Album review: ‘Tales from the Alluvial’ by Jonathan Burden

Jon Burden, guitarist and songwriter with Holly & Jon, has released a new album of solo material titled Tales from the Alluvial, rescued from his personal archives where the songs had lain unreleased since being recorded in the 1990s. Music lovers will be thankful he did.

Tales from the Alluvial CD CoverThere’s a laid back swing to Tales from the Alluvial one could call quintessentially Kootenaian—the easygoing, live-and-let-live vibe the region is known and loved for. It’s a wonderful antidote to today’s harsh, deeply conflicted world, a sonic reminder of better times. Definitely a summer album in both lyrical content and feeling. (Makes me want to listen to XTC’s Skylarking all over again, although Burden’s songs are more Americana roots and Canadian folk than English pop, despite his British roots.)

Much of Burden’s album fits neatly with the great Canadian tradition of the story-song, or history song, along with the giants of the genre. He cites Gordon Lightfoot, Murray McLaughlin, James Keelaghan and Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo as particular influences. Worthy entries in the Canadian folk canon include Burden’s “Gold in Every Creek,” about the Cariboo gold rush, and “Midway to Midway,” which name-checks local establishments and small towns in the Boundary region that BC residents will be familiar with. It’s great to hear a Canadian songwriter who isn’t afraid to use Canadian place names instead of defaulting to better-known American landmarks. “Broke Down Ford” appeared on the first Holly & Jon album Big Wind on the Way and relates a real-life tale of Burden being stranded on the Dempster Highway while on his way to a labour job in the Yukon. The original version here has a more intimate feel to it. The lyrics throughout the album are crisp and concise, easily evoking the spirit of place.

“All those bands and writers did story songs that you could get lost in like a good book,” says Burden. “I’d have to add another Texas songwriter to that list: Michael Murphy, but I’d say that Jerry Jeff Walker—a New Yorker but a Texas transplant—was my greatest influence at the time. I had all his albums and not only was he a great writer himself—“Mr. Bojangles” for one—but he always covered obscure songwriters on his albums that you would never hear otherwise, like Steve Fromholz. Walker’s albums were all story songs and you’d be taken away into the landscape of the songs.”

Jon Burden Canada Day 2018

Jon Burden works that clean Strat tone. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce 2018

Although there are echoes of country rock throughout, these never overwhelm the songs but are smoothly integrated into the overall sound. Burden says while composing these songs he was listening to a lot of Texas songwriters: Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, and the little-known Robert Earl Keen. To get a sense of Burden’s sound on this album, think Eric Clapton circa the Slowhand era, where Clapton blends acoustic and electric guitars seamlessly for a more laid-back feel. Less overt tonal influences include Commander Cody, New Riders of The Purple Sage and the Southern Rock of Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker Band, and the Allman Brothers.

Burden cut his teeth as a musician playing mostly cover tunes in bar bands in Calgary where he would often be visited by fellow musician T.C. Wright, who died some years ago. Tales from the Alluvial is dedicated to his memory, particularly two songs, “Reality Strikes” and “Goin’ South,” both a tribute to a close friend and eloquent meditations on mortality. “Homesick Mountain Blues” tells the story of Burden’s decision to leave behind the heavy boozing, bar band lifestyle of Calgary for the lush landscape of the West Kootenay, where he and wife Jane raised their two daughters Holly and Aszjeca. As per the old adage, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Holly Hyatt has developed into a formidable singer, bass player and songwriter in her own right.

Burden played all the guitars on the recordings as well as multi-tracking his own backing vocals, and the result is incredibly tight. The 11 tracks on this album were recorded on a Tascam Analog Portastudio during the mid- to late 1990s, with Burden plugging his guitars directly into the unit. He says he did this to create as pure a tone as possible with no intermediary tone shifts from either an amplifier or effects pedals. He’s captured a beautiful sound—a tone one might call ‘organic,’ a surprising achievement considering the CD is a generation away from the original analog tapes. Once again the quintessential warmth of analog proves its superiority to digital sound, even in translation.

“I consider myself a tone purist now for sure,” says Burden. “While playing on the road and trying different kinds of effects pedals during gigs, I would come home and plug straight into my amp and realize—that was the tone I’d been chasing all along. Unadulterated.” Burden’s electric axe of choice these days is the Stratocaster and his leads on Tales from the Alluvial are pristine, never overdriven. “For clean Strat tone I always love the tone of Ed King from early Lynyrd Skynyrd. Others are early Roy Buchanan—a Tele player, but love his straight-into-the-amp tone. Dickie Betts of the early Allman Brothers played a Les Paul straight in. For a blues clean tone it’s Anson Funderburgh.”

