The Open Society and its Enemies

The open society and its enemies is the most famous book of Karl Popper. It was published for the first time in 1945. Taking Platon (first volume), Hegel and Marx (second volume) as an example he explains his conception of an open society being Platon, Hegel and Marx examples for closed society. Open societies are characterized by different aspects.

Open refers to the historical horizont. Open societies don't suppose an "ideal" order, but improve the situation step by correcting the errors. In an open society the social development can be corrected at any time, through democratic elections for instance. Open societies are characterised by an open public debate and an exchange of arguments.

A closed society, or better said the group in power, strives to a supposed 'ideal' state and they feel therefore no need for a democratic decision making process nor for an open public debate. Someone who possesses the truth feels no need to submit his proposals to the vote of the electorate.

The inspiration for the "ideal" society can be found in the past, as in the case of Platon or being the result of "objective economic laws" as in the case of marxism. A case between these extremes is the philosophy of Hegel.

(The sense of history in the hegelian philosophy is the unfolding of the "spirit of the world". Hegel assumes that all what can be is already there at the beginning, but only if it actually shows up in history, the "spirit of the world" can recognize itself.)

For Popper Hegel is an oracling philosopher because his fundamental criteria for a scientific statement, the falsifiability is not provided. Falsifiability means, that a theory can be tested against reality. Some concepts of Sigmund Freud for instance, to take the example of one of the favourite enemies of Popper, cannot be tested against reality. If something like an Oedipus complex exists or not, can be believed or not, but there is no way to actually prove it.

Hegelian philosophy is a special case. Every kind of social system is nothing else than an unfolding of the 'spirit of the world', is therefore true. That means that something can be as true as the exact opposite of it. Whatever happens, it fits with reality. The same thing is true for trivialities, something we find very often in economics.

The message of Pareto for instance is that the exchange between two people reaches its optimum if it is not possible any more by a further exchange to improve the situation of one exchange partner without being the other one worse off. That is actually so trivial, that it can't be wrong. Two people will never change one commodity for another if one of them is worse off afterwards.

The evaluation of these three systems is very different. Platon and Hegel are massively criticised. To the first one Popper reproaches not only to strive for a government of philosophers, but to impose himself as an absolute sovereign. To the second being the 'philosopher of the state' under the reign of Frederick William III of Prussia.

Concerning Karl Marx his attitude is completely different. He refutes completely the idea that history develops following "objective economic laws", but he doesn't doubt the honesty of the intentions of Karl Marx.

Nobody questions today the main thesis of Karl Popper. In a very wide margin determined by the constitution, modern democracies can develop in more or less any direction and at any moment they can take another direction. There are some basic values and rules to respected, especially that democracy provides power only for a certain time and it is the only system where it is possible to get rid of an incompetent system in a peaceful way, but nobody has the power to impose his ideology.

Nevertheless there are some problems in the details and this author would say that Adorno has a more realistic approach.

The main problem with Popper is that he tries to analyse the character of totalitarian systems through three philosophical systems. This is a very problematic approach.

It is obvious that he want to show through this three philosophical systems general characteristics of totalitarian regimes, otherwise the relevance of his book would be very limited and would be a pure discussion about Platon, Hegel and Marx. If would be in this case as relevant as a discussion about any other philosopher like Nietzsche, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Thomas von Aquin, Hobbes, Ortega y Gasset, Croce, Rousseau, Sartre, Voltaire etc. etc. etc.. It is obvious that Popper wanted to criticise totalitarian systems in general and his book was actually perceived as an analysis of totalitarian regimes. The question is therefore if a certain philosophical system allows us to get an insight in totalitarian regimes. We can assume that under several conditions, but non of these is present here.

a) A philosophical system would be relevant for the understanding of a totalitarian regime if the governing group would be directly inspired by these philosophical system. However we can exclude without any further prove that Hitler, Stalin or Kim Jong Un, to illustrate that with the most prominent representatives of totalitarian regimes, had read Platon, Hegel or Marx. It is even doubtful that people like Musolini, Franco, Honecker, Pinochet etc. who were at the top of purely authoritarian systems had ever read Platon, Hegel or Marx. The style of Hegel or Marx is so weird that only people with an academic background on philosophy or economy are able to understand that. But none of the mentioned before had any academic training at any kind.

The only author that could possibly have a direct influence on the economic system is Karl Marx. It is well true that a lot of East - Germans had the three blue volumes on their bookcase before 1989, after 1989 one could by them at the price of paper on the flea markets in Berlin, but nobody had actually read them and still less understood them.

This author taught half a year economics to ex-university professors of the Humboldt - University in Berlin, in East - Berlin, and his impression was that they had actually no clue about what is written in these books. It is true that in the vanished away East-Germany marxism was kind of a religion, but that was only possible as long as it remains a mystery. The style of Karl Marx is so weird that any criticism could be silenced by saying that the opponents had not penetrated deep enough into marxism and were therefore not able to understand it. A strategy that could had been easily dismantled. Actually in all the blue books together there is not even one single sentence on how to steer an economy once the expropriators are expropriated. In other words, beside the fact that the marxist theory is nothing else than a variation of David Ricardo, being the original version more logical than the copy, there is actually no description how the economy should be steered.

b) Another approach would be to say that there is no direct impact, but that these philosophical systems describe or are based on assumptions that are characteristic for totalitarian regimes. However this suggests that ideas are the basis of totalitarian regimes. Modern totalitarian theories, for instance Hannah Arendt in 'The Origins of Totalitarianism', focus more on the techniques of totalitarian regimes to stay in power than on the specific ideology. The specific ideology is almost irrelevant.

