Endre J. Nagy
AFTER BROTHERHOOD'S GOLDEN AGE:
KARL AND MICHAEL POLANYI
By the end of the 1920s, Karl and Michael had moved from freethinking atheism to Tolstoyan Christianity based on the view that individual self-completion could be the impetus for social change. This position, especially in Karl's case, was influenced by the social and moral teachings of syndicalism. Its programme was eloquently manifested in Karl's address on the occasion of the funeral of the great Hungarian poet Endre Ady, in February 1919, at a gathering of the Galilei Circle: "What the believer says is this: I shall change, and everything will be changed. If I change but a little, my world would already not be quite the same; and if others also change, the whole world will be truly different. And my actions I shall rate according to the degree to which they serve my changing." (K.P., 1919) The sublimity of these words seems to echo the watchword of Karl's fatherly brother-in-arms, the great syndicalist Ervin Szabó, when, two years earlier, he had addressed the Galilei Circle: "Not measures - men." However, there still existed the eternal question inherent within all social doctrine which combines moral reform with social reform or revolution, or ethics with sociology, or simply seeks to act upon social reality - namely, whether moral change precedes social change, or vice versa. Karl came to realize the gap existing between moral requirements and social reality, as a letter of 1920 makes clear:
So far, I had considered the ground to be too narrow (an analogy from the history of medicine) to set up a coherent position. But now, I do not think so.... Root and branch, I revised the project and finally found a plan that should be carried out. It is the atmospheric chasm that yawns between Tolstoyan and scientific courtesanism [sic!] - the gap itself that I should follow! I should demonstrate only that, in sociology, theory and practice (scientific policy) must be separated, because sociology, at least today, is not the science of human life and of the future of mankind. Thus, this sphere remains the sphere of moral truth. One arrives at the same position if the opposite is the point of departure, the side of moral requirements, as far as each individual refers to the fact that faith is needed in which moral truths are present and are true even if they could not be palpably accounted for...which in sociology must be followed: the moral aspects should be reasserted. (It is significant, from this aspect, that sociology was, in my opinion, formed initially as "hygiene universelle"). (K.P., 1920)
This passage is significant because it shows the inner intellectual drama taking place in Karl, and his painful efforts to overcome the imperfections of his theory; but also because the Polanyi literature seems to pay less attention to the syndicalist and Tolstoyan stage of Karl's intellectual development, though the roots of his later Guild Socialism and Christian sociology are to be found in these oscillations between morals and sociology. Here, too, the brothers began to diverge. Thus, while Karl took a definite step beyond individualist ethics towards the societal, or tried to imbue sociology with moral imperatives, Michael seemed to keep insisting upon the anti-materialist world view, retreating from a revolutionary attitude into a special kind of "new scepticism" as outlined above. Indeed, Michael's position was shifting towards the idealism of his later philosophy in which the theory of knowledge dominates the theory of society. In a contrary manner, Karl's position was moving towards the social pole within theory, while simultaneously holding to the moral element in the sense that this has to be oriented towards changing the external world - and not, as in the Tolstoyan period, towards only the inner "world" of the individual. Such a shift makes intelligible Karl's search for a new Kant, for one who, as he wrote to Micheal in the letter analysed above, would conceive the new "Kritik der praktischen Vernunft." "It is a possible task. Only I do not see anybody who would do it. What is 'given from ourselves' to social existence? The task is this new discrimination between a priori and a posteriori.... What is besides what ought to be? - This would be his question. And what should this 'is' mean for us?!" And he added that he would devote his strength, "if such it would be," to this task.
However difficult Karl felt this task to be, he undertook something like a new "Kritik" in his "Behemoth" (that in its present manuscript form still awaits analysis). Following Marx, Karl points out that such notions as capital, market and money as products of "reification" are but sham realities (Schein) which conceal underlying relationships between man and man. This brings about in capitalism an overall alienation which restricts human freedom. Yet he develops further the Marxian concept in an "activist," even "idealist" direction, by denying any similarity between the laws regulating science and those governing nature. The belief that laws rule society independently of human will he dismisses as mere supestition resulting from alienation. Once we admit that beyond the "thingness" of capital vital human relationships exist, then the way is open for human freedom to act upon society. But how? The Kantian "categorical imperative" is not sufficient to solve the problem, since the concept of "duty" could not be "without content" (inhaltlos) adequate for comprehending the social function of the personality. "In a period of bourgeois decadence, the heroic tension between Ideal and Reality is solved either by a sceptical turning against the ideal of freedom as in fascism, or in a philistine idyll of moral wantlessness (Genuegsamkeit)." (K.P., 1922-23, p. 11) Resolution can take place, Polanyi suggests, through "transparent" social knowledge which leads to concrete understanding of the real mutual relationships among individuals. Thus, going beyond a Kantian and Tolstoyan position, he declares:
This knowledge is, of course, not individual; all inner contemplation (Anschauung) is abstract Tolstoyan knowledge which must lead to an unreal and insubstantially anarchic position in social reality (Soziale). In opposition to individual knowledge, social knowledge can be effectively mediated by the real transformation (Umgestaltung) of mutual human life (Wechselleben). (K.P., 1922-23, p. 28)
The "Behemoth" is a great intellectual achievement, and can be compared to such other endeavours of significant Marxist renewal as those of Lukács, Gramsci and Bukharin, who however based their works on divergent philosophical principles, while Karl's position was closer to that of Austro-Marxism. The "Behemoth" represents the third stage of Karl's intellectual development, after atheism and Tolstoyism. It already includes the outlines of Guild Socialism and "functional socialism." Interpretations of these already exist, and therefore just two elements will be discussed here.
