Notes from a shared reading of Karl Popper’s “The Open Society and Its Enemies” (available at Amazon.com), to be updated as read and discussed. An introduction to Popper, his life and his ideas can be found at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Popper sets up a dichotomy– the Closed Society of tribal authoritarianism, and the Open Society of individual reason and critical rationalism. He claims that there are potent intellectual forces trying to always return civilization to the Closed Society and that the Open Society is relatively new as a cultural phenomenon and still in its infancy (implying it requires special protection and pleading).
He advocates “piecemeal social reform” through a democractic social structure as opposed to “Utopian social engineering” which is an ancient, totalitarian project most recently (as of his writing) guided by historicist philosophy. It’s interesting he felt the need to attack historicism as you would think the end of the two world wars effectively destroyed the power structure of the Prussian monarchy built upon that intellectual foundation.
Popper says he will concern himself with the method of science. Specifically he says that in the social realm the methodology of predicting and knowing the future is flawed and impossible and implies a determinist metaphysics he can’t abide by. He stands against predictivism and it seems he is also going to make an argument that the predictive methodology of physics and other natural sciences has been transferred, uncritically, to the social realm where it does not apply due to human will. However, curiously he does not say he is offering a scientific refutation but only a personal one intent on showing the “harm” of historicist thinking. What an odd position for a scientific philosopher to take!
Popper wants to show the barrenness of following Great Men unquestioningly. He wants to turn people away from philosophies built on the disappointment with reality not reflecting their wishes. Ultimately, it is about personal responsibility and many of these popular philosophies wish to deny it to everyone but the Great Men.
I may be putting the cart before the horse here but I think it’s interesting that Popper offers democracy as a salve for totalitarianism because it offers a “peaceful way to share power”. But democracy isn’t peaceful. It’s built on the gun. Popper only knew a little about economics in his own time, despite being so physically and intellectually close to many great economists (such as Mises!) I think that replacing democracy with the market would greatly improve his thesis in terms of both consistency and explanatory power.