Tales from the Alluvial succeeds brilliantly in putting the listener into the relaxed, blissful state one enjoys while lying on the sandy shores of Slocan River or walking the rocky beaches of Kootenay Lake. It’s a reminder that music can be about pure storytelling joy.

Purchase online at, Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify, or at local music retailers such as Packrat Annie’s in Nelson, BC.

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Joyce Launches New Poetry Video

Sean Arthur Joyce has a new video out! Titled “The Day After Covid,” it draws together in poetic form a year of research and observations about the “pandemic.” It’s a hopeful message that justice will eventually be served as humanity is finally able to “breathe free, breathe free at last!” The poem concludes a 26-poem sequence in Joyce’s new collection, Diary of a Pandemic Year, published by Chameleon Fire Editions (established 1990). The YouTube link is here:

Diary of a Pandemic Year Front CoverWhen COVID-19 struck the world and turned it upside down, Joyce decided to record his impressions during the year in a series of linked poems—a kind of poetic ‘diary.’ He chose to base the poems on actual events, both personal and on the world stage, since the first lockdown in March 2020. The author was inspired by Daniel Defoe’s classic account of London’s 1665 bubonic plague, A Journal of the Plague Year. Joyce chose poetry instead of prose because poems record not just facts or events but the emotional and spiritual content of experience in powerfully focused, concise language. His 30-year experience as a freelance journalist enabled him to condense his research during the past year into poetry that packs a punch.

“I wanted it to reflect the highly emotional journey this crisis has subjected us to during the past year—something we can all share, regardless of our perspective on the pandemic. And at the same time I felt it was important to talk back to the monolithic perspective presented in the media narrative,” says Joyce.

The video was filmed and edited by Noel Fudge of Sandhill Studios, based like the author in New Denver, BC. Fudge is a versatile, gifted musician and composer whose compositions span a wide range of genres from rock and folk to classical. “He’s an absolute giant talent and a superb human being I feel privileged to have worked with on many occasions,” says Joyce. Please visit his website here: “The Day After Covid” was filmed on location in the city of Nelson, BC and gorgeous rural locations including the Slocan Valley. It was important to the theme of the poem that the imagery reflected the journey from the gritty urban backdrop of Nelson’s alleyways, cemetery and a nearby railway line, to the pristine waters and evergreen mountains of Slocan Lake.

“It’s a reminder that our best healer is still our connection with Nature, a connection that has been seriously compromised in our society,” Joyce says. “Whether you believe in God or evolution or both, we’ve inherited the miracle of the immune system that has enabled humanity to survive every major plague or pandemic throughout history—including many far worse than Covid. We can ignore the fear porn relentlessly spewed by the media and confidently look forward to our future.”

The original music soundtrack in the video is provided by Jordan ‘Jody’ Cliff, a Slocan Valley-based musician who plays a mean blues harp, recorded and mastered at Sandhill Studios by Noel Fudge. Special thanks to Jody’s dog Winter who appears as an ‘extra’ in the video.

In the book, following the 26 poems in the title sequence, Part Two, “Odes to Earth,” celebrates our vital need to connect with the healing power of Nature, featuring poetic encounters with hummingbirds, flycatchers, Cecropia moths, ravens, crows, bees and coyotes. Part Three, “Songs for the Lost,” records recent personal losses of family and friends, though none of them from Covid. These poems offer comfort to anyone who has lost loved ones during this difficult time.

“Brilliant insights are sharpened by emotional intensity and vivid diction, underscored by the poet’s rich verbal music,” writes reviewer Roger Lewis, Professor Emeritus of English Literature (Acadia University).

The book can be ordered at the author’s website:

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Karl Popper’s Remedy for Failing Democracies

Part 1: The Perennial Revolt Against Freedom

Democracy is worth fighting for. That’s a central message of the landmark work of political philosopher Karl Popper, whose book, The Open Society and its Enemies, was forged in the crucible of the fascism that erupted in the Second World War. According to Roy A. Childs Jr., “Karl Popper decided to write it in March 1938, on the day he received news that the Nazis had invaded Austria, and finished it in 1943.”[1] It was first published in 1945. Citing Brian Magee, Childs explains: “One has to remember that for most of the period while he was working on it Hitler was meeting with success after success, conquering almost the whole of Europe, country by country, and driving deep into Russia. Western civilization was confronted with the immediate threat of a new Dark Age. In these circumstances what Popper was concerned to do was to understand and explain the appeal of totalitarian ideas, and do everything he could to undermine it, and also to promulgate the value and importance of liberty in the widest sense.” Princeton University Press has kept the book in print, publishing its first edition in 1962 and—in a case of impeccable timing—a new edition in 2020.


