The Open Society and Its Enemies
by Karl Popper

Lively, yet scholarly, attack on Plato and his philosophical descendents who champion the state and oppose freedom. Popper is best when he is attacking. He's not so good when he advocated his own philosophy (democracy).

He traces Hegel's tribalism back to its roots in Plato and Aristotle. Hegel would not have been influential without the power of the Prussian state behind him. His contemporary, Schopenhauer, who was a much greater thinker and writer, referred to Hegel as a

"flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan, who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense." "Should you ever intend to dull the wits of a young man and to incapacitate his brains for any kind of thought whatever, then you cannot do better than give him Hegel to read."
Hegel's devotion to the state made him issue statements as absurd as the most satirical ones from Orwell's 1984. He wrote,
"The state has, in general, ... to make up its own mind concerning what is to be considered an objective truth."
Never did a philosopher better fit the role of apologist for special interests (Frederick William's Prussia from 1800 to 1830), yet Hegel was not criticized for this by Marx (p. 24).

Hegel would not have been influential without the authority of the Prussian state behind him (p. 29). His philosophy in a nutshell is: We learn from our mistakes. So mistakes are good. Since mistakes are good, we should make more of them and not try to eliminate them. (p.39)

Hegel reintroduced tribalism into political philosophy in the form of nationalism. Now nationalism is so ingrained that even liberals believe in national self-determination. (Fitche was another windbag who, like Hegel, idealized the state.) Nationalism grew as belief in Christianity declined.

"The medieval conversion of Christianity into an authoritarian creed could not fully suppress its humanitarian tendencies ..."
The nationalist philosophers believed war was the essence of the state and they advocated it. Hegel's historicism was anti-utilitarian. Speaking of history, Hegel said, "Periods of happiness are blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony." He believed war is essential to the idea of the state (p. 65, 67, 70, and 71). War is a rare good (p. 71). Happiness and harmony are bad (p. 75). War and collectivism are related in that the Rousseau concept of the general will attributes a personality to the nation, and can be used to blame an entire nation for the crimes of its rulers.

Marxism is purely a theory of history that "aims at predicting the future course of power-political developments and especially of revolutions (p. 82,83). Marx believed in invisible-hand processes rather than in the vulgar so-called Marxist conspiracy theories (p.101). Popper gives Marx credit for having humane values. He looked forward to the time when everyone would be relieved from toil for some of their time so they could develop their potentials (p. 104). Marx believed that social engineering is impossible, because we cannot foresee the remote social repercussions of our actions (p. 113). He believed the state is merely organized power of one class for oppressing another. Marxists and other socialists, of course, disregard these fundamental libertarian tenets.

"But their plans and actions were never based on a clear refutation of their original theory, nor upon any well-considered view of that most fundamental problem of all politics: the control of the controller, of the dangerous accumulation of power represented by the state." p.129
According to Marxism,
"the proletarian revolution should have been the final outcome of industrialization, and not vice versa; and it should have come first in the highly industrialized countries and only much later in Russia." p.144

"Marx lived long enough to see reforms carried out which, according to his theory, should have been impossible. But it never occurred to him that these improvements in the worker's lot were at the same time refutations of his theory." p.154 "An evolutionary interpretation of the "social revolution" thus destroys the whole Marxist argument from the first step to the last.." p.155

"The whole idea - which was not Marx's invention - that there is something behind prices, an objective real or true value of which prices are only a "form of appearance," shows clearly enough the influence of Platonic Idealism with its distinction between a hidden essential or true reality, and an accidental or delusive appearance." p.177 "Thus wherever we find real progress, such as shorter working hours and a greatly improved standard of living of the workers ... then the workers could at the same time bitterly complain that the Marxian "value," the real essence or substance of their income, is dwindling away, since the labor hours necessary for its production have been reduced. (An analogous complaint might be made by the capitalists.) All this is admitted by Marx himself; and it shows how misleading the value terminology must be, and how little it represents the real social experience of the workers. In the labour theory of value, the Platonic "essence" has become entirely divorced from experience." p.177

