The open society and its frenemies
Updated: May 4, 2022
Karl Popper is among those thinkers who make me really fume, for the simple reason that he presents himself as the opposite to what he in fact is. His most famous work is The Open Society and Its Enemies—and yet this work is completely closed-minded from the very outset. Throughout this work I found myself with my teeth locked together with a barely repressed urge to find Popper—unfortunately he is dead—and whack him over the head with his book while saying: “You are completely closed-minded, you fucking hypocrite. You smug self-satisfied bastard.” (See, readers, the inherent totalitarian fascistic impulses present in the anti-democratic historicist…product of a closed society, no doubt).
Popper starts with an unstated assumption: democracy is good; for Popper this is unargued and axiomatic—he then proceeds to examine critiques of democracy with a pathologist’s eye. Yet all this is pointless, he is engaged in circular logic: he has decided democracy is good; therefore, critiques of democracy are bad. Hence the entire book is an exercise in pseudo-thought—an exercise that you see all too often in our contemporary media and academia. Everything he says is fine, so long as you accept his first assumption; he then “considers” critiques of democracy—critiques that would cause you to doubt your first assumption if considered with an open mind—and says that we must reject them.
So the regime loyalist will say, “There are various far-right ideas in circulation—such as the notion that humans differ in intelligence, or that Muslims in the West somehow do not express so-called Western values.” As with Popper, there is never any argument; it is simply granted that the assertions are “preposterous” or “extremist”—the assertions are “preposterous” because they contradict the ideas they critique. “Not an argument,” as Stefan Molyneux would say—not an argument but perhaps an intuition.
Ironically enough, in his second volume Popper argues against just such “intuitions” as being inherently historicist and totalitarian—although he himself starts out with an “intuition” (a prejudice, I think) that favours democracy; and, indeed, in that very same volume he admits that we must start all thought with an intuition—yet he then suggests that he has reasons why we should not do so, although, he must confess, he favours reason because he intuited it as his preference. Again, Popper is Mr. Circularity—and not positive circularity, not the seasons or the ouroboros; no, he is circular in a contradictory manner because he wishes to escape the circle, to escape nature. Oh Professor Popper, what an unnatural man art thou!
Popper’s work is basically an attack on destiny and nature—actually, it is specifically an attack on Western destiny. Popper is very much against intuition, prophecy, destiny, in-out groups, and circularity—and though he mentions them very briefly, he has little to say about the Jews and their destiny; no, Popper’s problem is in particular with everything Western—with Heraclitus, Plato, and Aristotle. Western destiny is bad, evil, and irrational—and, apparently, anti-Christian.
Popper is very unctuous in his support for Christianity, yet somehow I doubt he was a Christian—I can, you know, intuit that this was so. Thus, for example, he claims that Christianity supported the French Revolution, whereas Platonic and Aristotelian thought—bad old circular pagan thought—stood for the monarchy and aristocracy (very bad things, reason suggests—despite my intuition that the guillotine was worse). Real talk: Plato and Aristotle are fused right into Christianity—always have been, especially in Catholicism. Popper’s pretend Christianity has nothing to do with Christianity.
At one point he notes that Christianity says, “Love thy neighbour,” and then explains why this means Christianity cannot be for tribalism—for what he calls “the closed society”. Yet if you consult Carl Schmitt you will find that the Latin and Greek used to express “Love thy neighbour” specifically referred to the “political neighbour”—i.e. the in-group or your literal next-door neighbour; it did not refer to mankind entire, as Popper claims (because he is not a real Christian; he is someone who wants to use Christianity for his sinister political goals). In a very telling section, Popper describes how science has now demonstrated that there is no instinctive fear of snakes—people are merely educated to fear them thanks to tribal bigotry (the latest scientific research does not support this view). To quote that great Canadian oracle, Avril Lavigne: “Can I make it anymore obvious?”. Karl Popper was a snake, Satan himself—always keen to assure you that he is perfectly harmless.
Apparently, Leo Strauss was very frank as regards Popper’s works—used an expletive to describe them; and he was right, Popper’s grasp of the material is piss-poor; if you read Strauss, who really soaked himself in Plato, and then read Popper it is night and day—you can tell Popper hardly engaged with the people he writes about extensively, Aristotle and Plato, except to move them around (as he does with Christianity) to support his political agenda. Really, The Open Society and Its Enemies is a propaganda work vaguely aimed at “totalitarianism”—although Popper never defines what he considers totalitarianism to be, other than that it encompasses Hegel, traditional Christianity, and Hitlerism but not the French Revolution. Caaaan I maaakkeee it anymooorree obvious?
