open societyKarl Popper was an Austrian-British philosopher and is generally considered one of the greatest philosophers of science of the twentieth century.

He wrote The Open Society and Its Enemies starting in 1938, and it was first published in 1943, with a number of subsequent revisions, the last being in 1966, the version I read.

In the book, Popper examines the ways in which society has tried, and is still trying, to build a better and freer world.  I read this book at a time when the USA seems to be falling out of democracy into oligarchy, perhaps, or maybe more accurately into plutocracy, and Mexico, in spite of its veneer of democracy, is increasingly seen to be part plutocracy and part banana republic, so the ideas in the book spoke quite strongly to me.

He is beautifully readable, and his ideas are laid out in clear, easy to understand terms.  I like clear easy to understand, because this stuff can get awfully dense as a philosopher falls in love with his words more than his ideas,  but Popper never does that.  He keeps us lay readers right with him, step by step, repeating where necessary so that we don’t lose the thread of his argument.

The book examines in detail Plato and his philosophy and how this has impacted us even today, (negatively, in his view), then goes on to show how Hegel was simply the toady for Prussian King Frederick William, and finally the theories of Marx (and Engels). He considers Plato a totalitarian, one who wanted to remain in the safety of tribalism, where nothing changed and nothing evolved, and everyone had their place in society, and knew their place, and kept to their place.

He says that Hegel’s dialectic essentialisam is at base, “might makes right”.  He thinks Hegels basic beliefs are poisonous:  a) Nationalism – the idea that the state is the incarnation of the Spirit, that there is one chosen nation destined for world domination;  b) the state is the natural enemy of all other states and must assert its existence in war; c) the state is exempt from any kind of moral obligation, and historical success is the sole judge.  He says Hegel tailored his philosophy to meet the needs of the Prussian King, who then made him the state philosopher.

As for Marx, Popper feels that his class system simply creates more class systems, and explains in detail Marx’s theory of exploitation and why workers’ wages tend to oscillate about the subsistence level.

Of course, there is much more to all that he says about Plato and Hegel and Marx.  Trying to condense a long, dense book into just a couple of paragraphs is impossible, at least  for me.

Really great read, and one that I am dipping back into because just one reading can’t possibly do it.







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