First, during the early 1920s Polanyi transcended not only the individual ethics of Tolstoy but also syndicalism with its anarchist component that would eliminate the State, as is clear from the essay on Cole's Guild Socialism published in the Bécsi Magyar Újság (Viennese Hungarian News). Guild Socialism provided a modest solution, restricting the State's activity to a scale equivalent to that of the guilds. The second element in Karl's thinking at this time is the seeming absence of Christian thought in his theoretical framework. Neither the "Behemoth" nor the published essay on Guild Socialism (not to mention the debate on "socialist accountancy") included it. Although Karl wrote to Michael in 1926, that "to tackle concrete problems from a Christian viewpoint: this is my socialism" (K.P., 1923), he did not elaborate further. Nor is there any trace of it in the correspondence between the brothers up till 1933 when they moved to England. Might it not be due to the fact that Michael's religious interests, as he later wrote to Mannheim, were weakening in the twenties? On the other hand, it is known that Karl reportedly kept in touch with Austrian religious socialists, and published in their periodical the initial version of "The Essence of Fascism." And certainly the later version of the essay, published in 1936, is permeated with the Christian spirit. In Abraham Rotstein's illuminating analysis of Karl Polanyi's philosophical perspectives, it is shown why and how the Christian legacy became the theoretical basis on which Karl would take a stand against fascism. In this connection emphasis must be laid upon Karl's theoretical "experiment" of fusing the strikingly materialist anthropology of the young Marx with the social ethics of Christianity. This achievement is unmatched in the history of ideas in this century. Of course, there have been many attempts to construct theories based upon the social teachings of Christianity, from Paul Tillich to Reinhold Neibuhr (whose paper was included in Christianity and the Social Revolution) up to the present Liberation theology. But nobody, so far as I know, has been daring enough to bring together anthropology, as outlined by Marx in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, and Christianity. Thus the two brothers may now be seen to be oriented in somewhat opposing directions, departing from their former common commitment to Tolstoyan Christianity.
The issue is again treated by Karl in the manuscript entitled "Bemerkungen" (Comments) which was likely prepared in response to someone's paper. (K.P., 1935?) Here Karl launches an attack against the assertion that Christianity had nothing to do with the usual "social questions" which socialism identifies. Karl's argument derives, first, from the social ethic of Christianity, and, second, from Marxist anthropology" as an outstanding contribution to so-called 'Christian sociology' insofar as it takes its task seriously" (to quote another paper). Although in the "Comments" the Christian section precedes the Marxist, yet, knowing Karl's concepts from the "Behemoth" and Guild Socialism, it is unquestionable that his derivation of a social ethic from Christianity is actually, though not obviously, underpinned by Marxist anthropology. In the second section of the paper it becomes clear that his interpretation of Christianity was nourished by Marx's conception of community, something Karl had not yet taken up in the twenties when discussing the institutional levels of society such as communes and guilds.
First, there is Karl's thesis-like presentation of logical inference:
