Polanyi, Hayek, and the Impossibility of Libertarian Ideal Theory

POLITY 47 (2015): 376-396

Abstract: In 1944, two seminal works of political and social theory appeared: F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. Both works focused on society’s spontaneous resistance to the “marketization” of life. Yet, the authors arrived at opposite normative conclusions. This article attributes the normative distance to a methodological clash over the role and limits of normative theorizing in the concrete and sometimes uncooperative world of politics. This clash, in turn, illuminates recent debates about “ideal” and “non-ideal” theory, and suggests limits to the applicability of the former.