The Open Society and Its Enemies
|The Open Society and Its Enemies|
The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume Two
The Open Society and Its Enemies is a two-volume work on political philosophy by Karl Popper. Written during World War II, it failed to find a publisher in the United States and was first printed in London by Routledge in 1945. The work criticises theories of teleological historicism in which history unfolds inexorably according to universal laws, and indicts as totalitarian Plato, Hegel and Marx for relying on historicism to underpin their political philosophies. It was on the Modern Library Board's 100 Best Nonfiction books of the 20th century.
A veritable who's who of philosophy and the social sciences were involved in its path to publication, as Popper was writing in academic obscurity two oceans away in New Zealand for the duration of World War II. Among them were Ernst Gombrich (entrusted with the main task of finding a publisher), Friedrich Hayek (who wanted to get Popper to the London School of Economics and thus was enthused by Popper's turn to social philosophy), Lionel Robbins, Harold Laski (both of whom reviewed the manuscript), and J.N. Findlay. It was Findlay who suggested the title to the book, after three previous ones had been discarded ('A Social Philosophy for Everyman' was the original title of the manuscript. 'Three False Prophets: Plato-Hegel-Marx' and 'A Critique of Political Philosophy' were also considered and rejected).
In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper developed a critique of historicism and a defense of the open society, liberal democracy. The book is in two volumes; volume one is subtitled "The Spell of Plato", and volume two, "The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath".
The subtitle of the first volume is also its central premise — namely, that most Plato interpreters through the ages have been seduced by his greatness. In so doing, Popper argues, they have taken his political philosophy as a benign idyll, without taking into account its dangerous tendencies toward totalitarian ideology.
Contrary to major Plato scholars of his day, Popper divorced Plato's ideas from those of Socrates, claiming that the former in his later years expressed none of the humanitarian and democratic tendencies of his teacher. In particular, he accuses Plato of betraying Socrates in the Republic, wherein he portrays Socrates sympathizing with totalitarianism (see: Socratic problem).
Popper extols Plato's analysis of social change and discontent, naming him as a great sociologist, yet rejects his solutions. This is dependent on Popper's reading of the emerging humanitarian ideals of Athenian democracy as the birth pangs of his coveted "open society." In his view, Plato's historicist ideas are driven by a fear of the change that comes with such a liberal worldview. Popper also suggests that Plato was the victim of his own vanity, and had designs to become the supreme Philosopher King of his vision.
The last chapter of the first volume bears the same title as the book, and is Popper's own philosophical explorations on the necessity of liberal democracy as the only form of government allowing institutional improvements without violence and bloodshed.
In volume two, Popper moves on to criticise Hegel and Marx, tracing back their ideas to Aristotle, and arguing that the two were at the root of 20th century totalitarianism.
Philosopher Sidney Hook praised The Open Society and its Enemies as a "subtly argued and passionately written" critique of the "historicist ideas that threaten the love of freedom [and] the existence of an open society". Hook calls Popper's critique of the cardinal beliefs of historicism "undoubtedly sound," noting that historicism "overlooks the presence of genuine alternatives in history, the operation of plural causal processes in the historical pattern, and the role of human ideals in redetermining the future." Nevertheless, Hook argues that Popper "reads Plato too literally when it serves his purposes and is too cocksure about what Plato's "real" meaning is when the texts are ambiguous." Moreover, Hook calls Popper's treatment of Hegel "downright abusive" and "demonstrably false," noting that "there is not a single reference to Hegel in Hitler's Mein Kampf."
Reviewing the book's legacy at the end the 20th century, Rajeev Bhargava claims that Popper "notoriously misreads Hegel and Marx," arguing also that the formulation Popper deployed to defend liberal political values is "motivated by partisan ideological considerations grounded curiously in the most abstract metaphysical premises."
Walter Kaufmann's The Hegel Myth and Its Method argues that Popper's section on Hegel is a simplified and misleading representation of Hegel. He claims that Popper's views are based on an incomplete reading of Hegel, suggesting that "Popper has relied largely on Scribner’s Hegel Selections, a little anthology for students that contains not a single complete work." Kaufmann also views Popper as betraying the scientific method he proposes so passionately and instead is "intent on psychologizing the men he attacks." In fact, Kaufmann accuses Popper of using the same distorting methods of which totalitarians are also guilty.
First, Popper’s treatment contains more misconceptions about Hegel than any other single essay. Secondly, if one agrees with Popper that “intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish” (p. 253), one should protest against his methods; for although his hatred of totalitarianism is the inspiration and central motif of his book, his methods are unfortunately similar to those of totalitarian “scholars” — and they are spreading in the free world, too.
- Modern Library, 1999. 100 Best Nonfiction."
- The Spell of Plato
- High Tide of Prophecy
- Hook, Sidney. New York Times. "From Plato to Hegel to Marx" July 22, 1951.
- Rajeev Bhargava. "Karl Popper: Reason without Revolution." Economic and Political Weekly, December 31, 1994.
- see http://www.hegel.net/en/kaufmann1959.htm
- Whenever Popper referenced the Scribner Selections, he always also referenced either Hegel's Sämtliche Werke, 1927, or Encyclopädie, 1870. Popper explicitly stated: "Quotations from the Selections will, however, be accompanied by references to editions of the original texts."
- Christian De Cock and Steffen Böhm, "Liberalist Fantasies: Žižek and the Impossibility of the Open Society", Organization 14(6), 2007, accessed 26 October 2012 via SagePub, DOI: 10.1177/1350508407082264.
- A detailed summary of the book
- The Hegel Myth and Its Method
- "The Open Society And Its Enemies Vol I" 1947 from the Internet Archive