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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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8. Law without Sovereignty 187


Chapter 8 Law without Sovereignty This chapter will examine three loosely integrated components of Popper’s political philosophy. The first section considers the principles at the heart of a Popperian theory of law. The next four sections identify and evaluate elements of Popper’s treatment of non-sovereign democratic practice and representation. The antepenultimate and penultimate sections review Popper’s commentary on international relations and his cosmopolitan commitment to peace and human rights. The final section purports to tie together the chapter, and indeed the book, with an anticipation of a borderless culture of legal principle: a humanitarian jus commune. Conscience and the Rule of Law As noted in the earlier discussion on the idea of justice (chapter 5), Popper robustly rejected positivist and historical-entitlement theories of ethics and law. One may assemble from Popper’s writings an incomplete theory of democratic legality comprised principally of two explicit elements: 1) a principle of conscientious objection and publication and 2) a principle of institutionalized protection of equal liberty. It may be noted at the outset that a more complete Popperian jurisprudence would require supplementation by at least two further elements: A) a principle of legal interpretation and B) a principle equity jurisdiction. [It is my intention to explore these additional standards in a subsequent work. I note now only that a Popperian approach to legal interpretation may lurk unrecognized yet implicit in Popper’s theory of objective knowledge and the evolutionary approach integral to it. Popper may have abstained from developing a contribution to jurisprudence, in part,...

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