I have previously noted that Rothbard presents us with a cartoon version of Rousseau. I am now reading K. Polanyi's The Great Transformation for a class I am teaching with the same name, and I just noticed Rothbard gets Rousseau wrong in a review of that very book. So what did he have to say about Polanyi?
Shockingly (although I really shouldn't be shocked by this anymore!) Rothbard gets Polanyi even more wrong than he gets Rousseau. With Rousseau I figured that he had the excuse that he had never read him, but only read about him, but here he's actually reviewing Polanyi's book! And he attributes to it a "Worship of the Primitive" that "permeates the book."
Well, I was already halfway through Polanyi's book, and I can assure you, the thought had not once occurred to me anywhere in my readings that I was in the presence of the least bit of "worship of the primitive." Yes, occasionally Polanyi will mention this or that aspect of some primitive tribe he thinks is/was admirable, but there just is nothing even resembling "worship" present at all, let alone permeating the book.
A couple of other quick notes:
"Polanyi seems to think that he has scored a great coup on free market economists when he says that trade first developed in international and interregional channels, and not from first local and then international. So what? This is certainly not in any sense a refutation of free market economics."
But Polanyi certainly doesn't present this as any sort of "refutation of free market economics"! He presents it as a refutation of the ideas that markets began locally and spontaneously spread out from their local origens.
"Polanyi angrily criticizes those, like Mises..."
So, I looked through all of the pages mentioning Mises. Here's the kind of fierce anger I encountered: "And a century later Mises was still reiterating tthat labor and money were no more of a concern of the government than any other commodity on the market."
In short, Rothbard appears to have been so flummoxed by Polanyi's book that he basically could not read it at all. I picture him reading two sentences, throwing the book across the room in anger, picking it up a few minutes and ten pages later, reading another sentence, hurling the book, etc., then sitting down to write a review of what he imagined Polanyi was writing about.
UPDATE: Alasdair MacIntyre on Polanyi: "see Karl Polanyi The Great Transformation... still the single most illuminating account of the inception of institutionalized modernity..."
But all Rothbard could find in this single most illuminating account was "a farrago of confusions, absurdities, fallacies, and distorted attacks on the free market." Sigh.
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