Totalitarian regimes are characterized, something that distinguishes them from merely authoritarian systems, that they try to take control over all the spheres of social and private live, culture, economy, religion, education through mass organisations, propaganda and terror. Merely authoritarian systems doesn't allow opposition, but totalitarian systems demand an active support of the regime from the individual. As long as the individual doesn't support the ideology of the regime he is under continuous pressure and probably he will end up to agree with what he has to do anyway.

For the most prominent intellectuals of the post war II era and the beginning of the cold war nationalsocialism and stalinism where the most prominent examples of totalitarian regimes and their thinking focuses on these kind of regimes. Actually religious fundamentalism could be added to the list.

If there is a big need to worry about the 'intellectual' basis of totalitarian regimes can be questioned. We can say as well that these kind of systems were just criminal and that's the way it is seen today. The leader of totalitarian regimes has to stand before the international court of justice in Den Haag.

The point is, that a criminal, and totalitarian regimes are just criminal, doesn't need any 'intellectual' justification. The 'intellectual' superstructure can be a useful tool to achieve its goals, but is not the cause of the totalitarian regime. Analysing the ideological superstructure of totalitarian regimes from an intellectual point of view is too much honour for these people.

It can be argued as well these three type of philosophical systems are characteristic for three different risks. Platón for instance describes in a detailed way an 'ideal' state that indeed has some things in common with fascism and similar lines of ideology (racism, division of the society in different groups with specifique task, antidemocratic etc..).

The second system, the one of Hegel, is different. The system of Hegel is compatible with just any type of government, apart from democracy. Any system is the is the expression of the 'spirit of the world' and therefore true. The result of a democratic decision making process would be something arbitrary. Not man decide over his destiny and takes decisions based on information and ideas about causal chaines, but the 'spirit of the world'.

The case of Karl Marx is similar. The only difference is that the 'spirit of the world' has been substituted by the 'objective economic laws'. In both systems the end of history is already determined at the beginning. That sound somehow theoretic, but it is actually true. If we analyse concrete texts about economic issues written in the no vanished away East-Germany, we can see that the idea that human decisions are only useful if they are in compatible with the 'universally valid economic laws of socialism', see Karl Marx. It is quite obvious that the framework inside which a democratic decision process is possible is restricted in this line of thinking.

Popper compares the democratic decision making process with an experiment in science. Someone has a theory how a problem can be resolved and if he succeds in convincing the majority of the voters that his proposition would work, he gets the chance to test it. However, as in science, a theory or proposition are never actually 'true', they are only not yet falsified. However this only works if some prerequisites are given, see preliminaries.

c) Since the end of world war II there have been an endless number of studies about the origins of totalitarism. In almost all these studies 'collectivism', see for instance Friedrich Hayek and Walter Eucken, ist considered a central characteristic of totalitarism, although the term is never really defined and actually the message is trivial.

It is obvious that a totalitarian regime won't accept a wide range of opinions. This term makes only sense if it cleared whether 'collectivism' is the cause or the result of a totalitarian regime. If collectivism is the only the result of a totalitarian system the message is as trivial as to say that in totalitarian regimes a very small group of people have overhelming powers. If a system has the will and the power to eliminate any divergent opinion we will have at the end only supporters of the regime. That's obvious.

The discussion is more complicated if we consider 'collectivism', the absence of individualism, as a necessary condition or as a favourable factor for the emergence of that kind of system, because individualism is nothing 'natural', that a totalitarian regime oppresses, but something that has to be actively promoted, see John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.

From a historical perspective individualism is a very recent phenomenon. The first novels that describes real individuals and not mythological figures appeared in the 16 th century, for instance Lazarillo de Tormes. The italian Renaissance is normally considered as the beginning of individualism.

Collectivism, the identification of the individuum with a certain social group is always present and totalitarian systems relies always on these 'instincts': Race, nation, religion, class. In Europe it is only after world war II that these basic elements of identification lost relevance and were substituted by more complex identification patterns.

We can assume that the less the weight for the personal identity of these elements, the more difficult it becomes to base a totalitarian regime on these elements and the less the chances of political parties to gain voters by emphasizing these simple patterns of identity.

If it is possible to obtain a critical mass by promoting these simple patterns of identity, the more complex ones can be eliminated. The role played by race, nation, religion or class is actually not very difficult to understand. It is easier to exploit or eliminate someone if he belongs to an inferior group. There is no Platon needed to convince some people that they belong to a superior group. In the past they did that without any inspiration from literature.

As we already said, we have no intention at all to analyse here the origin of totalitarian regimes. However instead of analysing three philosophical systems known to 0.0001 of the population, in other words with no real impact, Popper could had analysed as well the original work. In 'My Struggle' we find actually paragraphs similar to the one Popper found in the Politeia of Platon.

The State is only a means to an end. Its end and its purpose is to preserve and promote a community of human beings who are physically as well as spiritually kindred. Above all, it must preserve the existence of the race, thereby providing the indispensable condition for the free development of all the forces dormant in this race. A great part of these faculties will always have to be employed in the first place to maintain the physical existence of the race, and only a small portion will be free to work in the field of intellectual progress. But, as a matter of fact, the one is always the necessary counterpart of the other. Those States which do not serve this purpose have no justification for their existence. They are monstrosities. The fact that they do exist is no more of a justification than the successful raids carried out by a band of pirates can be considered a justification of piracy.

For a simple minded criminal Hitler had a certain talent for writing and for obfuscating what he really means, but the message was understood by a lot of germans. He wanted to say that the homogeneous corpus of the the german people has the right to eliminate some other groups, especially jews, and to rob what they have.