1. Christianity bears on the relationship of man to God.
2. This relationship cannot exist other than within the relationship of mankind to God.
3. The relationship of mankind to God is realized in society as a whole, as a personal relationship between individuals.
4. No particular or specific social aspect of social existence, if cut off from society as a whole, can have reality for Christians. (K.P., 1935?, I, pp.1-2)
Karl's main formula here - namely, "society as a whole as a personal relationship between individuals" - probably derives from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts which he must have come to know some time in 1933. Accordingly, Marx's anthropology is utilized by Karl also for transcending the Kantian dilemma:
Christian sociology means either knowledge of the relationship between men, that renders it possible for us to relate the concrete state of society to the will of God, or it is utterly insignificant. It is an obvious presupposition for such a conception of Christian Sociology, that the Gospel actually contains a theory of society in the sense of social ethics which determine how society ought to be.... Society as it is is nothing other than society that ought to be as God wants it to be. This "ought to be" operates in that which "is" and can destroy what "is" under certain circumstances. Conversely, the Gospel contains essential knowledge both of society as it is and of society as it ought to be. (K.P., 1935?, I, pp. 2-3)
The second thing we may note is how Karl fuses Marx's anthropology with this concept of Christian sociology. He recalls the early phase of Marx's intellectual development:
Almost exactly a hundred years ago, Karl Marx started out on his career as a philosopher, with an unpublished work entitled "Kleanthes" (1836) which he himself described as "a philosophical and dialectical treatise on the nature of Divinity, and its manifestations as pure Idea, as Religion, as Nature, and as History." Although Marx destroyed the manuscript, it was the actual starting-point of all his later work.The recently discovered brilliant manuscript of "Nationalökonomie und Philosophie," another work not deemed worthy of publication by Marx, proves that anthropology was the backround of Marx's philosophy. Marx's economics were, in fact, an application of his sociology to a special aspect of capitalist society, while his sociology itself was merely a part of his anthropology... For the theologian, Marxism is essentially an effort to determine the actual relationship of mankind to God. Its preoccupation is with the definition of that which Christians call "the fullness of time." It is an attempt to relate human time to eternal time. (K.P., 1935? II, pp. 6-7)
Thus Christian ethics can be brought together with Marx's anthropology, since Marx himself theoretically took a stand on the ground of Christianity at the outset of his career. Accordingly, Christian ethics focusing on the personality should be synthesized with Marx's conception of community and communism. As Polanyi puts it:
The teachings of Jesus, as well as the doctrines of the Church are, in this respect, merely reassertions and clarifications of the basic relationship between individuals. The doctrine of love, of brotherhood, of the fatherhood of God, are parts of a definition of this kind of relationship between human beings which belongs to the essence of society. - No word in the English language seems to designate unambiguously this aspect of social existence. The nearest approach to it is community in the sense of an affirmative personal relationship of human individuals, i.e. of a relation which is direct, unmediated, significant for its own sake, "a personal response to a demand of persons." Community is, therefore, for us, not synonymous with society. Indeed, the dialectic of the relation in which they stand to one another, is the key to the social ethics of Christianity. (K.P., 1935? II, p. 2)
The status of the individual and community is thus determined; but, of course, society and the economy are not ignored. Karl emphasizes that "community between human beings cannot exist apart from actual society," for, as symbolized by the parable of Jesus, actual community between persons consists in actual material sharing, not in the mere ideal sharing of common traditions and creeds (a statement to be kept in mind, for comparison with Michael's relative position). However, the actual conditions of capitalism separate economic life from the rest of life ( the "disembeddedness of the economy"!) and bring about commodity fetishism; for "when and where production for the market is the rule, the fetishistic character of commodities is inevitable." (K.P., 1935? II, p. 12) (This is the renewed concept of the "Behemoth.") Finally, Polanyi argues along the lines of Marx that private ownership is at present the immediate obstacle to the fulfilment of community in terms of Christianity.
It was at this stage of Karl's theoretical development that the split between the brothers first appeared. It revealed itself first as a purely family matter. In a letter to Michael, of September 18, 1934, Karl adopts a somewhat dramatic tone:
It would be best, dearest brother, to make things clear. Let's save what can be saved. Let's not give our lives free of charge. If Magda [Michael's wife] will first have difficulties, I will try to understand them. Doesn't she want to know Ilona, perhaps? But why wouldn't we both make every effort to put into practice our separate goals, while trusting one another, believing in each other? If in no other way: like men? We are indeed men, are we not? - Anyway, don't worry. There's no reason why we shouldn't love each other. For this, by no means is it necessary to agree in everything. I believe in you, and perhaps I too have not given you any reason to think me quite beyond redemption.... Our dear father put you in my care 29 years ago. By now, you do not need me any more. But what a mistake it would be for us to lose one another! (K.P., 1934/I)
