catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The disasters of utopia

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Talk about the aims and outcomes of communism recalls the chapter in Popper’s Open Society where he had a look at the utopian impulse to clean the social canvas and start over, just getting it right this time so it never has to be done over again.

This chapter runs to only 12 pages and it contains some of the most important arguments in the whole book because countless millions of lives have been ruined by the application of the principles of revolutionary utopian social and political reform. At the end of the chapter there is reference to the kind of “canvas-cleaning” exercise demanded by the Platonic reformer and it helps to see the continuity of totalitarian thought from Plato to Pol Pot and Mao to fully appreciate the urgency of the arguments in this chapter, and indeed in the whole of The Open Society and its Enemies.

This summary of the chapter was originally posted in the “Condensed Open Society” series at Conjectures and Refutations.

This sweep, this extreme radicalism of the Platonic approach (and of the Marxian as well) is, I believe, connected with its aestheticism, i.e. with the desire to build a world which is not only a little better and more rational than ours, but which is free from all its ugliness: not a crazy quilt, an old garment badly patched, but an entirely new gown, a really beautiful new world. This aestheticism is a very understandable attitude; in fact, I believe most of us suffer a little from such dreams of perfection. (Some reasons why we do so will, I hope, emerge from the next chapter.) But this aesthetic enthusiasm becomes valuable only if it is bridled by reason, by a feeling of responsibility, and by a humanitarian urge to help. Otherwise it is a dangerous enthusiasm, liable to develop into a form of neurosis or hysteria.

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Written by Admin

January 12, 2006 at 9:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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