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Plato, Popper and politics: some…

Plato, Popper and politics: some contributions to a modern controversy

by Renford Bambrough

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Recently added byDr.Stewart, HectorSwell



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A collection of essays published between 1938 and 1961: interesting as a chapter in the History of Ideas, probably best suited for those who read political philosophy, bibliographies, and historiography for fun (you know who you are.) Most necessary, perhaps, for those who think Plato’s Republic was a dogmatic treatise.

The first volume of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies was only the most famous example of the so-called New Criticism directed at Plato’s political thought in the mid-20th c.; Bertrand Russell, Ernst Gombrich and other lesser names chimed in. With Soviet Communism and European Fascism regarded as actual existential threats to the very survival of liberal democracy, too many hysterical academics (sample title: “Would Plato Have Approved of the National-Socialist State?”) found in Plato the prototype totalitarian regime—sustained by a rigid class system, militarism, and internal propaganda. All of them missed the philosophy, irony and humor in Plato (not to mention the mythical and literary allusions.)

The apologias for Plato come in from several different directions, and the best pieces make important points that transcend 'the controversy.' The philosopher of history and historiography superhero Hans Meyerhoff (“Plato among Friends and Enemies”) points out that the criticism of Plato's historicism is anachronistic, 'not so much a criticism of Plato as a commentary upon our own age'; even Popper—seeing Plato with 20th c. eyes—ignores his own insistence on a contextual, situational logic. The article by Stanley Rosen (“Political Philosophy & Epistemology”) is the coup de grâce, untwisting the logical empiricists’ 'common-sense world' and pulling the rug from beneath Popper’s faith in rationalism and democracy by pointing out that, because of the connection between magic (myth, propaganda, a noble lie) and politics, 'all societies are "closed," but some are aware of the magic they employ, and some are not.' ( )
  HectorSwell | Jun 10, 2013 |
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