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-2

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_800x1000

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-9488126-1-402

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]

451px-arnold_j._toynbee_anefo

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]

512px-karl_marx

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
hegel_by_schlesinger

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, Libertarianism.org: https://www.libertarianism.org/publications/essays/popper-open-society-its-enemies

[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: https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/new-report-covid-19-and-democracy-calls-urgent-measures-governments-and-civil

[4] “A Call to Defend Democracy,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), June 25, 2020: https://www.idea.int/news-media/multimedia-reports/call-defend-democracy

[5] “Taking Stock of Global Democratic Trends Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), December 2020: https://www.idea.int/publications/catalogue/global-democratic-trends-before-and-during-covid19

[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: https://medium.com/@paulaustinmurphy2000/george-soros-explains-what-he-means-by-open-society-7ead411c34c3

[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: https://www.librti.com/victoria-declaration Emphasis mine.

[40] Victoria Declaration, full text: https://www.librti.com/victoria-declaration

[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: https://www.librti.com/victoria-declaration

[43] Victoria Declaration, “Declaration of Human Sovereignty and Freedom” clause: https://www.librti.com/victoria-declaration

[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: https://www.bitchute.com/video/NnF3PIkDxVEf/

[46] Victoria Declaration, full text: https://www.librti.com/victoria-declaration

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
This entry was posted in Civilization, Coronavirus, COVID-19 lockdowns, Democracy, Political Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Karl Popper’s Remedy for Failing Democracies

  1. Julius says:

    Fantastic article!

    It always struck me as strange that Plato’s Republic was studied so extensively by the medieval Church. Suddenly it makes sense, Plato’s world view was essentially being used to justify a social hierarchy of God-given inalienable natural rights for the benefit of the elites – a heavenly ordained caste system that allowed the medieval social hierarchy to legitimize itself and cement elites as both the gold-givers and rights dispensers and position the lower castes as means to their ends.

    This really underscores the enormous intellectual shift that happened after the medieval period (with the US Declaration of Independence expressing it most clearly). The Declaration of Independence inverted Plato’s idea of inalienable rights. By having rights flow directly from God to individuals (“endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”), the Declaration of Independence cut the kings and bishops out as middlemen, thus breaking the caste system. By redefining the word “inalienable”, it completely inverted the medieval pyramid of inalienable rights (and responsibilities) because it redefined the philosophical basis of rights and freedoms as stemming from a direct relationship between individuals with their Creator. It is what made government “by the people, for the people” possible because it eliminated the elite’s role as God’s appointed representatives on Earth (the bishops and kings) with the singular authority to dispense rights and resources at their discretion.

    It seems what we are seeing now is Plato’s view reasserting itself, just without the religious language. By erasing this idea of individual rights and freedoms as the foundational building block of society, it resurrects the idea that rights (and gold) flow once again from elites down, acting on the “benevolent” behalf of “the people”.

    That the elites would want this makes perfect sense. Why so many citizens also seem to want this is a sad reflection on how seductive the idea of a benevolent shepherd (i.e. govt) is because this neo-feudal world view frees citizens from the burden of responsibility that comes with being the bearer of rights. Medieval society may have been oppressive, but it also allowed many (including the serfs) to live a bit like children because although it gave them obligations, it also freed them of personal responsibilities and provided them with a ready-made existence (as determined by their birthplace in the hierarchy). As long as they did their part in the “system” they did not have to bear the full burden of responsibility for themselves – a perverse but liberating sentiment.

    This quote from Eric Hoffer illustrates this desire to be liberated from responsibility:

    “However, the freedom the masses crave is not freedom of self-expression and self-realization, but freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from “the fearful burden of free choice,”19 freedom from the arduous responsibility of realizing their ineffectual selves and shouldering the blame for the blemished product. They do not want freedom of conscience, but faith—blind, authoritarian faith. They sweep away the old order not to create a society of free and independent men, but to establish uniformity, individual anonymity and a new structure of perfect unity. It”
    ― Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

    Thanks for tour through the minds of the great philosophers – I look forward to your one!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s