Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on January 31, 2014

During the LGP4 cohort’s synchronous chat, it was noted by Jason Clark, cohort lead mentor, that reading The Great TransformationThe Political and Economic Origins of our Time,[1] would give insight into “how capitalism came to be and how it shapes social life… i.e. economic history.”[2] It was clear in the initial reading, as I perused the introduction, contents, and chapter summaries that it would be a good idea, in view of the intense scholarly content,  to focus my reading as suggested by Jason. Written in 1944, it would be easy to dismiss Polanyi’s thinking, however, it is written in historical context and as such, the knowledge of the events he writes about are clear. It only remains to understand or interpret the events in terms of when they occurred historically and what it means today. “It [The Great Transformation] is indispensable for understanding the dilemmas facing global society at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”[3]

I found the “Forward” by Joseph E. Stiglitz and the “Introduction” by Fred Block to be essential in providing an overview of the book. Polanyi’s presentation and interpretation of the transition from the feudal and the guild system to the industrial age is fascinating.  The industrial revolution is the great transformation. In the first sentence Polanyi states the era in history he writes about and the broad overarching purpose of his writing. He states, “Nineteenth-century civilization has collapsed. This book is concerned with the political and economic origins of this event, as well as with the great transformation which it ushered in.”[4]It is a history of society from the beginning of the industrial revolution, the early nineteenth century to the conditions leading to the First World War and the economic collapse of the great depression of the nineteen thirties. Polanyi maps out political events and economic conditions that affect the well-being, security, and freedom of people.

Becoming acquainted with Polanyi’s work, reminded me of another great classic concerning social/political historical transition. In the introductory chapter of his book Post-Capitalist Society, Peter Drucker refers to “The Transformation,”[5] not Polanyi’s nineteenth century but the transition into the twenty-first century. He states, “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. We cross … a ‘divide.’ Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself – its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world.”[6] Similar to Polanyi, Drucker could say. “Twentieth century civilization has collapsed.” Drucker, curiously, dates the present “transformation” from a capital to a knowledge based society as beginning with the GI education bill following World War II. That would place us near the end of the present transition. However, It is true that much of what Polanyi and Drucker write about is playing out in dramatic fashion in our current economic/social/political situation.

I grasp that Polanyi’s work relates to what is happening in our current political environment and, perhaps to a much greater extent in my own understanding, I see the political positioning (sometimes ranting, almost always rhetorical) that is taking place on social concerns and issues in places of political power and in the struggles occurring in the workplace today. Discussions on free trade, minimum wage, the movement of people (immigration), and the amount of intervention/control by government along with a host of other political issues all relate to The Great Transformation that is taking place.

My pursing of this great classic (while spending a lot of time reading in chapters 4-7 on the origin of capitalism) has instilled a desire to dig deeper and to seek more in understanding the historical transformations that have taken place, and to learn from history (to perhaps not repeat history). I do not intend to be an economist nor a politician, but I do intend to be an “ambassador” – and a good ambassador for the Lord; to do so I must strive to understand better how globalization impacts the world where I live. We have the poor, the diseased, the harassed, the helpless; Jesus said they are like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36. I take seriously Jesus’ command to the disciples in that day and by implication to disciples today; “Do something!”

[1] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of our time (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001 2nd ed.).

[2] Andy Campbell, “LGP4-Mod2-Jan13-chat.pdf” downloaded from Archive – LGP4 DMin Mod2, Jan. 13, 2014, comment by Jason Clark.

[3] Polanyi, Ibid., loc. 274

[4] Polanyi, 3.

[5] Peter F. Drucker, Post-Capatalist Socieny (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993), 1.

[6] Ibid.

About the Author


Leave a Reply