Michael's wife kept in the background during all of this, and reportedly was disgusted by Ilona Duczynska's revolutionary activism. Whatever the situation was, the brothers succeeded in clarifying things, and the ominous tempest passed. This is apparent from Karl's next letter, a month and a half later, in which among other things he describes his plan to travel to America, speaks of Ilona's health, and reports on a discussion with a theologian about the future of Christianity in Russia. He also speaks about preparing the volume Christianity and the Social Revolution, and, in connection with this, about lectures in which he analysed economic problems from a Christian viewpoint. "The calling of Christianity consists in transforming the world and in being instrumental in it," he repeats. (K.P., 1934/II) Other letters also bear witness to the as yet undisturbed relationship, such as that in which Karl informs Michael about his making the acquaintance of leading representatives of the Christian Left: John Macmurray, Sidney Wood, Malcolm Spencer, Peter Scott, J.H. Oldham, among others. "All are leftists of various nuance. I was almost the more conservative of the circle...." (K.P., 1934?/III) In another letter, Karl reports on a new development within the English Christian movement: "Yesterday, at a Policy Conference of the 'Aux', the question of world view was rather suddenly brought to a head. The religious socialists were triumphant and the Aux, that under the aegis of neutrality was the stronghold of Conservatism so far, turned suddenly in the direction represented by Irene [Grant]." (K.P., 1935)
It was their differing assessment of the Soviet Russian experiment which was to become the real bone of contention between the brothers. There exists neither any letter to Karl nor manuscript prior to 1935 which would make it possible to follow the stages of Michael's theoretical development. We know, however, that he published an essay in November 1935, in the Manchester School of Economic and Social Studies, entitled "USSR Economics. System and Spirit." And there was to be another in the same periodical entitled "The Struggle between Truth and Propaganda" obviously relating to the same issue. It is possible that Michael forwarded an outline of what was to be published by the end of 1935, for we have a letter containing Karl's reaction. The context reveals that this is his second letter on the subject, for Karl reexplains his former arguments, though these cannot be fully interpreted without knowing Michael's previous letter. Veiled criticism can be sensed in some of Karl's remarks, such as: "The large overview into which you put so much work speaks for itself without any doubt. I have seen so many criticisms of Soviet materials...that I could not tell what is the novelty in yours. I mean by this that a sharper wording as to ends would have been more appropriate...." He continues: "Thus, under the Stalinist era there was no market in the Soviet Union. This would be a logical assertion of your argument. I do not share it in this shape. Therefore, I warn you not to sharpen the market and non-market to extremes in the sense you do." (K.P., 1935/I)
There was no response from Michael, though one can have some idea of what it would have been from the nature of his writings from the late thirties on. Yet Karl's sympathies towards Soviet Russia were strengthening from the mid-thirties, culminating in his interpretation of the show Trials of 1937. His essay "Russia and the Crisis" is both a brilliant interpretation of the history of Soviet Russia in relation to the cause of socialism, and at the same time the low-point of Karl Polanyi's career, for he did not hesitate to disapprove of those who believed the Trials to be faked:
Many people actually believed that the Trials were a frame-up, and they indulged in fantastic explanations of them. To some they seemed to show the workings of a bloodthirsty tyranny; to others they were a result of Stalin's inordinate personal ambition; and to others again they appeared to be "witch trials" in which wretched innocents had been hypnotized into confessing imaginary crimes. (K.P., 1939, p. 8)
The article shows that Karl could not escape the magical temptation threatening all kinds of intellectuals in this century who desperately wanted to be able to witness their ideals manifested in contemporary social reality, to the extent of becoming oblivious to the actual discrepancy between ideal and reality. This "lapse" stems from the "intrinsic contradiction of the ideal-charged soul" - as the young and still idealist Lukács appositely put it - who, after having experienced the "complete sinfulness of the world" (Fichte), can scarcely bear it, and suffers on account of it. This is true of many thinkers of our time, from Heidegger (who flirted with Nazism for a while), to Merleau-Ponty (who discredited those who criticized the Soviet Union after the war), and Luk cs (who found excuses for Stalinist crimes). The same happened with Karl who, though aware of problems in Soviet Russia, regarded them as the fixation of "sentimental intellectuals." For he believed that the cause of socialism would stand or fall with Russia:
The working class must stand by Russia for the sake of socialism. Both parts of the sentence are of equal importance. To stand for socialism and not for Russia is the betrayal of socialism in its sole existing embodiment. To stand for Russia without mentioning socialism would also be the betrayal of socialism, which alone makes Russia worth fighting for. (K.P., 1939, p. 19)
It was Karl's devotion to Russia that Michael could never accept. Karl provides indirect corroboration of this in a later letter: "our differences (?) some twenty-three years ago" (thus in 1934, as the letters quoted above bear out) "darkened my life.... Some six years later you wrote to me that what had separated us was our attitude toward Russia." (K.P., 1957) It is true. For Michael's view of the Soviet experience was diametrically opposed to that of Karl. His negative attitude took root during his visit to the Soviet Union, of which he gives an account in The Tacit Dimension (1966). In the following passage he recalls his experiences and also their consequences, with regard to his later ambitious project to devise a new theory of knowledge:
I remember a conversation I had with Bukharin in Moscow in 1935. Though he was heading towards his fall and execution three years later, he was still a leading theoretician of the Communist Party. When I asked him about the pursuit of pure science in Soviet Russia, he said that pure science was a morbid symptom of a class society; under socialism the conception of science pursued for its own sake would disappear, for the interests would spontaneously turn to problems of the current Five Year Plan. - I was struck by the fact that this denial of the very existence of independent scientific thought came from a socialist theory that derived its tremendous power from its claim to scientific certainty. The scientific outlook appeared to have produced a mechanical conception of man and history in which there was no place for science itself. The conception denied altogether any intrinsic power to thought and thus denied also any ground for claiming freedom of thought. - So I resolved to inquire into the roots of this condition. - My search has led me to a novel idea of human knowledge from which a harmonious view of thought and existence, rooted in the universe, seems to emerge.