Karl Popper was motivated to write The Open Society and its Enemies by the rise of fascism in Europe that led to world war.

Democracy today faces another existential crisis, lending credence to Popper’s wartime conclusion that, “…modern totalitarianism is only an episode within the perennial revolt against freedom and reason.”[2] Under Covid-19 lockdowns, democracies around the world have violated both domestic and international law, contravening what until recently were seen as basic constitutional rights. As early as July 2020 a coalition of 11 pro-democracy groups released an alarming report, with 100 organizations as signatories, stating: “Some weak democracies and autocracies have suffered a particularly serious lurch towards more centralised power and repression.”[3] In its accompanying statement, “A Call to Defend Democracy,” the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) elaborated: “…even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or timeframes for the restoration of constitutional order. Parliaments are being sidelined, journalists are being arrested and harassed, minorities are being scapegoated…”[4] Another IDEA report issued in December 2020 noted: “The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to some of the processes of democratic reform observed before the pandemic, while entrenching or accelerating processes of democratic backsliding and deepening autocratization.”[5]

For now I’ll skip the strange irony of George Soros writing the Foreword to the Princeton Classics 2020 edition and stick to an examination of Popper’s ideas.[6]

Part 2: Debunking Plato’s Republic

Popper in The Open Society and its Enemies undertakes a massive re-assessment of key figures in the history of political philosophy—primarily Plato, Hegel and Marx. On the surface this may seem more of interest to students studying for political science degrees, but its implications affect all of us. Popper’s masterful analysis exposes the philosophical precedents of the current backward march to totalitarianism. Plato’s Republic was long considered a foundational text for Western liberal democracies, but Popper demonstrates how tragically wrong this idea proved to be. Instead, he concludes: “…I believe that Plato’s political programme (sic), far from being morally superior to totalitarianism, is fundamentally identical with it.”[7] By the time Popper was writing The Open Society and its Enemies Plato had become a sacred cow in academia, causing Platonic scholars to recoil in horror when this book was first published.


Plato’s philosophy according to Karl Popper laid the basis of totalitarian thought.

Popper debunks the notion that Plato’s Republic resembles anything like our modern conception of democracy, and in fact is its polar opposite, based on a fixed caste system led by an elite class of “godlike” individuals descended from supposed aristocracy. For Plato, all social change represented a threat to the stability of what he considered the “natural” order of things, and thus represented an evil to be resisted at all costs. Popper contextualizes this by explaining that Plato was born into the chaotic times of the Peloponnesian War, lost two uncles to the conflict, and yearned for social and political stability.[8] Early in the book, Popper establishes that in fact what Plato was aspiring to was a kind of state collectivism based on primeval tribalism, where individuals are necessarily subsumed to the whole in order for the collective to survive.[9] It’s also from this impulse that we get religious notions of the “chosen people.”


Socrates and his tradition of enquiry provides the basis of Karl Popper’s analysis.

Popper strongly leans toward a Socratic rather than a Platonic philosophy, inasmuch as Socrates could be said to have a philosophy rather than a sophisticated system of inquiry. (In this he finds a truer picture of Socrates’ thought in Xenophon’s Conversations with Socrates than with most of Plato’s renderings of his discourses.) Thus, in the true spirit of Socrates, Popper asks us to start by first defining terms: what do we mean when we say ‘justice,’ ‘democracy,’ or ‘the greater good’? To Plato, ‘justice’ represented a fixed elitist hierarchy, where the ‘needs of the one’ are subsumed to the needs of the whole—the state—while to proponents of democracy, justice is something very different. As with politicians today, Plato would likely have played the “greater good” card as a means of ensuring submission to state dictates.[10]

The same keen distinction can be applied to Plato’s concept of a “republic,” with its “philosopher king,” a concept I took for granted most of my life to mean an enlightened individual with a strong dedication to what Popper calls “equalitarianism.” (Popper uses this term more than “humanitarianism” since it offers a more precise meaning.) But according to Plato, only those of the elite classes would be entitled to be trained as philosophers with a view to governorship of the ideal state. There is no upward mobility for those who can demonstrate a comparable intelligence, i.e. no meritocracy, but only downward mobility for those of the upper classes who deviate from the grand order or who through an accident of birth are considered inferior. But as history bears out, “political privileges have never been founded upon natural differences of character,” so much as cunning, class privilege or outright violence.[11]

