The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Thu Jan 10, 2019 5:06 am

17: The Legal and the Social System

We are now ready to approach what is probably the most crucial point in our analysis as well as in our criticism of Marxism; it is Marx's theory of the state and — paradoxical as it may sound to some — of the impotence of all politics.


Marx's theory of the state can be presented by combining the results of the last two chapters. The legal or juridico-political system — the system of legal institutions enforced by the state — has to be understood, according to Marx, as one of the superstructures erected upon, and giving expression to, the actual productive forces of the economic system; Marx speaks [1] in this connection of 'juridical and political superstructures'. It is not, of course, the only way in which the economic or material reality and the relations between the classes which correspond to it make their appearance in the world of ideologies and ideas. Another example of such a superstructure would be, according to Marxist views, the prevailing moral system. This, as opposed to the legal system, is not enforced by state power, but sanctioned by an ideology created and controlled by the ruling class. The difference is, roughly, one between persuasion and force (as Plato [2] would have said); and it is the state, the legal or political system, which uses force. It is, as Engels [3] puts it, 'a special repressive force' for the coercion of the ruled by the rulers. 'Political power, properly so called,' says the Manifesto [4], 'is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing the other.' A similar description is given by Lenin [5]: 'According to Marx, the state is an organ of class domination, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; its aim is the creation of an "order" which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression . . . ' The state, in brief, is just part of the machinery by which the ruling class carries on its struggle.

Before proceeding to develop the consequences of this view of the state, it may be pointed out that it is partly an institutional and partly an essentialist theory. It is institutional in so far as Marx tries to ascertain what practical functions legal institutions have in social life. But it is essentialist in so far as Marx neither inquires into the variety of ends which these institutions may possibly serve (or be made to serve), nor suggests what institutional reforms are necessary in order to make the state serve those ends which he himself might deem desirable. Instead of making his demands or proposals concerning the functions which he wants the state, the legal institutions or the government to perform, he asks, 'What is the state?'; that is to say, he tries to discover the essential function of legal institutions. It has been shown before [6] that such a typically essentialist question cannot be answered in a satisfactory way; yet this question, undoubtedly, is in keeping with Marx's essentialist and metaphysical approach which interprets the field of ideas and norms as the appearance of an economic reality.

What are the consequences of this theory of the state? The most important consequence is that all politics, all legal and political institutions as well as all political struggles, can never be of primary importance. Politics are impotent. They can never alter decisively the economic reality. The main if not the only task of any enlightened political activity is to see that the alternations in the juridico-political cloak keep pace with the changes in the social reality, that is to say, in the means of production and in the relations between the classes; in this way, such difficulties as must arise if politics lag behind these developments can be avoided. Or in other words, political developments are either superficial, unconditioned by the deeper reality of the social system, in which case they are doomed to be unimportant, and can never be of real help to the suppressed and exploited; or else they give expression to a change in the economic background and the class situation, in which case they are of the character of volcanic eruptions, of complete revolutions which can perhaps be foreseen, as they arise from the social system, and whose ferocity might then be mitigated by non-resistance to the eruptive forces, but which can be neither caused nor suppressed by political action.

These consequences show again the unity of Marx's historicist system of thought. Yet considering that few movements have done as much as Marxism to stimulate interest in political action, the theory of the fundamental impotence of politics appears somewhat paradoxical. (Marxists might, of course, meet this remark with either of two arguments. The one is that in the theory expounded, political action has its function; for even though the workers' party cannot, by its actions, improve the lot of the exploited masses, its fight awakens class consciousness and thereby prepares for the revolution. This would be the argument of the radical wing. The other argument, used by the moderate wing, asserts that there may exist historical periods in which political action can be directly helpful; the periods, namely, in which the forces of the two opposing classes are approximately in equilibrium. In such periods, political effort and energy may be decisive in achieving very significant improvements for the workers. — It is clear that this second argument sacrifices some of the fundamental positions of the theory, but without realizing this, and consequently without going to the root of the matter.)

It is worth noting that according to Marxist theory, the workers' party can hardly make political mistakes of any importance, as long as the party continues to play its assigned role, and to press the claims of the workers energetically. For political mistakes cannot materially affect the actual class situation, and even less the economic reality on which everything else ultimately depends.

Another important consequence of the theory is that, in principle, all government, even democratic government, is a dictatorship of the ruling class over the ruled. 'The executive of the modern state', says the Manifesto [7], 'is merely a committee for managing the economic affairs of the whole bourgeoisie . . .' What we call a democracy is, according to this theory, nothing but that form of class dictatorship which happens to be most convenient in a certain historical situation. (This doctrine does not agree very well with the class equilibrium theory of the moderate wing mentioned above.) And just as the state, under capitalism, is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, so, after the social revolution, it will at first be a dictatorship of the proletariat. But this proletarian state must lose its function as soon as the resistance of the old bourgeoisie has broken down. For the proletarian revolution leads to a one-class society, and therefore to a classless society in which there can be no class- dictatorship. Thus the state, deprived of any function, must disappear. 'It withers away,' as Engels said [8].


I am very far from defending Marx's theory of the state. His theory of the impotence of all politics, more particularly, and his view of democracy, appear to me to be not only mistakes, but fatal mistakes. But it must be admitted that behind these grim as well as ingenious theories, there stood a grim and depressing experience. And although Marx, in my opinion, failed to understand the future which he so keenly wished to foresee, it seems to me that even his mistaken theories are proof of his keen sociological insight into the conditions of his own time, and of his invincible humanitarianism and sense of justice.

Marx's theory of the state, in spite of its abstract and philosophical character, undoubtedly furnishes an enlightening interpretation of his own historical period. It is at least a tenable view that the so-called 'industrial revolution' developed at first mainly as a revolution of the 'material means of production', i.e. of machinery; that this led, next, to a transformation of the class structure of society, and thus to a new social system; and that political revolutions and other transformations of the legal system came only as a third step. Even though this Marxist interpretation of the 'rise of capitalism' has been challenged by historians who were able to lay bare some of its deep-lying ideological foundations (which were perhaps not quite unsuspected by Marx [9], although destructive to his theory), there can be little doubt about the value of the Marxist interpretation as a first approximation, and about the service rendered to his successors in this field. And even though some of the developments studied by Marx were deliberately fostered by legislative measures, and indeed made possible only by legislation (as Marx himself says [10]), it was he who first discussed the influence of economic developments and economic interests upon legislation, and the function of legislative measures as weapons in the class struggle, and especially as means for the creation of a 'surplus population', and with it, of the industrial proletariat. It is clear from many of Marx's passages that these observations confirmed him in his belief that the juridico-political system is a mere 'superstructure' [11] on the social, i.e. the economic, system; a theory which, although undoubtedly refuted by subsequent experience [12], not only remains interesting, but also, I suggest, contains a grain of truth.

But it was not only Marx's general views of the relations between the economic and the political system that were in this way influenced by his historical experience; his views on liberalism and democracy, more particularly, which he considered to be nothing but veils for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, furnished an interpretation of the social situation of his time which appeared to fit only too well, corroborated as it was by sad experience. For Marx lived, especially in his younger years, in a period of the most shameless and cruel exploitation. And this shameless exploitation was cynically defended by hypocritical apologists who appealed to the principle of human freedom, to the right of man to determinate his own fate, and to enter freely into any contract he considers favourable to his interests.

Using the slogan 'equal and free competition for all', the unrestrained capitalism of this period resisted successfully all labour legislation until the year 1833, and its practical execution for many years more [13]. The consequence was a life of desolation and misery which can hardly be imagined in our day. Especially the exploitation of women and children led to incredible suffering. Here are two examples, quoted from Marx's Capital: 'William Wood, 9 years old, was 7 years and 10 months when he began to work ... He came to work every day in the week at 6 a.m., and left off about 9 p.m ...' 'Fifteen hours of labour for a child 7 years old!' exclaims an official report [14] of the Children's Employment Commission of 1863. Other children were forced to start work at 4 a.m., or to work throughout the night until 6 a.m., and it was not unusual for children of only six years to be forced to a daily toil of 15 hours. — 'Mary Anne Walkley had worked without pause 26-1/2 hours, together with sixty other girls, thirty of them in one room ... A doctor, Mr. Keys, called in too late, testified before the coroner's jury that "Mary Anne Walkley had died from long hours of work in an overcrowded workroom ..." Wishing to give this gentleman a lecture in good manners, the coroner's jury brought in a verdict to the effect that "the deceased had died of apoplexy, but there is reason to fear that her death had been accelerated by overwork in an overcrowded workroom".' [15] Such were the conditions of the working class even in 1863, when Marx was writing Capital', his burning protest against these crimes, which were then tolerated, and sometimes even defended, not only by professional economists but also by churchmen, will secure him forever a place among the liberators of mankind.

In view of such experiences, we need not wonder that Marx did not think very highly of liberalism, and that he saw in parliamentary democracy nothing but a veiled dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. And it was easy for him to interpret these facts as supporting his analysis of the relationship between the legal and the social system. According to the legal system, equality and freedom were established, at least approximately. But what did this mean in reality! Indeed, we must not blame Marx for insisting that the economic facts alone are 'real' and that the legal system may be a mere superstructure, a cloak for this reality, and an instrument of class domination.

The opposition between the legal and the social system is most clearly developed in Capital. In one of its theoretical parts (treated more fully in chapter 20), Marx approaches the analysis of the capitalist economic system by using the simplifying and idealizing assumption that the legal system is perfect in every respect. Freedom, equality before the law, justice, are all assumed to be guaranteed to everybody. There are no privileged classes before the law. Over and above that, he assumes that not even in the economic realm is there any kind of 'robbery'; he assumes that a 'just price' is paid for all commodities, including the labour power which the worker sells to the capitalist on the labour market. The price for all these commodities is 'just', in the sense that all commodities are bought and sold in proportion to the average amount of labour needed for their reproduction (or using Marx's terminology, they are bought and sold according to their true 'value' [16]). Of course, Marx knows that all this is an over-simplification, for it is his opinion that the workers are hardly ever treated as fairly as that; in other words, that they are usually cheated. But arguing from these idealized premises, he attempts to show that even under so excellent a legal system, the economic system would function in such a way that the workers would not be able to enjoy their freedom. In spite of all this 'justice', they would not be very much better off than slaves [17]. For if they are poor, they can only sell themselves, their wives and their children on the labour market, for as much as is necessary for the reproduction of their labour power. That is to say, for the whole of their labour power, they will not get more than the barest means of existence. This shows that exploitation is not merely robbery. It cannot be eliminated by merely legal means. (And Proudhon's criticism that 'property is theft' is much too superficial [18].)

In consequence of this, Marx was led to hold that the workers cannot hope much from the improvement of a legal system which as everybody knows grants to rich and poor alike the freedom of sleeping on park benches, and which threatens them alike with punishment for the attempt to live 'without visible means of support'. In this way Marx arrived at what may be termed (in Hegelian language) the distinction between formal and material freedom. Formal [19] or legal freedom, although Marx does not rate it low, turns out to be quite insufficient for securing to us that freedom which he considered to be the aim of the historical development of mankind. What matters is real, i.e. economic or material, freedom. This can be achieved only by an equal emancipation from drudgery. For this emancipation, 'the shortening of the labour day is the fundamental prerequisite'.


What have we to say to Marx's analysis? Are we to believe that politics, or the framework of legal institutions, are intrinsically impotent to remedy such a situation, and that only a complete social revolution, a complete change of the 'social system', can help? Or are we to believe the defenders of an unrestrained 'capitalist' system who emphasize (rightly, I think) the tremendous benefit to be derived from the mechanism of free markets, and who conclude from this that a truly free labour market would be of the greatest benefit to all concerned?

I believe that the injustice and inhumanity of the unrestrained 'capitalist system' described by Marx cannot be questioned; but it can be interpreted in terms of what we called, in a previous chapter [20], the paradox of freedom. Freedom, we have seen, defeats itself, if it is unlimited. Unlimited freedom means that a strong man is free to bully one who is weak and to rob him of his freedom. This is why we demand that the state should limit freedom to a certain extent, so that everyone's freedom is protected by law. Nobody should be at the mercy of others, but all should have a right to be protected by the state.

Now I believe that these considerations, originally meant to apply to the realm of brute-force, of physical intimidation, must be applied to the economic realm also. Even if the state protects its citizens from being bullied by physical violence (as it does, in principle, under the system of unrestrained capitalism), it may defeat our ends by its failure to protect them from the misuse of economic power. In such a state, the economically strong is still free to bully one who is economically weak, and to rob him of his freedom. Under these circumstances, unlimited economic freedom can be just as self-defeating as unlimited physical freedom, and economic power may be nearly as dangerous as physical violence; for those who possess a surplus of food can force those who are starving into a 'freely' accepted servitude, without using violence. And assuming that the state limits its activities to the suppression of violence (and to the protection of property), a minority which is economically strong may in this way exploit the majority of those who are economically weak.

If this analysis is correct [21], then the nature of the remedy is clear. It must be a political remedy — a remedy similar to the one which we use against physical violence. We must construct social institutions, enforced by the power of the state, for the protection of the economically weak from the economically strong. The state must see to it that nobody need enter into an inequitable arrangement out of fear of starvation, or economic ruin.

This, of course, means that the principle of non-intervention, of an unrestrained economic system, has to be given up; if we wish freedom to be safeguarded, then we must demand that the policy of unlimited economic freedom be replaced by the planned economic intervention of the state. We must demand that unrestrained capitalism give way to an economic interventionism [22]. And this is precisely what has happened. The economic system described and criticized by Marx has everywhere ceased to exist. It has been replaced, not by a system in which the state begins to lose its functions and consequently 'shows signs of withering away', but by various interventionist systems, in which the functions of the state in the economic realm are extended far beyond the protection of property and of 'free contracts'.[/b][/size] (This development will be discussed in the next chapters.)


I should like to characterize the point here reached as the most central point in our analysis. It is only here that we can begin to realize the significance of the clash between historicism and social engineering, and its effect upon the policy of the friends of the open society.

Marxism claims to be more than a science. It does more than make a historical prophecy. It claims to be the basis for practical political action. It criticizes existing society, and it asserts that it can lead the way to a better world. But according to Marx's own theory, we cannot at will alter the economic reality by, for example, legal reforms. Politics can do no more than 'shorten and lessen the birth-pangs'. [23] This, I think, is an extremely poor political programme, and its poverty is a consequence of the third-rate place which it attributes to political power in the hierarchy of powers. For according to Marx, the real power lies in the evolution of machinery; next in importance is the system of economic class- relationships; and the least important influence is that of politics.

A directly opposite view is implied in the position we have reached in our analysis. It considers political power as fundamental. Political power, from this point of view, can control economic power. This means an immense extension of the field of political activities. We can ask what we wish to achieve and how to achieve it. We can, for instance, develop a rational political programme for the protection of the economically weak. We can make laws to limit exploitation. We can limit the working day; but we can do much more. By law, we can insure the workers (or better still, all citizens) against disability, unemployment, and old age. In this way we can make impossible such forms of exploitation as are based upon the helpless economic position of a worker who must yield to anything in order not to starve. And when we are able by law to guarantee a livelihood to everybody willing to work, and there is no reason why we should not achieve that, then the protection of the freedom of the citizen from economic fear and economic intimidation will approach completeness. From this point of view, political power is the key to economic protection. Political power and its control is everything. Economic power must not be permitted to dominate political power; if necessary, it must be fought and brought under control by political power.

From the point of view reached, we can say that Marx's disparaging attitude towards political power not only means that he neglects to develop a theory of the most important potential means of bettering the lot of the economically weak, but also that he neglected the greatest potential danger to human freedom. His naive view that, in a classless society, state power would lose its function and 'wither away' shows very clearly that he never grasped the paradox of freedom, and that he never understood the function which state power could and should perform, in the service of freedom and humanity.
(Yet this view of Marx stands witness to the fact that he was, ultimately, an individualist, in spite of his collectivist appeal to class consciousness.) In this way, the Marxian view is analogous to the liberal belief that all we need is 'equality of opportunity'. We certainly need this. But it is not enough. It does not protect those who are less gifted, or less ruthless, or less lucky, from becoming objects of exploitation for those who are more gifted, or ruthless, or lucky.

Moreover, from the point of view we have reached, what Marxists describe disparagingly as 'mere formal freedom' becomes the basis of everything else. This 'mere formal freedom', i.e. democracy, the right of the people to judge and to dismiss their government, is the only known device by which we can try to protect ourselves against the misuse of political power [24]; it is the control of the rulers by the ruled. And since political power can control economic power, political democracy is also the only means for the control of economic power by the ruled. Without democratic control, there can be no earthly reason why any government should not use its political and economic power for purposes very different from the protection of the freedom of its citizens.


It is the fundamental role of 'formal freedom' which is overlooked by Marxists who think that formal democracy is not enough and wish to supplement it by what they usually call 'economic democracy'; a vague and utterly superficial phrase which obscures the fact that 'merely formal freedom' is the only guarantee of a democratic economic policy.

Marx discovered the significance of economic power; and it is understandable that he exaggerated its status. He and the Marxists see economic power everywhere. Their argument runs: he who has the money has the power; for if necessary, he can buy guns and even gangsters. But this is a roundabout argument. In fact, it contains an admission that the man who has the gun has the power. And if he who has the gun becomes aware of this, then it may not be long until he has both the gun and the money. But under an unrestrained capitalism, Marx's argument applies, to some extent; for a rule which develops institutions for the control of guns and gangsters but not of the power of money is liable to come under the influence of this power. In such a state, an uncontrolled gangsterism of wealth may rule. But Marx himself, I think, would have been the first to admit that this is not true of all states; that there have been times in history when, for example, all exploitation was looting, directly based upon the power of the mailed fist. And to-day there will be few to support the na'ive view that the 'progress of history' has once and for all put an end to these more direct ways of exploiting men, and that, once formal freedom has been achieved, it is impossible for us to fall again under the sway of such primitive forms of exploitation.

These considerations would be sufficient for refuting the dogmatic doctrine that economic power is more fundamental than physical power, or the power of the state. But there are other considerations as well. As has been rightly emphasized by various writers (among them Bertrand Russell and Walter Lippmann [25]), it is only the active intervention of the state — the protection of property by laws backed by physical sanctions — which makes of wealth a potential source of power; for without this intervention, a man would soon be without his wealth. Economic power is therefore entirely dependent on political and physical power. Russell gives historical examples which illustrate this dependence, and sometimes even helplessness, of wealth: 'Economic power within the state,' he writes [26], 'although ultimately derived from law and public opinion, easily acquires a certain independence. It can influence law by corruption and public opinion by propaganda. It can put politicians under obligations which interfere with their freedom. It can threaten to cause a financial crisis. But there are very definite limits to what it can achieve. Caesar was helped to power by his creditors, who saw no hope of repayment except through his success; but when he had succeeded he was powerful enough to defy them. Charles V borrowed from the Fuggers the money required to buy the position of Emperor, but when he had become Emperor he snapped his fingers at them and they lost what they had lent.'

The dogma that economic power is at the root of all evil must be discarded. Its place must be taken by an understanding of the dangers of any form of uncontrolled power. Money as such is not particularly dangerous. It becomes dangerous only if it can buy power, either directly, or by enslaving the economically weak who must sell themselves in order to live.

We must think in these matters in even more materialist terms, as it were, than Marx did. We must realize that the control of physical power and of physical exploitation remains the central political problem. In order to establish this control, we must establish 'merely formal freedom'. Once we have achieved this, and have learned how to use it for the control of political power, everything rests with us. We must not blame anybody else any longer, nor cry out against the sinister economic demons behind the scenes. For in a democracy, we hold the keys to the control of the demons. We can tame them. We must realize this and use the keys; we must construct institutions for the democratic control of economic power, and for our protection from economic exploitation.

Much has been made by Marxists of the possibility of buying votes, either directly or by buying propaganda. But closer consideration shows that we have here a good example of the power-political situation analysed above. Once we have achieved formal freedom, we can control vote-buying in every form. There are laws to limit the expenditure on electioneering, and it rests entirely with us to see that much more stringent laws of this kind are introduced [27]. The legal system can be made a powerful instrument for its own protection. In addition, we can influence public opinion, and insist upon a much more rigid moral code in political matters. All this we can do; but we must first realize that social engineering of this kind is our task, that it is in our power, and that we must not wait for economic earthquakes miraculously to produce a new economic world for us, so that all we shall have to do will be to unveil it, to remove the old political cloak.


Of course, in practice Marxists never fully relied on the doctrine of the impotence of political power. So far as they had an opportunity to act, or to plan action, they usually assumed, like everybody else, that political power can be used for the control of economic power. But their plans and actions were never based on a clear refutation of their original theory, nor upon any well-considered view of that most fundamental problem of all politics: the control of the controller, of the dangerous accumulation of power represented in the state. They never realized the full significance of democracy as the only known means to achieve this control.

As a consequence they never realized the danger inherent in a policy of increasing the power of the state. Although they abandoned more or less unconsciously the doctrine of the impotence of politics, they retained the view that state power presents no important problem, and that it is bad only if it is in the hands of the bourgeoisie. They did not realize that all power, and political power at least as much as economic power, is dangerous. Thus they retained their formula of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They did not understand the principle (cp. chapter 8) that all large-scale politics must be institutional, not personal; and when clamouring for the extension of state powers (in contrast to Marx's view of the state) they never considered that the wrong persons might one day get hold of these extended powers. This is part of the reason why, as far as they proceeded to consider state-intervention, they planned to give the state practically limitless powers in the economic realm. They retained Marx's holistic and Utopian belief that only a brand-new 'social system' can improve matters.

I have criticized this Utopian and Romantic approach to social engineering in a previous chapter (chapter 9). But I wish to add here that economic intervention, even the piecemeal methods advocated here, will tend to increase the power of the state. Interventionism is therefore extremely dangerous. This is not a decisive argument against it; state power must always remain a dangerous though necessary evil. But it should be a warning that if we relax our watchfulness, and if we do not strengthen our democratic institutions while giving more power to the state by interventionist 'planning', then we may lose our freedom. And if freedom is lost, everything is lost, including 'planning'. For why should plans for the welfare of the people be carried out if the people have no power to enforce them? Only freedom can make security secure.

We thus see that there is not only a paradox of freedom but also a paradox of state planning. If we plan too much, if we give too much power to the state, then freedom will be lost, and that will be the end of planning.

Such considerations lead us back to our plea for piecemeal, and against Utopian or holistic, methods of social engineering. And they lead us back to our demand that measures should be planned to fight concrete evils rather than to establish some ideal good. State intervention should be limited to what is really necessary for the protection of freedom.

But it is not enough to say that our solution should be a minimum solution; that we should be watchful; and that we should not give more power to the state than is necessary for the protection of freedom. These remarks may raise problems, but they do not show a way to a solution. It is even conceivable that there is no solution; that the acquisition of new economic powers by a state — whose powers, as compared to those of its citizens, are always dangerously great — will make it irresistible. So far, we have shown neither that freedom can be preserved, nor how it can be preserved.

Under these circumstances it may be useful to remember our considerations of chapter 7 concerning the question of the control of political power and the paradox of freedom.


The important distinction which we made there was that between persons and institutions. We pointed out that, while the political question of the day may demand a personal solution, all long-term policy — and especially all democratic long-term policy — must be conceived in terms of impersonal institutions. And we pointed out that, more especially, the problem of controlling the rulers, and of checking their powers, was in the main an institutional problem — the problem, in short, of designing institutions for preventing even bad rulers from doing too much damage.

Analogous considerations will apply to the problem of the control of the economic power of the state. What we shall have to guard against is an increase in the power of the rulers. We must guard against persons and against their arbitrariness. Some types of institution may confer arbitrary powers upon a person; but other types will deny them to that person.

If we look upon our labour legislation from this point of view, then we shall find both types of institution. Many of these laws add very little power to the executive organs of the state. It is conceivable, to be sure, that the laws against child labour, for example, may be misused, by a civil servant, to intimidate, and to dominate over, an innocent citizen. But dangers of this kind are hardly serious if compared with those which are inherent in a legislation that confers upon the rulers discretionary powers, such as the power of directing labour [28]. Similarly, a law establishing that a citizen's misuse of his property should be punished by its forfeiture will be incomparably less dangerous than one which gives the rulers, or the servants of the state, discretionary powers of requisitioning a citizen's property.

We thus arrive at a distinction between two entirely different methods [29] by which the economic intervention of the state may proceed. The first is that of designing a 'legal framework' of protective institutions (laws restricting the powers of the owner of an animal, or of a landowner, are an example). The second is that of empowering organs of the state to act — within certain limits — as they consider necessary for achieving the ends laid down by the rulers for the time being. We may describe the first procedure as 'institutional' or 'indirect' intervention, and the second as 'personal' or 'direct' intervention. (Of course, intermediate cases exist.)

There can be no doubt, from the point of view of democratic control, which of these methods is preferable. The obvious policy for all democratic intervention is to make use of the first method wherever this is possible, and to restrict the use of the second method to cases for which the first method is inadequate. (Such cases exist. The classical example is the Budget — this expression of the Chancellor's discretion and sense of what is equitable and just. And it is conceivable although highly undesirable that a counter-cycle measure may have to be of a similar character.)

From the point of view of piecemeal social engineering, the difference between the two methods is highly important. Only the first, the institutional method, makes it possible to make adjustments in the light of discussion and experience. It alone makes it possible to apply the method of trial and error to our political actions. It is long-term; yet the permanent legal framework can be slowly changed, in order to make allowances for unforeseen and undesired consequences, for changes in other parts of the framework, etc. It alone allows us to find out, by experience and analysis, what we actually were doing when we intervened with a certain aim in mind. Discretionary decisions of the rulers or civil servants are outside these rational methods. They are short-term decisions, transitory, changing from day to day, or at best, from year to year. As a rule (the Budget is the great exception) they cannot even be publicly discussed, both because necessary information is lacking, and because the principles on which the decision is taken are obscure. If they exist at all, they are usually not institutionalized, but part of an internal departmental tradition.

But it is not only in this sense that the first method can be described as rational and the second as irrational. It is also in an entirely different and highly important sense. The legal framework can be known and understood by the individual citizen; and it should be designed to be so understandable. Its functioning is predictable. It introduces a factor of certainty and security into social life. When it is altered, allowances can be made, during a transitional period, for those individuals who have laid their plans in the expectation of its constancy.

As opposed to this, the method of personal intervention must introduce an ever-growing element of unpredictability into social life, and with it will develop the feeling that social life is irrational and insecure. The use of discretionary powers is liable to grow quickly, once it has become an accepted method, since adjustments will be necessary, and adjustments to discretionary short-term decisions can hardly be carried out by institutional means. This tendency must greatly increase the irrationality of the system, creating in many the impression that there are hidden powers behind the scenes, and making them susceptible to the conspiracy theory of society with all its consequences — heresy hunts, national, social, and class hostility.

In spite of all this, the obvious policy of preferring where possible the institutional method is far from being generally accepted. The failure to accept it is, I suppose, due to different reasons. One is that it needs a certain detachment to embark on the long-term task of re-designing the 'legal framework'. But governments live from hand to mouth, and discretionary powers belong to this style of living — quite apart from the fact that rulers are inclined to love those powers for their own sake. But the most important reason is, undoubtedly, that the significance of the distinction between the two methods is not understood. The way to its understanding is blocked to the followers of Plato, Hegel, and Marx. They will never see that the old question 'Who shall be the rulers?' must be superseded by the more real one 'How can we tame them?'


If we now look back at Marx's theory of the impotence of politics and of the power of historical forces, then we must admit that it is an imposing edifice. It is the direct result of his sociological method; of his economic historicism, of the doctrine that the development of the economic system, or of man's metabolism, determines his social and political development. The experience of his time, his humanitarian indignation, and the need of bringing to the oppressed the consolation of a prophecy, the hope, or even the certainty, of their victory, all this is united in one grandiose philosophic system, comparable or even superior to the holistic systems of Plato and Hegel. It is only due to the accident that he was not a reactionary that the history of philosophy takes so little notice of him and assumes that he was mainly a propagandist. The reviewer of Capital who wrote: 'At the first glance ... we come to the conclusion that the author is one of the greatest among the idealist philosophers, in the German, that is to say, the bad sense of the word "idealist". But in actual fact, he is enormously more realistic than any of his predecessors ...' [30], this reviewer hit the nail on the head. Marx was the last of the great holistic system builders. We should take care to leave it at that, and not to replace his by another Great System. What we need is not holism. It is piecemeal social engineering.

With this, I conclude my critical analysis of Marx's philosophy of the method of social science, of his economic determinism as well as of his prophetic historicism. The final test of a method, however, must be its practical results. I therefore proceed now to a more detailed examination of the main result of his method, the prophecy of the impending advent of a classless society.  
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Fri Jan 11, 2019 8:59 pm

Marx's Prophecy

18: The Coming of Socialism


Economic historicism is the method applied by Marx to an analysis of the impending changes in our society.
According to Marx, every particular social system must destroy itself, simply because it must create the forces which produce the next historical period. A sufficiently penetrating analysis of the feudal system, undertaken shortly before the industrial revolution, might have led to the detection of the forces which were about to destroy feudalism, and to the prediction of the most important characteristics of the coming period, capitalism. Similarly, an analysis of the development of capitalism might enable us to detect the forces which work for its destruction, and to predict the most important characteristics of the new historical period which lies ahead of us. For there is surely no reason to believe that capitalism, of all social systems, will last for ever. On the contrary, the material conditions of production, and with them, the ways of human life, have never changed so quickly as they have done under capitalism. By changing its own foundations in this way, capitalism is bound to transform itself, and to produce a new period in the history of mankind.

According to Marx's method, the principles of which have been discussed above, the fundamental or essential-forces which will destroy or transform capitalism must be searched for in the evolution of the material means of production. Once these fundamental forces have been discovered, it is possible to trace their influence upon the social relationships between classes as well as upon the juridical and political systems.

The analysis of the fundamental economic forces and the suicidal historical tendencies of the period which he called 'capitalism' was undertaken by Marx in Capital, the great work of his life. The historical period and the economic system he dealt with was that of western Europe and especially England, from about the middle of the eighteenth century to 1867 (the year of the first publication of Capital). The 'ultimate aim of this work', as Marx explained in his preface [2], was 'to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society', in order to prophesy its fate. A secondary aim [3] was the refutation of the apologists of capitalism, of the economists who presented the laws of the capitalist mode of production as if they were inexorable laws of nature, declaring with Burke: 'The laws of commerce are the laws of nature, and therefore the laws of God.' Marx contrasted these allegedly inexorable laws with those which he maintained to be the only inexorable laws of society, namely, its laws of development; and he tried to show that what the economists declared to be eternal and immutable laws were in fact merely temporary regularities, doomed to be destroyed together with capitalism itself.

Marx's historical prophecy can be described as a closely knit argument. But Capital elaborates only what I shall call the 'first step' of this argument, the analysis of the fundamental economic forces of capitalism and their influence upon the relations between the classes. The 'second step', which leads to the conclusion that a social revolution is inevitable, and the 'third step', which leads to the prediction of the emergence of a classless, i.e. socialist, society, are only sketched. In this chapter, I shall first explain more clearly what I call the three steps of the Marxist argument, and then discuss the third of these steps in detail. In the two following chapters, I shall discuss the second and the first steps. To reverse the order of the steps in this way turns out to be best for a detailed critical discussion; the advantage lies in the fact that it is then easier to assume without prejudice the truth of the premises of each step in the argument, and to concentrate entirely upon the question whether the conclusion reached in this particular step follows from its premises. Here are the three steps.

