Thoughts on Karl Poppers The Open Society and Its Enemies?

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explainthingstome's picture
Joined: 9-08-18
Aug 17 2019 15:11
Thoughts on Karl Poppers The Open Society and Its Enemies?

I read some chapters and while there's a good chunk of stuff that I can't say I totally understood, he did bring up some interesting stuff and also said some things that I found to be wrong.

In chapter 17 he argues that we need a state to ensure the safety of the less talented/fortunate/ruthlesss. But statelessness doesn't mean that societal force cannot be used to subdue violent hooligans. I think this highlights a somewhat common problem in Poppers book: he's can be a little too vague and not go into specifics.

In the same chapter he claims that Marx believed that economic power (money) trumps political power (weapons), and that the opposite is in fact true (weapons trump economic power). I've never heard this claim about Marx before. I could very well be wrong, but don't marxists think that the class who has state power has the power over the means of production? Otherwise wouldn't marxists want to take over businesses before taking over the state?

In chapter 18 he states that most of the ten communist measures presented in the Manifesto has been achieved (he wrote this in in the 1940's), and therefore we aren't living in the same societal system that Marx referred to as "capitalism".

He also says that it's well possible that after a socialist revolution, the working class might divide themselves into bickering sub-divisions of their own class. I found this claim of a risk of internal class division after a revolution to be interesting.

In chapter 20 he argues that centralization of capital isn't unpreventable if we use taxes. He also seems to believe that Marx believed in the iron law of wages, which is to my knowledge false (Marx mocked the iron law in his critique of Gotha). The most interesting part of the chapter is when Popper argues that the tendency of the rate of profit to fall doesn't have to worry the capitalist as his income could still increase even with a declining rate.

Has anyone read it?

darren p's picture
darren p
Joined: 5-07-06
Aug 17 2019 16:13

I've not read it. But there was a 5 part commentary on it in the Socialist Standard in the 50's:

jondwhite's picture
Joined: 23-10-12
Aug 17 2019 18:51

Also available in a handy pamphlet form here

Entdinglichung's picture
Joined: 2-07-08
Aug 19 2019 09:02

Popper said in an interview in 1992 that in the current situation wars ("in the least cruel form") are necessary to defend peace and the open society

explainthingstome's picture
Joined: 9-08-18
Aug 21 2019 13:28

I've read the SPGB articles now. I got a little critique of them.

"[Universal laws] are, he [Popper] says, trivial and provide no selective and unifying principle. He gives as an example of what he means [...] [The example is that] if two equally well armed and well led forces meet, then the one with a tremendous superiority in man power will win. [...] While this may have some relevance in pugilistic circles what relevance it has to the character and content of history and the nature of historical investigation only Mr. Popper knows..."

Popper wasn't saying that this universal law is anything but trivial. The whole point that Popper is trying to make is that we can't make any insightful universal laws of history like Marx and others, according to him, tried to do.

"Marxism does not hold that there is some impersonal prime mover called historic inevitability. It simply asserts that the complex phenomena we term history are capable of being coherently organised in a manner which gives knowledge and understanding to the affairs of men and the ability to predict within limits the broad trend of human development."

This could be true, since the only writings about inevitability that I can find for the moment are written by Engels.

"Mr. Popper’s views on history seem to waver between a cloak and dagger conspiracy and another version of the fall of man. Neither of them can validly explain the actual evolution of human society: Why it has pointed in a determinate direction, viz., primitive society, slavery, feudalism, capitalism. And why in that order."

What is meant with "determinate" direction? It's not like we know of any other planet in which these societies has begun and ended in the same chronological order. It sounds a bit like saying that non-theism can't, unlike theism, explain the evolution of mankind from ape to intellectual. Also, it would be nice with a quote that shows this "cloak and dagger"-view.

"[I]t is only by seeing them [beliefs, ideals and theories] as patterns of response in an historical process that they become intelligible. Nor are these responses merely subjective as Mr. Popper seems to think but are brought forth by the needs of men and these needs are part of an objective class conditioned situation."

The fact that different people of the same class can come up with different ideas makes the statement "the social sitaution gives the people their ideas" a lot more banal imo.

I'm not necessarily agreeing with all or most of Poppers evaluation of marxism, I'm just disagreeing somewhat with how the article presents him and some of the counterarguments. I'm not arguing that what I've written here is necessarily what I believe, as the topic feels a bit alien to me.

It would be nice to see someone criticize and quote Poppers chapters about Marx separately, as it's a little hard to remember everything that Popper has said. (The part about marxism in the book is over a hundred pages long I think.)