Popper belongs to a type you still see today who provides a pretence of science. He is the type to say: “Seasons? There are no ‘seasons’. You cannot believe this perfectly ridiculous tribal superstition that there is Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter—a supposedly intuitive and mystical harmony to the world. Really, our climate exists on a spectrum; and we have to consult an app to understand the reality—see, if you look at the bar chart we’re in the average 15.5 C range now…”. This is the whole act to Popper: at base he rejects the idea there are lifecycles—he rejects the idea that things are born, age, and die; he rejects the common sense observation—supported by cybernetics—that there is a seasonality to the weather, to your life, and to the life of nations. The reason he does so is because he is afraid to die, afraid not to be egotistically important; he thinks if he denies the cyclicality found in nature he can avoid his own death—and yet he is dead, it does no good to play King Canute.
It is thanks to men like Popper that anyone who attends a course in social science or the humanities is taught as a foundation stone that there is a difference between “normative” and “normal”. Popper is very keen on this notion, best explicated by his snake example: you might think it is natural to have an aversion to snakes, but “science” has demonstrated this is a tribal prejudice; it is normative, not “natural”—and since what is normative is not determined by nature we can let a few cobras loose in the seminar room and see how we react; perhaps we will stroke these beauties, take a few home and feed them on milk—let them play with our children (rejoice that we have overcome our silly tribal superstition against snakes, welcome to the open society).
I suspect that Prof. Popper would balk at some real experimental science with a few cobras, for although Popper is all for science he really means by “science” what he can control—for Popper is a subtle priest whose priestcraft is to tell you he is here to free you from priests, rather as with Marx. For example, Popper’s famous notion that scientific ideas must be falsifiable is nonsense; as David Stove noted, there is a contradiction in Popper’s “falsifiability” test: he says that open statistical generalisations are not falsifiable, yet he also says they are scientific. Ergo, “falsifiability”—a bit like “peer review”—is a control mechanism developed to keep real science and reason on a leash, probably because if people were allowed to use real reason and science they would confirm that the “closed society” actually represents a superior system to Popper’s “open society”.
Although Popper takes aim at Marx, his real targets in The Open Society and Its Enemies are tradition, fascism, conservatism, and Christianity (the Inquisition, real Christianity); he critiques Marx but is fulsome in his praise as he does so—and he says that he wants to achieve the same goal as Marx, just by piecemeal social engineering. Hence, rather hilariously, Popper says that he favours the gradual and subtle manipulation of a society (he calls this an experiment, though only the social engineers get to assess the results…He was a sk8r boy, I said see you later boy…) and yet he also deploys the then-novel term “conspiracy theory” in a cautionary way. Popper basically says: “I think we need an elite to subtly manipulate society towards things most people see as unnatural—and we must grant no power to intuitive, naturalistic, or biological thinkers. Yet, please, watch out for dangerous extremists who believe there is some kind of secret conspiracy—probably by racial outsiders—to destroy the natural order. Such ideas are irrational, totalitarian, and silly.”
Yesterday, I flipped open Twitter and saw an extensive news report on a jellyfish that produces sparkly faeces; the reports went on and on in infantile language about this creature’s “poo”—its ordure, its shit. These articles exist thanks to Karl Pooper: your aversion to faeces is normative, not natural; it is dangerously totalitarian to have an aversion to faeces—possibly it makes you intolerant towards anal sex. Hence we social engineers rationally and scientifically brainwash you to like faeces with cutesy videos about jellyfish. The open society: they literally want you to eat shit, and say you like it.
How about a closed circle? A circle of trust? A holistic circle—a dragon that eats its own tail forever and ever and so enters eternity. “No thanks,” says Popper, “I am just a single little Popper out on his own: history has no meaning or purpose—people who think it has meaning and purpose are dangerous, they’re like the maniacs who say there are four seasons in the year. Yet this hypothesis as regards ‘four seasons’—as with destiny and history—cannot be admitted for scientific investigation. You might see patterns in your life, you might hear rhythms in music—yet I believe that is called ‘pareidolia’…it sounds like you might have a mental health problem, I have a great presentation from TEDx on mental health…please watch it; and ignore those crazy conspiracy theorists who say the elites have a secret plot to destroy nature and religion—all we are doing is gradually and carefully moving towards the open society. It’s scientific, but just let me read your hypothesis first…ah, that’s unfalsifiable I’m afraid—grant rejected.”