In the first step of his argument, Marx analyses the method of capitalist production. He finds that there is a tendency towards an increase in the productivity of work, connected with technical improvements as well as with what he calls the increasing accumulation of the means of production. Starting from here, the argument leads him to the conclusion that in the realm of the social relations between the classes this tendency must lead to the accumulation of more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands; that is to say, the conclusion is reached that there will be a tendency towards an increase of wealth and misery; of wealth in the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, and of misery in the ruled class, the workers. This first step will be treated in chapter 20 ('Capitalism and its Fate').

In the second step of the argument, the result of the first step is taken for granted. From it, two conclusions are drawn; first, that all classes except a small ruling bourgeoisie and a large exploited working class are bound to disappear, or to become insignificant; secondly, that the increasing tension between these two classes must lead to social revolution. This step will be analysed in chapter 19 ('The Social Revolution').

In the third step of the argument, the conclusions of the second step are taken for granted in their turn; and the final conclusion reached is that, after the victory of the workers over the bourgeoisie, there will be a society consisting of one class only, and, therefore, a classless society, a society without exploitation; that is to say, socialism.


I now proceed to the discussion of the third step, of the final prophecy of the coming of socialism.

The main premises of this step, to be criticized in the next chapter but here to be taken for granted, are these: the development of capitalism has led to the elimination of all classes but two, a small bourgeoisie and a huge proletariat; and the increase of misery has forced the latter to revolt against its exploiters. The conclusions are, first, that the workers must win the struggle, secondly that, by eliminating the bourgeoisie, they must establish a classless society, since only one class remains.

Now I am prepared to grant that the first conclusion follows from the premises (in conjunction with a few premises of minor importance which we need not question). Not only is the number of the bourgeoisie small, but their physical existence, their 'metabolism', depends upon the proletariat. The exploiter, the drone, starves without the exploited; in any case, if he destroys the exploited then he ends his own career as a drone. Thus he cannot win; he can, at the best, put up a prolonged struggle. The worker, on the other hand, does not depend for his material subsistence on his exploiter; once the worker revolts, once he has decided to challenge the existing order, the exploiter has no essential social function any longer. The worker can destroy his class enemy without endangering his own existence. Accordingly, there is only one outcome possible. The bourgeoisie will disappear.

But does the second conclusion follow? Is it true that the workers' victory must lead to a classless society? I do not think so. From the fact that of two classes only one remains, it does not follow that there will be a classless society. Classes are not like individuals, even if we admit that they behave nearly like individuals so long as there are two classes who are joined in battle. The unity or solidarity of a class, according to Marx's own analysis, is part of their class consciousness [4], which in turn is very largely a product of the class struggle. There is no earthly reason why the individuals who form the proletariat should retain their class unity once the pressure of the struggle against the common class enemy has ceased. Any latent conflict of interests is now likely to divide the formerly united proletariat into new classes, and to develop into a new class struggle. (The principles of dialectics would suggest that a new antithesis, a new class antagonism, must soon develop. Yet, of course, dialectics is sufficiently vague and adaptable to explain anything at all, and therefore a classless society also, as a dialectically necessary synthesis of an antithetical development [5].)

The most likely development is, of course, that those actually in power at the moment of victory — those of the revolutionary leaders who have survived the struggle for power and the various purges, together with their staff — will form a New Class: the new ruling class of the new society, a kind of new aristocracy or bureaucracy [6]; and it is most likely that they will attempt to hide this fact. This they can do, most conveniently, by retaining as much as possible of the revolutionary ideology, taking advantage of these sentiments instead of wasting their time in efforts to destroy them (in accordance with Pareto's advice to all rulers). And it seems likely enough that they will be able to make fullest use of the revolutionary ideology if at the same time they exploit the fear of counter-revolutionary developments. In this way, the revolutionary ideology will serve them for apologetic purposes: it will serve them both as a vindication of the use they make of their power, and as a means of stabilizing it; in short, as a new 'opium for the people'.

Something of this kind are the events which, on Marx's own premises, are likely to happen. Yet it is not my task here to make historical prophecies (or to interpret the past history of many revolutions). I merely wish to show that Marx's conclusion, the prophecy of the coming of a classless society, does not follow from the premises. The third step of Marx's argument must be pronounced to be inconclusive.

More than this I do not maintain. I do not think, more particularly, that it is possible to prophesy that socialism will not come, or to say that the premises of the argument make the introduction of socialism very unlikely. It is, for instance, possible that the prolonged struggle and the enthusiasm of victory may contribute to a feeling of solidarity strong enough to continue until laws preventing exploitation and the misuse of power are established. (The establishment of institutions for the democratic control of the rulers is the only guarantee for the elimination of exploitation.) The chances of founding such a society will depend, in my opinion, very largely upon the devotion of the workers to the ideas of socialism and freedom, as opposed to the immediate interests of their class. These are matters which cannot be easily foreseen; all that can certainly be said is that class struggle as such does not always produce lasting solidarity among the oppressed. There are examples of such solidarity and great devotion to the common cause; but there are also examples of groups of workers who pursue their particular group interest even where it is in open conflict with the interest of the other workers, and with the idea of the solidarity of the oppressed. Exploitation need not disappear with the bourgeoisie, since it is quite possible that groups of workers may obtain privileges which amount to an exploitation of less fortunate groups [7].

We see that a whole host of possible historical developments may follow upon a victorious proletarian revolution. There are certainly too many possibilities for the application of the method of historical prophecy. And in particular it must be emphasized that it would be most unscientific to close our eyes to some possibilities because we do not like them. Wishful thinking is apparently a thing that cannot be avoided. But it should not be mistaken for scientific thinking. And we should also recognize that the allegedly scientific prophecy provides, for a great number of people, a form of escape. It provides an escape from our present responsibilities into a future paradise; and it provides the fitting complement of this paradise by overstressing the helplessness of the individual in face of what it describes as the overwhelming and demoniacal economic forces of the present moment.  


If we now look a little more closely at these forces, and at our own present economic system, then we can see that our theoretical criticism is borne out by experience. But we must be on our guard against misinterpreting experience in the light of the Marxist prejudice that 'socialism' or 'communism' is the only alternative and the only possible successor to 'capitalism'. Neither Marx nor anybody else has ever shown that socialism, in the sense of a classless society, of 'an association in which the free development of each is the warrant for the free development of all' [8], is the only possible alternative to the ruthless exploitation of that economic system which he first described a century ago (in 1845), and to which he gave the name 'capitalism' [9]. And indeed, if anybody were attempting to prove that socialism is the only possible successor to Marx's unrestrained 'capitalism', then we could simply refute him by pointing to historical facts. For laissez-faire has disappeared from the face of the earth, but it has not been replaced by a socialist or communist system as Marx understood it. Only in the Russian sixth of the earth do we find an economic system where, in accordance with Marx's prophecy, the means of production are owned by the state, whose political might however shows, in opposition to Marx's prophecy, no inclination to wither away. But all over the earth, organized political power has begun to perform far-reaching economic functions. Unrestrained capitalism has given way to a new historical period, to our own period of political interventionism, of the economic interference of the state. Interventionism has assumed various forms. There is the Russian variety; there is the fascist form of totalitarianism; and there is the democratic interventionism of England, of the United States, and of the 'Smaller Democracies', led by Sweden [10], where the technology of democratic intervention has reached its highest level so far. The development which led to this intervention started in Marx's own day, with British factory legislation. It made its first decisive advances with the introduction of the 48-hour week, and later with the introduction of unemployment insurance and other forms of social insurance. How utterly absurd it is to identify the economic system of the modern democracies with the system Marx called 'capitalism' can be seen at a glance, by comparing it with his 10-point programme for the communist revolution.

If we omit the rather insignificant points of this programme (for instance, '4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels'), then we can say that in the democracies most of these points have been put into practice, either completely, or to a considerable degree; and with them, many more important steps, which Marx had never thought of, have been made in the direction of social security. I mention only the following points in his programme: 2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. (Carried out.) 3. Abolition of all right of inheritance. (Largely realized by heavy death duties. Whether more would be desirable is at least doubtful.) 6. Central control by the state of the means of communication and transport. (For military reasons this was carried out in Central Europe before the war of 1914, without very beneficial results. It has also been achieved by most of the Smaller Democracies.) 7. Increase in the number and size of factories and instruments of production owned by the state . . . (Realized in the Smaller Democracies; whether this is always very beneficial is at least doubtful.) 10. Free education for all children in public (i.e. state) schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form ... (The first demand is fulfilled in the Smaller Democracies, and to some extent practically everywhere; the second has been exceeded.)

A number of points in Marx's programme— (for instance: '1. Abolition of all property in land') have not been realized in the democratic countries. This is why Marxists rightly claim that these countries have not established 'socialism'. But if they infer from this that these countries are still 'capitalist' in Marx's sense, then they only demonstrate the dogmatic character of their presupposition that there is no further alternative. This shows how it is possible to be blinded by the glare of a preconceived system. Not only is Marxism a bad guide to the future, but it also renders its followers incapable of seeing what is happening before their own eyes, in their own historical period, and sometimes even with their own co-operation.


But it could be asked whether this criticism speaks in any way against the method of large-scale historical prophecy as such. Could we not, in principle, so strengthen the premises of the prophetic argument as to obtain a valid conclusion? Of course we could do this. It is always possible to obtain any conclusion we like if only we make our premises sufficiently strong. But the situation is such that, for nearly every large- scale historical prophecy, we would have to make such assumptions concerning moral and other factors of the kind called by Marx 'ideological' as are beyond our ability to reduce to economic factors. But Marx would have been the first to admit that this would be a highly unscientific proceeding. His whole method of prophecy depends on the assumption that ideological influences need not be treated as independent and unpredictable elements, but that they are reducible to, and dependent on, observable economic conditions, and therefore predictable.

It is sometimes admitted even by certain unorthodox Marxists that the coming of socialism is not merely a matter of historical development; Marx's statement that 'we can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs' of the coming of socialism is sufficiently vague to be interpreted as stating that a mistaken policy might delay the advent of socialism even for centuries, as compared with the proper policy which would shorten the time of the development to a minimum. This interpretation makes it possible even for Marxists to admit that it will depend largely upon ourselves whether or not the outcome of a revolution will be a socialist society; that is to say, it will depend upon our aims, upon our devotion and sincerity, and upon our intelligence, in other words, upon moral or 'ideological' factors. Marx's prophecy, they may add, is a great source of moral encouragement, and it is therefore likely to further the development of socialism. What Marx really tries to show is that there are only two possibilities: that a terrible world should continue forever, or that a better world should eventually emerge; and it is hardly worth our while to contemplate the first alternative seriously. Therefore Marx's prophecy is fully justified. For the more clearly men realize that they can achieve the second alternative, the more surely will they make a decisive leap from capitalism to socialism; but a more definite prophecy cannot be made.

This is an argument which admits the influence of irreducible moral and ideological factors upon the course of history, and with it, the inapplicability of the Marxist method. Concerning that part of the argument which tries to defend Marxism, we must repeat that nobody has ever shown that there are only two possibilities, 'capitalism' and 'socialism'. With the view that we should not waste our time in contemplating the eternal continuation of a very unsatisfactory world, I quite agree. But the alternative need not be to contemplate the prophesied advent of a better world, or to assist its birth by propaganda and other irrational means, perhaps even by violence. It can be, for instance, the development of a technology for the immediate improvement of the world we live in, the development of a method for piecemeal engineering, for democratic intervention [12]. Marxists would of course contend that this kind of intervention is impossible since history cannot be made according to rational plans for improving the world. But this theory has very strange consequences. For if things cannot be improved by the use of reason, then it would be indeed an historical or political miracle if the irrational powers of history by themselves were to produce a better and more rational world [13].

Thus we are thrown back to the position that moral and other ideological factors which do not fall within the scope of scientific prophecy exert a far-reaching influence upon the course of history. One of these unpredictable factors is just the influence of social technology and of political intervention in economic matters. The social technologist and the piecemeal engineer may plan the construction of new institutions, or the transformation of old ones; they may even plan the ways and means of bringing these changes about; but 'history' does not become more predictable by their doing so. For they do not plan for the whole of society, nor can they know whether their plans will be carried out; in fact, they will hardly ever be carried out without great modification, partly because our experience grows during construction, partly because we must compromise [14]. Thus Marx was quite right when he insisted that 'history' cannot be planned on paper. But institutions can be planned; and they are being planned. Only by planning [15], step by step, for institutions to safeguard freedom, especially freedom from exploitation, can we hope to achieve a better world.


In order to show the practical political significance of Marx's historicist theory, I intend to illustrate each of the three chapters dealing with the three steps of his prophetic argument by a few remarks on the effects of his historical prophecy upon recent European history. For these effects have been far-reaching, because of the influence exercised, in Central and Eastern Europe, by the two great Marxist parties, the Communists and the Social Democrats.

Both these parties were entirely unprepared for such a task as the transformation of society. The Russian Communists, who found themselves first within reach of power, went ahead, entirely unaware of the grave problems and the immensity of sacrifice as well as of suffering which lay ahead. The Social Democrats of Central Europe, whose chance came a little later, shrank for many years from the responsibilities which the Communists had so readily taken upon themselves. They doubted, probably rightly, whether any people but that of Russia, which had been most savagely oppressed by Tsarism, would have stood up to the sufferings and sacrifices demanded from them by revolution, civil war, and a long period of at first often unsuccessful experiments. Moreover, during the critical years from 1918 to 1926, the outcome of the Russian experiment appeared to them most uncertain. And, indeed, there was surely no basis for judging its prospects. One can say that the split between the Central European Communists and Social Democrats was one between those Marxists who had a kind of irrational faith in the final success of the Russian experiment, and those who were, more reasonably, sceptical of it. When I say 'irrational' and 'more reasonably', I judge them by their own standard, by Marxism; for according to Marxism, the proletarian revolution should have been the final outcome of industrialization, and not vice versa [16]; and it should have come first in the highly industrialized countries, and only much later in Russia [17].

This remark is not, however, intended as a defence of the Social Democratic leaders [18] whose policy was fully determined by the Marxist prophecy, by their implicit belief that socialism must come. But this belief was often combined, in the leaders, with a hopeless scepticism concerning their own immediate functions and tasks, and what lay immediately ahead [19]. They had learned from Marxism to organize the workers, and to inspire them with a truly wonderful faith in their task, the liberation of mankind [20]. But they were unable to prepare for the realization of their promises. They had learned their textbooks well, they knew all about 'scientific socialism', and they knew that the preparation of recipes for the future was unscientific Utopianism. Had not Marx himself ridiculed a follower of Comte who had criticized him in the Revue Positiviste for his neglect of practical programmes? 'The Revue Positiviste accuses me', Marx had said [21] scornfully, 'of a metaphysical treatment of economics, and further — you would hardly guess it — of confining myself to a merely critical analysis of actual facts, instead of prescribing recipes (Comtist ones, perhaps?) for the kitchen in which the future is cooked.' Thus the Marxist leaders knew better than to waste their time on such matters as technology. 'Workers of all countries, unite!' — that exhausted their practical programme. When the workers of their countries were united, when there was an opportunity of assuming the responsibility of government and laying the foundations for a better world, when their hour had struck, they left the workers high and dry. The leaders did not know what to do. They waited for the promised suicide of capitalism. After the inevitable capitalist collapse, when things had gone thoroughly wrong, when everything was in dissolution and the risk of discredit and disgrace to themselves considerably diminished, then they hoped to become the saviours of mankind. (And, indeed, we should keep in mind the fact that the success of the Communists in Russia was undoubtedly made possible, in part, by the terrible things that had happened before their rise to power.) But when the great depression, which they first welcomed as the promised collapse, was running its course, they began to realize that the workers were growing tired of being fed and put off with interpretations of history [22]; that it was not enough to tell them that according to the infallible scientific socialism of Marx fascism was definitely the last stand of capitalism before its impending collapse. The suffering masses needed more than that. Slowly the leaders began to realize the terrible consequences of a policy of waiting and hoping for the great political miracle. But it was too late. Their opportunity was gone.

These remarks are very sketchy. But they give some indication of the practical consequences of Marx's prophecy of the coming of socialism.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Thu Jan 31, 2019 5:31 am

19: The Social Revolution

The second step of Marx's prophetic argument has as its most relevant premise the assumption that capitalism must lead to an increase of wealth and misery; of wealth in the numerically declining bourgeoisie, and of misery in the numerically increasing working class. This assumption will be criticized in the next chapter but is here taken for granted. The conclusions drawn from it can be divided into two parts. The first part is a prophecy concerning the development of the class structure of capitalism. It affirms that all classes apart from the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and especially the so-called middle classes, are bound to disappear, and that, in consequence of the increasing tension between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the latter will become increasingly class- conscious and united. The second part is the prophecy that this tension cannot possibly be removed, and that it will lead to a proletarian social revolution.

I believe that neither of the two conclusions follows from the premise. My criticism will be, in the main, similar to that propounded in the last chapter; that is to say, I shall try to show that Marx's argument neglects a great number of possible developments.


Let us consider at once the first conclusion, i.e. the prophecy that all classes are bound to disappear, or to become insignificant, except the bourgeoisie and the proletariat whose class consciousness and solidarity must increase.
It must be admitted that the premise, Marx's theory of increasing wealth and misery, provides indeed for the disappearance of a certain middle class, that of the weaker capitalists and the petty bourgeoisie. 'Each capitalist lays many of his fellows low', as Marx puts it [1]; and these fellow capitalists may indeed be reduced to the position of wage-earners, which for Marx is the same as proletarians. This movement is part of the increase of wealth, the accumulation of more and more capital, and its concentration and centralization in fewer and fewer hands. An analogous fate is meted out to 'the lower strata of the middle class', as Marx says [2]. 'The small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and the peasants, all these sink gradually into the proletariat; partly because their small capital, insufficient as it is for the scale on which modern industry is conducted, is overwhelmed in the competition with the bigger capitalists; partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by new means of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.' This description is certainly fairly accurate, especially so far as handicrafts are concerned; and it is also true that many proletarians come from peasant stock.

But admirable as Marx's observations are, the picture is defective. The movement he investigated is an industrial movement; his 'capitalist' is the industrial capitalist, his 'proletarian' the industrial worker. And in spite of the fact that many industrial workers come from peasant stock, this does not mean that the farmers and peasants, for instance, are all gradually reduced to the position of industrial workers. Even the agricultural labourers are not necessarily united with the industrial workers by a common feeling of solidarity and class consciousness. 'The dispersion of the rural workers over large areas', Marx admits [3], 'breaks down their power of resistance at the very time when the concentration of capital in a few hands increases the power of resistance of the urban workers.' This hardly suggests unification in one class-conscious whole. It shows, rather, that there is at least a possibility of division, and that the agricultural worker might sometimes be too dependent upon his master, the farmer or peasant, to make common cause with the industrial proletariat. But that farmers or peasants may easily choose to support the bourgeoisie rather than the workers was mentioned by Marx himself [4]; and a workers' programme such as the one of the Manifesto [5], whose first demand is the 'abolition of all property in land', is hardly designed to counteract this tendency.

This shows that it is at least possible that the rural middle classes may not disappear, and that the rural proletariat may not merge with the industrial proletariat. But this is not all. Marx's own analysis shows that it is vitally important for the bourgeoisie to foment division among the wage-earners; and as Marx himself has seen, this might be achieved in at least two ways. One way is the creation of a new middle class, of a privileged group of wage-earners who would feel superior to the manual worker [6] and at the same time dependent upon the rulers' mercy. The other way is the utilization of that lowest stratum of society which Marx christened the 'rabble-proletariat'. This is, as pointed out by Marx, the recruiting ground for criminals who may be ready to sell themselves to the class enemy. Increasing misery must tend, as he admits, to swell the numbers of this class; a development which will hardly contribute to the solidarity of all the oppressed.

But even the solidarity of the class of industrial workers is not a necessary consequence of increasing misery. Admittedly, increasing misery must produce resistance, and it is even likely to produce rebellious outbreaks. But the assumption of our argument is that the misery cannot be alleviated until victory has been won in the social revolution. This implies that the resisting workers will be beaten again and again in their fruitless attempts to better their lot. But such a development need not make the workers class-conscious in the Marxist sense [7], i.e. proud of their class and assured of their mission; it may make them, rather, class-conscious in the sense of being conscious of the fact that they belong to a beaten army.
And it probably will do so, if the workers do not find strength in the realization that their numbers as well as their potential economic powers continue to grow. This might be the case if, as Marx prophesied, all classes, apart from their own and that of the capitalists, were to show a tendency to disappear. But since, as we have seen, this prophecy need not come true, it is possible that the solidarity of even the industrial workers may be undermined by defeatism.

Thus, as opposed to Marx's prophecy which insists that there must develop a neat division between two classes, we find that on his own assumptions, the following class structure may possibly develop: (1) bourgeoisie, (2) big landed proprietors, (3) other landowners, (4) rural workers, (5) new middle class, (6) industrial workers, (7) rabble proletariat. (Any other combination of these classes may, of course, develop too.) And we find, furthermore, that such a development may possibly undermine the unity of (6).

We can say, therefore, that the first conclusion of the second step in Marx's argument does not follow.
But as in my criticism of the third step, here also I must say that I do not intend to replace Marx's prophecy by another one. I do not assert that the prophecy cannot come true, or that the alternative developments I have described will come to pass. I only assert that they may come to pass. (And, indeed, this possibility can hardly be denied by members of the radical Marxist wings who use the accusation of treachery, bribery, and insufficient class solidarity as favourite devices for explaining away developments which do not conform to the prophetic schedule.) That such things may happen should be clear to anybody who has observed the development which has led to fascism, in which all the possibilities I have mentioned played a part. But the mere possibility is sufficient to destroy the first conclusion reached in the second step of Marx's argument.

This of course affects the second conclusion, the prophecy of the coming social revolution. But before I can enter into a criticism of the way in which this prophecy is arrived at, it is necessary to discuss at some length the role played by it within the whole argument, as well as Marx's use of the term 'social revolution'.


What Marx meant when he spoke of the social revolution seems at first sight clear enough. His 'social revolution of the proletariat' is a historical concept. It denotes the more or less rapid transition from the historical period of capitalism to that of socialism. In other words, it is the name of a transitional period of class struggle between the two main classes, down to the ultimate victory of the workers. When asked whether the term 'social revolution' implied a violent civil war between the two classes, Marx answered [8] that this was not necessarily implied, adding, however, that the prospects of avoiding civil war were, unfortunately, not very bright. And he might have added further that, from the point of view of historical prophecy, the question appears to be perhaps not quite irrelevant, but at any rate of secondary importance. Social life is violent, Marxism insists, and the class war claims its victims every day [9]. What really matters is the result, socialism. To achieve this result is the essential characteristic of the 'social revolution'.

Now if we could take it as established, or as intuitively certain, that capitalism will be followed by socialism, then this explanation of the term 'social revolution' might be quite satisfactory. But since we must make use of the doctrine of social revolution as a part of that scientific argument by which we try to establish the coming of socialism, the explanation is very unsatisfactory indeed. If in such an argument we try to characterize the social revolution as the transition to socialism, then the argument becomes as circular as that of the doctor who was asked to justify his prediction of the death of a patient, and had to confess that he knew neither the symptoms nor anything else of the malady — only that it would turn into a 'fatal malady'. (If the patient did not die, then it was not yet the 'fatal malady'; and if a revolution does not lead to socialism, then it is not yet the 'social revolution'.) We can also give to this criticism the simple form that in none of the three steps of the prophetic argument must we assume anything whatever that is deduced only in a later step.

These considerations show that, for a proper reconstruction of Marx's argument, we must find such a characterization of the social revolution as does not refer to socialism, and as permits the social revolution to play its part in this argument as well as possible. A characterization which fulfils these conditions appears to be this. The social revolution is an attempt of a largely united proletariat to conquer complete political power, undertaken with the firm resolution not to shrink from violence, should violence be necessary for achieving this aim, and to resist any effort of its opponents to regain political influence. This characterization is free from the difficulties just mentioned; it fits the third step of the argument in so far as this third step is valid, giving it that degree of plausibility which the step undoubtedly possesses; and it is, as will be shown, in agreement with Marxism, and especially with its historicist tendency to avoid a definite [10] statement about whether or not violence will actually be used in this phase of history.

But although if regarded as an historical prophecy the proposed characterization is indefinite about the use of violence, it is important to realize that it is not so from a moral or legal point of view. Considered from such a point of view, the characterization of the social revolution here proposed undoubtedly makes of it a violent uprising; for the question whether or not violence is actually used is less significant than the intention; and we have assumed a firm resolution not to shrink from violence should it be necessary for achieving the aims of the movement. To say that the resolution not to shrink from violence is decisive for the character of the social revolution as a violent uprising is in agreement not only with the moral or legal point of view, but also with the ordinary view of the matter. For if a man is determined to use violence in order to achieve his aims, then we may say that to all intents and purposes he adopts a violent attitude, whether or not violence is actually used in a particular case. Admittedly, in trying to predict a future action of this man, we should have to be just as indefinite as Marxism, stating that we do not know whether or not he will actually resort to force. (Thus our characterization agrees in this point with the Marxist view.) But this lack of definiteness clearly disappears if we do not attempt historical prophecy, but try to characterize his attitude in the ordinary way.

Now I wish to make it quite clear that it is this prophecy of a possibly violent revolution which I consider, from the point of view of practical politics, by far the most harmful element in Marxism; and I think it will be better if I briefly explain the reason for my opinion before I proceed with my analysis.

I am not in all cases and under all circumstances against a violent revolution. I believe with some medieval and Renaissance Christian thinkers who taught the admissibility of tyrannicide that there may indeed, under a tyranny, be no other possibility, and that a violent revolution may be justified. But I also believe that any such revolution should have as its only aim the establishment of a democracy; and by a democracy I do not mean something as vague as 'the rule of the people' or 'the rule of the majority', but a set of institutions (among them especially general elections, i.e. the right of the people to dismiss their government) which permit public control of the rulers and their dismissal by the ruled, and which make it possible for the ruled to obtain reforms without using violence, even against the will of the rulers. In other words, the use of violence is justified only under a tyranny which makes reforms without violence impossible, and it should have only one aim, that is, to bring about a state of affairs which makes reforms without violence possible.

I do not believe that we should ever attempt to achieve more than that by violent means. For I believe that such an attempt would involve the risk of destroying all prospects of reasonable reform. The prolonged use of violence may lead in the end to the loss of freedom, since it is liable to bring about not a dispassionate rule of reason, but the rule of the strong man. A violent revolution which tries to attempt more than the destruction of tyranny is at least as likely to bring about another tyranny as it is likely to achieve its real aims.

There is only one further use of violence in political quarrels which I should consider justified. I mean the resistance, once democracy has been attained, to any attack (whether from within or without the state) against the democratic constitution and the use of democratic methods. Any such attack, especially if it comes from the government in power, or if it is tolerated by it, should be resisted by all loyal citizens, even to the use of violence. In fact, the working of democracy rests largely upon the understanding that a government which attempts to misuse its powers and to establish itself as a tyranny (or which tolerates the establishment of a tyranny by anybody else) outlaws itself, and that the citizens have not only a right but also a duty to consider the action of such a government as a crime, and its members as a dangerous gang of criminals. But I hold that such violent resistance to attempts to overthrow democracy should be unambiguously defensive. No shadow of doubt must be left that the only aim of the resistance is to save democracy. A threat of making use of the situation for the establishment of a counter-tyranny is just as criminal as the original attempt to introduce a tyranny; the use of such a threat, even if made with the candid intention of saving democracy by deterring its enemies, would therefore be a very bad method of defending democracy; indeed, such a threat would confuse the ranks of its defenders in an hour of peril, and would therefore be likely to help the enemy.

These remarks indicate that a successful democratic policy demands from the defenders the observance of certain rules. A few such rules will be listed later in this chapter; here I only wish to make it clear why I consider the Marxist attitude towards violence one of the most important points to be dealt with in any analysis of Marx.


According to their interpretation of the social revolution, we may distinguish between two main groups of Marxists, a radical wing and a moderate wing (corresponding roughly, but not precisely [11], to the Communist and the Social Democratic parties).

Marxists often decline to discuss the question whether or not a violent revolution would be 'justified'; they say that they are not moralists, but scientists, and that they do not deal with speculations about what ought to be, but with the facts of what is or will be. In other words, they are historical prophets who confine themselves to the question of what will happen. But let us assume that we have succeeded in persuading them to discuss the justification of the social revolution. In this case, I believe that we should find all Marxists agreeing, in principle, with the old view that violent revolutions are justified only if they are directed against a tyranny. From here on, the opinions of the two wings differ.

The radical wing insists that, according to Marx, all class rule is necessarily a dictatorship, i.e. a tyranny [12]. A real democracy can therefore be attained only by the establishment of a classless society, by overthrowing, if necessary violently, the capitalist dictatorship. The moderate wing does not agree with this view, but insists that democracy can to some extent be realized even under capitalism, and that it is therefore possible to conduct the social revolution by peaceful and gradual reforms. But even this moderate wing insists that such a peaceful development is uncertain; it points out that it is the bourgeoisie which is likely to resort to force, if faced with the prospect of being defeated by the workers on the democratic battlefield; and it contends that in this case the workers would be justified in retaliating, and in establishing their rule by violent means [13]. Both wings claim to represent the true Marxism of Marx, and in a way, both are right. For, as mentioned above, Marx's views in this matter were somewhat ambiguous, because of his historicist approach; over and above this, he seems to have changed his views during the course of his life, starting as a radical and later adopting a more moderate position [14].

I shall examine the radical position first, since it appears to me the only one which fits in with Capital and the whole trend of Marx's prophetic argument. For it is the main doctrine of Capital that the antagonism between capitalist and worker must necessarily increase, and that there is no compromise possible, so that capitalism can only be destroyed, not improved. It will be best to quote the fundamental passage of Capital in which Marx finally sums up the 'historical tendency of capitalist accumulation'. He writes [15]: 'Along with the steady decrease in the number of capitalist magnates who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this development, there grows the extent of misery, oppression, servitude, degradation, and exploitation; but at the same time, there rises the rebellious indignation of the working class which is steadily growing in number, and which is being disciplined, unified, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist method of production. Ultimately, the monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production which has flourished with it, and under it. Both the centralization in a few hands of the means of production, and the social organization of labour, reach a point where their capitalist cloak becomes a strait-jacket. It bursts asunder. The hour of capitalist private property has struck. The expropriators are expropriated.'

In view of this fundamental passage, there can be little doubt that the core of Marx's teaching in Capital was the impossibility of reforming capitalism, and the prophecy of its violent overthrow; a doctrine corresponding to that of the radical wing.
And this doctrine fits into our prophetic argument as well as can be. For if we grant not only the premise of the second step but the first conclusion as well, then the prophecy of the social revolution would indeed follow, in accordance with the passage we have quoted from Capital. (And the victory of the workers would follow too, as pointed out in the last chapter.) Indeed, it seems hard to envisage a fully united and class-conscious working class which would not in the end, if their misery cannot be mitigated by any other means, make a determined attempt to overthrow the social order. But this does not, of course, save the second conclusion. For we have already shown that the first conclusion is invalid; and from the premise alone, from the theory of increasing wealth and misery, the inevitability of the social revolution cannot be derived. As pointed out in our analysis of the first conclusion, all we can say is that rebellious outbreaks may be unavoidable; but since we can be sure neither of class unity nor of a developed class consciousness among the workers, we cannot identify such outbreaks with the social revolution. (They need not be victorious either, so that the assumption that they represent the social revolution would not fit in with the third step.)