The next paragraph means in plain words that anyone who sticks to moral values or who has a more complex identity must be brainwashed.

And the teaching should be so orientated that the boy or girl, after leaving school, will not be a semi-pacifist, a democrat or of something else of that kind, but a whole-hearted German. So that this national feeling be sincere from the very beginning, and not a mere pretence, the following fundamental and inflexible principle should be impressed on the young brain while it is yet malleable: The man who loves his nation can prove the sincerity of this sentiment only by being ready to make sacrifices for the nation's welfare.

There are two things that distinguishes all this nonsense from a simple criminal. First of all there is kind of a "mystic" tune in this nonsense. It seems that at least some criminals feels the need to give a religious glamour to their desire to rob, violate and torture.

The more interesting point is the last sentence: "The man who loves his nation can prove the sincerity of this sentiment only by being ready to make sacrifices for the nation's welfare." The logic is obvious. The "nation's welfare" is identical with the interests of the leading group and what they need are people to make sacrifices for them. A slave that does voluntarily what he is asked to do is much better than one that has to be forced to do that.

The willingness to make a sacrifice for ones country is a constant characteristic in all kind of totalitarian and some authoritarian regimes. (Famous for instance is the "Viva la muerte" of the spanish Falange.) Some novels of communist authors stick to this strange kind of romanticism as well, for instance How the Steel Was Tempered. The interesting point is that this is more than pure propaganda. Totalitarian regimes can indeed induce people to sacrify themselves. This is a strange psychological phenomenon. This author would say that people who are happy or who have at least a vision of happiness, are not very disposed to sacrifice themselves for some nonsense.

There is a widespread discussion about the selfishness of the homo oeconomicus. However the homo oeconomicus has the big advantage to never sacrify himself for a somehow nebulous 'idealism'.

This unhappy collective, the were actually unhappy, is thought off as something constant in the course of history, as something fundamentally different and menaced that has to be defended. There is a basic error in this kind of thinking that we found very often, especially in economic thinking. It is assumed that certain ethnical groups, 'races', religions, social classes etc.. have certain characteristics that are stable in the course of history. If we consider large periods of times, let's say 500 years, that is obviously wrong. It can even happen that something that had a strong impact 300 years ago, for instance religion, is something irrelevant today. At least in western countries. 150 years ago the 'working class' was considered as a homogeneous group, opposed to the 'bourgeoisies'. Nowadays this difference has actually vanished. Only fifty years ago the identity of germans, french, italians, swedes etc.. depended on assumed national characteristics. Today more and more europeans consider themselves European. Depending on the political development, it is well possible that for the next generation of europeans national states are irrelevant and the feel more like 'europeans' than germans, english etc.. (Provided that the EU, in other words the european bureaucracy, is democratically legitimated.)

"Class consciousness" was important issue in the former socialist states. It was assumed that "being determines consciousness". That's the opposite of what Hegel assumes. For Hegel the being was the result of the "consciousness" of the the spirit of the world. For Marx the "consciousness" is the result of the being. Both positions are obviously nonsense. People are influenced by the circumstances they live in, that's obvious, but it is equally obvious, that people change the circumstances. The result of this interaction is unclear and the historical process open.

The term "class consciousness" would only make sense, if beside the "working class" had, apart from lower income, other characteristics in common. However this is not the case and not even the income is the same. Qualified workers can earn much more than a "bourgeois" who runs his own company. What was perhaps true 150 years ago at the times of Adam Smith or David Ricardo, is no longer true at all.

The only stable thing in history is instability. This is actually not a big insight. It is trivial. The antique romans already knew that.

Tempora mutantur et nos mutamor in illis.
The times change and we change with the times

The only thing missing is that it make sense as well the other way round: We change and therefore we change the times.

This author believes that it doesn't make any sense to analyse the content of a totalitarian ideology, because totalitarism is nothing that can be understood by the content. It is a psychological phenomenon. Analysing the content of an totalitarian ideology is as useful as analysing the delusions of a paranoiac.

However if we stick to the approach of Karl Popper, we can say that instead of Platon he could had taken the pathetic effort of Adolf Hitler. This book was sold 5,5 millions of times, or distributed by the registry office to married couples.

It is not very difficult to find similar texts related to other ethnical groups. The assumptions is always the same. It is assumed that these groups have stable characteristics and that they don't change in the course of history. Both assumptions are obviously wrong.

During the last century it was lamentable for those who had to witness it, to notice how in these circles I have just mentioned the word "Germanization" was frivolously played with, though the practice was often well intended. I well remember how in the days of my youth this very term used to give rise to notions which were false to an incredible degree. Even in Pan-German circles one heard the opinion expressed that the Austrian Germans might very well succeed in Germanizing the Austrian Slavs, if only the Government would be ready to cooperate. Those people did not understand that a policy of Germanization can be carried out only as regards human beings. What they mostly meant by Germanization was a process of forcing other people to speak the German language. But it is almost inconceivable how such a mistake could be made as to think that a Negro or a Chinaman will become a German because he has learned the German language and is willing to speak German for the future, and even to cast his vote for a German political party. Our bourgeois nationalists could never clearly see that such a process of Germanization is in reality de-Germanization; for even if all the outstanding and visible differences between the various peoples could be bridged over and finally wiped out by the use of a common language, that would produce a process of bastardization which in this case would not signify Germanization but the annihilation of the German element. In the course of history it has happened only too often that a conquering race succeeded by external force in compelling the people whom they subjected to speak the tongue of the conqueror and that after a thousand years their language was spoken by another people and that thus the conqueror finally turned out to be the conquered.