Again in the spirit of Socratic clarity, Popper explains that the term ‘republic’ has come down to us in distorted form: “What comes first to our mind when hearing this title is that the author must be a liberal, if not a revolutionary. But the title ‘Republic’ is quite simply the English form of the Latin rendering of a Greek word that had no associations of this kind, and whose proper English translation would be ‘The Constitution’ or ‘The City State’ or ‘The State’. The traditional translation ‘The Republic’ has undoubtedly contributed to the general conviction that Plato could not have been a reactionary.”[12] It’s not hard to see a direct line between Plato’s “republic” and the medieval “divine right of kings” doctrine. In Volume 2, Popper’s exegesis of Hegel completes the cycle by showing how the so-called “German idealist” (according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) simply transferred this “divine right” from the head of state to the state itself. Thus, another direct line could be drawn between Hegel and Hitler, since Hegel argues that the state is justified—glorified even—in making war on other states.[13]

Popper also critiques the theory of “historicism,” the concept that history plays out in predictable patterns based upon the past, and thus a society can be engineered based on these repeating cycles. This includes various forms of social engineering—including Utopianism—in which an entire society is renovated according to a grand plan or philosophy. Some 20th century examples spring immediately to mind: Stalinism, Chinese Communism, and fascism. This naturally raises the question: Given the disastrous record of these regimes and their destruction of millions of lives, why does the totalitarian urge live on in concepts like the “Great Reset”? It’s a question that is examined from multiple angles in The Open Society and its Enemies. Early on, Popper places himself neither on the side of historicists nor Utopian social engineers but of a more needs-driven responsive approach he calls “piecemeal social engineering.” An example might be responding to an excess of workers injured on the job by creating the institution of workers’ compensation plans.

Popper locates the origin of historicism in Plato’s theory of Forms or Ideas, a kind of cosmic template from which all else descends—and tends to deteriorate, like a dented bread pan churning out inferior copies. It’s consistent with the myth of The Fall and its many permutations, including the Christian notion of “original sin.” Thus Plato outlined a downward trajectory for any society that fails to institute rigorous control: “First after the perfect sate comes ‘timarchy’ or ‘timocracy,’ the rule of the noble who seek honour and fame; secondly, oligarchy, the rule of the rich families; ‘next in order, democracy is born,’ the rule of liberty which means lawlessness; and last comes ‘tyranny… the fourth and final sickness of the city.’”[14]


British historian Arnold Toynbee created a highly plausible theory of the life cycles of civilizations. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The great historian Arnold Toynbee articulates a similar theory of civilizations, but comes to a very different conclusion than Plato as to remedies. Toynbee observed that the majority of the innovative ideas that drive a civilization forward tend to come from a small minority or elite, who initially inspire “mimesis,” or willing support among what he calls the “internal proletariat.” He explains that when a civilization moves beyond this initial creative or innovative stage, an inevitable conflict develops between the “dominant minority” and this “internal proletariat,” as the elites seek to consolidate their hold on power through force: “…the ailing civilization pays the penalty for its failing vitality by being disintegrated into a dominant minority, which rules with increasing oppressiveness but no longer leads… The dominant minority’s will to repress evokes in the proletariat a will to secede; and a conflict between these two wills continues while the declining civilization verges towards its fall…”[15] Unlike Plato, however, Toynbee does not see the solution in a return to a class-based hierarchy where the elites are too powerful to be challenged and can thus impose a kind of police state stability, usually at the expense of individual rights and freedoms. “Times of trouble produce militarism, which is a perversion of the human spirit into channels of mutual destruction… Militarism… has been by far the commonest cause of the breakdowns of civilizations during the last four or five millennia which have witnessed the score or so of breakdowns that are on record to date.”[16]

In asking how Plato solves the problem of class war arising from his ‘perfect’ or ideal state, Popper answers: “Had he been a progressivist, he might have hit on the idea of a classless, equalitarian society; for, as we can see for instance from his own parody of Athenian democracy, there were strong equalitarian tendencies at work in Athens. But he was not out to construct a state that might come, but a state that had been—the father of the Spartan state, which was certainly not a classless society. It was a slave state, and accordingly Plato’s best state is based on the most rigid class distinctions. It is a caste state. The problem of avoiding class war is solved, not by abolishing classes, but by giving the ruling class a superiority which cannot be challenged.”[17]


In Popper’s analysis, Marx was a well motivated but ultimately failed political philosopher.