As opposed to the radical position which at least fits quite well into the prophetic argument, the moderate position destroys it completely. But as was said before, it too has the support of Marx's authority. Marx lived long enough to see reforms carried out which, according to his theory, should have been impossible. But it never occurred to him that these improvements in the workers' lot were at the same time refutations of his theory. His ambiguous historicist view of the social revolution permitted him to interpret these reforms as its prelude [16] or even as its beginning. As Engels tells us [17], Marx reached the conclusion that in England, at any rate, 'the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means. He certainly never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling class to submit, without a "pro-slavery rebellion", to this peaceful and legal revolution'. This report agrees with a letter [18] in which Marx wrote, only three years before his death: 'My party . . . considers an English revolution not necessary but — according to historic precedents — possible.' It should be noted that in the first at least of these statements, the theory of the 'moderate wing' is clearly expressed; the theory, namely, that should the ruling class not submit, violence would be unavoidable.

These moderate theories seem to me to destroy the whole prophetic argument [19]. They imply the possibility of a compromise, of a gradual reform of capitalism, and therefore, of a decreasing class-antagonism. But the sole basis of the prophetic argument is the assumption of an increasing class-antagonism. There is no logical necessity why a gradual reform, achieved by compromise, should lead to the complete destruction of the capitalist system; why the workers, who have learned by experience that they can improve their lot by gradual reform, should not prefer to stick to this method, even if it does not yield 'complete victory', i.e. the submission of the ruling class; why they should not compromise with the bourgeoisie and leave it in possession of the means of production rather than risk all their gains by making demands liable to lead to violent clashes. Only if we assume that 'the proletarians have nothing to lose but their fetters' [20], only if we assume that the law of increasing misery is valid, or that it at least makes improvements impossible, only then can we prophesy that the workers will be forced to make an attempt to overthrow the whole system. An evolutionary interpretation of the 'social revolution' thus destroys the whole Marxist argument, from the first step to the last; all that is left of Marxism would be the historicist approach. If an historical prophecy is still attempted, then it must be based upon an entirely new argument.

If we try to construct such a modified argument in accordance with Marx's later views and with those of the moderate wing, preserving as much of the original theory as possible, then we arrive at an argument based entirely upon the claim that the working class represents now, or will one day represent, the majority of the people. The argument would run like this. Capitalism will be transformed by a 'social revolution', by which we now mean nothing but the advance of the class struggle between capitalists and workers. This revolution may either proceed by gradual and democratic methods, or it may be violent, or it may be gradual and violent in alternate stages. All this will depend upon the resistance of the bourgeoisie. But in any case, and particularly if the development is a peaceful one, it must end with the workers assuming 'the position of the ruling class' [21], as the Manifesto says; they must 'win the battle of democracy'; for 'the proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority'.

It is important to realize that even in this moderate and modified form, the prediction is untenable. The reason is this. The theory of increasing misery must be given up if the possibility of gradual reform is admitted; but with it, even the semblance of a justification for the assertion that the industrial workers must one day form the 'immense majority' disappears. I do not wish to imply that this assertion would really follow from the Marxist theory of increasing misery, since this theory has never taken sufficient heed of the farmers and peasants. But if the law of increasing misery, supposed to reduce the middle class to the level of the proletariat, is invalid, then we must be prepared to find that a very considerable middle class continues to exist (or that a new middle class has arisen) and that it may co-operate with the other non-proletarian classes against a bid for power by the workers; and nobody can say for certain what the outcome of such a contest would be. Indeed, statistics no longer show any tendency for the number of industrial workers to increase in relation to the other classes of the population. There is, rather, the opposite tendency, in spite of the fact that the accumulation of instruments of production continues. This fact alone refutes the validity of the modified prophetic argument. All that remains of it is the important observation (which is, however, not up to the pretentious standards of a historicist prophecy) that social reforms are carried out largely [22] under the pressure of the oppressed, or (if this term is preferred) under the pressure of class struggle; that is to say, that the emancipation of the oppressed will be largely the achievement of the oppressed themselves [23]. IV The prophetic argument is untenable, and irreparable, in all its interpretations, whether radical or moderate.
But for a full understanding of this situation, it is not enough to refute the modified prophecy; it is also necessary to examine the ambiguous attitude towards the problem of violence which we can observe in both the radical and the moderate Marxist parties. This attitude has, I assert, a considerable influence upon the question whether or not the 'battle of democracy' will be won; for wherever the moderate Marxist wing has won a general election, or come close to it, one of the reasons seems to have been that they attracted large sections of the middle class. This was due to their humanitarianism, to their stand for freedom and against oppression. But the systematic ambiguity of their attitude towards violence not only tends to neutralize this attraction, but it also directly furthers the interest of the anti- democrats, the anti-humanitarians, the fascists.

There are two closely connected ambiguities in the Marxist doctrine, and both are important from this point of view. The one is an ambiguous attitude towards violence, founded upon the historicist approach. The other is the ambiguous way in which Marxists speak about 'the conquest of political power by the proletariat', as the Manifesto puts it [24]. What does this mean? It may mean, and it is sometimes so interpreted, that the workers' party has the harmless and obvious aim of every democratic party, that of obtaining a majority, and of forming a government. But it may mean, and it is often hinted by Marxists that it does mean, that the party, once in power, intends to entrench itself in this position; that is to say, that it will use its majority vote in such a way as to make it very difficult for others ever to regain power by ordinary democratic means. The difference between these two interpretations is most important. If a party which is at a certain time in the minority plans to suppress the other party, whether by violence or by means of a majority vote, then it recognizes by implication the right of the present majority party to do the same. It loses any moral right to complain about oppression; and, indeed, it plays into the hands of those groups within the present ruling party who wish to suppress the opposition by force.

I may call these two ambiguities briefly the ambiguity of violence and the ambiguity of power-conquest. Both are rooted not only in the vagueness of the historicist approach, but also in the Marxist theory of the state. If the state is, essentially, a class tyranny, then, on the one hand, violence is permissible, and on the other, all that can be done is to replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by that of the proletariat. To worry much about formal democracy merely shows lack of historical sense; after all 'democracy is ... only one of the stages in the course of the historical development', as Lenin says [25].

The two ambiguities play their role in the tactical doctrines of both the radical and the moderate wings. This is understandable, since the systematic use of the ambiguity enables them to extend the realm from which prospective followers may be recruited. This is a tactical advantage which may, however, easily lead to a disadvantage at the most critical moment; it may lead to a split whenever the most radical members think that the hour has struck for taking violent action. The way in which the radical wing may make a systematic use of the ambiguity of violence may be illustrated by the following extracts taken from Parkes' recent critical dissection of Marxism [26]. 'Since the Communist Party of the United States now declares not only that it does not now advocate revolution, but also that it never did advocate revolution, it may be advisable to quote a few sentences from the program of the Communist International (drafted in 1928).' Parkes then quotes among others the following passages from this programme: 'The Conquest of power by the proletariat does not mean peacefully "capturing" the ready-made bourgeois state by means of parliamentary majority ... The conquest of power ... is the violent overthrow of bourgeois power, the destruction of the capitalist state apparatus . . . The Party ... is confronted with the task of leading the masses to a direct attack upon the bourgeois state. This is done by ... propaganda ... and ... mass action ... This mass action includes ... finally, the general strike conjointly with armed insurrection ... The latter form ... which is the supreme form, must be conducted according to the rules of war ...' One sees, from these quotations, that this part of the programme is quite unambiguous; but this does not prevent the party from making a systematic use of the ambiguity of violence, withdrawing, if the tactical situation [27] demands it, towards a non-violent interpretation of the term 'social revolution'; and this in spite of the concluding paragraph of the Manifesto [28] (which is retained by the programme of 1928): 'The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their aims can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all the existing social conditions . . . '

But the way in which the moderate wing has systematically used the ambiguity of violence as well as that of power-conquest is even more important. It has been developed especially by Engels, on the basis of Marx's more moderate views quoted above, and it has become a tactical doctrine which has greatly influenced later developments. The doctrine I have in mind might be presented as follows [29]: We Marxists much prefer a peaceful and democratic development towards socialism, if we can have it. But as political realists we foresee the probability that the bourgeoisie will not quietly stand by when we are within reach of attaining the majority. They will rather attempt to destroy democracy. In this case, we must not flinch, but fight back, and conquer political power. And since this development is a probable one, we must prepare the workers for it; otherwise we should betray our cause. Here is one of Engels' passages [30] on the matter: 'For the moment ... legality ... is working so well in our favour that we should be mad to abandon it as long as it lasts. It remains to be seen whether it will not be the bourgeoisie . . . which will abandon it first in order to crush us with violence. Take the first shot, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie! Never doubt it, they will be the first to fire. One fine day the . . . bourgeoisie will grow tired of . . . watching the rapidly increasing strength of socialism, and will have recourse to illegality and violence.' What will happen then is left systematically ambiguous. And this ambiguity is used as a threat; for in later passages, Engels addresses the 'gentlemen of the bourgeoisie' in the following way: 'If . . . you break the constitution ... then the Social Democratic Party is free to act, or to refrain from acting, against you — whatever it likes best. What it is going to do, however, it will hardly give away to you to-day!'

It is interesting to see how widely this doctrine differs from the original conception of Marxism which predicted that the revolution would come as the result of the increasing pressure of capitalism upon the workers, and not as the result of the increasing pressure of a successful working-class movement upon capitalists. This most remarkable change of front [31] shows the influence of the actual social development which turned out to be one of decreasing misery. But Engels' new doctrine, which leaves the revolutionary, or more precisely, the counter-revolutionary, initiative to the ruling class, is tactically absurd, and doomed to failure. The original Marxist theory taught that the workers' revolution will break out at the depth of a depression, i.e. at a moment when the political system is weakened by the breakdown of the economic system, a situation which would contribute greatly to the victory of the workers. But if the 'gentlemen of the bourgeoisie' are invited to take the first shot, is it conceivable that they will be stupid enough not to choose their moment wisely? Will they not make proper preparations for the war they are going to wage? And since, according to the theory, they hold the power, will such a preparation not mean the mobilization of forces against which the workers can have no slightest chance of victory? Such criticism cannot be met by amending the theory so that the workers should not wait until the other side strikes but try to anticipate them, since, on its own assumption, it must always be easy for those in power to be ahead in their preparations — to prepare rifles, if the workers prepare sticks, guns if they prepare rifles, dive bombers if they prepare guns, etc.


But this criticism, practical as it is, and corroborated by experience, is only superficial. The main defects of the doctrine lie deeper. The criticism I now wish to offer attempts to show that both the presupposition of the doctrine and its tactical consequences are such that they are likely to produce exactly that anti-democratic reaction of the bourgeoisie which the theory predicts, yet claims (with ambiguity) to abhor: the strengthening of the anti-democratic element in the bourgeoisie, and, in consequence, civil war. And we know that this may lead to defeat, and to fascism.

The criticism I have in mind is, briefly, that Engels' tactical doctrine, and, more generally, the ambiguities of violence and of power-conquest, make the working of democracy impossible, once they are adopted by an important political party. I base this criticism on the contention that democracy can work only if the main parties adhere to a view of its functions which may be summarized in some rules such as these (cp. also section II of chapter 7):

1. Democracy cannot be fully characterized as the rule of the majority, although the institution of general elections is most important. For a majority might rule in a tyrannical way. (The majority of those who are less than 6 ft. high may decide that the minority of those over 6ft. shall pay all taxes.) In a democracy, the powers of the rulers must be limited; and the criterion of a democracy is this: In a democracy, the rulers — that is to say, the government — can be dismissed by the ruled without bloodshed. Thus if the men in power do not safeguard those institutions which secure to the minority the possibility of working for a peaceful change, then their rule is a tyranny.

2. We need only distinguish between two forms of government, viz. such as possess institutions of this kind, and all others; i.e. democracies and tyrannies.

3. A consistent democratic constitution should exclude only one type of change in the legal system, namely a change which would endanger its democratic character.

4. In a democracy, the full protection of minorities should not extend to those who violate the law, and especially not to those who incite others to the violent overthrow of the democracy [32].

5. A policy of framing institutions to safeguard democracy must always proceed on the assumption that there may be anti- democratic tendencies latent among the ruled as well as among the rulers.

6. If democracy is destroyed, all rights are destroyed. Even if certain economic advantages enjoyed by the ruled should persist, they would persist only on sufferance [33].

7. Democracy provides an invaluable battle-ground for any reasonable reform, since it permits reform without violence. But if the preservation of democracy is not made the first consideration in any particular battle fought out on this battle- ground, then the latent anti-democratic tendencies which are always present (and which appeal to those who suffer under the strain of civilization, as we called it in chapter 10) may bring about a breakdown of democracy. If an understanding of these principles is not yet developed, its development must be fought for. The opposite policy may prove fatal; it may bring about the loss of the most important battle, the battle for democracy itself.

As opposed to such a policy, that of Marxist parties can be characterized as one of making the workers suspicious of democracy. 'In reality the state is nothing more', says Engels [34], 'than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and this holds for a democratic republic no less than for a monarchy.' But such views must produce:

(a) A policy of blaming democracy for all the evils which it does not prevent, instead of recognizing that the democrats are to be blamed, and the opposition usually no less than the majority. (Every opposition has the majority it deserves.)

(b) A policy of educating the ruled to consider the state not as theirs, but as belonging to the rulers.

(c) A policy of telling them that there is only one way to improve things, that of the complete conquest of power. But this neglects the one really important thing about democracy, that it checks and balances power.

Such a policy amounts to doing the work of the enemies of the open society; it provides them with an unwitting fifth column. And against the Manifesto which says [35] ambiguously: 'The first step in the revolution of the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class — to win the battle of democracy', I assert that if this is accepted as the first step, then the battle of democracy will be lost.

These are the general consequences of Engels' tactical doctrines, and of the ambiguities grounded in the theory of the social revolution. Ultimately, they are merely the last consequences of Plato's way of posing the problem of politics by asking 'who should rule the state?' (cp. chapter 7). It is high time for us to learn that the question 'who is to wield the power in the state?' matters only little as compared with the question 'how is the power wielded?' and ' how much power is wielded?' We must learn that in the long run, all political problems are institutional problems, problems of the legal framework rather than of persons, and that progress towards more equality can be safeguarded only by the institutional control of power.  


As in the previous chapter, I shall now illustrate the second step by showing something of the way in which the prophecy has influenced recent historical developments. All political parties have some sort of 'vested interest' in their opponent's unpopular moves. They live by them and are therefore liable to dwell upon, to emphasize, and even to look forward to them. They may even encourage the political mistakes of their opponents as long as they can do so without becoming involved in the responsibility for them. This, together with Engels' theory, has led some Marxist parties to look forward to the political moves made by their opponents against democracy. Instead of fighting such moves tooth and nail, they were pleased to tell their followers: 'See what these people do. That is what they call democracy. That is what they call freedom and equality! Remember it when the day of reckoning comes.' (An ambiguous phrase which may refer to election day or to the day of revolution.) This policy of letting one's opponents expose themselves must, if extended to moves against democracy, lead to disaster. It is a policy of talking big and doing nothing in the face of real and increasing danger to democratic institutions. It is a policy of talking war and acting peace; and it taught the fascists the invaluable method of talking peace and acting war.

There is no doubt about the way in which the ambiguity just mentioned played into the hands of those fascist groups who wanted to destroy democracy. For we must reckon with the possibility that there will be such groups, and that their influence within the so-called bourgeoisie will depend largely on the policy adopted by the workers' parties.

For instance, let us consider more closely the use made in the political struggle of the threat of revolution or even of political strikes (as opposed to wage disputes, etc.). As explained above, the decisive question here would be whether such means are used as offensive weapons or solely for the defence of democracy. Within a democracy, they would be justified as a purely defensive weapon, and when resolutely applied in connection with a defensive and unambiguous demand they have been successfully used in this way. (Remember the quick breakdown of Kapp's putsch.) But if used as an offensive weapon they must lead to a strengthening of the anti-democratic tendencies in the opponent's camp, since they clearly make democracy unworkable. Furthermore, such use must make the weapon ineffective for defence. If you use the whip even when the dog is good, then it won't work if you need it to deter him from being bad. The defence of democracy must consist in making anti-democratic experiments too costly for those who try them; much more costly than a democratic compromise . . . The use by the workers of any kind of non- democratic pressure is likely to lead to a similar, or even to an anti- democratic, counterpressure — to provoke a move against democracy. Such an anti-democratic move on the part of the rulers is, of course, a much more serious and dangerous thing than a similar move on the part of the ruled. It would be the task of the workers to fight this dangerous move resolutely, to stop it in its inconspicuous beginnings. But how can they now fight in the name of democracy? Their own anti-democratic action must provide their enemies, and those of democracy, with an opportunity.

The facts of the development described can, if one wishes, be interpreted differently; they may lead to the conclusion that democracy is 'no good'. This is indeed a conclusion which many Marxists have drawn. After having been defeated in what they believed to be the democratic struggle (which they had lost in the moment they formulated their tactical doctrine), they said: 'We have been too lenient, too humane — next time we will make a really bloody revolution!' It is as if a man who loses a boxing match should conclude: boxing is no good — I should have used a club . . . The fact is that the Marxists taught the theory of class war to the workers, but the practice of it to the reactionary diehards of the bourgeoisie. Marx talked war. His opponents listened attentively; then they began to talk peace and accuse the workers of belligerency; this charge the Marxists could not deny, since class war was their slogan. And the fascists acted.

So far, the analysis mainly covers certain more 'radical' Social Democratic parties who based their policy entirely upon Engels' ambiguous tactical doctrine. The disastrous effects of Engels' tactics were increased in their case by the lack of a practical programme discussed in the last chapter. But the Communists too adopted the tactics here criticized in certain countries and at certain periods, especially where the other workers' parties, for instance the Social Democrats or the Labour Party, observed the democratic rules.

But the position was different with the Communists in so far as they had a programme. It was: 'Copy Russia!' This made them more definite in their revolutionary doctrines as well as in their assertion that democracy merely means the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie [36]. According to this assertion, not much could be lost and something would be gained if that hidden dictatorship became an open one, apparent to all; for this could only bring the revolution nearer [37]. They even hoped that a totalitarian dictatorship in Central Europe would speed up matters. After all, since the revolution was bound to come, fascism could only be one of the means of bringing it about; and this was more particularly so since the revolution was clearly long overdue. Russia had already had it in spite of its backward economic conditions. Only the vain hopes created by democracy [38] were holding it back in the more advanced countries. Thus the destruction of democracy through the fascists could only promote the revolution by achieving the ultimate disillusionment of the workers in regard to democratic methods. With this, the radical wing of Marxism [39] felt that it had discovered the 'essence' and the 'true historical role' of fascism. Fascism was, essentially, the last stand of the bourgeoisie. Accordingly, the Communists did not fight when the fascists seized power. (Nobody expected the Social Democrats to fight.) For the Communists were sure that the proletarian revolution was overdue and that the fascist interlude, necessary for its speeding up [40], could not last longer than a few months. Thus no action was required from the Communists. They were harmless. There was never a 'communist danger' to the fascist conquest of power. As Einstein once emphasized, of all organized groups of the community, it was only the Church, or rather a section of the Church, which seriously offered resistance.  
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Fri Feb 01, 2019 2:23 am

Part 1 of 2

20: Capitalism and its Fate

According to Marxist doctrine, capitalism is labouring under inner contradictions that threaten to bring about its downfall. A minute analysis of these contradictions and of the historical movement which they force upon society constitutes the first step of Marx's prophetic argument. This step is not only the most important of his whole theory, it is also the one on which he spent most of his labour, since practically the whole of the three volumes of Capital (over 2,200 pages in the original edition [1]) is devoted to its elaboration. It is also the least abstract step of the argument since it is based upon a descriptive analysis, supported by statistics, of the economic system of his time — that of unrestrained capitalism [2]. As Lenin puts it: 'Marx deduces the inevitability of the transformation of capitalist society into socialism wholly and exclusively from the economic law of the movement of contemporary society.'

Before proceeding to explain in some detail the first step of Marx's prophetic argument, I shall try to describe its main ideas in the form of a very brief outline.

Marx believes that capitalist competition forces the capitalist's hand. It forces the capitalist to accumulate capital. By doing so, he works against his own long-term economic interests (since the accumulation of capital is liable to bring about a fall of his profits). But although working against his own personal interest, he works in the interest of the historical development; he works, unwittingly, for economic progress, and for socialism. This is due to the fact that accumulation of capital means (a) increased productivity; increase of wealth; and concentration of wealth in a few hands; (b) increase of pauperism and misery; the workers are kept on subsistence or starvation wages, mainly by the fact that the surplus of workers, called the 'industrial reserve army', keeps the wages on the lowest possible level. The trade cycle prevents, for any length of time, the absorption of the surplus of workers by the growing industry. This cannot be altered by the capitalists, even if they wish to do so; for the falling rate of their profits makes their own economic position much too precarious for any effective action. In this way, capitalist accumulation turns out to be a suicidal and self-contradictory process, even though it fosters the technical, economic, and historical progress towards socialism.


The premises of the first step are the laws of capitalist competition, and of the accumulation of the means of production. The conclusion is the law of increasing wealth and misery. I begin my discussion with an explanation of these premises and conclusions.

Under capitalism, competition between the capitalists plays an important role. 'The battle of competition', as analysed by Marx in Capital [3], is carried out by selling the commodities produced, if possible at a lower price than the competitor could afford to accept. 'But the cheapness of a commodity', Marx explains, 'depends in its turn, other things being equal, upon the productivity of labour; and this, again, depends on the scale of production.' For production on a very large scale is in general capable of employing more specialized machinery, and a greater quantity of it; this increases the productivity of the workers, and permits the capitalist to produce, and to sell, at a lower price. 'Large capitalists, therefore, get the better of small ones . . . Competition always ends with the downfall of many lesser capitalists and with the transition of their capital into the hands of the conqueror.' (This movement is, as Marx points out, much accelerated by the credit system.)

According to Marx's analysis, the process described, accumulation due to competition, has two different aspects. One of them is that the capitalist is forced to accumulate or concentrate more and more capital, in order to survive; this means in practice investing more and more capital in more and more as well as newer and newer machinery, thus continually increasing the productivity of his workers. The other aspect of the accumulation of capital is the concentration of more and more wealth in the hands of the various capitalists, and of the capitalist class; and along with it goes the reduction in the number of capitalists, a movement called by Marx the centralization [4] of capital (in contradistinction to mere accumulation or concentration).

Now three of these terms, competition, accumulation, and increasing productivity, indicate the fundamental tendencies of all capitalist production, according to Marx; they are the tendencies to which I alluded when I described the premise of the first step as 'the laws of capitalist competition and of accumulation'. The fourth and the fifth terms, however, concentration and centralization, indicate a tendency which forms one part of the conclusion of the first step; for they describe a tendency towards a continuous increase of wealth, and its centralization in fewer and fewer hands. The other part of the conclusion, however, the law of increasing misery, is only reached by a much more complicated argument. But before beginning an explanation of this argument, I must first explain this second conclusion itself.

The term 'increasing misery' may mean, as used by Marx, two different things. It may be used in order to describe the extent of misery, indicating that it is spread over an increasing number of people; or it may be used in order to indicate an increase in the intensity of the suffering of the people. Marx undoubtedly believed that misery was growing both in extent and in intensity. This, however, is more than he needed in order to carry his point. For the purpose of the prophetic argument, a wider interpretation of the term 'increasing misery' would do just as well (if not better [5]); an interpretation, namely, according to which the extent of misery increases, while its intensity may or may not increase, but at any rate does not show any marked decrease.

But there is a further and much more important comment to be made. Increasing misery, to Marx, involves fundamentally an increasing exploitation of the employed workers; not only in numbers but also in intensity. It must be admitted that in addition it involves an increase in the suffering as well as in the numbers of the unemployed, called [6] by Marx the (relative) 'surplus population' or the 'industrial reserve army'. But the function of the unemployed, in this process, is to exert pressure upon the employed workers, thus assisting the capitalists in their efforts to make profit out of the employed workers, to exploit them. 'The industrial reserve army', Marx writes [7], 'belongs to capitalism just as if its members had been reared by the capitalists at their own cost. For its own varying needs, capital creates an ever-ready supply of exploitable human material . . . During periods of depression and of semi-prosperity, the industrial reserve army keeps up its pressure upon the ranks of the employed workers; and during periods of excessive production and boom, it serves to bridle their aspirations.' Increasing misery, according to Marx, is essentially the increasing exploitation of labour power; and since labour power of the unemployed is not exploited, they can serve in this process only as unpaid assistants of the capitalists in the exploitation of the employed workers. The point is important since later Marxists have often referred to unemployment as one of the empirical facts that verify the prophecy that misery tends to increase; but unemployment can be claimed to corroborate Marx's theory only if it occurs together with increased exploitation of the employed workers, i.e. with long hours of work and with low real wages.

This may suffice to explain the term 'increasing misery'. But it is still necessary to explain the law of increasing misery which Marx claimed to have discovered. By this I mean the doctrine of Marx on which the whole prophetic argument hinges; namely, the doctrine that capitalism cannot possibly afford to decrease the misery of the workers, since the mechanism of capitalist accumulation keeps the capitalist under a strong economic pressure which he is forced to pass on to the workers if he is not to succumb. This is why the capitalists cannot compromise, why they cannot meet any important demand of the workers, even if they wished to do so; this is why 'capitalism cannot be reformed but can only be destroyed' [8]. It is clear that this law is the decisive conclusion of the first step. The other conclusion, the law of increasing wealth, would be a harmless matter, if only it were possible for the increase of wealth to be shared by the workers. Marx's contention that this is impossible will therefore be the main subject of our critical analysis. But before proceeding to a presentation and criticism of Marx's arguments in favour of this contention, I may briefly comment on the first part of the conclusion, the theory of increasing wealth.

The tendency towards the accumulation and concentration of wealth, which Marx observed, can hardly be questioned. His theory of increasing productivity is also, in the main, unexceptionable. Although there may be limits to the beneficial effects exerted by the growth of an enterprise upon its productivity, there are hardly any limits to the beneficial effects of the improvement and accumulation of machinery. But in regard to the tendency towards the centralization of capital in fewer and fewer hands, matters are not quite so simple. Undoubtedly, there is a tendency in that direction, and we may grant that under an unrestrained capitalist system there are few counteracting forces. Not much can be said against this part of Marx's analysis as a description of an unrestrained capitalism. But considered as a prophecy, it is less tenable. For we know that now there are many means by which legislation can intervene. Taxation and death duties can be used most effectively to counteract centralization, and they have been so used. And anti-trust legislation can also be used, although perhaps with less effect. To evaluate the force of Marx's prophetic argument we must consider the possibility of great improvements in this direction; and as in previous chapters, I must declare that the argument on which Marx bases this prophecy of centralization or of a decrease in the number of capitalists is inconclusive.

Having explained the main premises and conclusions of the first step, and having disposed of the first conclusion, we can now concentrate our attention entirely upon Marx's derivation of the other conclusion, the prophetic law of increasing misery. Three different trends of thought may be distinguished in his attempts to establish this prophecy. They will be dealt with in the next four sections of this chapter under the headings: II: the theory of value; III: the effect of the surplus population upon wages; IV: the trade cycle; V: the effects of the falling rate of profit.


Marx's theory of value, usually considered by Marxists as well as by anti- Marxists as a corner-stone of the Marxist creed, is in my opinion one of its rather unimportant parts; indeed, the sole reason why I am going to treat of it, instead of proceeding at once to the next section, is that it is generally held to be important, and that I cannot defend my reasons for differing from this opinion without discussing the theory. But I wish to make it clear at once that in holding that the theory of value is a redundant part of Marxism, I am defending Marx rather than attacking him. For there is little doubt that the many critics who have shown that the theory of value is very weak in itself are in the main perfectly right. But even if they were wrong, it would only strengthen the position of Marxism if it could be established that its decisive historico-political doctrines can be developed entirely independently of such a controversial theory.

The idea of the so-called labour theory of value [9], adapted by Marx for his purposes from suggestions he found in his predecessors (he refers especially to Adam Smith and David Ricardo), is simple enough. If you need a carpenter, you must pay him by the hour. If you ask him why a certain job is more expensive than another one, he will point out that there is more work in it. In addition to the labour, you must pay of course for the timber. But if you go into this a little more closely, then you find that you are, indirectly, paying for the labour involved in foresting, felling, transporting, sawing, etc. This consideration suggests the general theory that you have to pay for the job, or for any commodity you may buy, roughly in proportion to the amount of work in it, i.e. to the number of labour hours necessary for its production.

I say 'roughly' because the actual prices fluctuate. But there is, or so at least it appears, always something more stable behind these prices, a kind of average price about which the actual prices oscillate [10], christened the 'exchange-value' or, briefly, the 'value' of the thing. Using this general idea, Marx defined the value of a commodity as the average number of labour hours necessary for its production (or for its reproduction).

The next idea, that of the theory of surplus value, is nearly as simple. It too was adapted by Marx from his predecessors. (Engels asserts [11] — perhaps mistakenly, but I shall follow his presentation of the matter — that Marx's main source was Ricardo.) The theory of surplus value is an attempt, within the limits of the labour theory of value, to answer the question: 'How does the capitalist make his profit?' If we assume that the commodities produced in his factory are sold on the market at their true value, i.e. according to the number of labour hours necessary for their production, then the only way in which the capitalist can make a profit is by paying his workers less than the full value of their product. Thus the wages received by the worker represent a value which is not equal to the number of hours he has worked. And we can accordingly divide his working day into two parts, the hours he has spent in producing value equivalent to his wages and the hours he has spent in producing value for the capitalist [12]. And correspondingly, we can divide the whole value produced by the worker into two parts, the value equal to his wages, and the rest, which is called surplus value. This surplus value is appropriated by the capitalist and is the sole basis for his profit.

So far, the story is simple enough. But now there arises a theoretical difficulty. The whole value theory has been introduced in order to explain the actual prices at which all commodities are exchanged; and it is still assumed that the capitalist is able to obtain on the market the full value of his product, i.e. a price that corresponds to the total number of hours spent on it. But it looks as if the worker does not get the full price of the commodity which he sells to the capitalist on the labour market. It looks as if he is cheated, or robbed; at any rate, as if he is not paid according to the general law assumed by the value theory, namely, that all actual prices paid are, at least in a first approximation, determined by the value of the commodity. (Engels says that the problem was realized by the economists who belonged to what Marx called 'the school of Ricardo'; and he asserts [13] that their inability to solve it led to the breakdown of this school.) There appeared what seemed a rather obvious solution of the difficulty. The capitalist possesses a monopoly of the means of production, and this superior economic power can be used for bullying the worker into an agreement which violates the law of value. But this solution (which I consider quite a plausible description of the situation) utterly destroys the labour theory of value. For it now turns out that certain prices, namely, wages, do not correspond to their values, not even in a first approximation. And this opens up the possibility that this may be true of other prices for similar reasons.

Such was the situation when Marx entered the scene in order to save the labour theory of value from destruction. With the help of another simple but brilliant idea he succeeded in showing that the theory of surplus value was not only compatible with the labour theory of value but that it could also be rigidly deduced from the latter. In order to achieve this deduction, we have only to ask ourselves: what is, precisely, the commodity which the worker sells to the capitalist? Marx's reply is: not his labour hours, but his whole labour power. What the capitalist buys or hires on the labour market is the labour power of the worker. Let us assume, tentatively, that this commodity is sold at its true value. What is its value? According to the definition of value, the value of labour power is the average number of labour hours necessary for its production or reproduction. But this is, clearly, nothing but the number of hours necessary for producing the worker's (and his family's) means of subsistence.

