Our Polanyi week - the 1940 Bennington College Lectures

This week is PRIME’s Polanyi week.  We are re-publishing – because of their topical as well as historical significance – a set of five lectures given by Karl Polanyi in autumn 1940 at Bennington College, Vermont, and entitled by the author “The Present Age of Transformation”. The first three essays in essence briefly prefigure the main themes of his major work, “The Great Transformation”, published in 1944.  Polanyi had originally intended to include the subjects of his final two lectures, on the USA and Russia, in the book, but in the event did not do so.

We are publishing each of the lectures as individual posts, and have also compiled them for ease of reference into a pdf “publication” which includes Introductions by PRIME’s Jeremy Smith and Ann Pettifor, and by Professor Kari Polanyi-Levitt (to whom we express our special gratitude).  We start the series of posts with these introductions.

The lectures can be found on the Bennington College website, in their original typed format – well worth looking at!  We would like to express our deep thanks to the librarian of the Crossett Library at Bennington for giving us permission to reproduce the lectures; in so doing - we hope - we may help to bring them to the attention of a wide audience. 

The lectures are themselves full of contemporary relevance, dealing with how societies respond to the demands and impact of a laissez-faire “market utopia” system, and seek to protect themselves from its excesses.  The forms of self-protection can take either authoritarian or democratic forms.

It is also highly relevant to recall – given current events in the USA – that in the summer of 1940, Bennington College’s president, Robert Leigh, took the decision to invite a number of European academics (including Polanyi) who had been forced to leave their countries due to the war to take up residence at the College and pursue their studies – as well as benefit the college’s students.  We should celebrate his initiative, and see it as a precedent of symbolic significance.