Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2

by Karl Popper


Not nearly as engaging as Volume I.  It might be because the material of Hegel’s and Marx’s philosophies are necessarily more complex than that of Plato and Aristotle.  But I also got the impression that Popper, through a large part of the volume, left the discussion of an “open society” off to the side while he treated his preferred topic of historicism, along with other, less relevant tangents (many having to do with Marx’s economic theories).  The result was a book that I labored to get through, as opposed to Vol. I, which I was consistently thrilled to pick up.

Although not an integral part of his criticism, Popper’s treatment of Hegel’s dialectic theory left me scratching my head.  I’m not a Hegel expert, but I know enough to understand that his model of dialectics is considered perhaps his greatest achievement.  Popper devoted a whopping three paragraphs to the discussion before discarding the idea out of hand, the result of a logical progression that needed better development.

Popper’s views on democracy, science and technology continued to trouble me as well.  A short passage will help illustrate:

I do not intend to belittle the very serious problem of purely mechanical work, of a drudgery which is felt to be meaningless, and which destroys the creative power of the workers; but the only practical hope lies, not in a return to slavery and serfdom, but in an attempt to make machinery take over this mechanical drudgery.  Marx was right in insisting that increased productivity is the only reasonable hope of humanizing labour, and of further shortening the labour day. Ch. 24, Sec. IV, 2nd paragraph

Excuse me?  Yes machines can have all the labour, thereby freeing the labourers to. . . do what, exactly (besides lose their jobs)? Shortening the work day will solve all of our problems?  And people will earn money how?  I am sure that Popper would have a ready reply to this criticism (as he appears to have for every other), but the apparent lack of foresight in this comment was shocking. Maybe a smarter person can help me out here.  Besides this particular passage, Popper demonstrates throughout the book an unwavering faith in science, technology, reason and the democratic process that at times seems delusional.

The best example is with his rationalism (the faith in reason that I just mentioned).  Besides the fact that Popper admits it is logically unsustainable (requiring a leap of faith in order to believe in reason at the outset), and that this initial leap of faith requires that Popper then allow other uses of faith and irrationality in order to maintain consistency (which he neglects to do), the rationalism itself has some disturbing trends.  Throughout the book, Popper uses language that implies an act of violence toward the natural world.  Something that is inherently unnatural must be “subjected” or “submitted” to our reason, in our effort to control it.  I enjoy using reason and logic as much as the next guy, but I wonder if a better approach toward something outside of our control and understanding might be a role of cooperation, and coordination, in order to more healthily interact with our surrounding environment.  This is, after all, one of the main points of his rationalism, that we use reason to cooperate with our fellow humans.  Why not extend that idea to the natural world?

Original Review


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