The Open Society and Its Enemies
The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume One
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 book was published in Russia in 1992. Popper 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. The work 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 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 Plato portrays Socrates sympathizing with totalitarianism (see: Socratic problem). As Gilbert Ryle wrote reviewing the text of Popper and agreeing with him, Plato "was Socrates' Judas."
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 conveys 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.
Noted liberal philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell called The Open Society and its Enemies "a vigorous and profound defence of democracy." 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".
Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin both actively rejected Popper's views as illogical. At the prospect of Popper receiving a professorship at the University of Chicago, Strauss asked Voegelin to review Open Society. In his response, Voegelin said that studying Popper's views was a waste of time and "an annoyance". Referring to his reading of Plato, Voegelin wrote that, "Popper is philosophically so uncultured, so fully a primitive ideological brawler, that he is not able even approximately to reproduce correctly the contents of one page of Plato. Reading is of no use to him; he is too lacking in knowledge to understand what the author says."
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".
- Поппер Карл Раймунд Открытое общество и его враги. Том 1 Чары Платона. Том 2 Время лжепророков: Гегель, Маркс и другие оракулы. Москва 1992.
- Modern Library, 1999. 100 Best Nonfiction
- The Spell of Plato
- High Tide of Prophecy
- Ryle, G. (1948). "Popper, K.R. - The Open Society and its Enemies". Mind 40: 167–172. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
- Ryle, G. (1948). p. 169. See also: Burke, T.E. (1983) . The Philosophy of Popper. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 141. ISBN 0-719-00911-1; ISBN 978-07-1900-911-2.
- Hook, Sidney. New York Times. "From Plato to Hegel to Marx" July 22, 1951.
- The Philosophy of Science, Strauss and Vauglin on Popper July 15, 2011
- Rajeev Bhargava. "Karl Popper: Reason without Revolution". Economic and Political Weekly, December 31, 1994.
- 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
- "The Open Society And Its Enemies Vol II" 1947 from the Internet Archive