December 27, 2006


Caption: Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd? Castor the curious peacock does! In this photo, he contemplates the meaning of being.

During the usually slack time between Christmas and New Year's Goat Rope will highlight greatest hits from El Cabrero's 2006 reading list.

Yesterday's post featured Vermont poet David Budbill. Today's is philosopher Karl Popper, whose works include The Poverty of Historicism and this year's winner, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vols. I and II.

In these books, written around the time of the nearly triumphant totalitariansm of the 1940s, Popper takes merciless aim at theoretical and practical totalitarians of the right and left.

Speaking of poets and philosophers, Popper slams the later Plato, who would have banned uncensored poets from his Republic, as an early apologist for authoritarianism. He is especially merciless to Hegel, who I still kind of like, and is respectful of but severely critical of Marx.

For Popper, people have a temptation to want to return to the closed society of tribalism which we often pretend to remember as a golden age as a way of escaping from the messiness of modern life. He argues that we can't go back (even if we think it's forward) and it would be bad if we did.

There are no laws of history or ready made utopias to save us. Our best hope is to try to preserve democracy and try to improve social ills through trial and error. Here's a sample from the rousing last paragraph:

"We can return to the beasts. But if we wish to remain human, then there is only one way, the way into the open society. We must go on into the unknown, the uncertain and insecure, using what reason we may have to plan as well as we can for both security and freedom."

He doesn't rise to the rhetorical heights of Camus, but they two are kind of on the same page.


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