The Open Society and its enemies

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“The Open Society and its enemies” is a two volume work by Karl Popper claiming that Plato, Hegel and Marx were the enemies of open societies. I am not sure that this is fair judgment of Plato’s political ideas since many of these are still used as a standard by which to measure justice in societies today. Plato was definitely not a liberal but many humanistic liberals have sought and found inspiration in his dialogues. It should also be remembered that Plato’s “Republic” is the first systematic attempt to analyse political ideas such as justice and freedom. Since I have, in earlier posts, raised the question of whether humanistic liberalism is in the process of being dismantled by current events in the UK and USA it might be useful to use some of Plato’s ideas to analyse the phenomenon of  Mr Donald Trump in terms of the idea of being an enemy of the open society. The BBC in a short critical presentation compares some of Plato’s criticism of  classical Greek direct democracy with what is currently happening in the USA. According to the BBC’s presentation of Plato, when parents are no longer respected by their children and when teachers become afraid of their students a tyrant from the oligarchs will emerge to tempt the people with promises that he will solve all their problems and deliver a better life. Now one of the reasons why our liberal democracies are representative and not direct democracies is partly to eliminate the phenomenon of the tyrant via  a system of representative democracy which functions in accordance with the classical Greek idea of areté.  Areté means excellence  when referring to action and virtuous when referring to an agent and involved in this idea is the message of the Republic which is that no one can govern in accordance with areté unless one has the appropriate knowledge. The warning bells relating to President Trumps  lack of practical wisdom and competence have been ringing all through his campaign. A stable liberal representative democracy would have heeded the significance of these bells and any  candidate should have been stopped in their  tracks by the collective tonnage of  rational argument in the media and through the collective tonnage of resultant public demonstrations. Now unfortunately the media did not  fulfill its obligations in this respect  and demonstrations only reached significant proportions the day after Trump was inaugurated.

In classical Greece during the time of the philosophers, a man of practical wisdom  could stand in the market place and his arguments be heard and understood. I do not think the media are the only party to blame  for the current chaotic situation because I am sure they will maintain  that the argument that Trump was not qualified for the position of the Presidency was presented adequately to an audience that refused to listen or understand. Plato, suggested in the Republic as a definition of Justice in the State, a principle of specialisation in which he claims that people of  the wealthy class should not interfere with the ruling class and furthermore the wealthy man should never rule  for fear of the corruption of the office through abuse of power in for example, favouring his friends and family. But the real bite of the principle of specialisation relates to areté, the excellence of the rulers political wisdom, and in this respect the medias argument is a poor one  because quite simply the sound bites we heard in the media interviews of Trump never achieved the level of practical wisdom, never were in accordance with areté, the excellence we expect from a President and his interrogators. One of the messages of the Republic was that training and thorough education was of vital importance for the rulers but since Ronald Reagan one must assume that the Republic of the USA no longer believes in that idea. Perhaps the future will see the birth of the concept of the apprentice President.