In the light of this passage it seems unnecessary to cite any further evidence to prove that there was no hope of the brothers' becoming reconciled with respect to Soviet Russia. Still, there is a letter of 1944 that touches upon the imprisonment of their niece Eva Zeisel in the Soviet Union; and Michael's reproaches to Karl in connection with this seem to have led almost to a breach between them:
What shocked me was the fact that you suggested with the emphasis of a person telling me an obvious fact, that Eva was treated by the most fair judicial methods. Eva had told me that they had impressed it upon her that she must confess "just a little," in order to make it possible for them to have a "separate trial." Otherwise she would be shot without trial. Under continued pressure of this kind she broke down and made false confessions implicating other innocent persons. Back in her cell she tried to commit suicide but failed... In any case I had good reason to feel deeply indignant at your way of imposing your view on me which I felt to be extravagant - to say the least. (M.P., 1944/II)
This abrupt exchange, however, was settled in some way we cannot know, since there is no response to this letter among the correspondence. Most probably it was resolved during a meeting of the brothers face to face. Yet the theoretical conflict growing throughout the thirties could nnot anymore be covered up. From their former common ground of Tolstoyan religiosity, Karl had moved towards a community-oriented Christian sociology which led him to celebrate the Russian experiment as the sole embodiment of socialism, while Michael rejected it and went on to construct a social theory based upon a theory of knowledge and a free society. Accordingly, to him fascism was not a genuine monster of the twentieth century, but only a consequence of Marxism. The latter constituted a so-called "dynamo-coupling" of infinite moral fervour (which became transfigured into overt immorality!) and scientific scepticism. For it enabled "the modern mind, tortured by moral self-doubt, to indulge its moral passions in terms which also satisfy its passion for ruthless objectivity." From such opposing theoretical positions, there was no way the brothers could agree on the "essence of fascism."
The social theory of Michael Polanyi was conceived at the end of the thirties, and fully accomplished by the beginning of the fifties. At its core is the claim that any attempt to realize a planned economy would not only destroy individual freedom (as Hayek also maintained), but in any case would constitute a task which surpasses the ability of the human mind. Furthermore, the Soviet Union's supposed attainment of full employment, much glorified by Western intellectuals, rested on a sham basis, since in reality there was hidden unemployment within State-owned factories as a consequence of labour conscription. As to capitalism's deficiencies, they can be remedied by the Keynesian devices that Polanyi tried to elaborate at some points. Unemployment cannot be eliminated, because it is triggered by technical advances: thus a ratio of five percent unemployment of the active manpower of a country should be accepted as normal.
Economic organization - or, as Karl would say, integration - may be ordered in either of two ways. The first is the corporate order, erected on a planned basis which requires a hierarchy and a head. The second is the one that Michael conceived on the pattern of Smith's proverbial "invisible hand" which consists of the mutual adjustment of subjects, both individuals and organizations, bringing about "policentricity." This spontaneous co-operation among numberless centres results in spontaneous order. Michael's paradigmatic model for such an order reveals the workings of science, but he maintains that its fundamental principles should also apply to the various spheres of social life in a free society. Though corporate order may apply in various niches within the network of society, spontaneous order must prevail unless society yields to totalitarian ways. A passage from a manuscript of 1944 regarding economics reveals a view very different from Karl's: "...the market...offers the only possibility for adjusting a great variety of resources to the requirements of a multitude of individually different plants producing for a multitude of individual needs, while also assuring the distribution of the products in accordance with those needs." (M.P., 1944/III)
By now it will have become clear that the brothers had gone off in very different directions from their former common religious basis of the twenties. A letter from Karl reveals that he broke with his Christian Left work in 1937. (K.P., 1957) There is no trace of Christian sociology in The Great Transformation, where the former Christian concept of personality appears in the context of the "reality of society," not backed by religious transcendence. By contrast, Michael took the Augustinian thesis nisi crediteritis non intellegitis ("you will not know unless you believe") as a starting point, and brought human knowledge to the threshold of theology. Thus, in the final sentences of Science, Faith and Society (1946), he writes:
Such an interpretation of society would seem to call for an extension in the direction towards God. ...I would express my belief that modern man will eventually return to God through the clarification of his cultural and social purposes. Knowledge of reality and the acceptance of obligations which guide our consciences, once firmly realized, will reveal to us God in man and society.
His complex theory brings together a great many of the sciences, from mathematics and biology, to sociology and philosophy. Fortunately, we have a letter providing some explanation:
It would go too far if I tried to tell you now exactly what my religious beliefs are. Fundamental is the fact that from the beginning of the War I was guided by a conviction that the Pauline scheme of redemption [i.e. the origin of Augustine's statement cited above] is the true paradigma [sic!] of the process of scientific discovery. It demands us to undertake a task for which our explicit faculties are clearly insufficient, trusting that our labours will be granted success by powers over which we have no command [a hint at his central concept of tacit knowledge]. It is this doctrine of grace which I recognized in our relation to perfection, whenever we feel charged to pursue it, well knowing that we cannot achieve this end. (M.P., 1968)
One may well imagine Karl's attitude towards such a turn in Michael's thinking. In an undated letter, but one which could be a comment in response to Science, Faith and Society, Karl again again reproaches Michael for his negative attitude towards Russia and his concept of the relationship between fascism and socialism.
The main mistake, perhaps, is that you did not succeed in eliminating your antipathy towards Russia and sympathy towards Capitalism. Since you give grounds for none of them it takes effect harmfully on the objectivity more than any Greuelmarchen [nightmare tale] would do. The impression is that you have taken literally the alleged materialism of Russians and, then, measure upon it the success of their cause. The whole thing is without effect in the Western world where both Socialists and Fascists openly strive towards antimaterialist ends.
And Karl adds, confirming his withdrawal from religion: "I hold your paper, the fundamental religious feeling of which I am mostly opposing passionately, of high value." (K.P., 1945?)