Marx thus arrived at the following result. The true value of the worker's whole labour power is equal to the labour hours needed for producing the means of his subsistence. Labour power is sold for this price to the capitalist. If the worker is able to work longer than that, then his surplus labour belongs to the buyer or hirer of his power. The greater the productivity of labour, that is to say, the more a worker can produce per hour, the fewer hours will be needed for the production of his subsistence, and the more hours remain for his exploitation. This shows that the basis of capitalist exploitation is a high productivity of labour. If the worker could produce in a day no more than his own daily needs, then exploitation would be impossible without violating the law of value; it would be possible only by means of cheating, robbery, or murder. But once the productivity of labour has, by the introduction of machinery, risen so high that one man can produce much more than he needs, capitalist exploitation becomes possible. It is possible even in a capitalist society which is 'ideal' in the sense that every commodity, including labour power, is bought and sold at its true value. In such a society, the injustice of exploitation does not lie in the fact that the worker is not paid a 'just price' for his labour power, but rather in the fact that he is so poor that he is forced to sell his labour power, while the capitalist is rich enough to buy labour power in great quantities, and to make profit out of it.

By this derivation [14] of the theory of surplus value, Marx saved the labour theory of value from destruction for the time being; and in spite of the fact that I regard the whole 'value problem' (in the sense of an 'objective' true value round which the prices oscillate) as irrelevant, I am very ready to admit that this was a theoretical success of the first order. But Marx had done more than save a theory originally advanced by 'bourgeois economists'. With one stroke, he gave a theory of exploitation and a theory explaining why the workers' wages tend to oscillate about the subsistence (or starvation) level. But the greatest success was that he could now give an explanation, one in keeping with his economic theory of the legal system, of the fact that the capitalist mode of production tended to adopt the legal cloak of liberalism. For the new theory led him to the conclusion that once the introduction of new machinery had multiplied the productivity of labour, there arose the possibility of a new form of exploitation which used a free market instead of brutal force, and which was based on the 'formal' observance of justice, equality before the law, and freedom. The capitalist system, he asserted, was not only a system of 'free competition', but it was also 'maintained by the exploitation of the labour of others, but of labour which, in a formal sense, is free' [15].

It is impossible for me to enter here into a detailed account of the really astonishing number of further applications made by Marx of his value theory. But it is also unnecessary, since my criticism of the theory will show the way in which the value theory can be eliminated from all these investigations. I am now going to develop this criticism; its three main points are (a) that Marx's value theory does not suffice to explain exploitation, (b) that the additional assumptions which are necessary for such an explanation turn out to be sufficient, so that the theory of value turns out to be redundant, (c) that Marx's theory of value is an essentialist or metaphysical one.

(a) The fundamental law of the theory of value is the law that the prices of practically all commodities, including wages, are determined by their values, or more precisely, that they are at least in a first approximation proportional to the labour hours necessary for their production. Now this 'law of value', as I may call it, at once raises a problem. Why does it hold? Obviously, neither the buyer nor the seller of the commodity can see, at a glance, how many hours are necessary for its production; and even if they could, it would not explain the law of value. For it is clear that the buyer simply buys as cheaply as he can, and that the seller charges as much as he can get. This, it appears, must be one of the fundamental assumptions of any theory of market prices. In order to explain the law of value, it would be our task to show why the buyer is unlikely to succeed in buying below, and the seller in selling above, the 'value' of a commodity. This problem was seen more or less clearly by those who believed in the labour theory of value, and their reply was this. For the purpose of simplification, and in order to obtain a first approximation, let us assume perfectly free competition, and for the same reason let us consider only such commodities as can be manufactured in practically unlimited quantities (if only the labour were available). Now let us assume that the price of such a commodity is above its value; this would mean that excessive profits can be made in this particular branch of production. It would encourage various manufacturers to produce this commodity, and competition would lower the price. The opposite process would lead to an increase in the price of a commodity which is sold below its value. Thus there will be oscillations of price, and these will tend to centre about the values of commodities. In other words, it is a mechanism of supply and demand which, under free competition, tends to give force [16] to the law of value.

Such considerations as these can be found frequently in Marx, for instance, in the third volume of Capital [17], where he tries to explain why there is a tendency for all profits in the various branches of manufacture to approximate, and adjust themselves, to a certain average profit. And they are also used in the first volume, especially in order to show why wages are kept low, near subsistence level, or, what amounts to the same, just above starvation level. It is clear that with wages below this level, the workers would actually starve, and the supply of labour power on the labour market would disappear. But as long as men live, they will reproduce; and Marx attempts to show in detail (as we shall see in section IV), why the mechanism of capitalist accumulation must create a surplus population, an industrial reserve army. Thus as long as wages are just above starvation level there will always be not only a sufficient but even an excessive supply of labour power on the labour market; and it is this excessive supply which, according to Marx, prevents the rise of wages [18]: 'The industrial reserve army keeps up its pressure upon the ranks of the employed workers; ... thus surplus population is the background in front of which there operates the law of supply and demand of labour. Surplus population restricts the range within which this law is permitted to operate to such limits as best suit the capitalist greed for exploitation and domination.'

(b) Now this passage shows that Marx himself realized the necessity of backing up the law of value by a more concrete theory; a theory which shows, in any particular case, how the laws of supply and demand bring about the effect which has to be explained; for instance, starvation wages. But if these laws are sufficient to explain these effects, then we do not need the labour theory of value at all, whether or not it may be tenable as a first approximation (which I do not think it is). Furthermore, as Marx realized, the laws of supply and demand are necessary for explaining all those cases in which there is no free competition, and in which his law of value is therefore clearly out of operation; for instance, where a monopoly can be used to keep prices constantly above their 'values'. Marx considered such cases as exceptions, which is hardly the right view; but however this may be, the case of monopolies shows not only that the laws of supply and demand are necessary to supplement his law of value, but also that they are more generally applicable.

On the other hand, it is clear that the laws of supply and demand are not only necessary but also sufficient to explain all the phenomena of 'exploitation' which Marx observed — the phenomena, more precisely, of the misery of the workers side by side with the wealth of the entrepreneurs — if we assume, as Marx did, a free labour market as well as a chronically excessive supply of labour. (Marx's theory of this excessive supply will be discussed more fully in section IV below.) As Marx shows, it is clear enough that the workers will be forced, under such circumstances, to work long hours at low wages, in other words, to permit the capitalist to 'appropriate the best part of the fruits of their labour'. And in this trivial argument, which is part of Marx's own, there is no need even to mention 'value'.

Thus the value theory turns out to be a completely redundant part of Marx's theory of exploitation; and this holds independently of the question whether or not the value theory is true. But the part of Marx's theory of exploitation which remains after the value theory is eliminated is undoubtedly correct, provided we accept the doctrine of surplus population. It is unquestionably true that (in the absence of a redistribution of wealth through the state) the existence of a surplus population must lead to starvation wages, and to provocative differences in the standard of living.

(What is not so clear, and not explained by Marx either, is why the supply of labour should continue to exceed the demand. For if it is so profitable to 'exploit' labour, how is it, then, that the capitalists are not forced, by competition, to try to raise their profits by employing more labour? In other words, why do they not compete against each other on the labour market, thereby raising the wages to the point where they begin to become no longer sufficiently profitable, so that it is no longer possible to speak of exploitation? Marx would have answered — see section V, below — 'Because competition forces them to invest more and more capital in machinery, so that they cannot increase that part of their capital which they use for wages'. But this answer is unsatisfactory since even if they spend their capital on machinery, they can do so only by buying labour to build machinery, or by causing others to buy such labour, thus increasing the demand for labour. It appears, for such reasons, that the phenomena of 'exploitation' which Marx observed were due, not, as he believed, to the mechanism of a perfectly competitive market, but to other factors — especially to a mixture of low productivity and imperfectly competitive markets. But a detailed and satisfactory explanation [19] of the phenomena appears still to be missing.)

(c) Before leaving this discussion of the value theory and the part played by it in Marx's analysis, I wish to comment briefly upon another of its aspects. The whole idea — which was not Marx's invention — that there is something behind the prices, an objective or real or true value of which prices are only a 'form of appearance' [20], shows clearly enough the influence of Platonic Idealism with its distinction between a hidden essential or true reality, and an accidental or delusive appearance. Marx, it must be said, made a great effort [21] to destroy this mystical character of objective 'value', but he did not succeed. He tried to be realistic, to accept only something observable and important — labour hours — as the reality which appears in the form of price; and it cannot be questioned that the number of labour hours necessary for producing a commodity, i.e. its Marxian 'value', is an important thing. And in a way, it surely is a purely verbal problem whether or not we should call these labour hours the 'value' of the commodity. But such a terminology may become most misleading and strangely unrealistic, especially if we assume with Marx that the productivity of labour increases. For it has been pointed out by Marx himself [22] that, with increasing productivity, the value of all commodities decreases, and that an increase is therefore possible in real wages as well as real profits, i.e. in the commodities consumed by workers and by capitalists respectively, together with a decrease in the 'value' of wages and of profits, i.e. in the hours spent on them. Thus wherever we find real progress, such as shorter working hours and a greatly improved standard of living of the workers (quite apart from a higher income in money [23], even if calculated in gold), then the workers could at the same time bitterly complain that the Marxian 'value', the real essence or substance of their income, is dwindling away, since the labour hours necessary for its production have been reduced. (An analogous complaint might be made by the capitalists.) All this is admitted by Marx himself; and it shows how misleading the value terminology must be, and how little it represents the real social experience of the workers. In the labour theory of value, the Platonic 'essence' has become entirely divorced from experience [24] ...
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Fri Feb 01, 2019 2:24 am

Part 2 of 2


After eliminating Marx's labour theory of value and his theory of surplus value, we can, of course, still retain his analysis (see the end of (a) in section II) of the pressure exerted by the surplus population upon the wages of the employed workers. It cannot be denied that, if there is a free labour market and a surplus population, i.e. widespread and chronic unemployment (and there can be no doubt that unemployment played its role in Marx's time and ever since), then wages cannot rise above starvation wages; and under the same assumption, together with the doctrine of accumulation developed above, Marx, although not justified in proclaiming a law of increasing misery, was right in asserting that, in a world of high profits and increasing wealth, starvation wages and a life of misery might be the permanent lot of the workers.

I think that, even if Marx's analysis was defective, his effort to explain the phenomenon of 'exploitation' deserves the greatest respect. (As mentioned at the end of (b) in the foregoing section, no really satisfactory theory seems to exist even now.) It must be said, of course, that Marx was wrong when he prophesied that the conditions which he observed were to be permanent if not changed by a revolution, and even more when he prophesied that they would get worse. The facts have refuted these prophecies. Moreover, even if we could admit the validity of his analysis for an unrestrained, a noninterventionist system, even then would his prophetic argument be inconclusive. For the tendency towards increasing misery operates, according to Marx's own analysis, only under a system in which the labour market is free — in a perfectly unrestrained capitalism. But once we admit the possibility of trade unions, of collective bargaining, of strikes, then the assumptions of the analysis are no longer applicable, and the whole prophetic argument breaks down. According to Marx's own analysis, we should have to expect that such a development would either be suppressed, or that it would be equivalent to a social revolution. For collective bargaining can oppose capital by establishing a kind of monopoly of labour; it can prevent the capitalist from using the industrial reserve army for the purpose of keeping wages down; and in this way it can force the capitalists to content themselves with lower profits. We see here why the cry 'Workers, unite! ' was, from a Marxian point of view, indeed the only possible reply to an unrestrained capitalism.

But we see, too, why this cry must open up the whole problem of state interference, and why it is likely to lead to the end of the unrestrained system, and to a new system, interventionism [25], which may develop in very different directions. For it is almost inevitable that the capitalists will contest the workers' right to unite, maintaining that unions must endanger the freedom of competition on the labour market. Non- interventionism thus faces the problem (it is part of the paradox of freedom [26]): Which freedom should the state protect? The freedom of the labour market, or the freedom of the poor to unite? Whichever decision is taken, it leads to state intervention, to the use of organized political power, of the state as well as of unions, in the field of economic conditions. It leads, under all circumstances, to an extension of the economic responsibility of the state, whether or not this responsibility is consciously accepted. And this means that the assumptions on which Marx's analysis is based must disappear.

The derivation of the historical law of increasing misery is thus invalid. All that remains is a moving description of the misery of the workers which prevailed a hundred years ago, and a valiant attempt to explain it with the help of what we may call, with Lenin [27], Marx's 'economic law of the movement of contemporary society' (that is, of the unrestrained capitalism of a hundred years ago). But in so far as it is meant as an historical prophecy, and in so far as it is used to deduce the 'inevitability' of certain historical developments, the derivation is invalid.


The significance of Marx's analysis rests very largely upon the fact that a surplus population actually existed at his time, and down to our own day (a fact which has hardly received a really satisfactory explanation yet, as I said before). So far, however, we have not yet discussed Marx's argument in support of his contention that it is the mechanism of capitalist production itself that always produces the surplus population which it needs for keeping down the wages of the employed workers. But this theory is not only ingenious and interesting in itself; it contains at the same time Marx's theory of the trade cycle and of general depressions, a theory which clearly bears upon the prophecy of the crash of the capitalist system because of the intolerable misery which it must produce. In order to make as strong a case for Marx's theory as I can, I have altered it slightly [28] (namely, by introducing a distinction between two kinds of machinery, the one for the mere extension, and the other for the intensification, of production). But this alteration need not arouse the suspicion of Marxist readers; for I am not going to criticize the theory at all.

The amended theory of surplus population and of the trade cycle may be outlined as follows. The accumulation of capital means that the capitalist spends part of his profits on new machinery; this may also be expressed by saying that only a part of his real profits consists in goods for consumption, while part of it consists in machines. These machines, in turn, may be intended either for the expansion of industry, for new factories, etc., or they may be intended for intensifying production by increasing the productivity of labour in the existing industries. The former kind of machinery makes possible an increase of employment, the latter kind has the effect of making workers superfluous, of 'setting the workers at liberty' as this process was called in Marx's day. (Nowadays it is sometimes called 'technological unemployment'.) Now the mechanism of capitalist production, as envisaged by the amended Marxist theory of the trade cycle, works roughly like this. If we assume, to start with, that for some reason or other there is a general expansion of industry, then a part of the industrial reserve army will be absorbed, the pressure upon the labour market will be relieved, and wages will show a tendency to rise. A period of prosperity begins. But the moment wages rise, certain mechanical improvements which intensify production and which were previously unprofitable because of the low wages may become profitable (even though the cost of such machinery will begin to rise). Thus more machinery will be produced of the kind that 'sets the workers at liberty'. As long as these machines are only in the process of being produced, prosperity continues, or increases. But once the new machines are themselves beginning to produce, the picture changes. (This change is, according to Marx, accentuated by a fall in the rate of profit, to be discussed under (V), below.) Workers will be 'set at liberty', i.e. condemned to starvation. But the disappearance of many consumers must lead to a collapse of the home market. In consequence, great numbers of machines in the expanded factories become idle (the less efficient machinery first), and this leads to a further increase of unemployment and a further collapse of the market. The fact that much machinery now lies idle means that much capital has become worthless, that many capitalists cannot fulfil their obligations; thus a financial crisis develops, leading to complete stagnation in the production of capital goods, etc. But while the depression (or, as Marx calls it, the 'crisis') takes its course, the conditions are ripening for a recovery. These conditions mainly consist in the growth of the industrial reserve army and the consequent readiness of the workers to accept starvation wages. At very low wages, production becomes profitable even at the low prices of a depressed market; and once production starts, the capitalist begins again to accumulate, to buy machinery. Since wages are very low, he will find that it is not yet profitable to use new machinery (perhaps invented in the meanwhile) of the type which sets the workers at liberty. At first he will rather buy machinery with the plan of extending production. This leads slowly to an extension of employment and to a recovery of the home market. Prosperity is coming once again. Thus we are back at our starting point. The cycle is closed, and the process can start once more.

This is the amended Marxist theory of unemployment and of the trade cycle. As I have promised, I am not going to criticize it. The theory of trade cycles is a very difficult affair, and we certainly do not yet know enough about it (at least I don't). It is very likely that the theory outlined is incomplete, and, especially, that such aspects as the existence of a monetary system based partly upon credit creation, and the effects of hoarding, are not sufficiently taken into account. But however this may be, the trade cycle is a fact which cannot easily be argued away, and it is one of the greatest of Marx's merits to have emphasized its significance as a social problem. But although all this must be admitted, we may criticize the prophecy which Marx attempts to base upon his theory of the trade cycle. First of all, he asserts that depressions will become increasingly worse, not only in their scope but also in the intensity of the workers' suffering. But he gives no argument to support this (apart, perhaps, from the theory of the fall in the rate of profit, which will be discussed presently). And if we look at actual developments, then we must say that terrible as are the effects and especially the psychological effects of unemployment even in those countries where the workers are now insured against it, there is no doubt that the workers' sufferings were incomparably worse in Marx's day. But this is not my main point.

In Marx's day, nobody ever thought of that technique of state intervention which is now called 'counter cycle policy'; and, indeed, such a thought must be utterly foreign to an unrestrained capitalist system. (But even before Marx's time, we find the beginning of doubts about, and even of investigations into, the wisdom of the credit policy of the Bank of England during a depression [29].) Unemployment insurance, however, means intervention, and therefore an increase in the responsibility of the state, and it is likely to lead to experiments in counter cycle policy. I do not maintain that these experiments must necessarily be successful (although I do believe that the problem may in the end prove not so very difficult, and that Sweden [30], in particular, has already shown what can be done in this field). But I wish to assert most emphatically that the belief that it is impossible to abolish unemployment by piecemeal measures is on the same plane of dogmatism as the numerous physical proofs (proffered by men who lived even later than Marx) that the problems of aviation would always remain insoluble. When the Marxists say, as they sometimes do, that Marx has proved the uselessness of a counter cycle policy and of similar piecemeal measures, then they simply do not speak the truth; Marx investigated an unrestrained capitalism, and he never dreamt of interventionism. He therefore never investigated the possibility of a systematic interference with the trade cycle, much less did he offer a proof of its impossibility. It is strange to find that the same people who complain of the irresponsibility of the capitalists in the face of human suffering are irresponsible enough to oppose, with dogmatic assertions of this kind, experiments from which we may learn how to relieve human suffering (how to become masters of our social environment, as Marx would have said), and how to control some of the unwanted social repercussions of our actions. But the apologists of Marxism are quite unaware of the fact that in the name of their own vested interests they are fighting against progress; they do not see that it is the danger of any movement like Marxism that it soon comes to represent all kinds of vested interests, and that there are intellectual investments, as well as material ones.

Another point must be stated here. Marx, as we have seen, believed that unemployment was fundamentally a gadget of the capitalist mechanism with the function of keeping wages low, and of making the exploitation of the employed workers easier; increasing misery always involved for him increasing misery of the employed workers too; and this is just the whole point of the plot. But even if we assume that this view was justified in his day, as a prophecy it has been definitely refuted by later experience. The standard of living of employed workers has risen everywhere since Marx's day; and (as Parkes [31] has emphasized in his criticism of Marx) the real wages of employed workers tend even to increase during a depression (they did so, for example, during the last great depression), owing to a more rapid fall in prices than in wages. This is a glaring refutation of Marx, especially since it proves that the main burden of unemployment insurance was borne not by the workers, but by the entrepreneurs, who therefore lost directly through unemployment, instead of profiting indirectly, as in Marx's scheme.


None of the Marxist theories so far discussed do even seriously attempt to prove the point which is the most decisive one within the first step; namely, that accumulation keeps the capitalist under a strong economic pressure which he is forced, on pain of his own destruction, to pass on to the workers; so that capitalism can only be destroyed, but not reformed. An attempt to prove this point is contained in that theory of Marx's which aims at establishing the law that the rate of profit tends to fall.

What Marx calls the rate of profit corresponds to the rate of interest; it is the percentage of the yearly average of capitalist profit over the whole invested capital. This rate, Marx says, tends to fall owing to the rapid growth of capital investments; for these must accumulate more quickly than profits can rise.

The argument by which Marx attempts to prove this is again rather ingenious. Capitalist competition, as we have seen, forces the capitalists to make investments that increase the productivity of labour. Marx even admitted that by this increase in productivity they render a great service to mankind [32]: 'It is one of the civilizing aspects of capitalism that it exacts surplus value in a manner and under circumstances which are more favourable than previous forms (such as slavery, serfdom, etc.) to the development of the productive powers, as well as to the social conditions for a reconstruction of society on a higher plane. For this, it even creates the elements; ... for the quantity of useful commodities produced in any given span of time depends upon the productivity of labour.' But this service to mankind is not only rendered without any intention by the capitalists; the action to which they are forced by competition also runs counter to their own interests, for the following reason.

The capital of any industrialist can be divided into two parts. One is invested in land, machinery, raw materials, etc. The other is used for wages. Marx calls the first part 'constant capital' and the second 'variable capital'; but since I consider this terminology rather misleading, I shall call the two parts 'immobilized capital' and 'wage capital'. The capitalist, according to Marx, can profit only by exploiting the workers; in other words, by using his wage capital. Immobilized capital is a kind of a dead weight which he is forced by competition to carry on with, and even to increase continually. This increase is not, however, accompanied by a corresponding increase in his profits; only an extension of the wage capital could have this wholesome effect. But the general tendency towards an increase in productivity means that the material part of capital increases relatively to its wage part. Therefore, the total capital increases also, and without a compensating increase in profits; that is to say, the rate of profit must fall.

Now this argument has been often questioned; indeed, it was attacked, by implication, long before Marx [33]. In spite of these attacks, I believe that there may be something in Marx's argument; especially if we take it together with his theory of the trade cycle. (I shall return to this point briefly in the next chapter.) But what I wish to question here is the bearing of this argument upon the theory of increasing misery.

Marx sees this connection as follows. If the rate of profit tends to fall, then the capitalist is faced with destruction. All he can do is to attempt to 'take it out of the workers', i.e. to increase exploitation. This he can do by extending working hours; speeding up work; lowering wages; raising the workers' cost of living (inflation); exploiting more women and children. The inner contradictions of capitalism, based on the fact that competition and profit-making are in conflict, develop here into a climax. First, they force the capitalist to accumulate and to increase productivity, and so reduce the rate of profit. Next, they force him to increase exploitation to an intolerable degree, and with it the tension between the classes. Thus compromise is impossible. The contradictions cannot be removed. They must finally seal the fate of capitalism.

This is the main argument. But can it be conclusive? We must remember that increased productivity is the very basis of capitalist exploitation; only if the worker can produce much more than he needs for himself and his family can the capitalist appropriate surplus labour. Increased productivity, in Marx's terminology, means increased surplus labour; it means both an increased number of hours available to the capitalist, and on top of this, an increased number of commodities produced per hour. It means, in other words, a greatly increased profit. This is admitted by Marx [34]. He does not hold that profits are dwindling; he only holds that the total capital increases much more quickly than the profits, so that the rate of profit falls.

But if this is so, there is no reason why the capitalist should labour under an economic pressure which he is forced to pass on to the workers, whether he likes it or not. It is true, probably, that he does not like to see a fall in his rate of profit. But as long as his income does not fall, but, on the contrary, rises, there is no real danger. The situation for a successful average capitalist will be this: he sees his income rise quickly, and his capital still more quickly; that is to say, his savings rise more quickly than the part of his income which he consumes. I do not think that this is a situation which must force him to desperate measures, or which makes a compromise with the workers impossible. On the contrary, it seems to me quite tolerable.

It is true, of course, that the situation contains an element of danger. Those capitalists who speculate on the assumption of a constant or of a rising rate of profit may get into trouble; and things such as these may indeed contribute to the trade cycle, accentuating the depression. But this has little to do with the sweeping consequences which Marx prophesied.

This concludes my analysis of the third and last argument, propounded by Marx in order to prove the law of increasing misery.


In order to show how completely wrong Marx was in his prophecies, and at the same time how justified he was in his glowing protest against the hell of an unrestrained capitalism as well as in his demand, 'Workers, unite!', I shall quote a few passages from the chapter of Capital in which he discusses the 'General Law of Capitalist Accumulation' [35]. 'In factories . . . young male workers are used up in masses before they reach the age of manhood; after that, only a very small proportion remains useful for industry, so that they are constantly dismissed in large numbers. They then form part of the floating surplus population which grows with the growth of industry . . . Labour power is so quickly used up by capital that the middle-aged worker is usually a worn-out man . . . Dr. Lee, medical officer of health, declared not long ago "that the average age at death of the Manchester upper middle class was 38, while the average age at death of the labouring class was 17; while at Liverpool those figures were represented as 35 against 15 ..." ... The exploitation of working-class children puts a premium upon their production . . . The higher the productivity of labour ... the more precarious become the worker's conditions of existence . . . Within the capitalist system, all the methods for raising the social productivity of labour . . . are transformed into means of domination and of exploitation; they mutilate the worker into a fragment of a human being, they degrade him to a mere cog in the machine, they make work a torture, ... and drag his wife and children beneath the wheels of the capitalist Juggernaut ...It follows that to the degree in which capital accumulates, the worker's condition must deteriorate, whatever his payment may be ... the greater the social wealth, the amount of capital at work, the extent and energy of its growth, ... the larger is the surplus population ... The size of the industrial reserve army grows as the power of wealth grows. But ... the larger the industrial reserve army, the larger are the masses of the workers whose misery is relieved only by an increase in the agony of toil; and ... the larger is the number of those who are officially recognized as paupers. This is the absolute and general law of capitalist accumulation ... The accumulation of wealth at the one pole of society involves at the same time an accumulation of misery, of the agony of toil, of slavery, ignorance, brutalization, and of moral degradation, at the opposite pole ...'

Marx's terrible picture of the economy of his time is only too true. But his law that misery must increase together with accumulation does not hold. Means of production have accumulated and the productivity of labour has increased since his day to an extent which even he would hardly have thought possible. But child labour, working hours, the agony of toil, and the precariousness of the worker's existence, have not increased; they have declined. I do not say that this process must continue. There is no law of progress, and everything will depend on ourselves. But the actual situation is briefly and fairly summed up by Parkes [36] in one sentence: 'Low wages, long hours, and child labour have been characteristic of capitalism not, as Marx predicted, in its old age, but in its infancy.'

Unrestrained capitalism is gone. Since the day of Marx, democratic interventionism has made immense advances, and the improved productivity of labour — a consequence of the accumulation of capital — has made it possible virtually to stamp out misery. This shows that much has been achieved, in spite of undoubtedly grave mistakes, and it should encourage us to believe that more can be done. For much remains to be done and to be undone. Democratic interventionism can only make it possible. It rests with us to do it.

I have no illusions concerning the force of my arguments. Experience shows that Marx's prophecies were false. But experience can always be explained away. And, indeed, Marx himself, and Engels, began with the elaboration of an auxiliary hypothesis designed to explain why the law of increasing misery does not work as they expected it to do. According to this hypothesis, the tendency towards a falling rate of profit, and with it, increasing misery, is counteracted by the effects of colonial exploitation, or, as it is usually called, by 'modern imperialism'. Colonial exploitation, according to this theory, is a method of passing on economic pressure to the colonial proletariat, a group which, economically as well as politically, is weaker still than the industrial proletariat at home. 'Capital invested in colonies', Marx writes [37], 'may yield a higher rate of profit for the simple reason that the rate of profit is higher there where capitalist development is still in a backward stage, and for the added reason that slaves, coolies, etc., permit a better exploitation of labour. I can see no reason why these higher rates of profit . . . , when sent home, should not enter there as elements into the average rate of profit, and, in proportion, contribute to keeping it up.' (It is worth mentioning that the main idea behind this theory of 'modern' imperialism can be traced back for more than 160 years, to Adam Smith, who said of colonial trade that it 'has necessarily contributed to keep up the rate of profit'.) Engels went one step further than Marx in his development of the theory. Forced to admit that in Britain the prevailing tendency was not towards an increase in misery but rather towards a considerable improvement, he hints that this may be due to the fact that Britain 'is exploiting the whole world'; and he scornfully assails 'the British working class' which, instead of suffering as he expected them to do, 'is actually becoming more and more bourgeois'. And he continues [38]: 'It seems that this most bourgeois of all nations wants to bring matters to such a pass as to have a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat side by side with the bourgeoisie.' Now this change of front on Engels' part is at least as remarkable as that other one of his which I mentioned in the last chapter [39]; and like that, it was made under the influence of a social development which turned out to be one of decreasing misery. Marx blamed capitalism for 'proletarianizing the middle class and the lower bourgeoisie', and for reducing the workers to pauperism. Engels now blames the system — it is still blamed — for making bourgeois out of workers. But the nicest touch in Engels' complaint is the indignation that makes him call the British who behave so inconsiderately as to falsify Marxist prophecies 'this most bourgeois of all nations'. According to Marxist doctrine, we should expect from the 'most bourgeois of all nations' a development of misery and class tension to an intolerable degree; instead, we hear that the opposite takes place. But the good Marxist's hair rises when he hears of the incredible wickedness of a capitalist system that transforms good proletarians into bad bourgeois; quite forgetting that Marx showed that the wickedness of the system consisted solely in the fact that it was working the other way round. Thus we read in Lenin's analysis [40] of the evil causes and dreadful effects of modern British imperialism: 'Causes: (1) exploitation of the whole world by this country; (2) its monopolistic position in the world market; (3) its colonial monopoly. Effects: (1) bourgeoisification of a part of the British proletariat; (2) a part of the proletariat permits itself to be led by people who are bought by the bourgeoisie, or who are at least paid by it.' Having given such a pretty Marxist name, 'the bourgeoisification of the proletariat', to a hateful tendency — hateful mainly because it did not fit in with the way the world should go according to Marx — Lenin apparently believes that it has become a Marxist tendency. Marx himself held that the more quickly the whole world could go through the necessary historical period of capitalist industrialization, the better, and he was therefore inclined to support [41] imperialist developments. But Lenin came to a very different conclusion. Since Britain's possession of colonies was the reason why the workers at home followed 'leaders bought by the bourgeoisie' instead of the Communists, he saw in the colonial empire a potential trigger or fuse. A revolution there would make the law of increasing misery operative at home, and a revolution at home would follow. Thus the colonies were the place from which the fire would spread . . .

I do not believe that the auxiliary hypothesis whose history I have sketched can save the law of increasing misery; for this hypothesis is itself refuted by experience. There are countries, for instance the Scandinavian democracies, Czechoslovakia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, to say nothing of the United States, in which a democratic interventionism secured to the workers a high standard of living, in spite of the fact that colonial exploitation had no influence there, or was at any rate far too unimportant to support the hypothesis. Furthermore, if we compare certain countries that 'exploit' colonies, like Holland and Belgium, with Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Czechoslovakia which do not 'exploit' colonies, we do not find that the industrial workers profited from the possession of colonies, for the situation of the working classes in all those countries was strikingly similar. Furthermore, although the misery imposed upon the natives through colonization is one of the darkest chapters in the history of civilization, it cannot be asserted that their misery has tended to increase since the days of Marx. The exact opposite is the case; things have greatly improved. And yet, increasing misery would have to be very noticeable there if the auxiliary hypothesis and the original theory were both correct.


As I did with the second and third steps in the previous chapters, I shall now illustrate the first step of Marx's prophetic argument by showing something of its practical influence upon the tactics of Marxist parties.