Even more strangely, Plato seems to have laid the philosophical groundwork for communism, according to Popper. In Volume 1, Popper compares Marx’s historicism with Plato’s: “The Marxian formula ‘the history of all hitherto existing societies is a history of class struggle,’ fits Plato’s historicism nearly as well as that of Marx.”[18] Plato’s only concern for class is in keeping the ruling class united within its stable order. “How is the unity of the rulers preserved? By training and other psychological influences, but otherwise mainly by the elimination of economic interests which may lead to disunion. This economic abstinence is achieved and controlled by the introduction of communism, i.e. by the abolition of private property… This communism is confined to the ruling class… Since all property is common property, there must also be a common ownership of women and children… Family loyalties might otherwise become a possible source of disunion…”[19] What Popper is expounding here of Plato’s philosophy is exactly what has played out in both the Soviet and Chinese Communist states, although in these states Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” has failed to materialize. And in the “abolition of private property” we hear a sickening echo in the World Economic Forum’s current “Great Reset” plan, where by 2030, “You’ll own nothing and be happy.” Of course, it’s never stated who will own everything, though it’s not hard to guess.

There are eerie parallels in Plato’s philosophy with today’s social messaging, i.e. the idea that by conforming to norms such as ‘social distancing’ and mask-wearing we are demonstrating our unselfishness, our commitment to protecting the whole of society rather than standing out as individuals. Popper clearly identifies this kind of messaging with the collectivism implicit in Plato’s words: “‘The part exists for the sake of the whole, but the whole does not exist for the sake of the part…’ Plato suggests that if you cannot sacrifice your interests for the sake of the whole, then you are selfish.”[20] Compare this with Covid-19 media messaging for mask-wearing such as “wearing is caring,” or vaccination programs that imply one is doing one’s best for the community by accepting a “vaccine” that is, at best, an experimental gene therapy of unproven efficacy and unknown long-term side effects.

As Canadian physician Dr. Patrick Phillips has observed, the entire German medical establishment endorsed eugenics under the Nazi regime. The rationale was that of Plato: “the part exists for the sake of the whole,” meaning that culling out those deemed “defective” or “inferior” was considered a service to the greater good of humanity. The same rationale of the “greater good” is being used to justify lockdowns, masking, social distancing and pressuring the public to accept gene-based, trial-phase “vaccines.” This conveniently ignores the fact that any form of coercion of individuals—or whole populations—to accept experimental medicines is expressly prohibited by the Nuremberg Code. Yet those who refuse such treatments are stigmatized, told they may not be able to travel or see loved ones. “According to Plato, the only alternative to collectivism is egoism,” Popper writes. “(H)e simply identifies all altruism with collectivism, and all individualism with egoism… Plato thus became, unconsciously, the pioneer of the many propagandists who, often in good faith, developed the technique of appealing to moral, humanitarian sentiments, for anti-humanitarian, immoral purposes.” [21] One could rattle off any number of tyrants in history who fulfill this Platonic sleight-of-hand: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, et al. “Every collectivist revolution rides in on a Trojan horse of ‘emergency,’” wrote Depression-era American President Herbert Hoover. “It was the tactic of Lenin, Hitler, and Mussolini.”

By offering the deep context of the history of political philosophy reaching all the way back to Plato, Popper can thus aptly conclude: “…modern totalitarianism is only an episode within the perennial revolt against freedom and reason.”[22]

  1. Popper’s Democratic Ethos

Philosopher Hegel is identified by Popper as part of Plato’s continuum of totalitarian philosophy. Image Wikimedia Commons

The Open Society and its Enemies is an indispensable read for anyone concerned with the rot setting into liberal democracies under the Covid regime. After such an exhaustive takedown of the enemies of democracy, it was refreshing to see that Popper was bold enough to offer a way out of this mess. As mentioned earlier, among his key tenets is that, as has been summarized elsewhere, the state exists to serve the individual, not the reverse, as Plato and Hegel would have it. A key paragraph in Volume 1 of The Open Society and its Enemies sums up the ethos of equalitarianism in its highest aspirations: “This individualism, united with altruism, has become the basis of our western civilization. It is the central doctrine of Christianity (‘love your neighbor,’ say the scriptures, not ‘love your tribe’); and it is the core of all ethical doctrines which have grown from our civilization and stimulated it. It is also, for instance, Kant’s central practical doctrine (‘always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as mere means to your ends’). There is no other thought which has been so powerful in the moral development of man.”[23] Thus, it seems to me a terrible shame and a backsliding to give up on the project of democracy, in crisis though it is. With all its flaws, it still represents a significant step forward in social evolution.

