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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Allan Bloom on Karl Popper’s Open Society

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David
Karl Popper has taught that the city that Socrates and his friends imagine in Plato’s the Republic is a totalitarian monstrosity. He regarded Plato as the philosophical champion of a closed society.

But Allan Bloom’s reading of Plato’s the Republic stands in marked contrast to Popper’s views. In his The Republic of Plato, Bloom presents Plato as an anti-totalitarian philosopher. He doesn't see Plato as an enemy of open society but as a resource for it. Bloom makes one mention of Popper in his Preface to the Second Edition of The Republic of Plato. Here’s an excerpt:
The republic becomes peculiarly attractive and repulsive because no book describes community so precisely and so completely or undertakes so rigorously to turn cold politics into family warmth. In the period just after World War II, no criticism of what Karl Popper called "the open society" was brooked. The open society was understood to be simply unproblematic, having solved the difficulties presented by older thinkers. The progress of science was understood to be strictly paralleled by that of society; individualism seemed no threat to human ties, and mass society no threat to meaningful participation. The softening in this narrow liberal position can be seen in the substitution in common discourse of the less positively charged term technology for science, the pervasive doubt about whether the mastery of nature is a very good idea, and a commonly expressed sentiment of lostness and powerlessness on the part of individual citizens.  
In the days of thoughtless optimism, Plato was considered irrelevant and his criticism was not available to warn us of possible dangers. Now it is recognized that he had all the doubts we have today and that the founding myth of his city treats men and women as literally rooted in its soil. Everybody is sure that Plato knew something about community, but he makes today's comfortable communitarians uncomfortable by insisting that so much individuality must be sacrificed to community. Moreover, they rightly sense that Plato partly parodies the claims and the pretensions of community. The uninvolved Socrates, distrustful of neat solutions, does not appear to be a very reliable ally of movements. Plato, criticized in the recent past for not being a good liberal, is now shunned for not being a wholehearted communitarian. He is, however, back in the game. 
Leo Strauss, under whom Allan Bloom had studied, has dismissed Popper as an incompetent reader of Plato.

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