The Social Democrats, under the pressure of obvious facts, tacitly dropped the theory that the intensity of misery increases; but their whole tactics remained based upon the assumption that the law of the increasing extent of misery was valid, that is to say, that the numerical strength of the industrial proletariat must continue to increase. This is why they based their policy exclusively upon representing the interests of the industrial workers, at the same time firmly believing that they were representing, or would very soon represent, 'the great majority of the population' [42]. They never doubted the assertion of the Manifesto that 'All previous historical movements were movements of minorities ... The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.' They waited confidently, therefore, for the day when the class consciousness and class assuredness of the industrial workers would win them the majority in the elections. 'There can be no doubt as to who will be victorious in the end — the few exploiters, or the immense majority, the workers.' They did not see that the industrial workers nowhere formed a majority, much less an 'immense majority', and that statistics no longer showed any tendency towards an increase in their numbers. They did not understand that the existence of a democratic workers' party was fully justified only as long as such a party was prepared to compromise or even to co-operate with other parties, for instance with some party representing the peasants, or the middle classes. And they did not see that, if they wanted to rule the state solely as the representatives of the majority of the population, they would have to change their whole policy and cease to represent mainly or exclusively the industrial workers. Of course, it is no substitute for this change of policy to assert naively that the proletarian policy as such may simply bring (as Marx said [43]) 'the rural producers under the intellectual leadership of the central towns of their districts, there securing to them, in the industrial worker, the natural trustee of their interests . . . '

The position of the Communist parties was different. They strictly adhered to the theory of increasing misery, believing in an increase not only of its extent but also of its intensity, once the causes of the temporary bourgeoisification of the workers were removed. This belief contributed considerably to what Marx would have called 'the inner contradictions' of their policy.

The tactical situation seems simple enough. Thanks to Marx's prophecy, the Communists knew for certain that misery must soon increase. They also knew that the party could not win the confidence of the workers without fighting for them, and with them, for an improvement of their lot. These two fundamental assumptions clearly determined the principles of their general tactics. Make the workers demand their share, back them up in every particular episode in their unceasing fight for bread and shelter. Fight with them tenaciously for the fulfilment of their practical demands, whether economic or political. Thus you will win their confidence. At the same time, the workers will learn that it is impossible for them to better their lot by these petty fights, and that nothing short of a wholesale revolution can bring about an improvement. For all these petty fights are bound to be unsuccessful; we know from Marx that the capitalists simply cannot continue to compromise and that, ultimately, misery must increase. Accordingly, the only result — but a valuable one — of the workers' daily fight against their oppressors is an increase in their class consciousness; it is that feeling of unity which can be won only in battle, together with a desperate knowledge that only revolution can help them in their misery. When this stage is reached, then the hour has struck for the final show-down.

This is the theory and the Communists acted accordingly. At first they support the workers in their fight to improve their lot. But, contrary to all expectations and prophecies, the fight is successful. The demands are granted. Obviously, the reason is that they had been too modest. Therefore one must demand more. But the demands are granted again [44]. And as misery decreases, the workers become less embittered, more ready to bargain for wages than to plot for revolution.

Now the Communists find that their policy must be reversed. Something must be done to bring the law of increasing misery into operation. For instance, colonial unrest must be stirred up (even where there is no chance of a successful revolution), and with the general purpose of counteracting the bourgeoisification of the workers, a policy fomenting catastrophes of all sorts must be adopted. But this new policy destroys the confidence of the workers. The Communists lose their members, with the exception of those who are inexperienced in real political fights. They lose exactly those whom they describe as the 'vanguard of the working class'; their tacitly implied principle: 'The worse things are, the better they are, since misery must precipitate revolution', makes the workers suspicious — the better the application of this principle, the worse are the suspicions entertained by the workers. For they are realists; to obtain their confidence, one must work to improve their lot.

Thus the policy must be reversed again: one is forced to fight for the immediate betterment of the workers' lot and to hope at the same time for the opposite.

With this, the 'inner contradictions' of the theory produce the last stage of confusion. It is the stage when it is hard to know who is the traitor, since treachery may be faithfulness and faithfulness treachery. It is the stage when those who followed the party not simply because it appeared to them (rightly, I am afraid) as the only vigorous movement with humanitarian ends, but especially because it was a movement based on a scientific theory, must either leave it, or sacrifice their intellectual integrity; for they must now learn to believe blindly in some authority. Ultimately, they must become mystics — hostile to reasonable argument.

It seems that it is not only capitalism which is labouring under inner contradictions that threaten to bring about its downfall . . .
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

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21 An Evaluation of the Prophecy

The arguments underlying Marx's historical prophecy are invalid. His ingenious attempt to draw prophetic conclusions from observations of contemporary economic tendencies failed. The reason for this failure does not lie in any insufficiency of the empirical basis of the argument. Marx's sociological and economic analyses of contemporary society may have been somewhat one-sided, but in spite of their bias, they were excellent in so far as they were descriptive. The reason for his failure as a prophet lies entirely in the poverty of historicism as such, in the simple fact that even if we observe to-day what appears to be a historical tendency or trend, we cannot know whether it will have the same appearance to-morrow.

We must admit that Marx saw many things in the right light. If we consider only his prophecy that the system of unrestrained capitalism, as he knew it, was not going to last much longer, and that its apologists who thought it would last forever were wrong, then we must say that he was right. He was right, too, in holding that it was largely the 'class struggle', i.e. the association of the workers, that was going to bring about its transformation into a new economic system. But we must not go so far as to say that Marx predicted that new system, interventionism [1], under another name, socialism. The truth is that he had no inkling of what was lying ahead. What he called 'socialism' was very dissimilar from any form of interventionism, even from the Russian form; for he strongly believed that the impending development would diminish the influence, political as well as economic, of the state, while interventionism has increased it everywhere.

Since I am criticizing Marx and, to some extent, praising democratic piecemeal interventionism (especially of the institutional kind explained in section VII to chapter 17), I wish to make it clear that I feel much sympathy with Marx's hope for a decrease in state influence. It is undoubtedly the greatest danger of interventionism — especially of any direct intervention — that it leads to an increase in state power and in bureaucracy. Most interventionists do not mind this, or they close their eyes to it, which increases the danger. But I believe that once the danger is faced squarely, it should be possible to master it. For this is again merely a problem of social technology and of social piecemeal engineering. But it is important to tackle it early, for it constitutes a danger to democracy. We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than that only freedom can make security secure.

But let us return to Marx's prophecy. One of the historical tendencies which he claimed to have discovered seems to be of a more persistent character than the others; I mean the tendency towards the accumulation of the means of production, and especially towards increasing the productivity of labour. It seems indeed that this tendency will continue for some time, provided, of course, that we continue to keep civilization going. But Marx did not merely recognize this tendency and its 'civilizing aspects', he also saw its inherent dangers. More especially, he was one of the first (although he had some predecessors, for instance, Fourier [2]) to emphasize the connection between 'the development of the productive forces' in which he saw [3]'the historical mission and justification of capital', and that most destructive phenomenon of the credit system — a system which seems to have encouraged the rapid rise of industrialism — the trade cycle.

Marx's own theory of the trade cycle (discussed in section IV of the last chapter) may perhaps be paraphrased as follows: even if it is true that the inherent laws of the free market produce a tendency towards full employment, it is also true that every single approach towards full employment, i.e. towards a shortage of labour, stimulates inventors and investors to create and to introduce new labour-saving machinery, thereby giving rise (first to a short boom and then) to a new wave of unemployment and depression. Whether there is any truth in this theory, and how much, I do not know. As I said in the last chapter, the theory of the trade cycle is a rather difficult subject, and one upon which I do not intend to embark. But since Marx's contention that the increase of productivity is one of the factors contributing to the trade cycle seems to me important, I may be permitted to develop some rather obvious considerations in its support.

The following list of possible developments is, of course, quite incomplete; but it is constructed in such a way that whenever the productivity of labour increases, then at least one of the following developments, and possibly many at a time, must commence and must proceed in a degree sufficient to balance the increase in productivity.

(A) Investments increase, that is to say, such capital goods are produced as strengthen the power for producing other goods. (Since this leads to a further increase of productivity, it cannot alone balance its effects for any length of time.)

(B) Consumption increases — the standard of living rises:

(a) that of the whole population;

(b) that of certain parts of it (for instance, of a certain class).

(C) Labour time decreases:

(a) the daily labour hours are reduced;

(b) the number of people who are not industrial workers increases, and especially

(b1) the number of scientists, physicians, artists, businessmen, etc., increases. (b2) the number of unemployed workers increases.

(D) The quantity of goods produced but not consumed increases:

(a) consumption goods are destroyed;

(b) capital goods are not used (factories are idle);

(c) goods, other than consumption goods and goods of the type (A), are produced, for instance, arms;

(d) labour is used to destroy capital goods (and thereby to reduce productivity).

I have listed these developments — the list could, of course, be elaborated — in such a way that down to the dotted line, i.e. down to (C, b1), the developments as such are generally recognized as desirable, whilst from (C, b2) onward come those which are generally taken to be undesirable; they indicate depression, the manufacture of armaments, and war.  

Now it is clear that since (A) alone cannot restore the balance for good, although it may be a very important factor, one or several of the other developments must set in. It seems, further, reasonable to assume that if no institutions exist which guarantee that the desirable developments proceed in a degree sufficient to balance the increased productivity, some of the undesirable developments will begin. But all of these, with the possible exception of armament production, are of such a character that they are likely to lead to a sharp reduction of (A), which must severely aggravate the situation.

I do not think that such considerations as the above are able to 'explain' armament or war in any sense of the word, although they may explain the success of totalitarian states in fighting unemployment. Nor do I think that they are able to 'explain' the trade cycle, although they may perhaps contribute something to such an explanation, in which problems of credit and money are likely to play a very important part; for the reduction of (A), for instance, may be equivalent to the hoarding of such savings as would otherwise probably be invested — a much-discussed and important factor [4]. And it is not quite impossible that the Marxist law of the falling rate of profit (if this law is at all tenable [5]) may also give a hint for the explanation of hoarding; for assuming that a period of quick accumulation may lead to such a fall, this might discourage investments and encourage hoarding, and reduce (A).

But all this would not be a theory of the trade cycle. Such a theory would have a different task. Its main task would be to explain why the institution of the free market, as such a very efficient instrument for equalizing supply and demand, does not suffice to prevent depressions [6], i.e. overproduction or underconsumption. In other words, we should have to show that the buying and selling on the market produces, as one of the unwanted social repercussions [7] of our actions, the trade cycle. The Marxist theory of the trade cycle has precisely this aim in view; and the considerations sketched here regarding the effects of a general tendency towards increasing productivity can at the best only supplement this theory.

I am not going to pronounce judgement on the merits of all these speculations upon the trade cycle. But it seems to me quite clear that they are most valuable even if in the light of modern theories they should by now be entirely superseded. The mere fact that Marx treated this problem extensively is greatly to his credit. This much at least of his prophecy has come true, for the time being; the tendency towards an increase of productivity continues: the trade cycle also continues, and its continuation is likely to lead to interventionist counter-measures and therefore to a further restriction of the free market system; a development which conforms to Marx's prophecy that the trade cycle would be one of the factors that must bring about the downfall of the unrestrained system of capitalism. And to this, we must add that other piece of successful prophecy, namely, that the association of the workers would be another important factor in this process.

In view of this list of important and largely successful prophecies, is it justifiable to speak of the poverty of historicism? If Marx's historical prophecies have been even partially successful, then we should certainly not dismiss his method lightly. But a closer view of Marx's successes shows that it was nowhere his historicist method which led him to success, but always the methods of institutional analysis. Thus it is not an historicist but a typical institutional analysis which leads to the conclusion that the capitalist is forced by competition to increase productivity. It is an institutional analysis on which Marx bases his theory of the trade cycle and of surplus population. And even the theory of class struggle is institutional; it is part of the mechanism by which the distribution of wealth as well as of power is controlled, a mechanism which makes possible collective bargaining in the widest sense. Nowhere in these analyses do the typical historicist 'laws of historical development', or stages, or periods, or tendencies, play any part whatever. On the other hand, none of Marx's more ambitious historicist conclusions, none of his 'inexorable laws of development' and his 'stages of history which cannot be leaped over', has ever turned out to be a successful prediction. Marx was successful only in so far as he was analysing institutions and their functions. And the opposite is true also: none of his more ambitious and sweeping historical prophecies falls within the scope of institutional analysis. Wherever the attempt is made to back them up by such an analysis, the derivation is invalid. Indeed, compared with Marx's own high standards, the more sweeping prophecies are on a rather low intellectual level. They contain not only a lot of wishful thinking, they are also lacking in political imagination. Roughly speaking, Marx shared the belief of the progressive industrialist, of the 'bourgeois' of his time: the belief in a law of progress. But this naive historicist optimism, of Hegel and Comte, of Marx and Mill, is no less superstitious than a pessimistic historicism like that of Plato and Spengler. And it is a very bad outfit for a prophet, since it must bridle historical imagination. Indeed, it is necessary to recognize as one of the principles of any unprejudiced view of politics that everything is possible in human affairs; and more particularly that no conceivable development can be excluded on the grounds that it may violate the so-called tendency of human progress, or any other of the alleged laws of 'human nature'. 'The fact of progress', writes- [8]H. A. L. Fisher, 'is written plain and large on the page of history; but progress is not a law of nature. The ground gained by one generation may be lost by the next.'

In accordance with the principle that everything is possible it may be worth while to point out that Marx's prophecies might well have come true. A faith like the progressivist optimism of the nineteenth century can be a powerful political force; it can help to bring about what it has predicted. Thus even a correct prediction must not be accepted too readily as a corroboration of a theory, and of its scientific character. It may rather be a consequence of its religious character and a proof of the force of the religious faith which it has been able to inspire in men. And in Marxism more particularly the religious element is unmistakable. In the hour of their deepest misery and degradation, Marx's prophecy gave the workers an inspiring belief in their mission, and in the great future which their movement was to prepare for the whole of mankind. Looking back at the course of events from 1864 to 1930, I think that but for the somewhat accidental fact that Marx discouraged research in social technology, European affairs might possibly have developed, under the influence of this prophetic religion, towards a socialism of a non- collectivist type. A thorough preparation for social engineering, for planning for freedom, on the part of the Russian Marxists as well as those in Central Europe, might possibly have led to an unmistakable success, convincing to all friends of the open society. But this would not have been a corroboration of a scientific prophecy. It would have been the result of a religious movement — the result of the faith in humanitarianism, combined with a critical use of our reason for the purpose of changing the world.

But things developed differently. The prophetic element in Marx's creed was dominant in the minds of his followers. It swept everything else aside, banishing the power of cool and critical judgement and destroying the belief that by the use of reason we may change the world. All that remained of Marx's teaching was the oracular philosophy of Hegel, which in its Marxist trappings threatens to paralyse the struggle for the open society.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

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Marx's Ethics

22. The Moral Theory of Historicism

The task which Marx set himself in Capital was to discover inexorable laws of social development. It was not the discovery of economic laws which would be useful to the social technologist. It was neither the analysis of the economic conditions which would permit the realization of such socialist aims as just prices, equal distribution of wealth, security, reasonable planning of production and, above all, freedom, nor was it an attempt to analyse and to clarify these aims.

But although Marx was strongly opposed to Utopian technology as well as to any attempt at a moral justification of socialist aims, his writings contained, by implication, an ethical theory. This he expressed mainly by moral evaluations of social institutions. After all, Marx's condemnation of capitalism is fundamentally a moral condemnation. The system is condemned, for the cruel injustice inherent in it which is combined with full 'formal' justice and righteousness. The system is condemned, because by forcing the exploiter to enslave the exploited it robs both of their freedom. Marx did not combat wealth, nor did he praise poverty. He hated capitalism, not for its accumulation of wealth, but for its oligarchical character; he hated it because in this system wealth means political power in the sense of power over other men. Labour power is made a commodity; that means that men must sell themselves on the market. Marx hated the system because it resembled slavery.

By laying such stress on the moral aspect of social institutions, Marx emphasized our responsibility for the more remote social repercussions of our actions; for instance, of such actions as may help to prolong the life of socially unjust institutions.

But although Capital is, in fact, largely a treatise on social ethics, these ethical ideas are never represented as such. They are expressed only by implication, but not the less forcibly on that account, since the implications are very obvious. Marx, I believe, avoided an explicit moral theory, because he hated preaching. Deeply distrustful of the moralist, who usually preaches water and drinks wine, Marx was reluctant to formulate his ethical convictions explicitly. The principles of humanity and decency were for him matters that needed no discussion, matters to be taken for granted. (In this field, too, he was an optimist.) He attacked the moralists because he saw them as the sycophantic apologists of a social order which he felt to be immoral; he attacked the eulogists of liberalism because of their self-satisfaction, because of their identification of freedom with the formal liberty then existing within a social system which destroyed freedom. Thus, by implication, he admitted his love for freedom; and in spite of his bias, as a philosopher, for holism, he was certainly not a collectivist, for he hoped that the state would 'wither away'. Marx's faith, I believe, was fundamentally a faith in the open society.

Marx's attitude towards Christianity is closely connected with these convictions, and with the fact that a hypocritical defence of capitalist exploitation was in his day characteristic of official Christianity. (His attitude was not unlike that of his contemporary Kierkegaard, the great reformer of Christian ethics, who exposed [1] the official Christian morality of his day as anti-Christian and anti-humanitarian hypocrisy.) A typical representative of this kind of Christianity was the High Church priest J. Townsend, author of A Dissertation on the Poor Laws, by a Wellwisher of Mankind, an extremely crude apologist for exploitation whom Marx exposed. 'Hunger', Townsend begins his eulogy [2], 'is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure but, as the most natural motive of industry and labour, it calls forth the most powerful exertions.' In Townsend's 'Christian' world order, everything depends (as Marx observes) upon making hunger permanent among the working class; and Townsend believes that this is indeed the divine purpose of the principle of the growth of population; for he goes on: 'It seems to be a law of nature that the poor should be to a certain degree improvident, so that there may always be some to fulfil the most servile, the most sordid, the most ignoble offices in the community. The stock of human happiness is thereby much increased, whilst the more delicate ... are left at liberty without interruption to pursue those callings which are suited to their various dispositions.' And the 'delicate priestly sycophant', as Marx called him for this remark, adds that the Poor Law, by helping the hungry, 'tends to destroy the harmony and beauty, the symmetry and order, of that system which God and nature have established in the world.'

If this kind of 'Christianity' has disappeared to-day from the face of the better part of our globe, it is in no small degree due to the moral reformation brought about by Marx. I do not suggest that the reform of the Church's attitude towards the poor in England did not commence long before Marx had any influence in England; but he influenced this development especially on the Continent, and the rise of socialism had the effect of strengthening it in England also. His influence on Christianity may be perhaps compared with Luther's influence on the Roman Church. Both were a challenge, both led to a counter-reformation in the camps of their enemies, to a revision and re-valuation of their ethical standards. Christianity owes not a little to Marx's influence if it is to-day on a different path from the one it was pursuing only thirty years ago. It is even partly due to Marx's influence that the Church has listened to the voice of Kierkegaard, who, in his Book of the Judge, described his own activity as follows [3]: 'He whose task it is to produce a corrective idea, has only to study, precisely and deeply, the rotten parts of the existing order — and then, in the most partial way possible, to stress the opposite of it.' ('Since that is so', he adds, 'an apparently clever man will easily raise the objection of partiality against the corrective idea — and he will make the public believe that this was the whole truth about it.') In this sense one might say that the early Marxism, with its ethical rigour, its emphasis on deeds instead of mere words, was perhaps the most important corrective idea of our time. [4] This explains its tremendous moral influence.

The demand that men should prove themselves in deeds is especially marked in some of Marx's earlier writings. This attitude, which might be described as his activism, is most clearly formulated in the last of his Theses on Feuerbach [5]: 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.' But there are many other passages which show the same 'activist' tendency; especially those in which Marx speaks of socialism as the 'kingdom of freedom', a kingdom in which man would become the 'master of his own social environment'. Marx conceived of socialism as a period in which we are largely free from the irrational forces that now determine our life, and in which human reason can actively control human affairs. Judging by all this, and by Marx's general moral and emotional attitude, I cannot doubt that, if faced with the alternative 'are we to be the makers of our fate, or shall we be content to be its prophets?' he would have decided to be a maker and not merely a prophet.

But as we already know, these strong 'activist' tendencies of Marx's are counteracted by his historicism. Under its influence, he became mainly a prophet. He decided that, at least under capitalism, we must submit to 'inexorable laws' and to the fact that all we can do is 'to shorten and lessen the birth-pangs' of the 'natural phases of its evolution' [6]. There is a wide gulf between Marx's activism and his historicism, and this gulf is further widened by his doctrine that we must submit to the purely irrational forces of history. For since he denounced as Utopian any attempt to make use of our reason in order to plan for the future, reason can have no part in bringing about a more reasonable world. I believe that such a view cannot be defended, and must lead to mysticism.
But I must admit that there seems to be a theoretical possibility of bridging this gulf, although I do not consider the bridge to be sound. This bridge, of which there are only rough plans to be found in the writings of Marx and Engels, I call their historicist moral theory [7].

Unwilling to admit that their own ethical ideas were in any sense ultimate and self-justifying, Marx and Engels preferred to look upon their humanitarian aims in the light of a theory which explains them as the product, or the reflection, of social circumstances. Their theory can be described as follows. If a social reformer, or a revolutionary, believes that he is inspired by a hatred of 'injustice', and by a love for 'justice', then he is largely a victim of illusion (like anybody else, for instance the apologists of the old order). Or, to put it more precisely, his moral ideas of 'justice' and 'injustice' are by-products of the social and historical, development. But they are by-products of an important kind, since they are part of the mechanism by which the development propels itself. To illustrate this point, there are always at least two ideas of 'justice' (or of 'freedom' or of 'equality'), and these two ideas differ very widely indeed. The one is the idea of 'justice' as the ruling class understands it, the other, the same idea as the oppressed class understands it. These ideas are, of course, products of the class situation, but at the same time they play an important part in the class struggle — they have to provide both sides with that good conscience which they need in order to carry on their fight.

This theory of morality may be characterized as historicist because it holds that all moral categories are dependent on the historical situation; it is usually described as historical relativism in the field of ethics. From this point of view, it is an incomplete question to ask: Is it right to act in this way? The complete question would run like this: Is it right, in the sense of fifteenth-century feudal morality, to act in this way? Or perhaps: Is it right, in the sense of nineteenth-century proletarian morality, to act in this way? This historical relativism was formulated by Engels as follows [8]: 'What morality is preached to us to-day? There is first Christian-feudal morality, inherited from past centuries; and this again has two main subdivisions, Roman Catholic and Protestant moralities, each of which in turn has no lack of further subdivisions, from the Jesuit- Catholic and Orthodox-Protestant to loose "advanced" moralities. Alongside of these, we find the modern bourgeois morality, and with it, too, the proletarian morality of the future . . . '

But this so-called 'historical relativism' by no means exhausts the historicist character of the Marxist theory of morals. Let us imagine we could ask those who hold such a theory, for instance Marx himself: Why do you act in the way you do? Why would you consider it distasteful and repulsive, for instance, to accept a bribe from the bourgeoisie for stopping your revolutionary activities? I do not think that Marx would have liked to answer such a question; he would probably have tried to evade it, asserting perhaps that he just acted as he pleased, or as he felt compelled to. But all this does not touch our problem. It is certain that in the practical decisions of his life Marx followed a very rigorous moral code; it is also certain that he demanded from his collaborators a high moral standard. Whatever the terminology applied to these things may be, the problem which faces us is how to find a reply which he might have possibly made to the question: Why do you act in such a way? Why do you try, for instance, to help the oppressed? (Marx did not himself belong to this class, either by birth or by upbringing or by his way of living.)

If pressed in this way, Marx would, I think, have formulated his moral belief in the following terms, which form the core of what I call his historicist moral theory. As a social scientist (he might have said) I know that our moral ideas are weapons in the class struggle. As a scientist, I can consider them without adopting them. But as a scientist I find also that I cannot avoid taking sides in this struggle; that any attitude, even aloofness, means taking sides in some way or other. My problem thus assumes the form: Which side shall I take? When I have chosen a certain side, then I have, of course, also decided upon my morality. I shall have to adopt the moral system necessarily bound up with the interests of the class which I have decided to support. But before making this fundamental decision, I have not adopted any moral system at all, provided I can free myself from the moral tradition of my class; but this, of course, is a necessary prerequisite for making any conscious and rational decision regarding the competing moral systems. Now since a decision is 'moral' only in relation to some previously accepted moral code, my fundamental decision can be no 'moral' decision at all. But it can be a scientific decision. For as a social scientist, I am able to see what is going to happen. I am able to see that the bourgeoisie, and with it its system of morals, is bound to disappear, and that the proletariat, and with it a new system of morals, is bound to win. I see that this development is inevitable. It would be madness to attempt to resist it, just as it would be madness to attempt to resist the law of gravity. This is why my fundamental decision is in favour of the proletariat and of its morality. And this decision is based only on scientific foresight, on scientific historical prophecy. Although itself not a moral decision, since it is not based on any system of morality, it leads to the adoption of a certain system of morality. To sum up, my fundamental decision is not (as you suspected) the sentimental decision to help the oppressed, but the scientific and rational decision not to offer vain resistance to the developmental laws of society. Only after I have made this decision am I prepared to accept, and to make full use of, those moral sentiments which are necessary weapons in the fight for what is bound to come in any case. In this way, I adopt the facts of the coming period as the standards of my morality. And in this way, I solve the apparent paradox that a more reasonable world will come without being planned by reason; for according to my moral standards now adopted, the future world must be better, and therefore more reasonable. And I also bridge the gap between my activism and my historicism. For it is clear that even though I have discovered the natural law that determines the movement of society, I cannot shuffle the natural phases of its evolution out of the world by a stroke of the pen. But this much I can do. I can actively assist in shortening and lessening its birth-pangs.

This, I think, would have been Marx's reply, and it is this reply which to me represents the most important form of what I have called 'historicist moral theory'. It is this theory to which Engels alludes when he writes [9]: 'Certainly, that morality which contains the greatest number of elements that are going to last is the one which, within the present time, represents the overthrow of the present time; it is the one which represents the future; it is the proletarian morality . . . According to this conception, the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are not increasing insight into justice; they are to be sought not in the philosophy but in the economics of the epoch concerned. The growing realization that existing social institutions are irrational and unjust is only a symptom . . . ' It is the theory of which a modern Marxist says: 'In founding socialist aspirations on a rational economic law of social development, instead of justifying them on moral grounds, Marx and Engels proclaimed socialism a historical necessity.' [10] It is a theory which is very widely held; but it has rarely been formulated clearly and explicitly. Its criticism is therefore more important than might be realized at first sight.

First, it is clear enough that the theory depends largely on the possibility of correct historical prophecy. If this is questioned — and it certainly must be questioned — then the theory loses most of its force. But for the purpose of analysing it, I shall assume at first that historical foreknowledge is an established fact; and I shall merely stipulate that this historical foreknowledge is limited; I shall stipulate that we have foreknowledge for, say, the next 500 years, a stipulation which should not restrict even the boldest claims of Marxist historicism.

Now let us first examine the claim of historicist moral theory that the fundamental decision in favour of, or against, one of the moral systems in question is itself not a moral decision; that it is not based on any moral consideration or sentiment, but on a scientific historical prediction. This claim is, I think, untenable. In order to make this quite clear, it will suffice to make explicit the imperative, or principle of conduct, implied in this fundamental decision. It is the following principle: Adopt the moral system of the future! or: Adopt the moral system held by those whose actions are most useful for bringing about the future! Now it seems clear to me that even on the assumption that we know exactly what the next 500 years will be like, it is not at all necessary for us to adopt such a principle. It is, to give an example, at least conceivable that some humanitarian pupil of Voltaire who foresaw in 1764 the development of France down to, say, 1864 might have disliked the prospect; it is at least conceivable that he would have decided that this development was rather distasteful and that he was not going to adopt the moral standards of Napoleon III as his own. I shall be faithful to my humanitarian standards, he might have said, I shall teach them to my pupils; perhaps they will survive this period, perhaps some day they will be victorious. It is likewise at least conceivable (I do not assert more, at present) that a man who to-day foresees with certainty that we are heading for a period of slavery, that we are going to return to the cage of the arrested society, or even that we are about to return to the beasts, may nevertheless decide not to adopt the moral standards of this impending period but to contribute as well as he can to the survival of his humanitarian ideals, hoping perhaps for a resurrection of his morality in some dim future.

All that is, at least, conceivable. It may perhaps not be the 'wisest' decision to make. But the fact that such a decision is excluded neither by foreknowledge nor by any sociological or psychological law shows that the first claim of historicist moral theory is untenable. Whether we should accept the morality of the future just because it is the morality of the future, this in itself is just a moral problem. The fundamental decision cannot be derived from any knowledge of the future.

In previous chapters I have mentioned moral positivism (especially that of Hegel), the theory that there is no moral standard but the one which exists; that what is, is reasonable and good; and therefore, that might is right. The practical aspect of this theory is this. A moral criticism of the existing state of affairs is impossible, since this state itself determines the moral standard of things. Now the historicist moral theory we are considering is nothing but another form of moral positivism. For it holds that coming might is right. The future is here substituted for the present — that is all. And the practical aspect of the theory is this. Amoral criticism of the coming state of affairs is impossible, since this state determines the moral standard of things. The difference between 'the present' and 'the future' is here, of course, only a matter of degree. One can say that the future starts to-morrow, or in 500 years, or in 100. In their theoretical structure there is no difference between moral conservatism, moral modernism, and moral futurism. Nor is there much to choose between them in regard to moral sentiments. If the moral futurist criticizes the cowardice of the moral conservative who takes sides with the powers that be, then the moral conservative can return the charge; he can say that the moral futurist is a coward since he takes sides with the powers that will be, with the rulers of to-morrow.

I feel sure that, had he considered these implications, Marx would have repudiated historicist moral theory. Numerous remarks and numerous actions prove that it was not a scientific judgement but a moral impulse, the wish to help the oppressed, the wish to free the shamelessly exploited and miserable workers, which led him to socialism. I do not doubt that it is this moral appeal that is the secret of the influence of his teaching. And the force of this appeal was tremendously strengthened by the fact that he did not preach morality in the abstract. He did not pretend to have any right to do so. Who, he seems to have asked himself, lives up to his own standard, provided it is not a very low one? It was this feeling which led him to rely, in ethical matters, on understatements, and which led him to the attempt to find in prophetic social science an authority in matters of morals more reliable than he felt himself to be.

Surely, in Marx's practical ethics such categories as freedom and equality played the major role. He was, after all, one of those who took the ideals of 1789 seriously. And he had seen how shamelessly a concept like 'freedom' could be twisted. This is why he did not preach freedom in words — why he preached it in action. He wanted to improve society and improvement meant to him more freedom, more equality, more justice, more security, higher standards of living, and especially that shortening of the working day which at once gives the workers some freedom. It was his hatred of hypocrisy, his reluctance to speak about these 'high ideals', together with his amazing optimism, his trust that all this would be realized in the near future, which led him to veil his moral beliefs behind historicist formulations.

Marx, I assert, would not seriously have defended moral positivism in the form of moral futurism if he had seen that it implies the recognition of future might as right. But there are others who do not possess his passionate love of humanity, who are moral futurists just because of these implications, i.e. opportunists wishing to be on the winning side. Moral futurism is widespread to-day. Its deeper, non-opportunist basis is probably the belief that goodness must 'ultimately' triumph over wickedness. But moral futurists forget that we are not going to live to witness the 'ultimate' outcome of present events. 'History will be our judge!' What does this mean? That success will judge. The worship of success and of future might is the highest standard of many who would never admit that present might is right. (They quite forget that the present is the future of the past.) The basis of all this is a halfhearted compromise between a moral optimism and a moral scepticism. It seems to be hard to believe in one's conscience. And it seems to be hard to resist the impulse to be on the winning side.

All these critical remarks are consistent with the assumption that we can predict the future for the next, say, 500 years. But if we drop this entirely fictitious assumption, then historicist moral theory loses all its plausibility. And we must drop it. For there is no prophetic sociology to help us in selecting a moral system. We cannot shift our responsibility for such a selection on to anybody, not even on to 'the future'.