That there was an unbridgeable gulf between their views must have been realized by the brothers, by the time of the appearance of Karl's "Our Obsolete Market Mentality." Though Michael made no comment on it, there does exist a letter written in 1953 in which he sums up his views on the market, which may be considered an indirect reaction to Karl's essay.
Again I should maintain what I said further on this subject in The Logic of Liberty, that policentricity and the operation of the market is an inevitable consequence of a technology which is determined by the task of producing a very wide range of primary materials. An economy which does not use the market or does not use it to the full is necessarily an economy of restricted choices, and in an economy of restricted choices there is no need, and perhaps no purpose, in allowing the market to develop its full power. (M.P., 1953)
This is the final stage of the split, which had steadily widened to include "metaphysics" and social theory. There was nothing else but for the brothers to accustom themselves to it, while maintaining a relationship at the family level.
Thus life went on, until it finally entered the third phase which we may term "the brothers' wise and resignative reconciliation." Let us be clear. The drama of conflict was played out in what may be termed metaphysical time, in the sense that all philosophies and abstract social theories are never resolved by the death of their authors. The great philosophers still live among us: even those hitherto submerged may re-surface, whenever a new "spirit" revitalizes them. This had happened to Spinoza - forgotten, "a dead dog," as Marx put it - until he was rediscovered by Hegel. Yet this kind of renaissance has been a day-to-day experience, showing that theories and ideas are beyond empirical time and are living in that metaphysical time which particular philosophies as many "partial totalities" (P. Ricoeur) deploy. Their emrgence is not independent of the social context in which their creators originally conceived them; but their span, scope and significance lie beyond the necessarily limited horizon of their authors. It is in this sense that the drama of the brothers comes to an end in the fifties. The decisive tenets around which the discussion between them had revolved now become fixed. However, there were certain shifts in their personal attitudes. The correspondence provides evidence that Karl made some effort to address Michael's position, though we know of Michael's reaction in but one letter showing that no reconciliation was possible. There Michael launched a friendly but sweeping critique of Karl's concept of formal and substantial economy:
May I confess to some hesitation about your work at its most abstract level. While there can be no doubt about the effectiveness of your studies and in the significance of the field which you have staked out for them, I cannot help disagreeing with your fundamental distinction between formal and substantial economics. I think that what you call the logic of choice is deeply imbedded in all manifestations of rationality down to the level of the amoeba. It is likewise inherent in the conception of all machines and indeed of any purposive device. Throughout this domain a balance is struck between a large number of particulars which mutually supplement each other. Economy in this sense is the most general characteristic of life and of all artifacts produced by living beings. (M.P., 1953)
Thereafter Michael speaks of his conception of "policentricity" and the market.
Karl's ideas may be seen in a variety of letters, in the context of miscellaneous political and theoretical issues. Thus, concerning Soviet Union, a letter of 1955 shows that Karl had revised his former uncritical position towards Stalinism, abandoning his earlier tolerance. In "Russia and the Crisis" he had maintained that the significance of the Trials must not be measured by the standards of an old-fashioned "philistine" ethic, because the morality of professional revolutionaries represented the morality of the future. But now he had come to think otherwise:
All that time (when as you know, I unyieldingly refused to accept the Russian interim ethics at any point) I was preparing for the future if one there would be.... Now the end of Western-Americo-Russian materialism is in sight. The world is turning back from the so-called "economic" to its "moral and political" axis. Peace and freedom are the dominant concerns of the future. (K.P., 1956)
Karl considered his theoretical work on trade and market as anticipating the politics of co-existence which was emerging. This is reflected in his concluding sentence, on "the possibilities of world cooperation in practical terms between the various types of foreign trade monopolies" in the future.
