Podium: An Open Society Needs Conflict from the Karl Popper Lecture, Delivered at the London School of Economics by the Sociologist
Dahrendorf, Ralf, The Independent (London, England)
IS THE Open Society a useful project or an empty concept? Is it an empty shell or a precious stone? Open societies are societies which allow trial and error. This is the simplest definition of the concept. It is in fact the application of Popper's philosophy of knowledge to social, economic and political affairs. We cannot know, we can only guess. Our guesses may be wrong; in fact, proving guesses wrong is what the advancement of knowledge is about.
It matters, therefore, above all that falsification remains possible, that it is not prevented by dogma or even the vested interests of the scientific community. We cannot be sure what the good society is like, we can only advance projects to this end. Such projects may turn out to be unacceptable or inappropriate; in fact, debating their pros and cons is what life in the open society means. It matters that change remains possible, that it is not prevented by tyranny or cartels.
Popper was right when he pointed to profound differences between the natural and the social sciences. Time, history rather, signified the key difference. If Einstein proves Newton wrong, Newton was always wrong. If a neosocial-democratic project replaces a neoliberal one - Clinton after Reagan and Bush, Blair after Thatcher and Major - this may mean that a project which was right at its time has come to be regarded as wrong. Perhaps it even means that all projects will in due course be "wrong"; history knows no "truth". Society not only has history but it is also heterogeneous. It must remain possible to remove governments without force, no less, but no more. Applied to economic processes, the notion that comes to mind above all is that of the market. It alone leaves open the door to changing tastes and preferences, as well as to new "forces of production". Schumpeter's world of "creative destruction" by entrepreneurs is in some ways the economic version of progress by falsification. In society in the more diffuse sense it is harder to find the equivalent. Probably the notion of pluralism is relevant here. The notions of democracy, the market economy, and civil society must not mislead anyone into believing that there is only one institutional form to give them reality. All that remains essential for open societies is that …
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Publication information: Article title: Podium: An Open Society Needs Conflict from the Karl Popper Lecture, Delivered at the London School of Economics by the Sociologist. Contributors: Dahrendorf, Ralf - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 17, 1998. Page number: 4. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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