At the FROG (Front Range Objectivist Group) meeting that I attended last night, Mike Williams gave an excellent presentation on Karl Popper. He argued that although Popper is often cited as a defender of reason, individualism, and liberty, he is quite the opposite. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the evening was the very clear line drawn between Popper’s failure to acknowledge identity in metaphysics and his advocacy of experimental social engineering in politics. (The progression is so clear, in fact, that I’ll probably use Popper as an example of why metaphysics matters in Objectivism 101. So I’ll soon be buying the recommended Popper Selections.)
Sadly, considering his actual political views, not to mention his method of defending them, Popper is considered by many to be an advocate of liberty. He greatly influenced Hayek. His book The Open Society and Its Enemies is sold by Laissez Faire Books. His metaphysical and epistemological views, as well as portions of his political views, are often seen as very compatible with libertarianism, as in this short essay by Jan Lester. (Fascinatingly enough, Popper’s views, as Lester persuasively argues, do directly lead to anarcho-capitalism.) Wallace Matson even blithely (and falsely) asserts in his essay “Rand on Concepts” in The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand that Popper is “a ‘modern philosopher’ with whom Rand has much in common” (22). Critiques of Popper, like this one by Roy Childs, often grant that “Popper’s arguments for democracy (as opposed to his advocacy of democracy itself) … bring us to the doctrine of libertarianism” and hold Popper out as “a great and forceful advocate of reason, science and progress.” (In contrast, Nicholas Dykes has an excellent long critique of Popper on all the right grounds.)
Of course, before I come to any final conclusions on Popper, I’ll have to read him for myself. But based on the consistent sketch of Popper’s ideas as seen in a multitude of sympathetic and quote-laden secondary sources, he seems like one of those “with friends like these who needs enemies” kinds of “friends of liberty.” So let me just leave you to ponder this amazing quote. In his autobiography, Unended Quest, Popper writes,
If there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important than equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree. (36)
The mind boggles.