This changing attitude towards Russia may also explain Karl's unreserved enthusiasm for the Hungarian revolution of 1956, to which several letters attest. Thus, in one of the best known of these, he writes:
1956 re-conquered me for Hungary. More than that: It gave me a mother country.... I admire the fighters of October, I am proud of Miklós Gimes, son of my Galileist friend. They have redeemed Hungary, a nonpeople, from Ady's "szégyenkaloda," the "stocks" of history...the political interests of Hungary that are of course sold down the river in great power policy, both protagonists being absolutely self-regarding when it comes to "business." My interest is in the moral values represented by martyrs of the populist and revisionist cause. (K.P.,1959)
Similarly, he explicitly voiced disagreement with the Russian occupation after returning from his first visit to Hungary in 1961: "I was warmly welcomed by my class-mates of 52 years ago in Budapest.... The bulk of the population has not yet recovered from the invasion of 4th of November. The State with a socialist type economy bears the concealed foreign rule with more difficulty than any other country." (K.P., 1961)
The shift in Karl's position towards criticism of Russian power politics, and his stress on moral considerations as the motive of the Hungarian revolutionaries, brought the brothers closer. Michael would also emphasize the importance of the Hungarian revolution in a short essay written at the end of 1956 (M.P., 1956) which contains the essence of his later "The Message of the Hungarian Revolution" (1966). Like Karl, he also praises the moral component of the revolution, and blames the Western powers for not having supported the cause of liberty. But a closer reading reveals that even those views shared by the brothers actually belong to very different contexts. Whereas Karl holds that the Hungarian revolution was of great significance because it had torn Hungary from its feudal hangovers - namely, from Ady's "stocks," characteristic of the Hungary of their youth, yet still existing under socialism - Michael sets the events in the context of his theory. His approach was to reassert "spiritual beliefs" in truth, in fairness and decency, in beauty, in solidarity, and in justice. For he maintained that science, the arts, religion, and jurisprudence, while being fields of independent thought, were yet allied to each other, and, if the independence of one would be taken away, then the freedom of the others likewise will end. As Harry Prosch has pointed out: "the ultimate aim of Polanyi's efforts was to try to reinforce our traditional beliefs in truth, justice, mercy and fellowship... for the continued existence of free society.... [This] will lend an ontological basis for [man's] grasp of his own dignity and high calling in the universe." Consequently, Michael hoped that the Hungarian revolution (and other Communist revisionist movements, such as that in Poland), being revolutions of truth, would lead even Western countries to the overcoming of an epistemology reposing on the false ideal of "objectivity" and "value-neutrality" which was dominating in the social sciences. For he held it would be impossible to pass judgement - for example, in the case of the faked Moscow Trials - if the social scientist chose not to decide, by virtue of objectivity, whether the accusations were true or false, faked or real. Accordingly, the reassertion of truth in this sense will entail a new epistemology, a "post-critical" one, as Polanyi called it, which will reassert the status of the other spiritual beliefs in the whole of society. Thus, Michael had never expected what Karl always held to, that the socialist system would be able to arrive at a "humanist socialism." (K.P., 1958)
Karl's views on this question ran counter to those of Michael. Much as he now condemned the Russian Trials as an "intellectual obscenity" (K.P., 1956), and was aware that "Russian Bolshevism has lost its glamour for those who were mesmerized by it," he simultaneously attacked the assumed superiority of the West. As he put it: "Khrushchev has made a clean breast of Stalin's crimes. Who in the West is going to denounce our own crimes?" (K.P., 1958) He set his hopes on Communist revisionism which would "shape socialist culture on a libertarian and humanist pattern." (K.P., 1960) Thus we note again the process by which the brothers, while holding similar or seemingly indetical assumptions about the Hungarian revolution, nevertheless arrived at mutually opposing positions.
Our conclusion must nevertheless echo that pervasive note of tenderness and regard which underlay the brothers' sometimes storm-tossed "spiritual Odyssey." Above all, this is represented in Karl's letters through that "poetic" tone which was so characteristic of his nature, one with which readers of his revealing "Hamlet" essay will be familiar. Rarely was it expressed more movingly than when Karl wrote of that plaintive affection they shared as brothers: "Except for our father and my wife, I have never loved anyone as dearly as I loved you, and our first differences (?) some twenty years ago darkened my life as his death had hone." (K.P., 1957) And again: "I had set all my heart on sheltering you from the thrusts of fate, our father's sudden death. My quiet satisfaction with your achievements was always there. And that you were kind to me, when I needed it most." (K.P., 1961)
How such a deep sense of union was possible may some day be the subject of a monograph. And for whoever will undertake it, these words of Karl's will surely help to solve the riddle:
I am reminding us how our separate lives were to us both as massive pillars over which arched an invisible bridge of beauty; or separate singularity, in silence.... But I want also clarity to illuminate that bridge of silence so that the setting dusk obscure it not. Very little is lacking, for there was no misunderstanding between us, nothing but separateness due to my limitations, my long fumbling in life. History has outflanked that fumbling. Even if nothing could be done about it, it should not remain unsaid! (K.P., 1959)
The Correspondence and the Manuscripts
Reference is made to the Karl Polanyi Papers, Karl Polanyi Institute, Concordia University, Montréal. Other references, to letters and other items of the two brothers, are to the Michael Polanyi Papers, Regenstein Library, University of Chicago; and to The Széchenyi National Library, Polanyi Family (Országos Széchenyi Könyvtár, Polányi Család), Budapest.
K.P., 1919. "The Crisis of our ideologies" ("Nézeteink válsága") Huszadik Század (Dec., 1909), 13-15). Box 1, Folder: Hungarian Writings, 1918.
K.P., 1919. "A Call to the Youth of the Galilei Circle." Box 1, Folder: Hungarian Writings, 1919.
K.P., 1920. Letter to Michael Polanyi (October 26, 1920). Michael Polanyi Papers, Chicago: Box 17, Folder 2.
K.P., 1921-22. "Behemoth." Manuscript. Box 1a.
K.P., 1923. Letter to Michael Polanyi (Whitsun, 1923), in Hungarian. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 2.
K.P., 1925. Letter to Michael Polanyi (January 6, 1925), in Hungarian. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 3.
K.P., 1934/I. Letter to Michael Polanyi (September 18, 1934), in German. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 5.
K.P., 1934/II. Letter to Michael Polanyi (October 31, 1934), in Hungarian. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 5.
K.P., 1934/III. Letter to Michael Polanyi (undated), in German and Hungarian. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 13.
