The Great Transformation

The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time

Sunday | 31.01.21 | 19:00

A literary evening on the occasion of the publication of the first Hebrew edition of the monumental and groundbreaking book by

Prof. Karl Polanyi |

In recent years, and to an even greater extent since the financial crisis of 2008, Polanyi’s book, which was first published in 1944, has enjoyed renewed interest. Polanyi argued that the idea of the “free market” was but a utopian fantasy and that such a market never existed in reality. Moreover, he argued, the liberal belief in the “natural” power of the market to regulate itself is dangerous: It ignores the fact that throughout history, until the nineteenth century and the birth of the “market society,” the economy was rooted in social, communal, cultural, and religious norms. The dissociation of the market from the social institutions from which it sprang, Polanyi cautioned, will necessarily lead to a social, economic, and environmental catastrophe. (The Van Leer Institute Press, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, and Shaharit, 2020)

The Great Transformation is one of the most important nonfiction books of the twentieth century, and its messages resonate forcefully even in the twenty-first century. Many regard Polanyi as a kind of prophet who foresaw the dangers awaiting humankind in our day and the crises besetting the world, including the climate crisis, the crisis of democracy, and the rise of populism.

Karl Polanyi (1886–1964), who was of Jewish-Hungarian descent, was a multidisciplinary intellectual and one of the most important social historians of the twentieth century. He undertook to develop a comprehensive approach to the nature of economic relations in diverse social frameworks. This undertaking led him, inter alia, through historical and anthropological research, to an analysis of the market economy as a unique form of social organization.

To read the letter that Prof. Kari Polanyi Levitt, the author's daughter, wrote for the book launching event >>>


Moderator: Natalie Levy, Shaharit Institute and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
Dr. Miri Lavi-Neeman, Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and the University of California, Berkeley
Guy Rolnik, founding editor of The Marker; faculty member and lecturer on business strategy in The University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Assaf Sagiv, Shalem College

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