Among the foundational principles of a true liberal democracy is the equalitarian ethos Popper outlines in three fundamental principles: “(a) the equalitarian principle proper, i.e. the proposal to eliminate ‘natural’ privileges; (b) the general principle of individualism, and; (c) the principle that it should be the task and the purpose of the state to protect the freedom of its citizens.”[24] A cornerstone of such a democratic state is the “just constitution” described by Kant that aims to achieve “the greatest possible freedom of human individuals by framing the laws in such a way that the freedom of each can co-exist with that of all others.”[25] In practical terms, Popper explains, that means limiting the power of private corporations and governments, so that neither can exert undue influence over an individual’s freedoms.

If the Covid-19 “pandemic” has proven anything, it’s that almost every major institution in society has succumbed to systemic corruption. Politicians of all stripes in all countries have turned a deaf ear to citizens’ cries for help when their constitutional rights are denied. Social service organizations, professional associations and other NGOs have proven just as unwilling to weigh in. Scientific and healthcare institutions have exiled open debate, denying the public access to the collective expertise of scientists who refuse to allow their work to be politicized. To offer uncritical support for institutional structures at this stage of history is to fall into the trap Einstein warned us about: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” As I’ve been saying for years, allowing capitalism to run unrestrained is a dangerous mistake for any democracy. With many corporations possessing more capital than entire countries, granting them enormous capacity to influence and control national agendas, Popper’s advice is more pertinent than ever: “the principle of non-intervention, of an unrestrained economic system, has to be given up…”[26]

This may sound vaguely like the centrally controlled economy of Communism, but in his critique of Marx in Volume II it’s clear this is not what Popper is recommending. Rather than increasing the power of the state—a flaw Popper identifies in Marx’s political philosophy—this means returning it to the ultimate control of the electorate. The key principle he articulates in this context is that it is unacceptable for “a minority which is economically strong… (to) exploit the majority of those who are economically weak,”[27] the de facto condition of corporate governance we see today, where the lobbying power of private enterprise continually overturns the needs and priorities of the electorate. “Economic power must not be permitted to dominate political power; if necessary, it must be fought and brought under control by political power.”[28]

The Marxist view that all is needed is “equality of opportunity”—oddly similar to the capitalist notion that anyone can become a billionaire or a president given the chance—is not enough. “It does not protect those who are less gifted, or less ruthless, or less lucky, from becoming objects of exploitation for those who are more gifted, ruthless, or lucky.”[29] The twin pillars of unrestrained capitalism and centralized banking systems are thus both in desperate need of reform. “Money as such is not particularly dangerous,” writes Popper. “It becomes dangerous only if it can buy power, either directly, or by enslaving the economically weak who must sell themselves in order to live.”[30] The logical implication is that strict laws must be enforced against both corporate lobbying and vote-rigging. “There are laws to limit the expenditure on electioneering, and it rests entirely with us to see that much more stringent laws of this kind are introduced.”[31]

Democracy also needs as a foundational principle accountability among its leaders, something sorely lacking today. Thus, Popper frames another key tenet for the reforming of governance: “…the old question, ‘Who shall be the rulers?’ must be superseded by the more real one, ‘How can we tame them?’”[32] At a time when, even in nominally democratic countries like Canada, our elected representatives mostly ignore their constituents the minute they obtain office, this is a critical issue again highlighted by the chronic mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis. This becomes doubly apparent when all 87 MLAs in BC are served with information packages by constituents demanding that they raise questions in the Legislature about vaccines and lockdowns, yet almost none responded to the people serving them. In Popper’s view, a truly liberal democracy should have the capacity to dismiss from office at any time political leaders who fail to meet the needs of the electorate.[33] Perhaps it could be done by means of a non-confidence motion put forward by constituents, such as occasionally occurs with entire governments in the Westminster parliamentary system, but applied to individual politicians. That way, instead of feeling secure in their position for the entire term of their tenure, realizing they could be dismissed at any time would serve as a motivator for them to serve their constituents to the best of their ability at all times.

