. While in our view the concept of self-regulating market was utopian, and its progress was stopped by the realistic self-protection of society, in their view all protectionism was a mistake due to impatience, greed, and shortsightedness, but for which the market would have resolved its difficulties. The question as to which of these two views is correct is perhaps the most important problem of recent social history, involving as it does no less than a decision on the claim of economic liberalism to be the basis organizing principle in society.

13. Birth of the Liberal Creed (Continued): Class Interest and Social Change

14. Market and Man

15. Market and Nature

16. Market and Productive Organization

17. Self-Regulation Impaired

18. Disruptive Strains

Part Three: Transformation in Progress

19. Popular Government and Market Economy

20. History in the Gear of Social Change

21. Freedom in a Complex Society

[267] We invoked what we believed to be the three constitutive facts in the consciousness of Western man: knowledge of death, knowledge of freedom, knowledge of society. The first, according to Jewish legend, was revealed in the Old Testament story. The second was revealed through the discovery of the uniqueness of the person in the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. The third revelation came [268] to us through living in an industrial society. No one great name attaches to it; perhaps Robert Owen came nearest to becoming its vehicle. It is the constitutive element in modern man's consciousness.

The fascist answer to the recognition of the reality of society is the rejection of the postulate of freedom. The Christian discovery of the uniqueness of the individual and of the oneness of mankind is negated by fascism. Here lies the root of its degenerative bent. Robert Owen was the first to recognize that the Gospels ignored the reality of society. He called this the "individualization" of man on the part of Christianity and appeared to believe that only in a cooperative commonwealth could "all that is truly valuable in Christianity" cease to be separated from man. Owen recognized that the freedom we gained through the teachings of Jesus was inapplicable to a complex society. His socialism was the upholding of man's claim to freedom in such a society. The post-Christian era of Western civilization had begun, in which the Gospels did not any more suffice, and yet remained the basis of our civilization.

Notes on Sources

1. Balance of Power as Policy, Historical Law, Principle, and System

2. Hundred Years' Peace

3. The Snapping of the Golden Thread

4. Swings of the Pendulum after World War I

5. Finance and Peace

6. Selected References to "Societies and Economic Systems"

7. Selected References to "Evolution of the Market Pattern"

8. The Literature of Speenhamland

9. Poor Law and the Organization of Labor

10. Speenhamland and Vienna

11. Why Not Whitbread's Bill?

12. Disraeli's "Two Nations" and the Problem of Colored Races

Text Informations

UK Name: Origins of our Time. The Great Transformation (1945) …

  • 19/05: Plan of a Book on the “Origins of the Cataclysm” - A Political and Economic Inquiry (47 typewritten p.)
  • 19/06 : G.D.H. Cole's notes on The Great Transformation, 1943. (5 typed p.)
  • 19/07: Karl Polanyi Notes for The Great Transformation, 1934-1943 (101 typed p.)
  • 20/02: Book outline and introduction - "Tame Empires", 1938-1939 (32 typed p. and sometimes hand-corrected )
  • 20/03: Book outline, Draft (3 typed p.)
  • 20/04: Book plan, Draft, Common Man’s Masterplan (22 typed p. & handwritten)
  • 20/08: The Fascist Transformation, 1934-1935 (52 typed p. & handwritten with manuscript corrections)
  • Notes on Readings in KPA:
Name Date KPA / Src
Alphabetical Notes for The Great Transformation (A-H) 1934•1943 06/05
Alphabetical Notes for The Great Transformation (I-R) 1934•1943 06/06
Alphabetical Notes for The Great Transformation (S-Z) 1934•1943 07/01
Alphabetic Notebook X Themes for The Great Transformation (A-Z) 1934•1943 07/02
Notes on readings - A-G 1940•1944 07/04
Notes on readings - H-P 1940•1944 07/05
Notes on readings - R-Z 1940•1944 07/06
Notes and outlines for The Great Transformation 1938•1944 08/12
Notes and outlines for The Great Transformation 1938•1944 08/13
Notes and outlines for The Great Transformation 1938•1944 08/14
Notes and outlines for The Great Transformation 1938•1944 08/15
Notes and outlines for The Great Transformation 1938•1944 09/01

Recent Publication: The Great Transformation. The Political Economic Origins of our Time, Boston, Beacon Press, 2001, 303 p.
Other Languages:

Lg Name
FR La grande transformation

See also

Secondary Literature in English on the Great Transformation

Author Year Name Edition
ÁGH Attila 1990 The Hundred Years’ Peace chap. 11 of POLANYI-LEVITT (ed.) 1990, p. 93-97
BLOCK Fred 2001 Karl Polanyi and the Writing of the Great Transformation Text presented on the 8th International Colloquium on Karl Polanyi, Mexico, 2001 ; [2003] Theory and Society, n°32, p. 275–306 ; chap. 3 de BLOCK & SOMERS 2014, p. 73-97
BLOCK Fred 2001 Introduction of The Great Transformation Boston, Beacon Press, 2001, p. xvi-xxxviii
BLOCK Fred 2003 In the Shadow of Speenhamland: Social Policy and the Old Poor Law Politics & Society, n°31/2, p. 283-323; ch. 3 de BLOCK & SOMERS 2014, p. 73-97
BLOCK Fred 2008 Polanyi’s Double Movement and the Reconstruction of Critical Theory Revue Interventions économiques, n°38
DALE Gareth 2008 Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation: Perverse effects, protectionism and Gemeinschaft Economy and Society, 37 (4), p. 495-524
DALE Gareth 2016a Chapter 5. “The Cataclysm and its Origins” in Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left, New York, Columbia Univ. Press, 400 p.
DALE Gareth 2016c Chapter 5. “Reconstructing The Great Transformation in Reconstructing Karl Polanyi, London, Pluto Press, 272 p.
FLEMING Berkeley 2001 Three Years in Vermont: “The Writing of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation Conference presented to the Eighth International Karl Polanyi Conference, Mexico City, Mexico, November 14, 2001
KINDLEBERGER Charles Poor 1974 The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi Daedalus, n° 103, 1974
KOMÓROCZY Géza 1990 Karl Polanyi’s Historical Utopia chap. 21 of POLANYI-LEVITT (ed.) 1990, p. 188-191
MUUKONEN Martii 2009 Karl Polanyi and ‘The Double Movement’ 9th Conference of European Sociological Association, September, 2009, Lisbon
ÖZEL Hüseyin The Road to Serfdom in the Light of The Great Transformation: A Comparison on the Basis of Unintended Consequences 
POLANYI-LEVITT Kari 1990 Origins and Significance of The Great Transformation chap. 13 of POLANYI-LEVITT (ed.) 1990, p. 111-124
ROBBIE Kenneth (Mc) 2000 Vision and Expression: Literature and The Great Transformation chap. 7 of POLANYI-LEVITT / Mc ROBBIE (eds.) 2000, p. 85-106
SALSANO Alfredo 1990 The Great Transformation in the Oeuvre of Karl Polanyi chap. 15 of POLANYI-LEVITT (ed.) 1990, p. 139-144
SPITTLER Gerd 2009 Contesting The Great Transformation: Work in comparative perspective chap. 9 of HART & HANN (eds.) 2009, p. 160-174
WALKER Richard 2013 The Two Karls, or Reflections on Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation Environment and Planning A, 45, p. 1662–1670.
  1. Pagination corresponds to the 2001, Beacon Press Edition.