Conclusion of paper on Popper and Hayek

At the conclusion of comparing Popper and Hayek on some specific issues, a quick look at another topic that Boettke mentioned. This is the dangerous liaison between scientism and statism and it is probably worth mentioning Popper’s critique of the statist and totalitarian tendencies in the later work of Plato that are documented in the first volume of The Open Society and Its Enemies. It is actually important to mention it because nowadays the book is practically invisible in the academies and it is apparently kept in print by a lay readership. Other people including Michael Polanyi picked up the same themes in Plato and it is important to realise what it means when Western philosophy is described as footnotes to Plate.

It means that no other published thinker (leaving out the founders of religions) has exerted more influence for good or bad on the way we think. Popper saluted Plato’s as the non pareil but the more we admire a thinker the more we need to be aware of their mistakes, like Popper’s acceptance of received view of the industrial revolution. Popper did not belittle Plato, he identified elements in Plato’s work that have catastrophic consequences.

Every kind of totalitarian movement in the west has been assisted if not inspired by bad ideas in Plato because they lie dormant in his work until the time is ripe for some new movement to pick them up and put them into practice. For example Plato’s ideas about separating children from their parents for re-education were brutally and systematically pursued in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The current legislation for affirmative action in the United States exemplifies Plato’s concept of collective justice that Popper criticised in defence of the traditional concept of individual justice, that is equality before non-discriminatory laws.

Considering the broad scope of The Open Society and specifically Popper’s work on scientism, rationality and the stimulus for institutional studies one can make a case for Popper and Hayek as twin pillars to support good science and the classical liberal project. What happened to Popper’s stature, his readership, his influence and the synergy of Popper and the Austrians? More work is required, especially if Popper is really a significant figure. If he is only second rate or his contribution was historically interesting but not durable then the work can be left to students struggling to find a dissertation thesis.

If Popper is a major figure then a very interesting research project will compare and contrast the trajectories of the Popper school and the Austrians since the 1970s when the Austrians staged a revival (from a low base) and the Popper school did not find younger standard bearers in sufficient numbers to constitute a critical mass in the profession. Consider the fortunes of the Austrian school after Menger if Mises and Hayek had died young (they both served in The Great War) instead of living long and highly productive lives. Even with their efforts (with others) Mises died on the brink of the revival (accepting 1974 as a marker) and Hayek had to live to his late seventies to see it. Where are the academic followers of Popper who stand in place of Mises and Hayek? What is the state of the Popperian infrastructure compared with the Austrian school with chairs, doctoral programs, journals and conferences?

That project is for the future. In the moment we have Popper’s critique of scientism, his critical rationalism, and some signs of a program of institutional studies inspired by his work. Tullock’s contribution has the potential to be especially influential on account of his stature in political economy and the relevance of his analysis to the state of science at present.

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2 Responses to Conclusion of paper on Popper and Hayek

  1. Alberto Sampaio says:

    This is actual “For example Plato’s ideas about separating children from their parents for re-education were brutally and systematically pursued in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. ” and now by left-wing parties, like Podemos (they made a proposal) in Spain. So it can be expected to be followed by other parties with the same ideas, in Portugal, Greece and so on.

  2. Rafe says:

    Thanks Alberto, I didn’t know about the Spanish example, only to be expected I suppose.

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