As Popper puts it so succinctly, “a tyrannical government outlaws itself.”[34] Even in recent history, we’ve seen this totalitarian phenomenon repeated over and over again. This is why we have international law codes such as the Geneva Convention and Nuremberg Code. Popper outlines his framework for liberal democracy based on the principle that the rulers can be dismissed “without bloodshed” at any time. Further, consistently following the Socratic dictum to define his terms precisely, Popper explains: “Thus if the men in power do not safeguard those institutions which secure to the minority the possibility of working for a peaceful change, then their rule is a tyranny.”[35] While not entirely averse to violent overthrow of tyrannical governments, Popper cautions against “making use of the situation for the establishment of a counter-tyranny (which) is just as criminal as the original attempt to introduce a tyranny…”[36] The vicious programs of suppression carried out against “counter revolutionaries” in Communist Russia and China come to mind.

In addition, Popper lays out the following principles:[37]

  • “A consistent democratic constitution should exclude only one type of change in the legal system, namely a change which would endanger its democratic character.”
  • “In a democracy, the full protection of minorities should not extend to those who violate the law, and especially not to those who incite others to the violent overthrow of the democracy.” Thus, even if we agree with the political agenda of Black Lives Matter, it’s unacceptable to turn a blind eye to BLM members inciting or participating in riots and vandalism. The same would apply to any revolutionary or social movement.
  • “A policy of framing institutions to safeguard democracy must always proceed on the assumption that there may be anti-democratic tendencies latent among the ruled as well as among the rulers.” Hence Popper’s first rule above.
  • “If democracy is destroyed, all rights are destroyed. Even if certain economic advantages enjoyed by the ruled should persist, they would persist only on sufferance.” As we’ve seen under the Covid-19 regime, where the entire economy was shut down and small businesses suffered disproportionately while corporate chains continued their business unmolested.

Although Popper’s aversion to any theory of historicism would have him discredit even Toynbee’s highly astute theory of civilizational cycles, this is no justification for nihilism: “History has no meaning, I contend… We can interpret the history of power politics from the point of view of our fight for the open society, for a rule of reason, for justice, freedom, equality, and for the control of international crime. Although history has no ends, we can impose these ends of ours upon it; and although history has no meaning, we can give it a meaning.”[38] An ideal democratic society is an unlikely possibility given human nature. However, it’s the effort—the principle—that counts. Again I cite the poet Robert Browning’s famous dictum that, “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

I believe we can still agree with Toynbee that right now we happen to be in the terminal phase of a civilization without calling for wholesale, quasi-Utopian social programming. We can still agree with Popper that “piecemeal social engineering” is a safer way to go and more controllable in a democracy than some centralized, all-powerful government. And most importantly, we can easily agree with him that the protection of a free and open society is an endeavor worth all our earnest efforts.

  1. The Way Forward: The Open Society and its Allies

To that end, documents such as the Victoria Declaration created by Dr. Chris Shaw, Ted Kuntz and other contributors[39] are a vital first step toward restoring the degraded democracies of the West. Under the heading, “We Claim Our Sacred Inheritance,” it states:

  • “We are free born with fundamental and inalienable rights of freedom and sovereignty that are our sacred inheritance, and that these rights and freedoms are inherent and non-negotiable.
  • “We proclaim our right and responsibility as a free people to pursue greater harmony, peace, and cooperation without unwarranted and unethical hindrance from the State.
  • “Through the freedom bestowed upon us and enshrined within us, we have a responsibility to care for each other and to protect, preserve and sustain humanity, all the species of the earth, and the Earth herself.
  • It is our lawful and rightful responsibility to assert and defend the rights and freedoms we declare here on behalf of all persons globally.”

If Popper were alive today he’d likely agree with the urgency expressed in the Declaration’s preamble: “The Victoria Declaration presents a foundation for the restoration of humanity. Its authors declare that humanity is at a critical juncture because collectively we have failed to grasp the significance of the events unfolding around us and to respond appropriately.”[40] It’s a statement every bit as bold as the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” but far more in keeping with the principles of true liberal democracy as laid out in The Open Society and its Enemies. The Declaration’s principle that, “We proclaim our right and responsibility as a free people to pursue greater harmony, peace, and cooperation without unwarranted and unethical hindrance from the State,” echoes Popper when he says that, “…by a democracy I do not mean something as vague as ‘rule of the people’ or ‘the rule of the majority’, but a set of institutions… which permit public control of the rulers and their dismissal by the ruled, and which make it possible for the ruled to obtain reforms without using violence…”[41] I see this reflected in the Declaration’s principle of government accountability and transparency: “We declare our right to full transparency from the government, its agencies, and public servants in all of their dealings, insofar as their authority is delegated to them by the people whom they are obliged to serve.”[42]

