Prefatory Remarks on the Open Society and its Enemies in East Asia


The two volumes of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies were published in 1945. Although my central argument in these prefatory remarks is that Popper’s book is of relevance to modern East-Asian societies, I first must first grant the fact, squarely and honestly, that it was a product of a specific time and place, if not a veritable Carlylesean tract for that specific time and place, which in many ways bears little resemblance to modern East Asia. Specifically, the Open Society must be interpreted as a systematic and rhetorically charged assault on the dominant political-cum-philosophical notions that occupied the middling intellectuals of Mitteleuropa in the middle decades of the twentieth century, namely, the totalitarian isms: Nazism, Leninism, Italian Fascismo, Austro-fascism, Stalinism and their many attendant, often equally vicious, forms. Popper admits as much in various prefaces and reflections, but the contention that this intellectual product was an issue of “time and place” and a book of rhetoric for his wavering contemporaries is best driven home by considering the gestation period of the publication. Popper had, in fact, been brooding on the ideas contained in the Open Society for most of the 1920s and 1930s, even though his main occupation was, then and later, crystallising his non-justificatory philosophy of science, a philosophy for which he has subsequently gained just and lasting fame. Indeed, it would have been strange if he had not so brooded on politics, as he was born in 1902 into a prosperous Viennese family of nominal Lutheran faith, but Jewish descent, that held the dominant liberal-humanist values of his cosmopolitan class in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and thereby he had witnessed the unreason and bloodshed that accompanied the implosion of this world order and the rise of the hideous and brutish totalitarian edifices that replaced it. He was, in short, shaped by the better aspects of the late-Hapsburg civilization (and let us also remember its worst), its death throes and the virus of violence that ensued, and hence he wished to use his considerable intellectual powers to understand this unfolding tragedy and, ultimately, to check its course.


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The Author:

Professor Gregory C. G. Moore