It doesn't make any sense to discuss this nonsense. It is obvious that a common language is the strongest characteristic of a group, because it simplifies communication and plays a much bigger role in the identification with a certain group than any other thing.

It is not a big problem to find thousands of original texts that confirms the theory of Karl Popper. Closed societies have a strong vision about the 'ideal' state and everybody is brainwashed until he agrees with this vision or marginalised if not eliminated. This author only doubts that the dynamic of these kind of systems, the concrete mechanism used to get and stay in power, can be understood by this texts.

This text is taken from a law regulating the participation of the youth in the now vanished East-Germany.

§ 1

1. Vorrangige Aufgabe bei der Gestaltung der entwickelten sozialistischen Gesellschaft ist es, alle jungen Menschen zu Staatsbürgern zu erziehen, die den Ideen des Sozialismus treu ergeben sind, als Patrioten und Internationalisten denken und handeln, den Sozialismus stärken und gegen alle Feinde zuverlässig schützen. Die Jugend trägt selbst hohe Verantwortung für ihre Entwicklung zu sozialistischen Persönlichkeiten.

2. Aufgabe jedes jungen Bürgers ist es, auf sozialistische Art zu arbeiten, zu lernen und zu leben, selbstlos und beharrlich zum Wohle seines sozialistischen Vaterlandes - der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik - zu handeln den Freundschaftsbund mit der Sowjetunion und den anderen sozialistischen Bruderländern zu stärken und für die allseitige Zusammenarbeit der sozialistischen Staatengemeinschaft zu wirken. Es ist ehrenvolle Pflicht der Jugend, die revolutionären Traditionen der Arbeiterklasse und die Errungenschaften des Sozialismus zu achten und zu verteidigen, sich für Frieden und Völkerfreundschaft einzusetzen und anti­imperialistische Solidarität zu üben. Alle jungen Menschen sollen sich durch sozialistische Arbeitseinstellung und solides Wissen und Können auszeichnen, hohe moralische und kulturelle Werte ihr eigen nennen und aktiv am gesellschaftlichen und politischen Leben, an der Leitung von Staat und Gesellschaft teilnehmen. Ihr Streben, sich den Marxismus-Leninismus, die wissenschaftliche Weltanschauung der Arbeiterklasse, anzueignen und sich offensiv mit der imperialistischen Ideologie auseinanderzusetzen, wird allseitig gefördert. Die jungen Menschen sollen sich durch Eigenschaften wie Verantwortungsgefühl für sich und andere, Kollektivbewußtsein und Hilfsbereitschaft, Beharrlichkeit und Zielstrebigkeit, Ehrlichkeit und Bescheidenheit, Mut und Standhaftigkeit, Ausdauer und Disziplin, Achtung vor den Älteren, ihren Leistungen und Verdiensten sowie verantwortungsbewußtes Verhalten zum anderen Geschlecht auszeichnen.

aus: Gesetz über die Teilnahme der Jugend der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik an der Gestaltung der entwickelten sozialistischen Gesellschaft und über ihre allseitige Förderung in der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik

§ 1

1. For the development of the advanced socialist society educating the youth to become citizens who are devoted to socialism, who think and act as patriots and internationalists, who strenghten socialism and protect it against any kind of enemy is of crucial importance. The youth itself bears a great responsability for their development to a socialist personality.

2. It is the task of every young citizen to work, learn and live according to socialism, to work selflessly and persistently for his socialist country - the Democratic Republic of Germany -, to strenghten the friendship to the Soviet Union and other socialist brother states and to promote everywhere the cooperation of the socialist states. It is the honourable duty of the youth to hold in respect and to defend the revolutionary traditions of the working class as well as the achievements of socialism, to engage for freedom and understanding of the peoples and to be part of anti - imperialistic solidarity. All young people should excel in their socialist working attitude as well as by their knowledge and qualification, should be inspired by high moral and cultural values and actively participate in the political live and the governing of the state and the society. Its striving to get acquainted with Marxism-Leninism, the scientific base of the world view of the working class and an offensive debate about the imperialistic ideology will be promoted. The young people should excel by their sense of responsability for themselves and others, collective consciousness and helpfullness, perseverance and determination, honesty and modesty, courage and firmness, endurance and disciplin, respects regarding elder people and their achievments and merits as well as being respectful toward the other sex.

Law regulating the participation of the youth in the Democratic Republic of Germany in the development of a socialist society and their overall promotion in the Democratic Republic of Germany

The emphasis put on the "socialist personality" makes even sense. Given that in socialist society the earnings are very nivelized, there is not a big incentive to work. The homo oeconomicus still behaves in a rational way, but he doesn't do anything useful under these conditions. If whatever he does the earnings are always the same, he will do as little as possible. There are therefore 'idealists' needed, willing to work hard without any compensation. These kind of people are rare.

What is going to happen in this kind of system is obvious and well described by Milton Friedman, The Problem of Bureaucracy. To mention one problem of this kind of society. The other problem is, that without prices that signals actual scarcities and actual demand, nobody has a chance to produce what people really want, see perfect market.

It is not a big problem to prove by thousands of original texts that Popper is right. See the next paragraph, this time taken from the constitution of Cuba. The author only doubts that totalitarian regimes can be understood by analysing the content of the ideology.

  1. Education and Culture

    artículo 39o.- El Estado orienta, fomenta y promueve la educación, la cultura y las ciencias en todas sus manifestaciones.