Marx's historicist moral theory is, of course, only the result of his view concerning the method of social science, of his sociological determinism, a view which has become rather fashionable in our day. All our opinions, it is said, including our moral standards, depend upon society and its historical state. They are the products of society or of a certain class situation. Education is defined as a special process by which the community attempts to 'pass on' to its members 'its culture including the standards by which it would have them to live' [11], and the 'relativity of educational theory and practice to a prevailing order' is emphasized. Science, too, is said to depend on the social stratum of the scientific worker, etc.

A theory of this kind which emphasizes the sociological dependence of our opinions is sometimes called sociologism; if the historical dependence is emphasized, it is called historism. (Historism must not, of course, be mixed up with historicism.) Both sociologism and historism, in so far as they maintain the determination of scientific knowledge by society or history, will be discussed in the next two chapters. In so far as sociologism bears upon moral theory, a few remarks may be added here. But before going into any detail, I wish to make quite clear my opinion concerning these Hegelianizing theories. I believe that they chatter trivialities clad in the jargon of oracular philosophy.

Let us examine this moral 'sociologism'. That man, and his aims, are in a certain sense a product of society is true enough. But it is also true that society is a product of man and of his aims and that it may become increasingly so. The main question is: Which of these two aspects of the relations between men and society is more important? Which is to be stressed?

We shall understand sociologism better if we compare it with the analogous 'naturalistic' view that man and his aims are a product of heredity and environment. Again we must admit that this is true enough. But it is also quite certain that man's environment is to an increasing extent a product of him and his aims (to a limited extent, the same might be said even of his heredity). Again we must ask: which of the two aspects is more important, more fertile? The answer may be easier if we give the question the following more practical form. We, the generation now living, and our minds, our opinions, are largely the product of our parents, and of the way they have brought us up. But the next generation will be, to a similar extent, a product of ourselves, of our actions and of the way in which we bring them up. Which of the two aspects is the more important one for us to-day?

If we consider this question seriously, then we find that the decisive point is that our minds, our opinions, though largely dependent on our upbringing are not totally so. If they were totally dependent on our upbringing, if we were incapable of self-criticism, of learning from our own way of seeing things, from our experience, then, of course, the way we have been brought up by the last generation would determine the way in which we bring up the next. But it is quite certain that this is not so. Accordingly, we can concentrate our critical faculties on the difficult problem of bringing up the next generation in a way which we consider better than the way in which we have been brought up ourselves.

The situation stressed so much by sociologism can be dealt with in an exactly analogous way. That our minds, our views, are in a way a product of 'society' is trivially true. The most important part of our environment is its social part; thought, in particular, is very largely dependent on social intercourse; language, the medium of thought, is a social phenomenon. But it simply cannot be denied that we can examine thoughts, that we can criticize them, improve them, and further that we can change and improve our physical environment according to our changed, improved thoughts. And the same is true of our social environment.

All these considerations are entirely independent of the metaphysical 'problem of free will'. Even the indeterminist admits a certain amount of dependence on heredity and on environmental, especially social, influence. On the other hand, the determinist must agree that our views and actions are not fully and solely determined by heredity, education, and social influences. He has to admit that there are other factors, for instance, the more 'accidental' experiences accumulated during one's life, and that these also exert their influence. Determinism or indeterminism, as long as they remain within their metaphysical boundaries, do not affect our problem. But the point is that they may trespass beyond these boundaries; that metaphysical determinism, for instance, may encourage sociological determinism or 'sociologism'. But in this form, the theory can be confronted with experience. And experience shows that it is certainly false.

Beethoven, to take an instance from the field of aesthetics, which has a certain similarity to that of ethics, is surely to some extent a product of musical education and tradition, and many who take an interest in him will be impressed by this aspect of his work. The more important aspect, however, is that he is also a producer of music, and thereby of musical tradition and education. I do not wish to quarrel with the metaphysical determinist who would insist that every bar Beethoven wrote was determined by some combination of hereditary and environmental influences. Such an assertion is empirically entirely insignificant, since no one could actually 'explain' a single bar of his writing in this way. The important thing is that everyone admits that what he wrote can be explained neither by the musical works of his predecessors, nor by the social environment in which he lived, nor by his deafness, nor by the food which his housekeeper cooked for him; not, in other words, by any definite set of environmental influences or circumstances open to empirical investigation, or by anything we could possibly know of his heredity.

I do not deny that there are certain interesting sociological aspects of Beethoven's work. It is well known, for instance, that the transition from a small to a large symphony orchestra is connected, in some way, with a socio-political development. Orchestras cease to be the private hobbies of princes, and are at least partly supported by a middle class whose interest in music greatly increases. I am willing to appreciate any sociological 'explanation' of this sort, and I admit that such aspects may be worthy of scientific study. (After all, I myself have attempted similar things in this book, for instance, in my treatment of Plato.)

What then, more precisely, is the object of my attack? It is the exaggeration and generalization of any aspect of this kind. If we 'explain' Beethoven's symphony orchestra in the way hinted above, we have explained very little. If we describe Beethoven as representing the bourgeoisie in the process of emancipating itself, we say very little, even if it is true. Such a function could most certainly be combined with the production of bad music (as we see from Wagner). We cannot attempt to explain Beethoven's genius in this way, or in any way at all.

I think that Marx's own views could likewise be used for an empirical refutation of sociological determinism. For if we consider in the light of this doctrine the two theories, activism and historicism, and their struggle for supremacy in Marx's system, then we will have to say that historicism would be a view more fitting for a conservative apologist than for a revolutionary or even a reformer. And, indeed, historicism was used by Hegel with that tendency. The fact that Marx not only took it over from Hegel, but in the end permitted it to oust his own activism, may thus show that the side a man takes in the social struggle need not always determine his intellectual decisions. These may be determined, as in Marx's case, not so much by the true interest of the class he supported as by accidental factors, such as the influence of a predecessor, or perhaps by shortsightedness. Thus in this case, sociologism may further our understanding of Hegel, but the example of Marx himself exposes it as an unjustified generalization. A similar case is Marx's underrating of the significance of his own moral ideas; for it cannot be doubted that the secret of his religious influence was in its moral appeal, that his criticism of capitalism was effective mainly as a moral criticism. Marx showed that a social system can as such be unjust; that if the system is bad, then all the righteousness of the individuals who profit from it is a mere sham righteousness, is mere hypocrisy. For our responsibility extends to the system, to the institutions which we allow to persist. It is this moral radicalism of Marx which explains his influence; and that is a hopeful fact in itself. This moral radicalism is still alive. It is our task to keep it alive, to prevent it from going the way which his political radicalism will have to go. 'Scientific' Marxism is dead. Its feeling of social responsibility and its love for freedom must survive.  
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Tue Jul 02, 2019 11:49 pm

The Aftermath

23. The Sociology of Knowledge

Rationality, in the sense of an appeal to a universal and impersonal standard of truth, is of supreme importance not only in ages in which it easily prevails, but also, and even more, in those less fortunate times in which it is despised and rejected as the vain dream of men who lack the virility to kill where they cannot agree.

-- Bertrand Russell.

It can hardly be doubted that Hegel's and Marx's historicist philosophies are characteristic products of their time — a time of social change. Like the philosophies of Heraclitus and Plato, and like those of Comte and Mill, Lamarck and Darwin, they are philosophies of change, and they witness to the tremendous and undoubtedly somewhat terrifying impression made by a changing social environment on the minds of those who live in this environment. Plato reacted to this situation by attempting to arrest all change. The more modern social philosophers appear to react very differently, since they accept, and even welcome, change; yet this love of change seems to me a little ambivalent. For even though they have given up any hope of arresting change, as historicists they try to predict it, and thus to bring it under rational control; and this certainly looks like an attempt to tame it. Thus it seems that, to the historicist, change has not entirely lost its terrors.

In our own time of still more rapid change, we even find the desire not only to predict change, but to control it by centralized large-scale planning. These holistic views (which I have criticized in The Poverty of Historicism) represent a compromise, as it were, between Platonic and Marxian theories. Plato's will to arrest change, combined with Marx's doctrine of its inevitability, yield, as a kind of Hegelian 'synthesis', the demand that since it cannot be entirely arrested, change should at least be 'planned', and controlled by the state whose power is to be vastly extended.

An attitude like this may seem, at first sight, to be a kind of rationalism; it is closely related to Marx's dream of the 'realm of freedom' in which man is for the first time master of his own fate. But as a matter of fact, it occurs in closest alliance with a doctrine which is definitely opposed to rationalism (and especially to the doctrine of the rational unity of mankind; see chapter 24). one which is well in keeping with the irrationalist and mystical tendencies of our time. I have in mind the Marxist doctrine that our opinions, including our moral and scientific opinions, are determined by class interest, and more generally by the social and historical situation of our time. Under the name of 'sociology of knowledge' or 'sociologism', this doctrine has been developed recently (especially by M. Scheler and K. Mannheim [1]) as a theory of the social determination of scientific knowledge.

The sociology of knowledge argues that scientific thought, and especially thought on social and political matters, does not proceed in a vacuum, but in a socially conditioned atmosphere. It is influenced largely by unconscious or subconscious elements. These elements remain hidden from the thinker's observing eye because they form, as it were, the very place which he inhabits, his social habitat. The social habitat of the thinker determines a whole system of opinions and theories which appear to him as unquestionably true or self-evident. They appear to him as if they were logically and trivially true, such as, for example, the sentence 'all tables are tables'. This is why he is not even aware of having made any assumptions at all. But that he has made assumptions can be seen if we compare him with a thinker who lives in a very different social habitat; for he too will proceed from a system of apparently unquestionable assumptions, but from a very different one; and it may be so different that no intellectual bridge may exist and no compromise be possible between these two systems. Each of these different socially determined systems of assumptions is called by the sociologists of knowledge a total ideology.

The sociology of knowledge can be considered as a Hegelian version of Kant's theory of knowledge. For it continues on the lines of Kant's criticism of what we may term the 'passivist' theory of knowledge. I mean by this the theory of the empiricists down to and including Hume, a theory which may be described, roughly, as holding that knowledge streams into us through our senses, and that error is due to our interference with the sense-given material, or to the associations which have developed within it; the best way of avoiding error is to remain entirely passive and receptive. Against this receptacle theory of knowledge (I usually call it the 'bucket theory of the mind'), Kant [2] argued that knowledge is not a collection of gifts received by our senses and stored in the mind as if it were a museum, but that it is very largely the result of our own mental activity; that we must most actively engage ourselves in searching, comparing, unifying, generalizing, if we wish to attain knowledge. We may call this theory the 'activist' theory of knowledge. In connection with it, Kant gave up the untenable ideal of a science which is free from any kind of presuppositions. (That this ideal is even self-contradictory will be shown in the next chapter.) He made it quite clear that we cannot start from nothing, and that we have to approach our task equipped with a system of presuppositions which we hold without having tested them by the empirical methods of science; such a system may be called a 'categorial apparatus' [3]. Kant believed that it was possible to discover the one true and unchanging categorial apparatus, which represents as it were the necessarily unchanging framework of our intellectual outfit, i.e. human 'reason'. This part of Kant's theory was given up by Hegel, who, as opposed to Kant, did not believe in the unity of mankind. He taught that man's intellectual outfit was constantly changing, and that it was part of his social heritage; accordingly the development of man's reason must coincide with the historical development of his society, i.e. of the nation to which he belongs. This theory of Hegel's, and especially his doctrine that all knowledge and all truth is 'relative' in the sense of being determined by history, is sometimes called 'historism' (in contradistinction to 'historicism', as mentioned in the last chapter). The sociology of knowledge or 'sociologism' is obviously very closely related to or nearly identical with it, the only difference being that, under the influence of Marx, it emphasizes that the historical development does not produce one uniform 'national spirit', as Hegel held, but rather several and sometimes opposed 'total ideologies' within one nation, according to the class, the social stratum, or the social habitat, of those who hold them.

But the likeness to Hegel goes further. I have said above that according to the sociology of knowledge, no intellectual bridge or compromise between different total ideologies is possible. But this radical scepticism is not really meant quite as seriously as it sounds. There is a way out of it, and the way is analogous to the Hegelian method of superseding the conflicts which preceded him in the history of philosophy. Hegel, a spirit freely poised above the whirlpool of the dissenting philosophies, reduced them all to mere components of the highest of syntheses, of his own system. Similarly, the sociologists of knowledge hold that the 'freely poised intelligence' of an intelligentsia which is only loosely anchored in social traditions may be able to avoid the pitfalls of the total ideologies; that it may even be able to see through, and to unveil, the various total ideologies and the hidden motives and other determinants which inspire them. Thus the sociology of knowledge believes that the highest degree of objectivity can be reached by the freely poised intelligence analysing the various hidden ideologies and their anchorage in the unconscious. The way to true knowledge appears to be the unveiling of unconscious assumptions, a kind of psycho-therapy, as it were, or if I may say so, a socio-therapy. Only he who has been socio-analysed or who has socio- analysed himself, and who is freed from this social complex, i.e. from his social ideology, can attain to the highest synthesis of objective knowledge.

In a previous chapter, when dealing with 'Vulgar Marxism' I mentioned a tendency which can be observed in a group of modern philosophies, the tendency to unveil the hidden motives behind our actions. The sociology of knowledge belongs to this group, together with psycho-analysis and certain philosophies which unveil the 'meaninglessness' of the tenets of their opponents [4]. The popularity of these views lies, I believe, in the ease with which they can be applied, and in the satisfaction which they confer on those who see through things, and through the follies of the unenlightened. This pleasure would be harmless, were it not that all these ideas are liable to destroy the intellectual basis of any discussion, by establishing what I have called [5] a 'reinforced dogmatism'. (Indeed, this is something rather similar to a 'total ideology'.) Hegelianism does it by declaring the admissibility and even fertility of contradictions. But if contradictions need not be avoided, then any criticism and any discussion becomes impossible since criticism always consists in pointing out contradictions either within the theory to be criticized, or between it and some facts of experience. The situation with psycho-analysis is similar: the psycho-analyst can always explain away any objections by showing that they are due to the repressions of the critic. And the philosophers of meaning, again, need only point out that what their opponents hold is meaningless, which will always be true, since 'meaninglessness' can be so defined that any discussion about it is by definition without meaning [6]. Marxists, in a like manner, are accustomed to explain the disagreement of an opponent by his class bias, and the sociologists of knowledge by his total ideology. Such methods are both easy to handle and good fun for those who handle them. But they clearly destroy the basis of rational discussion, and they must lead, ultimately, to anti-rationalism and mysticism.

In spite of these dangers, I do not see why I should entirely forgo the fun of handling these methods. For just like the psycho-analysts, the people to whom psycho-analysis applies best, [7] the socio-analysts invite the application of their own methods to themselves with an almost irresistible hospitality. For is not their description of an intelligentsia which is only loosely anchored in tradition a very neat description of their own social group? And is it not also clear that, assuming the theory of total ideologies to be correct, it would be part of every total ideology to believe that one's own group was free from bias, and was indeed that body of the elect which alone was capable of objectivity? Is it not, therefore, to be expected, always assuming the truth of this theory, that those who hold it will unconsciously deceive themselves by producing an amendment to the theory in order to establish the objectivity of their own views? Can we, then, take seriously their claim that by their sociological self-analysis they have reached a higher degree of objectivity; and their claim that socio-analysis can cast out a total ideology? But we could even ask whether the whole theory is not simply the expression of the class interest of this particular group; of an intelligentsia only loosely anchored in tradition, though just firmly enough to speak Hegelian as their mother tongue.

How little the sociologists of knowledge have succeeded in socio-therapy, that is to say, in eradicating their own total ideology, will be particularly obvious if we consider their relation to Hegel. For they have no idea that they are just repeating him; on the contrary, they believe not only that they have outgrown him, but also that they have successfully seen through him, socio-analysed him; and that they can now look at him, not from any particular social habitat, but objectively, from a superior elevation. This palpable failure in self-analysis tells us enough.

But, all joking apart, there are more serious objections. The sociology of knowledge is not only self-destructive, not only a rather gratifying object of socio-analysis, it also shows an astounding failure to understand precisely its main subject, the social aspects of knowledge, or rather, of scientific method. It looks upon science or knowledge as a process in the mind or 'consciousness' of the individual scientist, or perhaps as the product of such a process. If considered in this way, what we call scientific objectivity must indeed become completely ununderstandable, or even impossible; and not only in the social or political sciences, where class interests and similar hidden motives may play a part, but just as much in the natural sciences. Everyone who has an inkling of the history of the natural sciences is aware of the passionate tenacity which characterizes many of its quarrels. No amount of political partiality can influence political theories more strongly than the partiality shown by some natural scientists in favour of their intellectual offspring. If scientific objectivity were founded, as the sociologistic theory of knowledge naively assumes, upon the individual scientist's impartiality or objectivity, then we should have to say good-bye to it. Indeed, we must be in a way more radically sceptical than the sociology of knowledge; for there is no doubt that we are all suffering under our own system of prejudices (or 'total ideologies', if this term is preferred); that we all take many things as self-evident, that we accept them uncritically and even with the naive and cocksure belief that criticism is quite unnecessary; and scientists are no exception to this rule, even though they may have superficially purged themselves from some of their prejudices in their particular field. But they have not purged themselves by socio-analysis or any similar method; they have not attempted to climb to a higher plane from which they can understand, socio-analyse, and expurgate their ideological follies. For by making their minds more 'objective' they could not possibly attain to what we call 'scientific objectivity'. No, what we usually mean by this term rests on different grounds [8]. It is a matter of scientific method. And, ironically enough, objectivity is closely bound up with the social aspect of scientific method, with the fact that science and scientific objectivity do not (and cannot) result from the attempts of an individual scientist to be 'objective', but from the friendly-hostile cooperation of many scientists. Scientific objectivity can be described as the inter-subjectivity of scientific method. But this social aspect of science is almost entirely neglected by those who call themselves sociologists of knowledge.

Two aspects of the method of the natural sciences are of importance in this connection. Together they constitute what I may term the 'public character of scientific method'. First, there is something approaching free criticism. A scientist may offer his theory with the full conviction that it is unassailable. But this will not impress his fellow-scientists and competitors; rather it challenges them: they know that the scientific attitude means criticizing everything, and they are little deterred even by authorities. Secondly, scientists try to avoid talking at cross-purposes. (I may remind the reader that I am speaking of the natural sciences, but a part of modern economics may be included.) They try very seriously to speak one and the same language, even if they use different mother tongues. In the natural sciences this is achieved by recognizing experience as the impartial arbiter of their controversies. When speaking of 'experience' I have in mind experience of a 'public' character, like observations, and experiments, as opposed to experience in the sense of more 'private' aesthetic or religious experience; and an experience is 'public' if everybody who takes the trouble can repeat it. In order to avoid speaking at cross-purposes, scientists try to express their theories in such a form that they can be tested, i.e. refuted (or else corroborated) by such experience.

This is what constitutes scientific objectivity. Everyone who has learned the technique of understanding and testing scientific theories can repeat the experiment and judge for himself. In spite of this, there will always be some who come to judgements which are partial, or even cranky. This cannot be helped, and it does not seriously disturb the working of the various social institutions which have been designed to further scientific objectivity and criticism; for instance the laboratories, the scientific periodicals, the congresses. This aspect of scientific method shows what can be achieved by institutions designed to make public control possible, and by the open expression of public opinion, even if this is limited to a circle of specialists. Only political power, when it is used to suppress free criticism, or when it fails to protect it, can impair the functioning of these institutions, on which all progress, scientific, technological, and political, ultimately depends.

In order to elucidate further still this sadly neglected aspect of scientific method, we may consider the idea that it is advisable to characterize science by its methods rather than by its results. Let us first assume that a clairvoyant produces a book by dreaming it, or perhaps by automatic writing. Let us assume, further, that years later as a result of recent and revolutionary scientific discoveries, a great scientist (who has never seen that book) produces one precisely the same. Or to put it differently, we assume that the clairvoyant 'saw' a scientific book which could not then have been produced by a scientist owing to the fact that many relevant discoveries were still unknown at that date. We now ask: is it advisable to say that the clairvoyant produced a scientific book? We may assume that, if submitted at the time to the judgement of competent scientists, it would have been described as partly ununderstandable, and partly fantastic; thus we shall have to say that the clairvoyant's book was not when written a scientific work, since it was not the result of scientific method. I shall call such a result, which, though in agreement with some scientific results, is not the product of scientific method, a piece of 'revealed science'.

In order to apply these considerations to the problem of the publicity of scientific method, let us assume that Robinson Crusoe succeeded in building on his island physical and chemical laboratories, astronomical observatories, etc., and in writing a great number of papers, based throughout on observation and experiment. Let us even assume that he had unlimited time at his disposal, and that he succeeded in constructing and in describing scientific systems which actually coincide with the results accepted at present by our own scientists. Considering the character of this Crusonian science, some people will be inclined, at first sight, to assert that it is real science and not 'revealed science'. And, no doubt, it is very much more like science than the scientific book which was revealed to the clairvoyant, for Robinson Crusoe applied a good deal of scientific method. And yet, I assert that this Crusonian science is still of the 'revealed' kind; that there is an element of scientific method missing, and consequently, that the fact that Crusoe arrived at our results is nearly as accidental and miraculous as it was in the case of the clairvoyant. For there is nobody but himself to check his results; nobody but himself to correct those prejudices which are the unavoidable consequence of his peculiar mental history; nobody to help him to get rid of that strange blindness concerning the inherent possibilities of our own results which is a consequence of the fact that most of them are reached through comparatively irrelevant approaches. And concerning his scientific papers, it is only in attempts to explain his work to somebody who has not done it that he can acquire the discipline of clear and reasoned communication which too is part of scientific method. In one point — a comparatively unimportant one — is the 'revealed' character of the Crusonian science particularly obvious; I mean Crusoe's discovery of his 'personal equation' (for we must assume that he made this discovery), of the characteristic personal reaction-time affecting his astronomical observations. Of course it is conceivable that he discovered, say, changes in his reaction-time, and that he was led, in this way, to make allowances for it. But if we compare this way of finding out about reaction-time, with the way in which it was discovered in 'public' science — through the contradiction between the results of various observers — then the 'revealed' character of Robinson Crusoe's science becomes manifest.

To sum up these considerations, it may be said that what we call 'scientific objectivity' is not a product of the individual scientist's impartiality, but a product of the social or public character of scientific method; and the individual scientist's impartiality is, so far as it exists, not the source but rather the result of this socially or institutionally organized objectivity of science.

Both [9] Kantians and Hegelians make the same mistake of assuming that our presuppositions (since they are, to start with, undoubtedly indispensable instruments which we need in our active 'making' of experiences) can neither be changed by decision nor refuted by experience; that they are above and beyond the scientific methods of testing theories, constituting as they do the basic presuppositions of all thought. But this is an exaggeration, based on a misunderstanding of the relations between theory and experience in science. It was one of the greatest achievements of our time when Einstein showed that, in the light of experience, we may question and revise our pre-suppositions regarding even space and time, ideas which had been held to be necessary presuppositions of all science, and to belong to its 'categorial apparatus'. Thus the sceptical attack upon science launched by the sociology of knowledge breaks down in the light of scientific method. The empirical method has proved to be quite capable of taking care of itself.

But it does so not by eradicating our prejudices all at once; it can eliminate them only one by one. The classical case in point is again Einstein's discovery of our prejudices regarding time. Einstein did not set out to discover prejudices; he did not even set out to criticize our conceptions of space and time. His problem was a concrete problem of physics, the re-drafting of a theory that had broken down because of various experiments which in the light of the theory seemed to contradict one another. Einstein together with most physicists realized that this meant that the theory was false. And he found that if we alter it in a point which had so far been held by everybody to be self-evident and which had therefore escaped notice, then the difficulty could be removed. In other words, he just applied the methods of scientific criticism and of the invention and elimination of theories, of trial and error. But this method does not lead to the abandonment of all our prejudices; rather, we can discover the fact that we had a prejudice only after having got rid of it.

But it certainly has to be admitted that, at any given moment, our scientific theories will depend not only on the experiments, etc., made up to that moment, but also upon prejudices which are taken for granted, so that we have not become aware of them (although the application of certain logical methods may help us to detect them). At any rate, we can say in regard to this incrustation that science is capable of learning, of breaking down some of its crusts. The process may never be perfected, but there is no fixed barrier before which it must stop short. Any assumption can, in principle, be criticized. And that anybody may criticize constitutes scientific objectivity.

Scientific results are 'relative' (if this term is to be used at all) only in so far as they are the results of a certain stage of scientific development and liable to be superseded in the course of scientific progress. But this does not mean that truth is 'relative'. If an assertion is true, it is true for ever [10]. It only means that most scientific results have the character of hypotheses, i.e. statements for which the evidence is inconclusive, and which are therefore liable to revision at any time. These considerations (with which I have dealt more fully elsewhere [11]), though not necessary for a criticism of the sociologists, may perhaps help to further the understanding of their theories. They also throw some light, to come back to my main criticism, on the important role which co-operation, intersubjectivity, and the publicity of method play in scientific criticism and scientific progress.

It is true that the social sciences have not yet fully attained this publicity of method. This is due partly to the intelligence-destroying influence of Aristotle and Hegel, partly perhaps also to their failure to make use of the social instruments of scientific objectivity. Thus they are really 'total ideologies', or putting it differently, some social scientists are unable, and even unwilling, to speak a common language. But the reason is not class interest, and the cure is not a Hegelian dialectical synthesis, nor self-analysis. The only course open to the social sciences is to forget all about the verbal fire-works and to tackle the practical problems of our time with the help of the theoretical methods which are fundamentally the same in all sciences. I mean the methods of trial and error, of inventing hypotheses which can be practically tested, and of submitting them to practical tests. A social technology is needed whose results can be tested by piecemeal social engineering.

The cure here suggested for the social sciences is diametrically opposed to the one suggested by the sociology of knowledge. Sociologism believes that it is not their unpractical character, but rather the fact that practical and theoretical problems are too much intertwined in the field of social and political knowledge, that creates the methodological difficulties of these sciences. Thus we can read in a leading work on the sociology of knowledge [12]: 'The peculiarity of political knowledge, as opposed to "exact" knowledge, lies in the fact that knowledge and will, or the rational element and the range of the irrational, are inseparably and essentially intertwined.' To this we can reply that 'knowledge' and 'will' are, in a certain sense, always inseparable; and that this fact need not lead to any dangerous entanglement. No scientist can know without making an effort, without taking an interest; and in his effort there is usually even a certain amount of self-interest involved. The engineer studies things mainly from a practical point of view. So does the farmer. Practice is not the enemy of theoretical knowledge but the most valuable incentive to it. Though a certain amount of aloofness may be becoming to the scientist, there are many examples to show that it is not always important for a scientist to be thus disinterested. But it is important for him to remain in touch with reality, with practice, for those who overlook it have to pay by lapsing into scholasticism. Practical application of our findings is thus the means by which we may eliminate irrationalism from social science, and not any attempt to separate knowledge from 'will'.

As opposed to this, the sociology of knowledge hopes to reform the social sciences by making the social scientists aware of the social forces and ideologies which unconsciously beset them. But the main trouble about prejudices is that there is no such direct way of getting rid of them. For how shall we ever know that we have made any progress in our attempt to rid ourselves from prejudice? Is it not a common experience that those who are most convinced of having got rid of their prejudices are most prejudiced? The idea that a sociological or a psychological or an anthropological or any other study of prejudices may help us to rid ourselves of them is quite mistaken; for many who pursue these studies are full of prejudice; and not only does self-analysis not help us to overcome the unconscious determination of our views, it often leads to even more subtle self-deception. Thus we can read in the same work on the sociology of knowledge [13] the following references to its own activities: 'There is an increasing tendency towards making conscious the factors by which we have so far been unconsciously ruled . . . Those who fear that our increasing knowledge of determining factors may paralyse our decisions and threaten "freedom" should put their minds at rest. For only he is truly determined who does not know the most essential determining factors but acts immediately under the pressure of determinants unknown to him.' Now this is clearly just a repetition of a pet idea of Hegel's which Engels naively repeated when he said [14]: 'Freedom is the appreciation of necessity.' And it is a reactionary prejudice. For are those who act under the pressure of well-known determinants, for example, of a political tyranny, made free by their knowledge? Only Hegel could tell us such tales. But that the sociology of knowledge preserves this particular prejudice shows clearly enough that there is no possible short-cut to rid us of our ideologies. (Once a Hegelian, always a Hegelian.) Self-analysis is no substitute for those practical actions which are necessary for establishing the democratic institutions which alone can guarantee the freedom of critical thought, and the progress of science.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:08 am

Part 1 of 2

24: Oracular Philosophy and the Revolt Against Reason

Marx was a rationalist. With Socrates, and with Kant, he believed in human reason as the basis of the unity of mankind. But his doctrine that our opinions are determined by class interest hastened the decline of this belief. Like Hegel's doctrine that our ideas are determined by national interests and traditions, Marx's doctrine tended to undermine the rationalist belief in reason. Thus threatened both from the right and from the left, a rationalist attitude to social and economic questions could hardly resist when historicist prophecy and oracular irrationalism made a frontal attack on it. This is why the conflict between rationalism and irrationalism has become the most important intellectual, and perhaps even moral, issue of our time. I Since the terms 'reason' and 'rationalism' are vague, it will be necessary to explain roughly the way in which they are used here. First, they are used in a wide sense [1]; they are used to cover not only intellectual activity but also observation and experiment. It is necessary to keep this remark in mind, since 'reason' and 'rationalism' are often used in a different and more narrow sense, in opposition not to 'irrationalism' but to 'empiricism'; if used in this way, rationalism extols intelligence above observation and experiment, and might therefore be better described as 'intellectualism'. But when I speak here of 'rationalism', I use the word always in a sense which includes 'empiricism' as well as 'intellectualism'; just as science makes use of experiments as well as of thought. Secondly, I use the word 'rationalism' in order to indicate, roughly, an attitude that seeks to solve as many problems as possible by an appeal to reason, i.e. to clear thought and experience, rather than by an appeal to emotions and passions. This explanation, of course, is not very satisfactory, since all terms such as 'reason' or 'passion' are vague; we do not possess 'reason' or 'passions' in the sense in which we possess certain physical organs, for example, brains or a heart, or in the sense in which we possess certain 'faculties', for example, the power of speaking, or of gnashing our teeth.

In order therefore to be a little more precise, it may be better to explain rationalism in terms of practical attitudes or behaviour. We could then say that rationalism is an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience. It is fundamentally an attitude of admitting that '/ may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth'. It is an attitude which does not lightly give up hope that by such means as argument and careful observation, people may reach some kind of agreement on many problems of importance; and that, even where their demands and their interests clash, it is often possible to argue about the various demands and proposals, and to reach — perhaps by arbitration — a compromise which, because of its equity, is acceptable to most, if not to all. In short, the rationalist attitude, or, as I may perhaps label it, the 'attitude of reasonableness', is very similar to the scientific attitude, to the belief that in the search for truth we need co-operation, and that, with the help of argument, we can in time attain something like objectivity.

It is of some interest to analyse this resemblance between this attitude of reasonableness and that of science more fully. In the last chapter, I tried to explain the social aspect of scientific method with the help of the fiction of a scientific Robinson Crusoe. An exactly analogous consideration can show the social character of reasonableness, as opposed to intellectual gifts, or cleverness. Reason, like language, can be said to be a product of social life. A Robinson Crusoe (marooned in early childhood) might be clever enough to master many difficult situations; but he would invent neither language nor the art of argumentation. Admittedly, we often argue with ourselves; but we are accustomed to do so only because we have learned to argue with others, and because we have learned in this way that the argument counts, rather than the person arguing. (This last consideration cannot, of course, tip the scales when we argue with ourselves.) Thus we can say that we owe our reason, like our language, to intercourse with other men.

