#EconlibReads offers reading groups on a regular basis. Each Group will focus on a particular topic, and a common set of readings will form the basis for our discussions. Our sister site, AdamSmithWorks, offers similar groups.

Participation is offered at no-cost, and there is no need to be an expert on the topic for discussion! In fact, these reading groups are designed to be appropriate for people engaging with the topic at hand for the first time as well as for established scholars. The only requirement is that participants be eager to read and engage in civil conversation.

 

Make plans to join us in our April Virtual Reading Group with EconLog’s Alberto Mingardi.

Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies is one of the great works in post-war-liberalism. Popper (1902-1994) was a philosopher of science who, by writing this 2-volume essay, aimed to produce “A Critique of Political Philosophy” (that was one of the first titles he proposed for his work). Popper reacted to the political climate of the 1930s by explaining its intellectual roots. His work can be read alongside F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Ludwig von Mises’s Omnipotent Government, both published in 1944.

Though there are obvious similarities between the three books, Popper’s account aims to go deeper and looks for the roots of modern totalitarianism in ancient Greece: if the poleis were the cradle of democracy, so they were also the fountainhead of an anti-democratic attitude which Popper, polemically and controversially, identifies with Plato.

This reading group aims at discussing the scope of Popper’s arguments, properly contextualizing them. Popper’s work was the object of very many reflections in the 1980s and 1990s, and openly endorsed by many key figures in the intellectual world and beyond it (consider George Soros claiming he was a student of Popper’s and naming his own foundation after The Open Society and Its Enemies). Yet in more recent times it seemed to be overshadowed by other intellectual contests. Among libertarians, Popper was often dismissed as a social democrat (as he proposed “piecemeal social engineering” rather than non interventionism as such) but it is hard to find a conservative, or a “centrist”, who seems determined to build on Popperian insights. In our reading group, we will try to understand why – and decide if Popper deserves to be rediscovered and better appreciated.

Click here to register.

Readings and Sessions:

Participants will need to obtain a copy of Popper’s book. They will also receive a complementary PDF reader upon registration.

Session One (Monday, April 19, noon EST)

  • Popper’s Life and Impact
    • Malachi H. Hacohen, “Karl Popper, the Vienna Circle, and Red Vienna”, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 59, No. 4, 1998, pp. 711- 734.
    • Malachi Him Hacohen, “Berlin and Popper between nation and empire: diaspora, cosmopolitanism and Jewish life”, Jewish Historical Studies, Vol. 44, 2012, pp. 51-74.

Session Two (Wednesday, April 21, noon EST) 

  •  Popper on Plato
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 4 “Change and rest”, pp. 35-54.
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 6 “Totalitarian Justice”, pp. 83-113.

Session Three (Monday, April 26, noon EST)

  • Popper on Greece
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 10 “The Open Society and Its Enemies”, pp. 161-189.
    • Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, Book II, § 34-45, Pericles’s Eulogy

Session Four (Wednesday, April 28, noon EST)

  • Popper and Marx
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 1 “Historicism and the Myth of Destiny”, pp. 7-9.
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 13 “Marx’s Sociological Determinism” , pp. 293-300.
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 17 “The Legal and the Social System”, pp. 327-342.
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 21 “An Evaluation of the Prophecy”, pp. 397-400.
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 22 “The Moral Theory of Historicism”, pp. 405-416.

Session Five (Monday, May 3, noon EST) 

  • Historicism as a Revolt Against Reason
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 24 “Oracular Philosophy and the Revolt Against Reason”, §I-IV,  pp. 430-450.
    • Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, chapter 25 “Has History Any Meaning?”, pp. 465-483.

Session Six (Wednesday, May 5, noon EST)

  • Popper’s Legacy
    • Kenneth Minogue, “Politics and Morality in the Thought of Karl Popper”, Government and Opposition, Vol. 30, No. 1, 1995, pp. 74-85.
    • J.C. Lester, “Popper’s epistemology versus Popper’s politics: A libertarian viewpoint”, Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1995, pp. 87-9.3

 

Please find a PDF version of our previous Reading Group discussion questions below:

 


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