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The Viennese Socrates

Karl Popper and the Reconstruction of Progressive Politics


Philip Benesch

The Viennese Socrates: Karl Popper and the Reconstruction of Progressive Politics examines Karl Popper’s attempt to develop a political theory that draws upon Socratic fallibilism and commitment to ethical autonomy while preserving progressive sociological insights and commitment to activism. Philip Benesch argues that Popper’s critique of Marxist theory is largely an endeavor to separate its progressive-activist core from its positivist and uncritical-rationalist entanglements. The author defends Popper against the charges of positivism and scientism leveled by the Frankfurt School, among others. Although he is in no sense an apologist for Popper’s commentary on the classical tradition of philosophy, Benesch contends that Popper’s philosophical contribution is of classical breadth and significance and that it continues and advances «the great conversation» that is the substance of the classical tradition.


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2. Capitalism and After 45


Chapter 2 Capitalism and After As noted in the preceding chapter, Popper’s critique of Marxism made its academic debut early in 1936, as a paper on “The Poverty of Historicism,” first read at a seminar held in the Brussels home of the Austrian Revisionist socialist Alfred Braunthal, and then at F.A. von Hayek’s seminar at the London School of Economics. Both Braunthal and Hayek remained in close correspondence with Popper during the Second World War, with each attempting to secure publication of The Open Society and Its Enemies. Ultimately it was Hayek who facilitated publication of the work, and Popper’s academic appointment in post-war London. Popper, who greatly admired Hayek from their initial conversations in late 1935, became intellectually closer to him by the end of their wartime separation. However, one should not misidentify Popper with Hayekian political-economy. As observed in the first chapter, there were significant parallels between Popper’s critique of Marxism and that adopted by Revisionists such as Eduard Bernstein. Over the postwar years Popper did not so much abandon Revisionism as seek to deepen the critical and non-historicist basis of its democratic and humanitarian commitment to social reform. Popper hoped to build bridges between the democratic Left and the classical (i.e. free market) liberals—which he regarded as the two estranged wings of the humanitarian camp. Finally, between Popper and Hayek stood the shadow cast by Ludwig von Mises: Hayek developed and renovated Mises’ powerful critique of socialism; Popper, while recognizing Mises’ contribution, remained opposed to his...

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