The fact that the rationalist attitude considers the argument rather than the person arguing is of far-reaching importance. It leads to the view that we must recognize everybody with whom we communicate as a potential source of argument and of reasonable information; it thus establishes what may be described as the 'rational unity of mankind'.

In a way, our analysis of 'reason' may be said to resemble slightly that of Hegel and the Hegelians, who consider reason as a social product and indeed as a kind of department of the soul or the spirit of society (for example, of the nation, or the class) and who emphasize, under the influence of Burke, our indebtedness to our social heritage, and our nearly complete dependence on it. Admittedly, there is some similarity. But there are very considerable differences also. Hegel and the Hegelians are collectivists. They argue that, since we owe our reason to 'society' — or to a certain society such as a nation — 'society' is everything and the individual nothing; or that whatever value the individual possesses is derived from the collective, the real carrier of all values. As opposed to this, the position presented here does not assume the existence of collectives; if I say, for example, that we owe our reason to 'society', then I always mean that we owe it to certain concrete individuals — though perhaps to a considerable number of anonymous individuals — and to our intellectual intercourse with them. Therefore, in speaking of a 'social' theory of reason (or of scientific method), I mean more precisely that the theory is an inter-personal one, and never that it is a collectivist theory. Certainly we owe a great deal to tradition, and tradition is very important, but the term 'tradition' also has to be analysed into concrete personal relations [2]. And if we do this, then we can get rid of that attitude which considers every tradition as sacrosanct, or as valuable in itself, replacing this by an attitude which considers traditions as valuable or pernicious, as the case may be, according to their influence upon individuals. We thus may realize that each of us (by way of example and criticism) may contribute to the growth or the suppression of such traditions.

The position here adopted is very different from the popular, originally Platonic, view of reason as a kind of 'faculty', which may be possessed and developed by different men in vastly different degrees. Admittedly, intellectual gifts may be different in this way, and they may contribute to reasonableness; but they need not. Clever men may be very unreasonable; they may cling to their prejudices and may not expect to hear anything worth while from others. According to our view, however, we not only owe our reason to others, but we can never excel others in our reasonableness in a way that would establish a claim to authority; authoritarianism and rationalism in our sense cannot be reconciled, since argument, which includes criticism, and the art of listening to criticism, is the basis of reasonableness. Thus rationalism in our sense is diametrically opposed to all those modern Platonic dreams of brave new worlds in which the growth of reason would be controlled or 'planned' by some superior reason. Reason, like science, grows by way of mutual criticism; the only possible way of 'planning' its growth is to develop those institutions that safeguard the freedom of this criticism, that is to say, the freedom of thought. It may be remarked that Plato, even though his theory is authoritarian, and demands the strict control of the growth of human reason in his guardians (as has been shown especially in chapter 8), pays tribute, by his manner of writing, to our inter-personal theory of reason; for most of his earlier dialogues describe arguments conducted in a very reasonable spirit.

My way of using the term 'rationalism' may become a little clearer, perhaps, if we distinguish between a true rationalism and a false or a pseudo-rationalism. What I shall call the 'true rationalism' is the rationalism of Socrates. It is the awareness of one's limitations, the intellectual modesty of those who know how often they err, and how much they depend on others even for this knowledge. It is the realization that we must not expect too much from reason; that argument rarely settles a question, although it is the only means for learning — not to see clearly, but to see more clearly than before.

What I shall call 'pseudo-rationalism' is the intellectual intuitionism of Plato. It is the immodest belief in one's superior intellectual gifts, the claim to be initiated, to know with certainty, and with authority. According to Plato, opinion — even 'true opinion', as we can read in the Timaeus [3] — 'is shared by all men; but reason' (or 'intellectual intuition') 'is shared only by the gods, and by very few men'. This authoritarian intellectualism, this belief in the possession of an infallible instrument of discovery, or an infallible method, this failure to distinguish between a man's intellectual powers and his indebtedness to others for all he can possibly know or understand, this pseudo-rationalism is often called 'rationalism', but it is diametrically opposed to what we call by this name.

My analysis of the rationalist attitude is undoubtedly very incomplete, and, I readily admit, a little vague; but it will suffice for our purpose. In a similar way I shall now describe irrationalism, indicating at the same time how an irrationalist is likely to defend it.

The irrationalist attitude may be developed along the following lines. Though perhaps recognizing reason and scientific argument as tools that may do well enough if we wish to scratch the surface of things, or as means to serve some irrational end, the irrationalist will insist that 'human nature' is in the main not rational. Man, he holds, is more than a rational animal, and also less. In order to see that he is less, we need only consider how small is the number of men who are capable of argument; this is why, according to the irrationalist, the majority of men will always have to be tackled by an appeal to their emotions and passions rather than by an appeal to their reason. But man is also more than just a rational animal, since all that really matters in his life goes beyond reason. Even the few scientists who take reason and science seriously are bound to their rationalist attitude merely because they love it. Thus even in these rare cases, it is the emotional make-up of man and not his reason that determines his attitude. Moreover, it is his intuition, his mystical insight into the nature of things, rather than his reasoning which makes a great scientist. Thus rationalism cannot offer an adequate interpretation even of the apparently rational activity of the scientist. But since the scientific field is exceptionally favourable to a rationalist interpretation, we must expect that rationalism will fail even more conspicuously when it tries to deal with other fields of human activity. And this expectation, so the irrationalist will continue his argument, proves to be quite accurate. Leaving aside the lower aspects of human nature, we may look to one of its highest, to the fact that man can be creative. It is the small creative minority of men who really matter; the men who create works of art or of thought, the founders of religions, and the great statesmen. These few exceptional individuals allow us to glimpse the real greatness of man. But although these leaders of mankind know how to make use of reason for their purposes, they are never men of reason. Their roots lie deeper — deep in their instincts and impulses, and in those of the society of which they are parts. Creativeness is an entirely irrational, a mystical faculty . . .


The issue between rationalism and irrationalism is of long standing. Although Greek philosophy undoubtedly started off as a rationalist undertaking, there were streaks of mysticism even in its first beginnings. It is (as hinted in chapter 10) the yearning for the lost unity and shelter of tribalism which expresses itself in these mystical elements within a fundamentally rational approach [4]. An open conflict between rationalism and irrationalism broke out for the first time in the Middle Ages, as the opposition between scholasticism and mysticism. (It is perhaps not without interest that rationalism flourished in the former Roman provinces, while men from the 'barbarian' countries were prominent among the mystics.) In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, when the tide of rationalism, of intellectualism, and of 'materialism' was rising, irrationalists had to pay some attention to it, to argue against it; and by exhibiting its limitations, and exposing the immodest claims and dangers of pseudo-rationalism (which they did not distinguish from rationalism in our sense), some of these critics, notably Burke, have earned the gratitude of all true rationalists. But the tide has now turned, and 'profoundly significant allusions ... and allegories' (as Kant puts it) have become the fashion of the day. An oracular irrationalism has established (especially with Bergson and the majority of German philosophers and intellectuals) the habit of ignoring or at best deploring the existence of such an inferior being as a rationalist. To them the rationalists — or the 'materialists', as they often say — and especially, the rationalist scientist, are the poor in spirit, pursuing soulless and largely mechanical activities [5], and completely unaware of the deeper problems of human destiny and of its philosophy. And the rationalists usually reciprocate by dismissing irrationalism as sheer nonsense. Never before has the break been so complete. And the break in the diplomatic relations of the philosophers proved its significance when it was followed by a break in the diplomatic relations of the states.

In this issue, I am entirely on the side of rationalism. This is so much the case that even where I feel that rationalism has gone too far I still sympathize with it, holding as I do that an excess in this direction (as long as we exclude the intellectual immodesty of Plato's pseudo- rationalism) is harmless indeed as compared with an excess in the other. In my opinion, the only way in which excessive rationalism is likely to prove harmful is that it tends to undermine its own position and thus to further an irrationalist reaction. It is only this danger which induces me to examine the claims of an excessive rationalism more closely and to advocate a modest and self-critical rationalism which recognizes certain limitations. Accordingly, I shall distinguish in what follows between two rationalist positions, which I label 'critical rationalism' and 'uncritical rationalism' or 'comprehensive rationalism'. (This distinction is independent of the previous one between a 'true' and a 'false' rationalism, even though a 'true' rationalism in my sense will hardly be other than critical.)

Uncritical or comprehensive rationalism can be described as the attitude of the person who says 'I am not prepared to accept anything that cannot be defended by means of argument or experience'. We can express this also in the form of the principle that any assumption which cannot be supported either by argument or by experience is to be discarded [6]. Now it is easy to see that this principle of an uncritical rationalism is inconsistent; for since it cannot, in its turn, be supported by argument or by experience, it implies that it should itself be discarded. (It is analogous to the paradox of the liar [7], i.e. to a sentence which asserts its own falsity.) Uncritical rationalism is therefore logically untenable; and since a purely logical argument can show this, uncritical rationalism can be defeated by its own chosen weapon, argument.

This criticism may be generalized. Since all argument must proceed from assumptions, it is plainly impossible to demand that all assumptions should be based on argument. The demand raised by many philosophers that we should start with no assumption whatever and never assume anything about 'sufficient reason', and even the weaker demand that we should start with a very small set of assumptions ('categories'), are both in this form inconsistent. For they themselves rest upon the truly colossal assumption that it is possible to start without, or with only a few assumptions, and still to obtain results that are worth while. (Indeed, this principle of avoiding all presuppositions is not, as some may think, a counsel of perfection, but a form of the paradox of the liar [8].)

Now all this is a little abstract, but it may be restated in connection with the problem of rationalism in a less formal way. The rationalist attitude is characterized by the importance it attaches to argument and experience. But neither logical argument nor experience can establish the rationalist attitude; for only those who are ready to consider argument or experience, and who have therefore adopted this attitude already, will be impressed by them. That is to say, a rationalist attitude must be first adopted if any argument or experience is to be effective, and it cannot therefore be based upon argument or experience. (And this consideration is quite independent of the question whether or not there exist any convincing rational arguments which favour the adoption of the rationalist attitude.) We have to conclude from this that no rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude. Thus a comprehensive rationalism is untenable.

But this means that whoever adopts the rationalist attitude does so because he has adopted, consciously or unconsciously, some proposal, or decision, or belief, or behaviour; an adoption which may be called 'irrational'. Whether this adoption is tentative or leads to a settled habit, we may describe it as an irrational faith in reason. So rationalism is necessarily far from comprehensive or self-contained. This has frequently been overlooked by rationalists who thus exposed themselves to a beating in their own field and by their own favourite weapon whenever an irrationalist took the trouble to turn it against them. And indeed it did not escape the attention of some enemies of rationalism that one can always refuse to accept arguments, either all arguments or those of a certain kind; and that such an attitude can be carried through without becoming logically inconsistent. This led them to see that the uncritical rationalist who believes that rationalism is self-contained and can be established by argument must be wrong. Irrationalism is logically superior to uncritical rationalism.

Then why not adopt irrationalism? Many who started as rationalists but were disillusioned by the discovery that a too comprehensive rationalism defeats itself have indeed practically capitulated to irrationalism. (This is what has happened to Whitehead [9], if I am not quite mistaken.) But such panic action is entirely uncalled for. Although an uncritical and comprehensive rationalism is logically untenable, and although a comprehensive irrationalism is logically tenable, this is no reason why we should adopt the latter. For there are other tenable attitudes, notably that of critical rationalism which recognizes the fact that the fundamental rationalist attitude results from an (at least tentative) act of faith — from faith in reason. Accordingly, our choice is open. We may choose some form of irrationalism, even some radical or comprehensive form. But we are also free to choose a critical form of rationalism, one which frankly admits its origin in an irrational decision (and which, to that extent, admits a certain priority of irrationalism).


The choice before us is not simply an intellectual affair, or a matter of taste. It is a moral decision [10] (in the sense of chapter 5). For the question whether we adopt some more or less radical form of irrationalism, or whether we adopt that minimum concession to irrationalism which I have termed 'critical rationalism', will deeply affect our whole attitude towards other men, and towards the problems of social life. It has already been said that rationalism is closely connected with the belief in the unity of mankind. Irrationalism, which is not bound by any rules of consistency, may be combined with any kind of belief, including a belief in the brotherhood of man; but the fact that it may easily be combined with a very different belief, and especially the fact that it lends itself easily to the support of a romantic belief in the existence of an elect body, in the division of men into leaders and led, into natural masters and natural slaves, shows clearly that a moral decision is involved in the choice between it and a critical rationalism.

As we have seen before (in chapter 5), and now again in our analysis of the uncritical version of rationalism, arguments cannot determine such a fundamental moral decision. But this does not imply that our choice cannot be helped by any kind of argument whatever. On the contrary, whenever we are faced with a moral decision of a more abstract kind, it is most helpful to analyse carefully the consequences which are likely to result from the alternatives between which we have to choose. For only if we can visualize these consequences in a concrete and practical way, do we really know what our decision is about; otherwise we decide blindly. In order to illustrate this point, I may quote a passage from Shaw's Saint Joan. The speaker is the Chaplain; he has stubbornly demanded Joan's death; but when he sees her at the stake, he breaks down: 'I meant no harm. I did not know what it would be like ... I did not know what I was doing ... If I had known, I would have torn her from their hands. You don't know. You haven't seen: it is so easy to talk when you don't know. You madden yourself with words . . . But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done; when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then — then — O God, take away this sight from me!' There were, of course, other figures in Shaw's play who knew exactly what they were doing, and yet decided to do it; and who did not regret it afterwards. Some people dislike seeing their fellow men burning at the stake, and others do not. This point (which was neglected by many Victorian optimists) is important, for it shows that a rational analysis of the consequences of a decision does not make the decision rational; the consequences do not determine our decision; it is always we who decide. But an analysis of the concrete consequences, and their clear realization in what we call our 'imagination', makes the difference between a blind decision and a decision made with open eyes; and since we use our imagination very little [11], we only too often decide blindly. This is especially so if we are intoxicated by an oracular philosophy, one of the most powerful means of maddening ourselves with words — to use Shaw's expression.

The rational and imaginative analysis of the consequences of a moral theory has a certain analogy in scientific method. For in science, too, we do not accept an abstract theory because it is convincing in itself; we rather decide to accept or reject it after we have investigated those concrete and practical consequences which can be more directly tested by experiment. But there is a fundamental difference. In the case of a scientific theory, our decision depends upon the results of experiments. If these confirm the theory, we may accept it until we find a better one. If they contradict the theory, we reject it. But in the case of a moral theory, we can only confront its consequences with our conscience. And while the verdict of experiments does not depend upon ourselves, the verdict of our conscience does.

I hope I have made it clear in which sense the analysis of consequences may influence our decision without determining it. And in presenting the consequences of the two alternatives between which we must decide, rationalism and irrationalism, I warn the reader that I shall be partial. So far, in presenting the two alternatives of the moral decision before us — it is, in many senses, the most fundamental decision in the ethical field — I have tried to be impartial, although I have not hidden my sympathies. But now I am going to present those considerations of the consequences of the two alternatives which appear to me most telling, and by which I myself have been influenced in rejecting irrationalism and accepting the faith in reason.

Let us examine the consequences of irrationalism first. The irrationalist insists that emotions and passions rather than reason are the mainsprings of human action. To the rationalist's reply that, though this may be so, we should do what we can to remedy it, and should try to make reason play as large a part as it possibly can, the irrationalist would rejoin (if he condescends to a discussion) that this attitude is hopelessly unrealistic. For it does not consider the weakness of 'human nature', the feeble intellectual endowment of most and their obvious dependence upon emotions and passions.

It is my firm conviction that this irrational emphasis upon emotion and passion leads ultimately to what I can only describe as crime. One reason for this opinion is that this attitude, which is at best one of resignation towards the irrational nature of human beings, at worst one of scorn for human reason, must lead to an appeal to violence and brutal force as the ultimate arbiter in any dispute. For if a dispute arises, then this means that those more constructive emotions and passions which might in principle help to get over it, reverence, love, devotion to a common cause, etc., have shown themselves incapable of solving the problem. But if that is so, then what is left to the irrationalist except the appeal to other and less constructive emotions and passions, to fear, hatred, envy, and ultimately, to violence? This tendency is very much strengthened by another and perhaps even more important attitude which also is in my opinion inherent in irrationalism, namely, the stress on the inequality of men.

It cannot, of course, be denied that human individuals are, like all other things in our world, in very many respects very unequal. Nor can it be doubted that this inequality is of great importance and even in many respects highly desirable [12]. (The fear that the development of mass production and collectivization may react upon men by destroying their inequality or individuality is one of the nightmares [13] of our times.) But all this simply has no bearing upon the question whether or not we should decide to treat men, especially in political issues, as equals, or as much like equals as is possible; that is to say, as possessing equal rights, and equal claims to equal treatment; and it has no bearing upon the question whether we ought to construct political institutions accordingly. 'Equality before the law' is not a fact but a political demand [14] based upon a moral decision', and it is quite independent of the theory — which is probably false — that 'all men are born equal'. Now I do not intend to say that the adoption of this humanitarian attitude of impartiality is a direct consequence of a decision in favour of rationalism. But a tendency towards impartiality is closely related to rationalism, and can hardly be excluded from the rationalist creed. Again, I do not intend to say that an irrationalist could not consistently adopt an equalitarian or impartial attitude; and even if he could not do so consistently, he is not bound to be consistent. But I do wish to stress the fact that the irrationalist attitude can hardly avoid becoming entangled with the attitude that is opposed to equalitarianism. This fact is connected with its emphasis upon emotions and passions; for we cannot feel the same emotions towards everybody. Emotionally, we all divide men into those who are near to us, and those who are far from us. The division of mankind into friend and foe is a most obvious emotional division; and this division is even recognized in the Christian commandment, 'Love thy enemies!' Even the best Christian who really lives up to this commandment (there are not many, as is shown by the attitude of the average good Christian towards 'materialists' and 'atheists'), even he cannot feel equal love for all men. We cannot really love 'in the abstract'; we can love only those whom we know. Thus the appeal even to our best emotions, love and compassion, can only tend to divide mankind into different categories. And this will be more true if the appeal is made to lesser emotions and passions. Our 'natural' reaction will be to divide mankind into friend and foe; into those who belong to our tribe, to our emotional community, and those who stand outside it; into believers and unbelievers; into compatriots and aliens; into class comrades and class enemies; and into leaders and led.

I have mentioned before that the theory that our thoughts and opinions are dependent upon our class situation, or upon our national interests, must lead to irrationalism. I now wish to emphasize the fact that the opposite is also true. The abandonment of the rationalist attitude, of the respect for reason and argument and the other fellow's point of view, the stress upon the 'deeper' layers of human nature, all this must lead to the view that thought is merely a somewhat superficial manifestation of what lies within these irrational depths. It must nearly always, I believe, produce an attitude which considers the person of the thinker instead of his thought. It must produce the belief that 'we think with our blood', or 'with our national heritage', or 'with our class'. This view may be presented in a materialist form or in a highly spiritual fashion; the idea that we 'think with our race' may perhaps be replaced by the idea of elect or inspired souls who 'think by God's grace'. I refuse, on moral grounds, to be impressed by these differences; for the decisive similarity between all these intellectually immodest views is that they do not judge a thought on its own merits. By thus abandoning reason, they split mankind into friends and foes; into the few who share in reason with the gods, and the many who don't (as Plato says); into the few who stand near and the many who stand far; into those who speak the untranslatable language of our own emotions and passions and those whose tongue is not our tongue. Once we have done this, political equalitarianism becomes practically impossible.

Now the adoption of an anti-equalitarian attitude in political life, i.e. in the field of problems concerned with the power of man over man, is just what I should call criminal. For it offers a justification of the attitude that different categories of people have different rights; that the master has the right to enslave the slave; that some men have the right to use others as their tools. Ultimately, it will be used, as in Plato [15], to justify murder.

I do not overlook the fact that there are irrationalists who love mankind, and that not all forms of irrationalism engender criminality. But I hold that he who teaches that not reason but love should rule opens the way for those who rule by hate. (Socrates, I believe, saw something of this when he suggested [16] that mistrust or hatred of argument is related to mistrust or hatred of man.) Those who do not see this connection at once, who believe in a direct rule of emotional love, should consider that love as such certainly does not promote impartiality. And it cannot do away with conflict either. That love as such may be unable to settle a conflict can be shown by considering a harmless test case, which may pass as representative of more serious ones. Tom likes the theatre and Dick likes dancing. Tom lovingly insists on going to a dance while Dick wants for Tom's sake to go to the theatre. This conflict cannot be settled by love; rather, the greater the love, the stronger will be the conflict. There are only two solutions; one is the use of emotion, and ultimately of violence, and the other is the use of reason, of impartiality, of reasonable compromise. All this is not intended to indicate that I do not appreciate the difference between love and hate, or that I think that life would be worth living without love. (And I am quite prepared to admit that the Christian idea of love is not meant in a purely emotional way.) But I insist that no emotion, not even love, can replace the rule of institutions controlled by reason.

This, of course, is not the only argument against the idea of a rule of love. Loving a person means wishing to make him happy. (This, by the way, was Thomas Aquinas' definition of love.) But of all political ideals, that of making the people happy is perhaps the most dangerous one. It leads invariably to the attempt to impose our scale of 'higher' values upon others, in order to make them realize what seems to us of greatest importance for their happiness; in order, as it were, to save their souls. It leads to Utopianism and Romanticism. We all feel certain that everybody would be happy in the beautiful, the perfect community of our dreams. And no doubt, there would be heaven on earth if we could all love one another. But, as I have said before (in chapter 9), the attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell. It leads to intolerance. It leads to religious wars, and to the saving of souls through the inquisition. And it is, I believe, based on a complete misunderstanding of our moral duties. It is our duty to help those who need our help; but it cannot be our duty to make others happy, since this does not depend on us, and since it would only too often mean intruding on the privacy of those towards whom we have such amiable intentions. The political demand for piecemeal (as opposed to Utopian) methods corresponds to the decision that the fight against suffering must be considered a duty, while the right to care for the happiness of others must be considered a privilege confined to the close circle of their friends. In their case, we may perhaps have a certain right to try to impose our scale of values — our preferences regarding music, for example. (And we may even feel it our duty to open to them a world of values which, we trust, can so much contribute to their happiness.) This right of ours exists only if, and because, they can get rid of us; because friendships can be ended. But the use of political means for imposing our scale of values upon others is a very different matter. Pain, suffering, injustice, and their prevention, these are the eternal problems of public morals, the 'agenda' of public policy (as Bentham would have said). The 'higher' values should very largely be considered as 'non-agenda', and should be left to the realm of laissez-faire. Thus we might say: help your enemies; assist those in distress, even if they hate you; but love only your friends.

This is only part of the case against irrationalism, and of the consequences which induce me to adopt the opposite attitude, that is, a critical rationalism. This latter attitude with its emphasis upon argument and experience, with its device 'I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort we may get nearer to the truth', is, as mentioned before, closely akin to the scientific attitude. It is bound up with the idea that everybody is liable to make mistakes, which may be found out by himself, or by others, or by himself with the assistance of the criticism of others. It therefore suggests the idea that nobody should be his own judge, and it suggests the idea of impartiality. (This is closely related to the idea of 'scientific objectivity' as analysed in the previous chapter.) Its faith in reason is not only a faith in our own reason, but also — and even more — in that of others. Thus a rationalist, even if he believes himself to be intellectually superior to others, will reject all claims to authority [17] since he is aware that, if his intelligence is superior to that of others (which is hard for him to judge), it is so only in so far as he is capable of learning from criticism as well as from his own and other people's mistakes, and that one can learn in this sense only if one takes others and their arguments seriously. Rationalism is therefore bound up with the idea that the other fellow has a right to be heard, and to defend his arguments. It thus implies the recognition of the claim to tolerance, at least [18] of all those who are not intolerant themselves. One does not kill a man when one adopts the attitude of first listening to his arguments. (Kant was right when he based the 'Golden Rule' on the idea of reason. To be sure, it is impossible to prove the rightness of any ethical principle, or even to argue in its favour in just the manner in which we argue in favour of a scientific statement. Ethics is not a science. But although there is no 'rational scientific basis' of ethics, there is an ethical basis of science, and of rationalism.) Also the idea of impartiality leads to that of responsibility; we have not only to listen to arguments, but we have a duty to respond, to answer, where our actions affect others. Ultimately, in this way, rationalism is linked up with the recognition of the necessity of social institutions to protect freedom of criticism, freedom of thought, and thus the freedom of men. And it establishes something like a moral obligation towards the support of these institutions. This is why rationalism is closely linked up with the political demand for practical social engineering — piecemeal engineering, of course — in the humanitarian sense, with the demand for the rationalization of society [19], for planning for freedom, and for its control by reason; not by 'science', not by a Platonic, a pseudo-rational authority, but by that Socratic reason which is aware of its limitations, and which therefore respects the other man and does not aspire to coerce him — not even into happiness. The adoption of rationalism implies, moreover, that there is a common medium of communication, a common language of reason; it establishes something like a moral obligation towards that language, the obligation to keep up its standards of clarity [20] and to use it in such a way that it can retain its function as the vehicle of argument. That is to say, to use it plainly; to use it as an instrument of rational communication, of significant information, rather than as a means of 'self-expression', as the vicious romantic jargon of most of our educationists has it. (It is characteristic of the modern romantic hysteria that it combines a Hegelian collectivism concerning 'reason' with an excessive individualism concerning 'emotions': thus the emphasis on language as a means of self-expression instead of a means of communication. Both attitudes, of course, are parts of the revolt against reason.) And it implies the recognition that mankind is united by the fact that our different mother tongues, in so far as they are rational, can be translated into one another. It recognizes the unity of human reason.

A few remarks may be added concerning the relation of the rationalist attitude to the attitude of readiness to use what is usually called 'imagination'. It is frequently assumed that imagination has a close affinity with emotion and therefore with irrationalism, and that rationalism rather tends towards an unimaginative dry scholasticism. I do not know whether such a view may have some psychological basis, and I rather doubt it. But my interests are institutional rather than psychological, and from an institutional point of view (as well as from that of method) it appears that rationalism must encourage the use of imagination because it needs it, while irrationalism must tend to discourage it. The very fact that rationalism is critical, whilst irrationalism must tend towards dogmatism (where there is no argument, nothing is left but full acceptance or flat denial), leads in this direction.

Criticism always demands a certain degree of imagination, whilst dogmatism suppresses it. Similarly, scientific research and technical construction and invention are inconceivable without a very considerable use of imagination; one must offer something new in these fields (as opposed to the field of oracular philosophy where an endless repetition of impressive words seems to do the trick). At least as important is the part played by imagination in the practical application of equalitarianism and of impartiality. The basic attitude of the rationalist, 'I may be wrong and you may be right', demands, when put into practice, and especially when human conflicts are involved, a real effort of our imagination. I admit that the emotions of love and compassion may sometimes lead to a similar effort. But I hold that it is humanly impossible for us to love, or to suffer with, a great number of people; nor does it appear to me very desirable that we should, since it would ultimately destroy either our ability to help or the intensity of these very emotions. But reason, supported by imagination, enables us to understand that men who are far away, whom we shall never see, are like ourselves, and that their relations to one another are like our relations to those we love. A direct emotional attitude towards the abstract whole of mankind seems to me hardly possible. We can love mankind only in certain concrete individuals. But by the use of thought and imagination, we may become ready to help all who need our help.

All these considerations show, I believe, that the link between rationalism and humanitarianism is very close, and certainly much closer than the corresponding entanglement of irrationalism with the anti- equalitarian and anti-humanitarian attitude. I believe that as far as possible this result is corroborated by experience. A rationalist attitude seems to be usually combined with a basically equalitarian and humanitarian outlook; irrationalism, on the other hand, exhibits in most cases at least some of the anti-equalitarian tendencies described, even though it may often be associated with humanitarianism also. My point is that the latter connection is anything but well founded.
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Re: The Open Society and Its Enemies, by Karl R. Popper

Postby admin » Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:08 am

Part 2 of 2


I have tried to analyse those consequences of rationalism and irrationalism which induce me to decide as I do. I wish to repeat that the decision is largely a moral decision. It is the decision to try to take argument seriously. This is the difference between the two views; for irrationalism will use reason too, but without any feeling of obligation; it will use it or discard it as it pleases. But I believe that the only attitude which I can consider to be morally right is one which recognizes that we owe it to other men to treat them and ourselves as rational.

Considered in this way, my counter-attack upon irrationalism is a moral attack. The intellectualist who finds our rationalism much too commonplace for his taste, and who looks out for the latest esoteric intellectual fashion, which he discovers in the admiration of medieval mysticism, is not, one fears, doing his duty by his fellow men. He may think himself and his subtle taste superior to our 'scientific age', to an 'age of industrialization' which carries its brainless division of labour and its 'mechanization' and 'materialization' even into the field of human thought [21]. But he only shows that he is incapable of appreciating the moral forces inherent in modern science. The attitude I am attacking can perhaps be illustrated by the following passage which I take from A. Keller [22]: a passage that seems to me a typical expression of this romantic hostility towards science: 'We seem to be entering upon a new era where the human soul is regaining its mystical and religious faculties, and protesting, by inventing new myths, against the materialization and mechanization of life. The mind suffered when it had to serve humanity as technician, as chauffeur; it is reawakening again as poet and prophet, obeying the command and leadership of dreams which seem to be quite as wise and reliable as, but more inspiring and stimulating than, intellectual wisdom and scientific programmes. The myth of revolution is a reaction against the unimaginative banality and conceited self- sufficiency of bourgeois society and of an old tired culture. It is the adventure of men who have lost all security and are embarking on dreams instead of concrete facts.' In analysing this passage I wish first, but only in passing, to draw attention to its typical historicist character and to its moral futurism [23] ('entering a new era', 'old and tired culture', etc.). But more important even than to realize the technique of the word-magic which the passage uses is to ask whether what it says is true. Is it true that our soul protests against the materialization and mechanization of our life, that it protests against the progress we have made in the fight against the untold suffering through hunger and pestilence which characterized the Middle Ages? Is it true that the mind suffered when it had to serve humanity as a technician, and was it happier to serve as a serf or a slave? I do not intend to belittle the very serious problem of purely mechanical work, of a drudgery which is felt to be meaningless, and which destroys the creative power of the workers; but the only practical hope lies, not in a return to slavery and serfdom, but in an attempt to make machinery take over this mechanical drudgery. Marx was right in insisting that increased productivity is the only reasonable hope of humanizing labour, and of further shortening the labour day. (Besides, I do not think that the mind always suffers when it has to serve humanity as a technician; I suspect that often enough, the 'technicians', including the great inventors and the great scientists, rather enjoyed it, and that they were just as adventurous as the mystics.) And who believes that the 'command and leadership of dreams', as dreamt by our contemporary prophets, dreamers, and leaders, are really 'quite as wise and reliable as intellectual wisdom and scientific programmes'? But we need only turn to the 'myth of revolution', etc., in order to see more clearly what we are facing here. It is a typical expression of the romantic hysteria and the radicalism produced by the dissolution of the tribe and by the strain of civilization (as I have described it in chapter 10). This kind of 'Christianity' which recommends the creation of myth as a substitute for Christian responsibility is a tribal Christianity. It is a Christianity that refuses to carry the cross of being human. Beware of these false prophets! What they are after, without being aware of it, is the lost unity of tribalism. And the return to the closed society which they advocate is the return to the cage, and to the beasts [24].