    En su política educativa y cultural se atiene a los postulados siguientes:

    • 1. fundamenta su política educacional y cultural en los avances de la ciencia y la técnica, el ideario marxista y martiano, la tradición pedagógica progresista cubana y la universal;
    • 2. la enseñanza es función del Estado y es gratuita. Se basa en las conclusiones y aportes de la ciencia y en la relación más estrecha del estudio con la vida, el trabajo y la producción. El estado mantiene un amplio sistema de becas para los estudiantes y proporciona múltiples facilidades de estudio a los trabajadores a fin de que puedan alcanzar los más altos niveles posibles de conocimientos y habilidades. La ley precisa la integración y estructura del sistema nacional de enseñanza, así como el alcance de la obligatoriedad de estudiar y define la preparación general básica que, como mínimo, debe adquirir todo ciudadano;
    • 3. promover la educación patriótica y la formación comunista de las nuevas generaciones y la preparación de los niños, jóvenes y adultos para la vida social.


  1. Education and Culture

    article 39o.- The government steers, expands and promotes education, culture and sciences in all its manifestations.

    Its politics on education is guided by the following values:

    • 1. its politics on education and culture are based on the advances of science and technique, the ideas of Karl Marx and José Martí, the tradition of the progressiste cuban and universal pedagogy;
    • 2. education is a governmental task and is free. It is based on the conclusions to be drawn from science and in narrow relationship to the study of life, the world of work and production. The state offers a wide range of studentships and offers different possibilies of study allowing workers to study and get the highest possible level of knowledge and qualification. The law defines how the studies are organised and the national system of education as well as the degree to which schooling is compulsory and the minimum education to be acquainted by any citizen.
    • 3. promotion of the patriotic education and the formation of comunists of the new generations and the preparation of childern, youngsters and adults for the social life

Who has ever been in Cuba knows that the creation of the 'socialist personality' was a complete failure. The only thing that works in this country are the small business allowed by the regime driven by the market. On any second wall people the propaganda request people to be like the Che (Ernesto Che Guevara) but it seems that little people want to be like the Che, although the monument dedicated to him in Santa Clara is almost as big the monunments of Ernst Thälman in former East-Germany.

The text is very similar to the one quoted in the paragraph before. The leader of the regime is convinced that they possess the truth and therefore they will brainwash the people until they believe the same.

However this explains absolutely nothing. This explanation, the idea that totalitarian regimes can be explained by a vision of an ideal society that a certain group wants to impose at any price explains absolutely nothing and it can be questioned that any monocausal explication allows a real insight on the phenomenon. This explanation is actually as simple and wrong as the one given by Hayek, see a variation of a theory about totalitarism.

The approach of Karl Popper is to illustrate characteristics of totalitarian regimes through examples taken from literature. It is not very unusual that literature tries to EXPLAIN reality; there are hundred of novels for instance trying to describe the authoritarian personality; a famous example of this kind is for instance The Loyal Subject of Heinrich Mann. The other way round, a society based on a literary model is unusual. In the case of Popper we don't know whether he wants to describe a society through a literary model or if he want to show that the society is BASED on a literary model. If the last one was his intention, there is no further prove needed that his approach is wrong.

The second problem is that with this approach one risks to get a simplified picture of the historical development and the actual situation. It may be that we can find similiar texts in Cuba and in East-Germany, but we can't compare people like Ernesto Che Guevara with Walter Ulbricht. The first one, Che Guevara, was an idealistic intellectual, the second one a stupid functionary of the governmental nomenclature.

To put it simple: Analysing simple texts doesn't allow to understand complex historical processes. Simplification is a typical feature of ideologies. In this sense, Popper was an ideologist himself. He became popular, because he was helpful in the cold war. The eastern block was the closed society, the western block the open society. There is no doubt that marxism is nonsense from a theoretical point of view, what is due to the fact that marxism is based on the classical theory and shares all the fundamental errors with that line of thinking, and irrelevant from a practical point of view, because the question how an economy should be steered is silently disregarded, but thinks are not so simple. Marxism and similar movements arised because the free market economy was not able to resolve the social problems.

[And was therefore modified. The statement of Milton Friedman, that the free market economy has proved to be the most efficient economic system is wrong, because what was actually succesful were mixed systems, see for instance social market economy.]

Compared to others opponents of planned economies, especially the austrian school, there is however more space for a democratic decision making. For the neoliberals and the adepts of the austrian school there is no space for a democratic decision making process, because everything that should be decided is decided throught the market and what is not decided through the market, shouldn't be decided at all. The sympathy of Hayek and Friedman for the Pinochet regime is not a casuality or due to the fact that they had no clue what was going in Chile in 1973 is not casual, it is the logical consequence of their economic principles. A dictator that guarantees economic freedom is much better than a democracy that hinders economic freedom, because in any case there is nothing that should be decided through a democratic decision making process.

For Popper the democratic decision making process is crucial, because it allows to learn from the errors. That explains while old democracies are more stable than young democracies. In old democracies people have already tried a lot of answers to social problems and all the radical solutions where therefore abandonned. In young democracies, for instance in the arabic world, people tend to vote for political parties who once elected eliminate the democracy. That was for instance the problem of the Republic of Weimar.

The same effect can explain two different things. In most old democracies the political parties tend to be more and more similar, radical point of views are eliminated from the party programms. The second effect is that the participation in elections decreases. The central topics are resolved and concerning the details, people don't expect a lot from the political parties, see preliminaries.

In old democracies like in France, Germany, UK etc. the differences between the political parties tend to vanish. In young democracies like the ones in South America in the 80th of the last century or in the arabic world the differences are very often so enormous, that a civil war is more probable than a peaceful acceptance of the result of the elections.

That can be interpreted in two different ways. It can be said that this is a normal process. A learning process should lead to more and more precise results and the obviously wrong ones are going to be eliminated. That would be the positive interpretation.

