Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Open Society and Its Enemies - Karl Popper

Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies is a two volumes 700 pages oeuvre aimed at attacking the telelogical historicism Plato, Hegel, and Marx, but also by Aristotle.

The critiques to each of these philosophers followed diverging paths after the publication of The Open Society. As a result of his opinion about Plato, Popper was unable to get a teaching position at the University of Chicago. In fact, Popper was one of the few philosophers in the last 25 centuries that has dared to say that Plato was a racist and totalitarian:
"Plato's idealist historicism ultimately rests not upon a spiritual, but upon a biological basis; it rests upon a kind of metabiology of the race of men. Plato was not only a naturalist who proffered a biological theory of the state, he was also the first to proffer a biological and racial theory of social dynamics, of political history (p. 78)."
As of today, Plato is still widely admired and few people ignore (delibaretly or inadvertently) the dark side of his political theory.

Popper's critique to Aristotle has been mostly forgotten, partly because Aristotle has become irrelevant today. About his thoughts, Popper wrote the following:
"(...) with Aristotle, Platonic philosophy gives up her great aspirations, her claims to power. From this moment, it could continue only as a teaching profession. And since hardly anybody but a feudal lord had the money and the leisure for studying philosophy, all that philosophy could aspire to was to become an annex to the traditional education of a gentelman (p.222)."
Popper loathed Hegel. According to Popper, Hegel was unoriginal, and his style was terrible, and I agree with him on this last point. According to Popper, philosophy lost all usefulness for society after Hegel, and I tend to concur with him on that. In Popper's own words.
"There is nothing in Hegel's writing that has not been said better before him. There is nothing in his apologetic method that is not borrowed from his apologetic forerunners. But he devoted these borrowed thoughts and methods with singleness of purpose, though without a trace of brilliancy, to one aim: to fight against the open society, and thus to serve his employer, Frederick William of Prussia (p. 246)."
Popper's critique of Hegel had a very sad fate: it was perverted. In his controversial book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama basically recycles Hegel (or rather, the interpretation a guy named Kojève makes of Hegel) as a democrat. In most circles, that's the view that prevails of Hegel today. Most circles take Hegel's disastrous prose as a proof of erudition.

Of the four authors analyzed in the book, Marx is the one Popper respects the most. Popper opens his analysis about Marx by saying that "a return to pre-Marxian social science is inconceivable (p. 294)."  However, and in line with the overarching theme of the book, he dismisses Marx's prophetic analysis:
"Marx was, I believe, a false prophet. He was a prophet of the course of history, and his prophecies did not come true; but this is not my main accusation. It is much more important that he misled scores of intelligent people into believing that historical prophecy is the scientific way of approaching social problems (p. 294)."
It must be mentioned that Popper criticized Marx's historicist approach to social sciences while praising his views on 19th century unfettered capitalism. Today, the nuances regarding Marxism are completely lost: in line with other developments of today's society, where space for nuances are almost non-existent, Marx is seen in black or white. Sadly, even people who studied with Popper directly overlooked the positive aspects of Marxism. This is mostly the case of George Soros' Open Society Foundation, which is, according to his founder, based on Popper's thoughts and ideas (it's not, or at least not to the extent Soros claims it is).

Bottom line is that Popper's only approximation to political science (he was a science philosopher and returned to that discipline after the release of The Open Society) has been neglected, forgotten, perverted, or misunderstood....

In any event, I suppose we can't blame Popper for lack of trying...

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