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Notes by RBJ on

The Open Society and its Enemies
Volume 1: The Spell of Plato

by Karl R Popper

Preface to the First edition
Preface to the Second Edition
Acknowledgements
Introduction
The SPELL of PLATO
The MYTH of ORIGIN and DESTINY
Chapter 1Historicism and the Myth of Destiny
Chapter 2Heraclitus
Chapter 3Plato's Theory of Forms or Ideas
PLATO's DESCRIPTIVE SOCIOLOGY
Chapter 4Change and Rest
Chapter 5Nature and Convention
PLATO's POLITICAL PROGRAMME
Chapter 6Totalitarian Justice
Chapter 7The Principle of Leadership
Chapter 8The Philosopher King
Chapter 9Aestheticism, Perfectionism, Utopianism
The BACKGROUND of PLATO's ATTACK
Chapter 10The Open Society and its Enemies
Notes
Addenda
Index of Platonic Passages
Index of Names
Index of Subjects

PLATO's POLITICAL PROGRAMME

Chapter 9. Aestheticism, Perfectionism, Utopianism

This Chapter is primarily concerned with offering a critique of Plato's approach to social engineering, "which I believe is most dangerous". Popper calls this approach Utopian engineering and compares it with an alternative approach, "which I consider as the only rational one", called piecemeal engineering.
My impresssion is that Popper creates a false dichotomy which results in him conflating things which should be separated. What he is primarily criticising is dictatorship and totalitarianism; what he advocates is consensus and democracy. He also prefers incremental rather than revolutionary change, and criticises aestheticism, which he associates with totalitarianism. This is all in the context of a critique of Plato.
My own interest is in extracting ideas about the pitfalls of Utopian Engineering, so that I can put together ideas on how this can be done without making these mistakes. These notes mainly concern aspects of Popper's material relevant to that interest.

definitions
UtopianPiecemeal
The utopian approach is as follows:
  1. Devise a blueprint for the "Ideal State".
  2. Draw up a plan for realising the ideal.
(presumably the sequel falls outside the remit of philosophers)
By contrast, piecemeal engineering proceeds:
  1. Search for the greatest and most urgent evils of society.
  2. Fight them.
differences
UtopianPiecemeal
may easily lead to an intolerable increase in human suffering reasonable method of improving the lot of man
a means of continually postponing action can be applied at any moment
has lead only to the use of violence in place of reason has so far been successful

Further criticisms of "Utopian Engineering"
It is difficult to reason about an ideal society.
It demands a strong centralised rule of a few, and is likely to lead to dictatorship.
The ideal will not be realised in the lifetime of its advocates, and their successors may have different ideals.
It depends upon holding to the original blueprint.
Requires belief in one absolute and unchanging ideal and in there being rational ways to establish:
  1. the ideal
  2. the best way to realise the ideal
Difference in opinion which cannot be resolved by rational means will be resolved through violence.
It creates a prejudice in favour of large scale rather than small scale social experiments.
It leads to a dangerous dogmatic attachment to an ideal for which countless sacrifices have been made.

Aestheticism and Radicalism

Aestheticism is the pursuit of beauty. Popper notes that Plato's ideals are aesthetic and protests that human lives may not be made the means for satisfying an artist's desire for self-expression. Aestheticism also begets radicalism.

The Irrationality of Radicalism

"It is not reasonable to assume that a complete reconstruction of our social world would lead at once to a workable system."

Romanticism

"Aestheticism and radicalism must lead us to jettison reason, and to replace it by a desperate hope for political miracles. This irrational attitude, which springs from an intoxication with dreams of a beautiful world is what I call Romanticism."


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