Saturday, December 5, 2020
Home Culture Wars Why the destroyers of freedom should read Karl Popper

Why the destroyers of freedom should read Karl Popper

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KARL Popper’s The Open Society and Enemies, published in 1945, should be compulsory reading for those concerned about the existential dangers faced by democracy represented by the cultural-Left’s long march through the institutions.

As a result of cancel culture, the imposition of politically correct language and mind control and the destructive influence of the Marxist-inspired Black Lives Matter movement, the liberties and freedoms too easily taken for granted are constantly under attack and, if not already lost, are in danger of being eroded even further.

While there’s no doubt the culture wars beginning with the emergence of critical theory associated with Germany’s Frankfurt School in the 1930s and the rise of postmodernism during the 1970s are of immediate concern, Popper makes the point the conflict between tyranny and freedom ‘is just as old or just as young as our civilisation itself’.

After differentiating between a tribal or closed society characterised by a submission to magical forces and an open society based on rationality and reason, Popper warns that the danger to liberty and freedom represented by totalitarianism is ever present.

He also argues, in opposition to those describing Western societies as riven with structural racism, white supremacism and class and gender inequality, that ours is ‘the best society which has come into existence during the course of human history’.

While acknowledging its flaws and injustices, Popper describes Western civilisation as one ‘aiming at humanness and reasonableness, at equality and freedom’ and one in danger of being ‘betrayed by many of the intellectual leaders of mankind’.  Otherwise known as Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’.

One has only to compare the West’s record of promoting liberty and freedom with Stalin’s Russia, where millions were starved and imprisoned, and Mao’s reign of terror plus Pol Pot’s killing fields to realise the truth of Popper’s thesis.

It was the West that led the campaign to abolish slavery, that enacted a political system based on the sovereignty of the people and a legal system that protects citizens against unwarranted and unjustified government intervention and control.

Quite rightly, Popper concludes Marxist-inspired regimes ‘while promising paradise on earth never produced anything but hell’. He justifies his preference for liberalism by arguing that ‘freedom is more important than equality; that the attempt to realise equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree’.

Central to Popper’s dismissal of ‘utopian social engineering’ associated with totalitarian ideologies is his critique of ‘historicism’, described as ‘the doctrine that history is controlled by specific historical or evolutionary laws whose discovery would enable us to prophesy the destiny of man’.

History tells us the Marxist belief in the inevitable collapse of capitalism and the arrival of a worker’s paradise epitomised by the slogan ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ has no basis in reality.

Similarly, the belief that all society needs to progress is centralised planning, where the state dominates the market and there is no room for private ownership and entrepreneurship, has proved a dismal failure.

One of the most dangerous aspects of cultural-Left ideologies, including the deep green movement and radical gender, sexuality and post-colonial theories, is the unflinching conviction that their beliefs are beyond doubt and beyond criticism.

The causal link between carbon fuels and global warming as well as Greta Thunberg’s belief that the world will soon end if governments don’t immediately ban fossil fuels and embrace renewable, carbon-free energy, notwithstanding the science, is accepted as true and beyond reproach.

Notwithstanding the biological evidence that the overwhelming majority of babies are born as girls or boys, hospitals now ‘assign’ gender at birth on the basis that sexuality is a social construct and gender is fluid and dynamic based on one’s preference.

Those committed to critical race theory and decolonising the curriculum are convinced that Western civilisation offers nothing beneficial and even that Western science is merely one approach that has no right to be considered superior.

Ignored is the fact that Western science, based on rationality and reason as opposed to superstition and witchcraft, represents a far more credible and effective way of analysing and evaluating truth claims and more closely approximating what constitutes the nature of things.

As noted by Popper, the conviction that history can be manipulated and controlled by those convinced of their own infallibility inevitably leads to ‘a doctrine of power, of subordination and submission’. Equally, if reason and rationality are rejected in favour of ideology and cant, liberty is lost.

Such is the poisonous impact of totalitarianism that Popper warns ‘if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant’.

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Dr Kevin Donnelly
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of A Politically Correct Dictionary and Guide (available at kevindonnelly.com.au)

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