It can be said as well, that the mass media and political sphere are so intimately dependent from each other, that the mass media obfuscate systematically all the critical points. That would be the negative interpretation.

The problem with the philosophy Poppers are not his main arguments, these are obviously true and trivial. The problem is that one can't illustrate sus thesis by philosophical systems. It can be said that totalitarian or authoritarian regimes are interested in imposing and maintaining a determined social / political system, motivated by honest motives at the beginning, as it is the case with Cuba, or por motives which are simple criminal, as in the caso of the german national-socialism.

It is easy to see as well that ideology is the result of rational conclusions in the case that the motive was honest and that in the case that it only serves criminal goals there is no rational conclusions at all, because criminals don't need any justification for their criminal acts. The ideology is a pure means to reach their goals. The simplifications of the Popper style makes communication difficult. The radicalisation of the cuban revolution after 1959 was the result of the attitude taken of the United States.

In both cases there is no need for a democratic decision making process. In the first case because the protagonists are convinced that their ideas best serve public interest and the seconds because they are not interested in knowing if their concepts are right or wrong as long as they serve to achieve their criminal goals.

However whatever the motive, those who are against an kind of change in the social / political system are against democracy. That's obvious, because democracy is the institutionalised change. It is equally logical that those who are interested in maintaining a certain political or social order, for whatever motive or reason, will try to form people that fits with their concept and will suppress by any means, mass communication, jurisprudence, mass organisations, surveillance, education, culture etc.. any kind of opposition.

However totalitarism is completely subestimated if interpreted as a pure error in thinking and that's what Popper does. Marxism is actually nothing else than a wrong economic theory, based on the missleading concepts about capital inherited from the classical theory, see interest rates. However as a pure theory it is as harmless as hundred of other economic theories.

What puts the infernal machine of totalitarism in operation is not the rational concept. It is its ability to induce people by personal incentives or disincentive to serve the regime. From purely practical point of view there is no difference between the secret police in the Soviet Union in the Stalin era or Germany in the Hitler era. The only difference is that we know more about the secret police and parallel organisations in the third reich than about the corresponding organisations in the Soviet Union. There are thousands of studies about the members of these organisations, a famous one is Jekyll and Hyde from Sebastian Haffner.

[Who refuted by the way completly the thesis of Karl Popper. Not even the leading Nazis believed in this ideology, they knew that it was all nonsense. They used it consciously to manipulate the masses. The ideology was not the basis of this regime, but a means to establish it and it could have been any thing else that serves the same purpose.]

It can be questioned if there are a lot of studies needed to understand the motivations of the people to support the system, although it is a mixture of different motives: The yearning to belong to an elite or a superior group, to get power over other people, to realise sadistic impulses, to rise the social scale, to ascend the social hierarchy, to get a secure job etc. etc..

[All that exists obviously as well in a free market economy, but in a free market economy it is not a good idea to abuse of its power. A company depends on its customers, its suppliers, its employees and its corporation partners. The abuse of power can lead to unexpected results. This is even more true in the internet era. Furthermore at an abstract level people tend to stick to moral values. Some people may find a pleasure in torturing and humillating other people, but as long as they risk to be a victim, they will not advocate publicly in favour of torture. Only if the regime protect them definitely from being a victim, this behaviour is likely to happen. To put it more simple: Even a bank robber wouldn't advocate for the liberalisation of bank robbing, because in this case it wouldn't make any sense to rob a bank.]

Most of the studies on totalitarism get to results that are diametrically opposed to the views of Karl Popper. Hanna Arendt for instance in the Banality of Evil emphasizes the fact that Joseph Eichmann just applied the law. In other words, he had no own opinion about nothing. He was just awfully stupid. He would had function in any system and would had applied just any law. This is actually a pattern we find very often. 90 percent of the people react on immediate incentives, that means, they do what they are asked for in order to improve their personal, social or economic situation and care very little if that what they are asked to do make sense or is even a criminal act. As long as they are rewarded to do it, they will do it. Beside that only very exceptional people are able to think for themselves. Most people will agree that a square is round, if everybody says that a square is round.

Opportunism is actually something easy to undestand. In economic terms it is a rational behaviour. Free market economies work, because in free market economies the opportunist has to work in the public interest, otherwise he can't achieve his goals, see homo oeconomicus.

Actually the opposite, people with high moral values and principles, are something much more difficult to understand. We will return on that issue in the chapter about Adorno.

In all theories about totalitarism no difference is made between nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin. The similarities are obvious if we focus on the mechanisms used to stay in power, in practice both were criminal regimes, but that is not the approach of Popper. Popper put both into one pigeonhole arguing that both believed to possess the absolute truth and didn't see therefore any need to ask the voters.

However from a historical point of view that's complet nonsense. There are hundreds of documents that shows clearly that people like Goebbels were well aware that the nazis didn't have any ideology and that they adapted their programm depending on the circumstances. (Something that Hitler admitted as well in 'my struggle'.) What is called the nazi ideology is the phantasmagoria of pervers criminals. Marxism is only a false theory from the beginning to the end, similiar to the theories of David Ricardo, but the theory itself is harmless.

It is true that marxism, as many other economic theories, assumes a predictable course of history and a final state. However it is nonsense to say that this is the ideological basis of totalitarism, because Karl Marx never and nowhere gave any hint on how to organise the economy or the society. The main message of Karl Marx is sit and wait an do nothing, because the course of history follows inexorably a certain tendency until at the end we reach the classeless society. 'Economists' of the former DDR assumed that history can be helped a bit by doing what it would do anyway, although a little bit slower, but that is a conclusion that can't be drawn from the original text.