Thomas Paine

18th century writer Thomas Paine warned about the risks of totalitarian power. Image Wikimedia Commons

Popper’s point is that violence is only required when rulers become entrenched in autocratic power, reaching the condition he describes when he says that “a tyrannical government outlaws itself,” leaving its citizens with no choice but to foment regime change by any means necessary. As the Victoria Declaration affirms: “We declare our right to resist, protest and rebel against, and to overthrow, if necessary, any government that assumes more authority than we allow, and acts to oppress or endanger the well-being and safety of individuals.”[43] As Thomas Jefferson said, “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty.” Great writers as diverse as George Orwell, Thomas Paine, C.S. Lewis and many, many others have stated in various terms what the Declaration asserts: “History further reveals that rights and freedoms are never returned willingly. Rather, it is the oppressed themselves who ultimately reclaim and preserve human rights that benefit humanity.”[44]

Given the pandemic corruption that exists in virtually every government, corporate and media body from the national to the international level, as WHO whistleblower Dr. Astrid Stückelberger observes, the entire system needs to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up.[45] This is a “build back better” not dictated by the moneyed elites but by the masses of people without whose labour their fortunes would not exist. We must shatter the notion so often leveraged against freedom throughout history that only a tiny elite has the intelligence to govern. “The Victoria Declaration is for you, your family, your community, your city, your nation – for humanity itself in all of its sovereign expressions.”[46] If this Declaration is the bold rallying cry for awakening the populace to defend democracy and freedom, in The Open Society and its Enemies Karl Popper provides the future roadmap for the “open society and its allies.”

We do well to listen—and more importantly, act—before it’s too late.

[1] Roy A. Childs Jr., “Popper, the Open Society and its Enemies,” October 1, 1976,

[2] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, two-volume edition including Volume 2: The High Tide of Prophecy, Introduction by George Soros, Princeton Classics, 2020 reprint, p. 272.

[3] “Global Democracy and Covid-10: Upgrading International Support,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), July 15, 2020, Stockholm, Sweden:

[4] “A Call to Defend Democracy,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), June 25, 2020:

[5] “Taking Stock of Global Democratic Trends Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), December 2020:

[6] For a discussion of Soros’ conflicting ideals, see: Paul Austin Murphy, “George Soros Explains What He Means by ‘Open Society,’” Medium, February 17, 2020:

[7] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1962/1966, first Princeton paperback edition, 1971, p. 87.

[8] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 18.

[9] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 9.

[10] Popper discusses this distinction on pages 89–91, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid.

[11] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 96.

[12] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 88.

[13] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 reprint, pp. 274, 279.

[14] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 40.

[15] Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Dell Publishing (abridged two-volume version 1946), abridged by D.C. Somervell, Dell Publishing, New York (1965), 1978 ed., Volume 1, p. 100.

[16] Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Oxford University Press complete hardbound edition, abridged by D.C. Somervell, London/New York/Toronto, 1960 (1962 reprint), p. 190.

[17] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 46 (emphasis mine).

[18] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., pp. 39, 40.

[19] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 48 (emphasis mine).

[20] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 100.

[21] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 101.

[22] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 reprint, p. 272.

[23] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 102, emphasis mine.

[24] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 94.

[25] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato, ibid., p. 247, footnote; emphasis in original.

[26] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 333.

[27] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 333.

[28] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 335.

[29] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 335.

[30] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 337.

[31] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 337, emphasis mine.

[32] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 341.

[33] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., pp. 360, 368.

[34] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 360.

[35] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 368.

[36] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 360.

[37] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 368.

[38] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 482, emphasis in original.

[39] Victoria Declaration, full text: Emphasis mine.

[40] Victoria Declaration, full text:

[41] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton Classics 2020 edition, ibid., p. 360, emphasis mine.

[42] Victoria Declaration, “Declaration of Human Sovereignty and Freedom” clause:

[43] Victoria Declaration, “Declaration of Human Sovereignty and Freedom” clause:

[44] Just a few examples: “The greatest tyrannies are always perpetuated in the name of the noblest causes.” (Thomas Paine) “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” (C.S. Lewis) “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” (George Orwell)

[45] Dr. Astrid Stückelberger WHO Whistleblower: Vaccines as a Bioweapon to Depopulate: full interview:

[46] Victoria Declaration, full text:

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