Popper, Karl

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In the political sphere Karl Popper is best known for his seminal work The Open Society and Its Enemies, published in two parts over the period 1947-49. The book provides an analysis and critique of the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, Hegel and not least Marx within a context of historicism. It was written for the everyday person, or at least Popper’s perception of such. It was a popular underground book with the intelligentsia in Eastern Europe and Russia before the collapse of communist rule.

Historicism

Popper was primarily concerned with the influence of historicism on society and its development. Historicism simply put is the idea that history predicts or determines the future. He saw historicism as an underlying threat to the open society, that is one where man is free to use his critical powers. He believed that our civilization has not yet made the transition from a closed society (one based on tribalism, submission to magical forces and collective tradition) to an open one.

Historicism, for him, was the primary threat to democracy in part because it encourages those who believe themselves to be on the side of history to show contempt for alternative points of view and those who hold them, thus undermining the possible development or evolution of an open society towards a meaningful democracy.

Additional resources

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Author: Peter Marcham