We can even say that Karl Popper paints a positive picture of totalitarism. It the intentions of totalitarian regimes were positive, if they only erred in their concepts about the 'ideal' society, it is to assume that a public debate would had been possible. But the authoritarian or totalitarian state doesn't want a public debate on a rational basis. The propgaganda of totalitarian states don't want to convince with arguments. The monument to Che Guevara en Santa Clara / Cuba was not constructed to promote a public discussion about the function of prices in an economy or something like that. The intention was to produce a blind identification with the regime; a mecanism we can find, by the way, everywhere. Politics is more about personalities people identify with than on a somehow irrational basis and very often without that they actually know who the adore, than about rational arguments. Nationalism and patriotism are of the same kind. People identify themselves with something they are actually not able to define. Personal nullity can get drunk with just any feeling, it is not really necessary that the feeling has a concrete object.

From a purely practical point of view it is completely unclear what Popper wanted to achieve with "The open Society and its Ennemies". We assume that he wanted to contribute something that prevents totalitarian regimes from getting to power again. The problem is that the 'masses' are not really interested in philosophical debates. This kind of debate is without any doubt very useful; it would be very useful if people think about social issues in a more broader sense, but ordinary people right now are interested exclusively in the issues they are immediately concerned with.

Institutions like the armee, the police, the secret service that are the pillar of any totalitarian or authoritarian regime are more interested in traditions, uniforms, marsh music, decorations, order of ranks and things like than in abstract values or the final goal of their mission.

There is no difference between a military parade in West-Germany, see Bundeswehr Aufmarsch Berchtesgaden and a military parade in the now vanished East Germany, Vorbeimarsch 1990 in Berlin. (No need to say that we can find millions of videos like that from just any country.) These people can be used for almost any thing and it was no problem after the fall of the wall in Berlin to integrate the armee of East-Germany in the armee of the 'enemy of the classes'. As long as the structure remains the same, integration is no problem. The 'higher ends' are completely irrelevant for these people, they not even understand them. This kind of organisations are steered by direct incentives and disincentives and not by final goals. A detailed analysis of this kind of structures would be more useful than an abstract philosophical discussion. This kind of structures tend always to have totalitarian aspects. People working there are not paid to think, but to execute the orders of the regime.

[This is especially true for the armee, which gets more and more involved in international conflicts, that should be fully understood before going there. The solution of these kind of conflicts requires very often a complex cooperation with other organisations, NGOs of any kind for instance. In general this is beyond the intellectual capacity of these kind of institutions.]

The expression coined by Hannah Arendt about the Banality of Evil would fit perfectly with the normal economic theory. People don't care really about 'final ends' or 'higher goals'. They react on incentives and desincentives and if the regime gives incentives that rewards barbaric acts people will execute these acts. The homo oeconomicus is not in his home country in this case and does nothing useful, see homo oeconomicus.

Popper, Hayek and Eucken considers 'collectivism', a term they never defined, as a central characteristic of totalitarian regimes. Professional sociologist and philosophers like Adorno, Block, Arendt don't use this term, because it is actually undefined, although it is crystal clear that by different techniques totalitarian regime will reduce the range of behaviour, the way of life, opinion etc.. To form an opinion for instance information are needed, but the access to information is restricted in this kind of regimes.

[And it is restricted even in old democracies, see preliminaries.]

However if we understand by collectivism that the individuum is more willing to work and think in the interest of the public interest than for its own interest, that we get something like the 'socialist personality' or the national comrade willing to sacrifice himself for his country, we can say that this didn't work, despite the propaganda. Without incentives or disincentives people of the vanished away East-Germany didn't work for the benefit of 'socialism'. In contrary: Wherever possible they tried to outsmart the system.

It is to assume that with collectivism Hayek, Eucken, Popper etc. refer to phenomenons like collective patriotic enthusiasm before world war I in Germany or the collective idolatry and personality cult we know from totalitarian or authoritarian governments. However phenomenons of this kind are only extreme versions of something we can find in ordinary live as well. For whatever psychological reason people are more interested in personalities, for instance royals, than in understanding more complex situations. There are a lot of people who are better informed about the british royals than about keynesian theory, although a better understanding of the keynesian theory would allow them to better understand what is going on in the world.

Patriotism or nationalism, some people make a difference between these terms saying that patriotism is someone who loves his country, nationalism someone who hates the others, a distinction that the author wouldn't make, is kind of collectivism. The identity of the patriot is not based on his own personal history, but on the traditions of the society he lives and that he takes over without any further reflections. Patriotism is not a conscious choice between alternatives. Patriotism is a lack of alternatives due to ignorance.

Perhaps phenomenons of this kind induced people like Popper to believe that collectivism, whatever that is, the term is never defined, is characteristic for totalitarian regimes and opposed to individualism and freedom. However this author would say that totalitarian regimes are based on terror and incentives / desincentives that induce people to support the system. Under continuous pressure people will end up to accept the ideology of the regime and to convince themselves that a square is round, especially if an active support of the regime and not only a passive acceptance is required, because it is stressing to do something that one inwardly disagrees.

As we already said we have no intention to explain the origin of totalitarian regimes. We just question the thesis of Karl Popper that ideologies can be explained by their content. The theory of Hannah Arendt has been questioned by Daniel Goldhagen. Goldhagen states that antisimitism was deeply rooted in the german society and was therefore more than a means to remain in power. The author would say, that there have been strong personal inventive for the elimination of the jews and that is was used as a means to stay in power.