K.P., 1935/I. Letter to Michael Polanyi (July 15, 1935), in Hungarian. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 5.
K.P., 1935/II. Letter to Michael Polanyi (December 31, 1935), in Hungarian. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 5.
K.P., 1935? "Bemerkungen." Manuscript. Box 6.
K.P., 1935?/II. "Christianity and economic life." Box 6.
K.P., 1939. "Russia and the crisis." Manuscript. Box 6, Folder: Bulletin No. 4.
K.P., 1945? Letter to Michael Polanyi (undated), in Hungarian. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 13.
K.P., 1953. Letter to Michael Polanyi (October 27, 1953), in English. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 12.
K.P., 1956. Letter to Michael Polanyi (February 23, 1956), in English. Budapest: Fond 212/236/9.
K.P., 1957. Letter to Michael Polanyi (January 21, 1957), in English. Chicago: Box 12, Folder 12.
K.P., 1958. Letter to Michael Polanyi (January 5, 1958), in English. Budapest: Fond 212/236/11. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 12.
K.P., 1959. Letter to Michael Polanyi (October 21, 1959), in English. Budapest: Fond 212/236/12.
K.P., 1960. Letter to Michael Polanyi (January 2, 1960), in English. Budapest: Fond 212/236/13.
K.P., 1961/I. Letter to Michael Polanyi (January 14, 1961), in English. Budapest: Fond 212/236/15.
K.P., 1961/II. Letter to Michael Polanyi (March 4, 1961), in English. Budapest: Fond 212/236/14.
M.P., 1943. Letter to Karl Polanyi (November 12, 1943), in English. Chicago: Box 4, Folder 10.
M.P., 1944/I. Letter to Karl Mannheim (April 14, 1944), in English. Chicago: Box 4, Folder 11.
M.P., 1944/II. Letter to Karl Polanyi (June 16, 1944), in English. Chicago: Box 4, Folder 11.
M.P., 1945. "Liberalism - Rise and Decline." Chicago: Box 30, Folder 1.
M.P., 1953. Letter to Karl Polanyi (December 3, 1953), in English. Chicago: Box 17, Folder 2.
M.P., 1956. "Die Stunde der Wahrheit." Chicago: Box 37, Folder 12.
M.P., 1968. Letter to Dr. Gilbert Doan (June 3, 1968), in English. Chicago: Box 7, Folder 1.
This paper was first published in Humanity, Society and Commitment: On Karl Polanyi (Critical perspectives on historic issues, Volume 4), edited by K. McRobbie (Montréal/New York, London: Black Rose Books, 1994).
28. Ervin Szabó, Imperializmus és tartós béke (Imperialism and Lasting Peace) (Budapest: Pallas, 1917), p. 95.
29. Nagy, "Polányi Károly," o. cit.
30. Kari Polanyi-Levitt and Marguerite Mendell, Introduction to Fasizmus, demokrácia és ipari társadalom (Fascism, Democracy and Industrial Civilization. Selected Essays of Karl Polanyi) (Budapest: Gondolat, 1986). Reprinted in English translation in Studies in Political Economy No.22 (Spring 1987).
31. Ibid., p. 27.
32. Kari Polanyi-Levitt, "The Origins and Significance of The Great Transformation" in The Life and Work, p. 114.
33. Michele Cangiani, "Prelude to The Great Transformation. Karl Polanyi's Articles for Der Oesterreichische Volkswirt." Paper presented at the Fourth International Karl Polanyi Conference, 1990. (In manuscript) Also see Congdon, op. cit.; and Marguerite Mendell, "Karl Polanyi and Feasible Socialism," in The Life and Work.
34. Karl Polanyi, "A gildszocializmus," Bécsi Magyar Újság (Viennese Hungarian News) (June 18, 1922), 7.
35. Polanyi-Levitt and Mendell, op. cit., pp. 31-32.
36. Abraham Rotstein, "The Reality of Society: Karl Polanyi's Philosophical Perspective," in The Life and Work, pp. 101-107; Polanyi-Levitt and Mendell, op. cit., pp. 33-37. Walter Goldfrank, "Fascism and The Great Transformation.," in The Life and Work, pp. 87-92.
37. Polanyi-Levitt and Mendell, op. cit., 78-92, in Hungarian. See K.P., 1935, p. 6 for the original version in English.
38. Polanyi-Levitt, "The Origins and Significance," p. 117.
39. See Polanyi-Levitt and Mendell, op. cit., pp. 115-147.
40. Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension, pp. 3-4.
41. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 228.
42. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. The Political and Economic Origins of our Time (New York: Rinehart and Co., 1944).
43. Rotstein, op. cit., pp. 106-107.
44. Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith and Society, pp. 83-84.
45. Michael Polanyi, "The Message of the Hungarian Revolution," in Knowing and Being. Essays by Michael Polanyi, edited by Marjorie Grene (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969).
46. Harry Prosch, Michael Polanyi. A Critical Exposition (Albany: The State University of New York Press, 1985), p. 197.
47. Karl Polanyi, "Hamlet," The Yale Review XLIII, no.3 (1954).
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