It may be useful to consider how the adherents of this kind of romanticism are likely to react to such criticism. Arguments will hardly be offered; since it is impossible to discuss such profundities with a rationalist, the most likely reaction will be a high-handed withdrawal, combined with the assertion that there is no language common to those whose souls have not yet 'regained their mystical faculties', and those whose souls possess such faculties. Now this reaction is analogous to that of the psycho-analyst (mentioned in the last chapter) who defeats his opponents not by replying to their arguments but by pointing out that their repressions prevent them from accepting psycho-analysis. It is analogous also to that of the socio-analyst who points out that the total ideologies of his opponents prevent them from accepting the sociology of knowledge. This method, as I admitted before, is good fun for those who practise it. But we can see here more clearly that it must lead to the irrational division of men into those who are near to us and those who are far from us. This division is present in every religion, but it is comparatively harmless in Mohammedanism, Christianity, or the rationalist faith, which all see in every man a potential convert, and the same may be said of psycho-analysis, which sees in every man a potential object of treatment (only that in the last case the fee for conversion constitutes a serious obstacle). But the division is getting less harmless when we proceed to the sociology of knowledge. The socio-analyst claims that only certain intellectuals can get rid of their total ideology, can be freed from 'thinking with their class'; he thus gives up the idea of a potential rational unity of man, and delivers himself body and soul to irrationalism. And this situation gets very much worse when we proceed to the biological or naturalist version of this theory, to the racial doctrine that we 'think with our blood' or that we 'think with our race'. But at least as dangerous, since more subtle, is the same idea when it appears in the cloak of a religious mysticism; not in the mysticism of the poet or musician, but in that of the Hegelianizing intellectualist who persuades himself and his followers that their thoughts are endowed, because of special grace, with 'mystical and religious faculties' not possessed by others, and who thus claim that they 'think by God's grace'. This claim with its gentle allusion to those who do not possess God's grace, this attack upon the potential spiritual unity of mankind, is, in my opinion, as pretentious, blasphemous and anti-Christian, as it believes itself to be humble, pious, and Christian.

As opposed to the intellectual irresponsibility of a mysticism which escapes into dreams and of an oracular philosophy which escapes into verbiage, modern science enforces upon our intellect the discipline of practical tests. Scientific theories can be tested by their practical consequences. The scientist, in his own field, is responsible for what he says; you can know him by his fruits, and thus distinguish him from the false prophets [25]. One of the few who have appreciated this aspect of science is the Christian philosopher J. Macmurray (with whose views on historical prophecy I widely disagree, as will be seen in the next chapter): 'Science itself, he says [26], 'in its own specific fields of research, employs a method of understanding which restores the broken integrity of theory and practice.' This, I believe, is why science is such an offence in the eyes of mysticism, which evades practice by creating myths instead. 'Science, in its own field,' says Macmurray in another place, 'is the product of Christianity, and its most adequate expression so far; ... its capacity for co-operative progress, which knows no frontiers of race or nationality or sex, its ability to predict, and its ability to control, are the fullest manifestations of Christianity that Europe has yet seen.' I fully agree with this, for I too believe that our Western civilization owes its rationalism, its faith in the rational unity of man and in the open society, and especially its scientific outlook, to the ancient Socratic and Christian belief in the brotherhood of all men, and in intellectual honesty and responsibility. (A frequent argument against the morality of science is that many of its fruits have been used for bad purposes, for instance, in war. But this argument hardly deserves serious consideration. There is nothing under the sun which cannot be misused, and which has not been misused. Even love can be made an instrument of murder; and pacifism can be made one of the weapons of an aggressive war. On the other hand, it is only too obvious that it is irrationalism and not rationalism that has the responsibility for all national hostility and aggression. There have been only too many aggressive religious wars, both before and after the Crusades, but I do not know of any war waged for a 'scientific' aim, and inspired by scientists.)

It will have been observed that in the passages quoted, Macmurray emphasizes that what he appreciates is science 'in its own specific fields of research'. I think that this emphasis is particularly valuable. For nowadays one often hears, usually in connection with the mysticism of Eddington and Jeans, that modern science, as opposed to that of the nineteenth century, has become more humble, in that it now recognizes the mysteries of this world. But this opinion, I believe, is entirely on the wrong track. Darwin and Faraday, for instance, sought for truth as humbly as anybody, and I do not doubt that they were much more humble than the two great contemporary astronomers mentioned. For great as these are 'in their own specific fields of research', they do not, I believe, prove their humility by extending their activities to the field of philosophical mysticism [27]. Speaking more generally, however, it may indeed be the case that scientists are becoming more humble, since the progress of science is largely by way of the discovery of errors, and since, in general, the more we know, the more clearly we realize what we do not know. (The spirit of science is that of Socrates [28].)

Although I am mainly concerned with the moral aspect of the conflict between rationalism and irrationalism, I feel that I should briefly touch upon a more 'philosophical' aspect of the problem; but I wish to make it clear that I consider this aspect as of minor importance here. What I have in mind is the fact that the critical rationalist can turn the tables upon the irrationalist in another way as well. He may contend that the irrationalist who prides himself on his respect for the more profound mysteries of the world and his understanding of them (as opposed to the scientist who just scratches its surface) in fact neither respects nor understands its mysteries, but satisfies himself with cheap rationalizations. For what is a myth if not an attempt to rationalize the irrational? And who shows greater reverence for mystery, the scientist who devotes himself to discovering it step by step, always ready to submit to facts, and always aware that even his boldest achievement will never be more than a stepping-stone for those who come after him, or the mystic who is free to maintain anything because he need not fear any test? But in spite of this dubious freedom, the mystics endlessly repeat the same thing. (It is always the myth of the lost tribal paradise, the hysterical refusal to carry the cross of civilization [29].) All mystics, as F. Kafka, the mystical poet, wrote [30] in despair, 'set out to say ... that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and that we knew before'. And the irrationalist not only tries to rationalize what cannot be rationalized, but he also gets hold of the wrong end of the stick altogether. For it is the particular, the unique and concrete individual, which cannot be approached by rational methods, and not the abstract universal. Science can describe general types of landscape, for example, or of man, but it can never exhaust one single individual landscape, or one single individual man. The universal, the typical, is not only the domain of reason, but it is also largely the product of reason, in so far as it is the product of scientific abstraction. But the unique individual and his unique actions and experiences and relations to other individuals can never be fully rationalized [31]. And it appears to be just this irrational realm of unique individuality which makes human relations important. Most people would feel, for example, that what makes their lives worth living would largely be destroyed if they themselves, and their lives, were in no sense unique but in all and every respect typical of a class of people, so that they repeated exactly all the actions and experiences of all other men who belong to this class. It is the uniqueness of our experiences which, in this sense, makes our lives worth living, the unique experience of a landscape, of a sunset, of the expression of a human face. But since the day of Plato, it has been a characteristic of all mysticism that it transfers this feeling of the irrationality of the unique individual, and of our unique relations to individuals, to a different field, namely, to the field of abstract universals, a field which properly belongs to the province of science. That it is this feeling which the mystic tries to transfer can hardly be doubted. It is well known that the terminology of mysticism, the mystical union, the mystical intuition of beauty, the mystical love, have in all times been borrowed from the realm of relations between individual men, and especially from the experience of sexual love. Nor can it be doubted that this feeling is transferred by mysticism to the abstract universals, to the essences, to the Forms or Ideas. It is again the lost unity of the tribe, the wish to return into the shelter of a patriarchal home and to make its limits the limits of our world, which stands behind this mystical attitude. 'The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling', says [32] Wittgenstein. But this holistic and universalistic irrationalism is misplaced. The 'world' and the 'whole' and 'nature', all these are abstractions and products of our reason. (This makes the difference between the mystical philosopher and the artist who does not rationalize, who does not use abstractions, but who creates, in his imagination, concrete individuals and unique experiences.) To sum up, mysticism attempts to rationalize the irrational, and at the same time it seeks the mystery in the wrong place; and it does so because it dreams of the collective [33], and the union of the elect, since it dares not face the hard and practical tasks which those must face who realize that every individual is an end in himself.

The nineteenth-century conflict between science and religion appears to me to be superseded [34]. Since an 'uncritical' rationalism is inconsistent, the problem cannot be the choice between knowledge and faith, but only between two kinds of faith. The new problem is: which is the right faith and which is the wrong faith? What I have tried to show is that the choice with which we are confronted is between a faith in reason and in human individuals and a faith in the mystical faculties of man by which he is united to a collective; and that this choice is at the same time a choice between an attitude that recognizes the unity of mankind and an attitude that divides men into friends and foes, into masters and slaves.

Enough has been said, for the present purpose, to explain the terms 'rationalism' and 'irrationalism', as well as my motives in deciding in favour of rationalism, and the reason why I see in the irrational and mystical intellectualism which is at present so fashionable the subtle intellectual disease of our time. It is a disease which need not be taken too seriously, and it is not more than skin-deep. (Scientists, with very few exceptions, are particularly free from it.) But in spite of its superficiality, it is a dangerous disease, because of its influence in the field of social and political thought.


In order to illustrate the danger, I shall briefly criticize two of the most influential irrationalist authorities of our time. The first of them is A. N. Whitehead, famous for his work in mathematics, and for his collaboration with the greatest contemporary rationalist philosopher, Bertrand Russell [35]. Whitehead considers himself a rationalist philosopher too; but so did Hegel, to whom Whitehead owes a great deal; indeed, he is one of the few Neo-Hegelians who know how much they owe to Hegel [36] (as well as to Aristotle). Undoubtedly, he owes it to Hegel that he has the courage, in spite of Kant's burning protest, to build up grandiose metaphysical systems with a royal contempt for argument.

Let us consider first one of the few rational arguments offered by Whitehead in his Process and Reality, the argument by which he defends his speculative philosophical method (a method which he calls 'rationalism'). 'It has been an objection to speculative philosophy', he writes [37], 'that it is over- ambitious. Rationalism, it is admitted, is the method by which advance is made within the limits of particular sciences. It is, however, held that this limited success must not encourage attempts to frame ambitious schemes expressive of the general nature of things. One alleged justification of this criticism is ill-success; European thought is represented as littered with metaphysical problems, abandoned and unreconciled ... [But] the same criterion would fasten ill-success upon science. We no more retain the physics of the seventeenth century than we do the Cartesian philosophy of the century . . . The proper test is not that of finality, but of progress.' Now this is in itself certainly a perfectly reasonable and even plausible argument; but is it valid? The obvious objection against it is that while physics progresses, metaphysics does not. In physics, there is a 'proper test of progress', namely the test of experiment, of practice. We can say why modern physics is better than the physics of the seventeenth century. Modern physics stands up to a great number of practical tests which utterly defeat the older systems. And the obvious objection against speculative metaphysical systems is that the progress they claim seems to be just as imaginary as anything else about them. This objection is very old; it dates back to Bacon, Hume, and Kant. We read, for example, in Kant's Prolegomena [38], the following remarks concerning the alleged progress of metaphysics: 'Undoubtedly there are many who, like myself, have been unable to find that this science has progressed by so much as a finger-breadth in spite of so many beautiful things which have long been published on this subject. Admittedly, we may find an attempt to sharpen a definition, or to supply a lame proof with new crutches, and thus to patch up the crazy quilt of metaphysics, or to give it a new pattern; but this is not what the world needs. We are sick of metaphysical assertions. We want to have definite criteria by which we may distinguish dialectical fancies ... from truth.' Whitehead is probably aware of this classical and obvious objection; and it looks as if he remembers it when in the sentence following the one quoted last he writes: 'But the main objection dating from the sixteenth century and receiving final expression from Francis Bacon, is the uselessness of philosophic speculation.' Since it was the experimental and practical uselessness of philosophy to which Bacon objected, it looks as if Whitehead here had our point in mind. But he does not follow it up. He does not reply to the obvious objection that this practical uselessness destroys his point that speculative philosophy, like science, is justified by the progress it makes. Instead, he contents himself with switching over to an entirely different problem, namely, the well-known problem 'that there are no brute, self-contained matters of fact', and that all science must make use of thought, since it must generalize, and interpret, the facts. On this consideration he bases his defence of metaphysical systems: 'Thus the understanding of the immediate brute fact requires its metaphysical interpretation . . . ' Now this may be so, or it may not be so. But it is certainly an entirely different argument from the one he began with. 'The proper test is ... progress', in science as well as in philosophy: this is what we originally heard from Whitehead. But no answer to Kant's obvious objection is forthcoming. Instead, Whitehead's argument, once on the track of the problem of universality and generality, wanders off to such questions as the (Platonic) collectivist theory of morality [39]: 'Morality of outlook is inseparably conjoined with generality of outlook. The antithesis between the general good and the individual interest can be abolished only when the individual is such that its interest is the general good . . . '

Now this was a sample of rational argument. But rational arguments are rare indeed. Whitehead has learned from Hegel how to avoid Kant's criticism that speculative philosophy only supplies new crutches for lame proofs. This Hegelian method is simple enough. We can easily avoid crutches as long as we avoid proofs and arguments altogether. Hegelian philosophy does not argue; it decrees. It must be admitted that, as opposed to Hegel, Whitehead does not pretend to offer the final truth. He is not a dogmatic philosopher in the sense that he presents his philosophy as an indisputable dogma; he even emphasizes its imperfections. But like all Neo-Hegelians, he adopts the dogmatic method of laying down his philosophy without argument. We can take it or leave it. But we cannot discuss it. (We are indeed faced with 'brute facts'; not with Baconian brute facts of experience, but with the brute facts of a man's metaphysical inspiration.) In order to illustrate this 'method of take it or leave it', I shall quote just one passage from Process and Reality, but I must warn my readers that, although I have tried to select the passage fairly, they should not form an opinion without reading the book itself.

Its last part, entitled 'Final Interpretations', consists of two chapters, 'The Ideal Opposites' (where, for instance, 'Permanence and Flux' occurs, a well-known patch from Plato's system; we have dealt with it under the name 'Change and Rest'), and 'God and the World'. I quote from this latter chapter. The passage is introduced by the two sentences: 'The final summary can only be expressed in terms of a group of antitheses, whose apparent self-contradiction depends on neglect of the diverse categories of existence. In each antithesis there is a shift of meaning which converts the opposition into a contrast.' This is the introduction. It prepares us for an 'apparent contradiction', and tells us that this 'depends' on some neglect. This seems to indicate that by avoiding that neglect we may avoid the contradiction. But how this is to be achieved, or what is, more precisely, in the author's mind, we are not told. We have just to take it or leave it. Now I quote the first two of the announced 'antitheses' or 'apparent self-contradictions' which are also stated without a shadow of argument: 'It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent as that the World is permanent and God fluent. — It is as true to say that God is one and the World many, as that the World is one and God many.' [40] Now I am not going to criticize these echoes of Greek philosophical fancies; we may indeed take it for granted that the one is just 'as true' as the other. But we have been promised an 'apparent self-contradiction'; and I should like to know where a self- contradiction appears here. For to me not even the appearance of a contradiction is apparent. A self-contradiction would be, for instance, the sentence: 'Plato is happy and Plato is not happy', and all the sentences of the same 'logical form' (that is to say, all sentences obtained from the foregoing by substituting a proper name for 'Plato' and a property word for 'happy'). But the following sentence is clearly not a contradiction: 'It is as true to say that Plato is happy to-day as it is to say that he is unhappy to-day' (for since Plato is dead, the one is indeed 'as true' as the other); and no other sentence of the same or a similar form can be called self-contradictory, even if it happens to be false. This is only to indicate why I am at a loss as to this purely logical aspect of the matter, the 'apparent self-contradictions'. And I feel that way about the whole book. I just do not understand what its author wished it to convey. Very likely, this is my fault and not his. I do not belong to the number of the elect, and I fear that many others are in the same position. This is just why I claim that the method of the book is irrational. It divides mankind into two parts, a small number of the elect, and the large number of the lost. But lost as I am, I can only say that, as I see it, Neo-Hegelianism no longer looks like that old crazy quilt with a few new patches, so vividly described by Kant; rather it looks now like a bundle of a few old patches which have been torn from it.

I leave it to the careful student of Whitehead's book to decide whether it has stood up to its own 'proper test', whether it shows progress as compared with the metaphysical systems of whose stagnation Kant complained; provided he can find the criteria by which to judge such progress. And I will leave it to the same student to judge the appropriateness of concluding these remarks with another of Kant's comments upon metaphysics [41]: 'Concerning metaphysics in general, and the views I have expressed on their value, I admit that my formulations may here or there have been insufficiently conditional and cautious. Yet I do not wish to hide the fact that I can only look with repugnance and even with something like hate upon the puffed-up pretentiousness of all these volumes filled with wisdom, such as are fashionable nowadays. For I am fully satisfied that the wrong way has been chosen; that the accepted methods must endlessly increase these follies and blunders; and that even the complete annihilation of all these fanciful achievements could not possibly be as harmful as this fictitious science with its accursed fertility.'

The second example of contemporary irrationalism with which I intend to deal here is A. J. Toynbee's A Study of History. I wish to make it clear that I consider this a most remarkable and interesting book, and that I have chosen it because of its superiority to all other contemporary irrationalist and historicist works I know of. I am not competent to judge Toynbee's merits as a historian. But as opposed to other contemporary historicist and irrationalist philosophers, he has much to say that is most stimulating and challenging; I at least have found him so, and I owe to him many valuable suggestions. I do not accuse him of irrationalism in his own field of historical research. For where it is a question of comparing evidence in favour of or against a certain historical interpretation, he uses unhesitatingly a fundamentally rational method of argument. I have in mind, for instance, his comparative study of the authenticity of the Gospels as historical records, with its negative results [42]; although I am not able to judge his evidence, the rationality of the method is beyond question, and this is the more admirable as Toynbee's general sympathies with Christian orthodoxy might have made it hard for him to defend a view which, to say the least, is unorthodox [43]. I also agree with many of the political tendencies expressed in his work, and most emphatically with his attack upon modern nationalism, and the tribalist and 'archaist', i.e. culturally reactionary tendencies, which are connected with it.

The reason why, in spite of all this, I single out Toynbee's monumental historicist work in order to charge it with irrationality, is that only when we see the effects of this poison in a work of such merit do we fully appreciate its danger.

What I must describe as Toynbee's irrationalism expresses itself in various ways. One of them is that he yields to a widespread and dangerous fashion of our time. I mean the fashion of not taking arguments seriously, and at their face value, at least tentatively, but of seeing in them nothing but a way in which deeper irrational motives and tendencies express themselves. It is the attitude of socio-analysis, criticized in the last chapter; the attitude of looking at once for the unconscious motives and determinants in the social habitat of the thinker, instead of first examining the validity of the argument itself.

This attitude may be justified to a certain extent, as I have tried to show in the two previous chapters; and this is especially so in the case of an author who does not offer any arguments, or whose arguments are obviously not worth looking into. But if no attempt is made to take serious arguments seriously, then I believe that we are justified in making the charge of irrationalism; and we are even justified in retaliating, by adopting the same attitude towards the procedure. Thus I think that we have every right to make the socio-analytical diagnosis that Toynbee's neglect to take serious arguments seriously is representative of a twentieth- century intellectualism which expresses its disillusionment, or even despair, of reason, and of a rational solution of our social problems, by an escape into a religious mysticism [44].

As an example of the refusal to take serious arguments seriously, I select Toynbee's treatment of Marx. My reasons for this selection are the following. First, it is a topic which is familiar to myself as well as to the reader of this book. Secondly, it is a topic on which I agree with Toynbee in most of its practical aspects. His main judgements on Marx's political and historical influence are very similar to results at which I have arrived by more pedestrian methods; and it is indeed one of the topics whose treatment shows his great historical intuition. Thus I shall hardly be suspected of being an apologist for Marx if I defend Marx's rationality against Toynbee. For this is the point on which I disagree: Toynbee treats Marx (as he treats everybody) not as a rational being, a man who offers arguments for what he teaches. Indeed, the treatment of Marx, and of his theories, only exemplifies the general impression conveyed by Toynbee's work that arguments are an unimportant mode of speech, and that the history of mankind is a history of emotions, passions, religions, irrational philosophies, and perhaps of art and poetry; but that it has nothing whatever to do with the history of human reason or of human science. (Names like Galileo and Newton, Harvey and Pasteur, do not play any part in the first six volumes [45] of Toynbee's historicist study of the life- cycle of civilizations.)

Regarding the points of similarity between Toynbee's and my general views of Marx, I may remind the reader of my allusions, in chapter 1, to the analogy between the chosen people and the chosen class; and in various other places, I have commented critically upon Marx's doctrines of historical necessity, and especially of the inevitability of the social revolution. These ideas are linked together by Toynbee with his usual brilliance: 'The distinctively Jewish ... inspiration of Marxism', he writes [46], 'is the apocalyptic vision of a violent revolution which is inevitable because it is the decree ... of God himself, and which is to invert the present roles of Proletariat and Dominant Minority in ... a reversal of roles which is to carry the Chosen People, at one bound, from the lowest to the highest place in the Kingdom of This World. Marx has taken the Goddess "Historical Necessity" in place of Yahweh for his omnipotent deity, and the internal proletariat of the modern Western World in place of Jewry; and his Messianic Kingdom is conceived as a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. But the salient features of the traditional Jewish apocalypse protrude through this threadbare disguise, and it is actually the pre-Rabbinical Maccabaean Judaism that our philosopher-impresario is presenting in modern Western costume Now there is certainly not much in this brilliantly phrased passage with which I do not agree, as long as it is intended as nothing more than an interesting analogy. But if it is intended as a serious analysis (or part of it) of Marxism, then I must protest; Marx, after all, wrote Capital, studied laissez-faire capitalism, and made serious and most important contributions to social science, even if much of them has been superseded. And, indeed, Toynbee's passage is intended as a serious analysis; he believes that his analogies and allegories contribute to a serious appreciation of Marx; for in an Annex to this passage (from which I have quoted only an important part) he treats, under the title [47] 'Marxism, Socialism, and Christianity', what he considers to be likely objections of a Marxist to this 'account of the Marxian Philosophy'. This Annex itself is also undoubtedly intended as a serious discussion of Marxism, as can be seen by the fact that its first paragraph commences with the words 'The advocates of Marxism will perhaps protest that ...' and the second with the words: 'In attempting to reply to a Marxian protest on such lines as these . . . ' But if we look more closely into this discussion, then we find that none of the rational arguments or claims of Marxism is even mentioned, let alone examined. Of Marx's theories and of the question whether they are true or false we do not hear a word. The one additional problem raised in the Annex is again one of historical origin; for the Marxist opponent envisaged by Toynbee does not protest, as any Marxist in his senses would, that it is Marx's claim to have based an old idea, socialism, upon a new, namely a rational and scientific, basis; instead, he 'protests' (I am quoting Toynbee) 'that in a rather summary account of Marxian Philosophy ... we have made a show of analysing this into a Hegelian and a Jewish and a Christian constituent element without having said a word about the most characteristic . . . part of Marx's message . . . Socialism, the Marxian will tell us, is the essence of the Marxian way of life; it is an original element in the Marxian system which cannot be traced to a Hegelian or a Christian or a Jewish or any other pre-Marxian source'. This is the protest put by Toynbee into the mouth of a Marxist, although any Marxist, even if he has read nothing but the Manifesto, must know that Marx himself as early as in 1847 distinguished about seven or eight different 'pre-Marxian sources' of socialism, and among them also those which he labelled 'Clerical' or 'Christian' socialism, and that he never dreamt of having discovered socialism, but only claimed that he had made it rational; or, as Engels expresses it, that he had developed socialism from a Utopian idea into a science [48]. But Toynbee neglects all that. 'In attempting', he writes, 'to reply to a Marxian protest on such lines as these, we shall readily admit the humaneness and constructiveness of the ideal for which socialism stands, as well as the importance of the part which this ideal plays in the Marxian "ideology"; but we shall find ourselves unable to accept the Marxian contention that Socialism is Marx's original discovery. We shall have to point out, on our part, that there is a Christian socialism which was practised as well as preached before the Marxian Socialism was ever heard of; and, when our turn comes for taking the offensive, we shall . . . maintain that the Marxian Socialism is derived from the Christian tradition . . . ' Now I would certainly never deny this derivation, and it is quite clear that every Marxist could admit it without sacrificing the tiniest bit of his creed; for the Marxist creed is not that Marx was the inventor of a humane and constructive ideal but that he was the scientist who by purely rational means showed that socialism will come, and in what way it will come.

How, I ask, can it be explained that Toynbee discusses Marxism on lines which have nothing whatever to do with its rational claims? The only explanation I can see is that the Marxist claim to rationality has no meaning whatever for Toynbee. He is interested only in the question of how it originated as a religion. Now I should be the last to deny its religious character. But the method of treating philosophies or religions entirely from the point of view of their historical origin and environment, an attitude described in the previous chapters as historism (and to be distinguished from historicism), is, to say the least, very one-sided; and how much this method is liable to produce irrationalism can be seen from Toynbee's neglect of, if not contempt for, that important realm of human life which we have here described as rational.

In an assessment of Marx's influence, Toynbee arrives at the conclusion [49] that 'the verdict of History may turn out to be that a re- awakening of the Christian social conscience has been the one great positive achievement of Karl Marx'. Against this assessment, I have certainly not much to say; perhaps the reader will remember that I too have emphasized [50] Marx's moral influence upon Christianity. I do not think that, as a final appraisal, Toynbee takes sufficiently into account the great moral idea that the exploited should emancipate themselves, instead of waiting for acts of charity on the part of the exploiters; but this, of course, is just a difference of opinion, and I would not dream of contesting Toynbee's right to his own opinion, which I consider very fair. But I should like to draw attention to the phrase 'the verdict of history may turn out', with its implied historicist moral theory, and even moral futurism [51]. For I hold that we cannot and must not evade deciding in such matters for ourselves; and that if we are not able to pass a verdict, neither will history.

So much about Toynbee's treatment of Marx. Concerning the more general problem of his historism or historical relativism, it may be said that he is well aware of it, although he does not formulate it as a general principle of the historical determination of all thought, but only as a restricted principle applicable to historical thought; for he explains [52] that he takes 'as the starting point ... the axiom that all historical thought is inevitably relative to the particular circumstances of the thinker's own time and place. This is a law of Human Nature from which no human genius can be exempt.' The analogy of this historism with the sociology of knowledge is rather obvious; for 'the thinker's own time and place' is clearly nothing but the description of what may be called his 'historical habitat', by analogy with the 'social habitat' described by the sociology of knowledge. The difference, if any, is that Toynbee confines his 'law of Human Nature' to historical thought, which seems to me a slightly strange and perhaps even unintentional restriction; for it is somewhat improbable that there should be a 'law of Human Nature from which no human genius can be exempt' holding not for thought in general but only for historical thought.

With the undeniable but rather trivial kernel of truth contained in such a historism or sociologism I have dealt in the last two chapters, and I need not repeat what I have said there. But as regards criticism, it may be worth while to point out that Toynbee 's sentence, if freed from its restriction to historical thought, could hardly be considered an 'axiom' since it would be paradoxical. (It would be another [53] form of the paradox of the liar; for if no genius is exempt from expressing the fashions of his social habitat then this contention itself may be merely an expression of the fashion of its author's social habitat, i.e. of the relativistic fashion of our own day.) This remark has not only a formal-logical significance. For it indicates that historism or historio-analysis can be applied to historism itself, and this is indeed a permissible way of dealing with an idea after it has been criticized by way of rational argument. Since historism has been so criticized, I may now risk a historio-analytical diagnosis, and say that historism is a typical though slightly obsolescent product of our time; or more precisely, of the typical backwardness of the social sciences of our time. It is the typical reaction to interventionism and to a period of rationalization and industrial co-operation; a period which, perhaps more than any other in history, demands the practical application of rational methods to social problems. A social science which cannot quite meet these demands is therefore inclined to defend itself by producing elaborate attacks upon the applicability of science to such problems. Summing up my historio-analytical diagnosis, I venture to suggest that Toynbee's historism is an apologetic anti-rationalism, born out of despair of reason, and trying to escape into the past, as well as into prophecy of the future [54]. If anything then historism must be understood as an historical product.

This diagnosis is corroborated by many features of Toynbee's work. An example is his stress upon the superiority of other-worldliness over action which will influence the course of this world. So he speaks, for instance, of Mohammed's 'tragic worldly success', saying that the opportunity which offered itself to the prophet of taking action in this world was 'a challenge to which his spirit failed to rise. In accepting ... he was renouncing the sublime role of the nobly-honoured prophet and contenting himself with the commonplace role of the magnificently successful statesman.' (In other words, Mohammed succumbed to a temptation which Jesus resisted.) Ignatius Loyola, accordingly, wins Toynbee's approval for turning from a soldier into a saint [55]. One may ask, however, whether this saint did not become a successful statesman too? (But if it is a question of Jesuitism, then, it seems, all is different: this form of statesmanship is sufficiently otherworldly.) In order to avoid misunderstandings, I wish to make it clear that I myself would rate many saints higher than most, or very nearly all, statesmen I know of, for I am generally not impressed by political success. I quote this passage only as a corroboration of my historio-analytical diagnosis: that this historism of a modern historical prophet is a philosophy of escape.  

Toynbee's anti-rationalism is prominent in many other places. For instance, in an attack upon the rationalistic conception of tolerance he uses categories like 'nobleness' as opposed to 'lowness' instead of arguments. The passage deals with the opposition between the merely 'negative' avoidance of violence, on rational grounds, and the true non- violence of other-worldliness, hinting that these two are instances of 'meanings ... which are ... positively antithetical to one another' [56]. Here is the passage I have in mind: 'At its lowest the practice of Non- Violence may express nothing more noble and more constructive than a cynical disillusionment with . . . violence . . . previously practised ad nauseam . . . A notorious example of Non- Violence of this unedifying kind is the religious tolerance in the Western World from the seventeenth century . . . down to our day.' It is difficult to resist the temptation to retaliate by asking — ^using Toynbee's own terminology — whether this edifying attack upon Western democratic religious tolerance expresses anything more noble or more constructive than a cynical disillusionment with reason; whether it is not a notorious example of that anti-rationalism which has been, and unfortunately still is, fashionable in our Western World, and which has been practised ad nauseam, especially from the time of Hegel, down to our day?

Of course, my historio-analysis of Toynbee is not a serious criticism. It is only an unkind way of retaliating, of paying historism back in its own coin. My fundamental criticism is on very different lines, and I should certainly be sorry if by dabbling in historism I were to become responsible for making this cheap method more fashionable than it is already.

I do not wish to be misunderstood. I feel no hostility towards religious mysticism (only towards a militant anti-rationalist intellectualism) and I should be the first to fight any attempt to oppress it. It is not I who advocate religious intolerance. But I claim that faith in reason, or rationalism, or humanitarianism, or humanism, has the same right as any other creed to contribute to an improvement of human affairs, and especially to the control of international crime and the establishment of peace. 'The humanist', Toynbee writes [57], 'purposely concentrates all his attention and effort upon . . . bringing human affairs under human control. Yet ... the unity of mankind can never be established in fact except within a framework of the unity of the superhuman whole of which Humanity is a part . . .; and our Modern Western school of humanists have been peculiar, as well as perverse, in planning to reach Heaven by raising a titanic Tower of Babel on terrestrial foundations Toynbee's contention, if I understand him rightly, is that there is no chance for the humanist to bring international affairs under the control of human reason. Appealing to the authority of Bergson— [58], he claims that only allegiance to a superhuman whole can save us, and that there is no way for human reason, no 'terrestrial road', as he puts it, by which tribal nationalism can be superseded. Now I do not mind the characterization of the humanist's faith in reason as 'terrestrial', since I believe that it is indeed a principle of rationalist politics that we cannot make heaven on earth [59]. But humanism is, after all, a faith which has proved itself in deeds, and which has proved itself as well, perhaps, as any other creed. And although I think, with most humanists, that Christianity, by teaching the fatherhood of God, may make a great contribution to establishing the brotherhood of man, I also think that those who undermine man's faith in reason are unlikely to contribute much to this end.
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