If we say that racism, antisemitism, religion or class conscious are more than a means to stay in power, than we need a psychological explication for this kind of phenomenon. All these phenomenon are just the effect of a social / psycological dynamic and this author would say, that one element that could explain these phenomenons is the belief that some groups have characteristics that remains stable in the course of history, what is obviously not the case.

To put it short: There is a big difference between Milton Friedman / August Hayek at one hand and Poppers at the other hand. The first ones emphasize more the possible problems of democracy, the later the obvious advantages. For the first one the free market is the best protection against totalitarian regimes, because a government who doesn't have a lot of resources have not the power to do any harm. For Popper democracy is the only way, where people can get read peacefully of an incompetent government. There is little doubt that Popper is right, see also a variation of a totalitarismus theory. However both tend to give a monocausal explanation for a complex problem.

For Hayek any kind of governmental intervention is a 'Road to Serfdom' and lead to collectivism. Collectivism is almost everything, any kind of political party that issued from social mouvements from the socialist party in Cuba to the german social-democrats, including Keynesianism and the national-socialisme is collectivism, although the term is actually meaningless in this context. Democracy includes that the government has certain tasks, otherwise we don't need a government and therefore no democratic elections, but for Hayek almost any interference of the government is a road to serfdom. Actually Hayek is an anarcho capitalist. It is not astonishing that the anarcho capitalists are adepts of Hayek. We admit that Hayek emphasizes, as Popper, the learning process and that we can't predict the future, but this learning process happens only in thhe economic sphere.

Normal people agree completely with the conclusions of Karl Popper. The point is not that in a democracy rules the majority, because the majority can err as well. When the problem is more complex, it is even likely that the majority errs, because only a minority is qualified to estimate the situation. The point is, that in a democracy errors can be corrected by voting for another solution. That allows the majority to learn something. On this point, Hayek and Popper disagree completely. It is actually stunning that Hayek and Popper, good friends and both member of the Mont Pèlerin society, never discussed this issue in public.

The problem is, that Popper understimates completely the forces behind totalitarism. He assumes that well intentioned people try to impose their vision of an 'ideal' society and that leads to a totalitarian regime. The truth is, that in totalitarian regimes a small clique of criminals uses an ideology to manipulate the people and the actual content of the ideology depends on the circumstances and the strategy followed.

[A similar disussion we have today, we are still in 2015, with the 'islamic state'. Religion is just a means to manipulate the people. These people are simple criminals. No need to discuss about the Islam. The Islam may be as foolish as any other religion, but this point is irrelevant in this context.]

We would more agree with Karl Popper if he had formulated his thesis in a more general way. If he had said that the general belief in stable relationships is the problem. This is even easy to prove. The whole theory of David Ricardo is based on some fundamental assumptions, very plausible in his time of living, which in the course of history turned out to be completely wrong.

The problem is not really historicism, the idea that history follows laws allowing to predict the future. The problem is actually that some people assumes relationship for stable which are actually very instable. This is true for any social science. Microeconomics for instance assumes that people reacts on economic rewards, see homo oeconomicus, what is without any doubt true today. However it is possible that in 100 years people are so rich, that economic rewards are irrelevant and don't motivate nobody any more.

[Beside that it is unclear who Popper is attacking. The author would say that there are very few professional historians, apart from the marxist historians, obviously, who assumes that history is driven by universally valid laws. History is an idiographic science, that tries to understand an individual situation as the result of casual circumstances. Perhaps there are some people who believe that 'we can learn something from history', but the author doubts that there are a lot of them. Some people may believe that we can 'learn' something from the decline of the Roman Empire, but the truth is, that we can learning nothing from that. Reading a book about it can be entertaining, but that's all.]

The choice made by Popper, Platon, Hegel and Marx, can be explained by the fact that these three are prominent figures in the academic world. It is easier to attract attention by attacking prominent figures. However he could had taken hundreds of other philosophers, for instance Oswald Spengler, who predicted as well something, in this case the "demise of the occident".

It is even true that we can't know anyting about an ideal state, because we can't know what we will be able to do in the future. However we can know more than just nothing. In literature, poetry, music, art, broken historical tendencies etc.. we can guess what would be perfect. That is the approach of Ernst Bloch.

From a psychological point of view the statement of Karl Popper that we can't predict an ideal state is fatal, if the alternative to the ideal state is just nothing. It is to assume that people willing to sacrifice themselves for a totalitarian regimes have nothing to lose, it is kind of a collective suicide. Only very unhappy and desoriented people find their happiness in obeying others.

It is true that democracy doesn't have a fix horizont, but this is only true, because people assume that beyond the visible horizont, there is a brighter one.

Karl Popper makes a lot of effort to explain trivial things. It is obvious that totalitarian regimes are the opposite of democracy. If the totalitarian regimes states it is working for the common wealth, it will be elected and confirmed in democratic elections. The simple fact that it don't expose itself to the vote of the voters illustrates that they are working for their own interest. There is no Platon, Hegel and Marx needed to understand that.

There is no need to convince anybody of the superiority of democracy, apart from Friedrich Hayek, see a variation of a totalitarisme theory. Even authoritarian regimes held elections, although with a predictible result. They feel the need to be considered at least on paper as democracies.

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The analysis of philosophical systems has a very restrivtive explanatory power when it comes to understand totalitarian regimes

The approach of Popper would be plausible

- if totalitarian systems would be based directly on these system, in other words if the regime would be directly influenced by these philosophers

- if these systems would describe crucial concepts of totalitarian systems, although the regime is not directly influenced by them

In a more general sense one could say that the content of the totalitarian regime doesn't play any role in totalitarian regimes. The ideology is a pure means to stay in power and the content changes depending on the circumstances and the strategy followed.

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