"The strange thing about Marx's value theory ... is that it considers human labour as fundamentally different from all other processes in nature, for example, from the labour of animals. This shows clearly that the theory is based ultimately upon a moral theory, the doctrine that human suffering and a human lifetime spent is a thing fundamentally different from all natural processes. We can call this the doctrine of the holiness of human labor. Now I do not deny that this theory is right in the moral sense; that is to say, that we should act according to it. But I also think that an economic analysis should not be based upon a moral or metaphysical or religious doctrine of which the holder is unconscious." p. 347

"Marx blamed capitalism for "proletarianizing the middle class and the lower bourgeoisie," and for reducing the workers to pauperism. Engels now blames the system - it is still blamed - for making bourgeois out of workers. But the nicest touch in Engels' complaint is the indignation that makes him call the British who behave so inconsiderately as to falsify Marxist prophecies "this most bourgeois of all nations." According to Marxist doctrine, we should expect from the "most bourgeois of all nations" a development of misery and class tension to an intolerable degree; instead, we hear that the opposite takes place. But the good Marxist's hair rises when he hears of the incredible wickedness of a capitalist system that transforms good proletarians into bad bourgeois; quite forgetting that Marx showed that the wickedness of the system consisted solely in the fact that it was working the other way round." p. 188

"Marx himself held that the more quickly the whole world could go through the necessary historical period of capitalist industrialization, the better, and he was therefore inclined to support imperialist developments." p. 188

Marx's historicist optimism is no less superstitious than a pessimistic historicism like that of Plato. Popper:
"We cannot really love "in the abstract;" we can love only those we know." p.235

"But I hold that it is humanly impossible for us to love, or to suffer with, a great number of people; nor does it appear to me very desirable that we should, since it would ultimately destroy either our ability to help or the intensity of these very emotions." p. 240

"It is our duty to help those who need our help; but it cannot be our duty to make others happy, since this does not depend on us, and since it would only too often mean intruding on the privacy of those towards whom we have such amiable intentions. The political demand for piecemeal (as opposed to Utopian) methods corresponds to the decision that the fight against suffering must be considered a duty, while the right to care for the happiness of others must be considered a privilege confined to the close circle of their friends. In their case, we may perhaps have a certain right to try to impose our scale of values - our preferences regarding music, for example. (And we may even feel it our duty to open to them a world of values which, we trust, can so contribute to their happiness.) This right of ours exists only if, and because, they can get rid of us; because friendships can be ended. But the use of political means for imposing our scale of values upon others is a very different matter. Pain, suffering, injustice, and their prevention, these are the eternal problems of public morals, the "agenda" of public policy (as Bentham would have said). The "higher" values should very largely be considered as "non-agenda," and should be left to the realm of laissez-faire. Thus we might say: help your enemies; assist those in distress, even if they hate you; but love only your friends." p. 237

Popper criticizes
"the widespread and dangerous fashion of our time ... the attitude of looking at once for the unconscious motives and determinants in the social habitat of the thinker, instead of first examining the validity of the argument itself." p.252

"There is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated into the history of the world. But this, I hold, is an offence against every decent conception of mankind. It is hardly better than to treat the history of embezzlement or of robbery or of poisoning as the history of mankind. For the history of power politics is nothing but the history of international crime and mass murder (including, it is true, some of the attempts to suppress them). This history is taught in schools, and some of the greatest criminals are extolled as its heroes." p. 270

"To maintain that God reveals Himself in what is usually called "history," in the history of international crime and mass murder, is indeed blasphemy; for what really happens within the realm of human lives is hardly ever touched upon by this cruel and at the same time childish affair. The life of the forgotten, of the unknown individual man; his sorrows and his joys, his suffering and death, this is the real content of human experience down the ages. If that could be told by history, then I should certainly not say that it is blasphemy to see the finger of God in it." p. 271-272.

Year Read: 1973, 1987


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