Written in political exile in New Zealand during the Second World War and published in two volumes in 1945, The Open Society and its Enemies was hailed by Bertrand Russell as a 'vigorous and profound defence of democracy'.
This legendary attack on the philosophies of Plato, Hegel and Marx prophesied the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and exposed the fatal flaws of socially engineered political systems.
It remains highly readable, erudite and lucid and as essential reading today as on publication in 1945.
It is available here in a special centenary single-volume edition.
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 920 pages, indexes
- Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd
- Publication Date: 24/05/2002
- Category: Political science & theory
- ISBN: 9780415282369
- Paperback from £12.65
- Hardback from £69.29
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Review by motorbike
This book is a must for anyone interested in politics, sociology or philosophy. It’s a full-on academic piece but worth the effort. KP exposes how fragile democracy is and how easily it can be undermined – even by those acting in its interest. His basic premise is that any society that strives to achieve some idealized goal, however honourable, will develop a totalitarian system. For democracy to survive and benefit the individual, governments must avoid “social engineering” and reserve its interventions to those aspects where the normal methods are failing. Democracy, and the Open Society, thrive only when individuals are allowed to drive the direction of societal development. Western political philosophy has been build on 2 main thinkers – Plato from Antiquity arguing for a rational organization of society, and Hegel from the modern era who provided the concept of “the people” as the moral basis of the state. Their respective systems appear to uphold the primacy of the individual in society, but their systems had inbuilt value systems in favour of particular collective ideals that eventually developed into totalitarian systems that achieved the opposite – in Plato’s case, the justification of an oppressive ruling class, and in Hegel’s case, the development of Romanticism, Nationalism and Fascism. KP argues that both thinkers had ulterior motives for their philosophies and deliberately twisted their logic to support their hidden agendas. He proceeds to uncover these twists through the use of their own arguments and shows how they were able to win over followers to their logic, cover their contradictions and have their ideas accepted for as long as they did. This is a lengthy work – 2 volumes that stretch to nearly 1,000 pages – and can be challenging to a non-academic orientated reader, but it is an important work with big ideas that is highly enlightening.