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77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, highly recommended
Plato is arguably the most famous philosopher of all time, seen by many as setting the foundations of Western philosophy. Because of this making an effective criticism of Plato is not only a difficult task; but also an undoubtedly interesting premise for a book.
Even before the argument begins there is a stark example of what is to come. Two quotes; one by Pericles...
Published on 24 Feb 2004 by raprice79

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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly his finest moment...
This book consists of two volumes, which really demand two different reviews, but as this does not seem to be possible a double review will have to do.

The first volume, "The Spell of Plato", is compellingly written and fairly well researched, but sixty years on from its writing its flaws are easily spotted. Plato, according to Popper, was an anti-democratic,...
Published on 2 Nov 2008 by John Goodman


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77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, highly recommended, 24 Feb 2004
This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
Plato is arguably the most famous philosopher of all time, seen by many as setting the foundations of Western philosophy. Because of this making an effective criticism of Plato is not only a difficult task; but also an undoubtedly interesting premise for a book.
Even before the argument begins there is a stark example of what is to come. Two quotes; one by Pericles the other by Plato, immediately illustrate what the book is going to be like. The second quote is so horrifically totalitarian that it is shocking to see it comes from Plato. Because it is pointed out that both men where from Athens, and were separated by only about 80 years the effect is even more striking.
Put simply, Popper outlines Plato’s ideas and explains why he believes that many of them are fundamentally anti-democratic and authoritarian, even totalitarian. Plato attacks were due to his dissatisfaction with the ever changing material world and with the open, abstract society that democratic Athens was becoming – that our society has become.
In the book "Introducing Political Philosophy" Dave Robinson points out the more common objections against Popper's criticism, that his argument is retrospective and philosophers such as Plato cannot be blamed for the later abuse of their ideas. It’s certainly true that Popper doesn’t mince his words in this book; clearly stating the ways in which many of Plato’s beliefs are totalitarian, at one point he goes as far to say that Plato’s ideas regarding education and Philosopher Kings are a betrayal of the memory of his mentor Socrates. However, Popper never goes too over the top. You constantly get the sense that Popper knows what he is talking about and his strong opinions only serve to make the book more enjoyable. Besides this Popper appears to have already answered the problems pointed by critics like Robinson; an example of this is when Popper points out that Plato's concept of justice is not only unjust by modern definitions but would also have been so in the eyes of ancient Athenians. If it is true that Plato’s ideas could have been seen as authoritarian at the time as well as from a modern view surely it would be unfair to criticize Popper argument for being retrospective.

Whatever the case, it is definitely an interesting argument and the clear and systematic way in which Popper sets out this and the other points of his argument is what makes this book so satisfying. Everything has a purpose, which Popper outlines before hand, so that you never get the feeling you are reading the meaningless rambling that many philosophy books fall into. An example would be Sartre's “Being and Nothingness”, which although an important book with several interesting ideas too often becomes bogged down in repetition and obtuse phrases.
Indeed such charge could be levelled at much of Plato’s writing. Because some people do not like the way in which Plato writes I would go as far as to recommend “Open Society…” as a good introduction to Plato’s major ideas. Particularly as I thought the Writers and Readers book “Plato for Beginners” was below average for a series that I would usually recommend for people looking for clear, easy to read introduction to different philosophers.
I think the Routledge Classics edition of Popper’s “Open Society…” is probably the best available because it is well made with good typeset and at £10 is good value for money. However, be aware that about half of this edition is taken up with notes. I did not mind this, it gives the reader a choice: to leave them out in which case the book is quite a quick, but still effecting read – or to have the extra detail. I haven’t read them completely but they seem quite interesting.
Another book I would recommend that deals with similar themes to Popper’s is “The Fear of Freedom” by Erich Fromm. It looks at the ways in which living in an open society (similar to the society Popper tries to defend against the attacks of Plato) and the freedoms this entails can put psychological pressures on people that they often try to escape, and the various methods they use.
The effort I’ve put into this review as well as its content should put across that I thought this book was well worth reading. I am certainly going to buy the second volume and would recommend to anyone at all interested in philosophy the buy the first.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly handled, 20 Aug 2007
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N. Gilmartin (Wallington, London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
This is a review of part one of the book, which deals with Plato.

The Open Society is an incredibly fair and engrossing read. I think Popper's is a robust and well-researched deconstruction of Plato's historicist ideas.

Popper argues that Plato's theory of the Forms grew out of his deep psychological need for assurance that ultimate reality was secure, unchanging, and stable, in stark contrast to the political turmoil and rapid social change he witnessed around him.

Further, Popper argues that Plato's theory of history was historicist, that is, based on the belief that there are unalterable laws to history which can be understood so that prophesies about the future course of events can be made. However, Popper shows that Plato allowed that these laws could in fact be violated, but only by a trained elite.

Popper shows that the ideal society for Plato was one in which the collective interest would take precedent over individual interests - but the so-called `collective interest' would be none other than that of a ruling caste, not the entire society. In fact, Plato's thought is shown to be suffused with crude and sentimental racialism. Plato proposes that each of us is made of a specific metal, and that depending on the metal with which we are born, we are supposed to be a philosopher, soldier, tradesman or slave (although the difference between these last two is largely nominal). To mix metals is a recipe for disaster, as it would upset the social equilibrium, which for Plato is the cardinal sin. The solution is to stop all mixing of metals, by force if necessary, which in practice results in a static society where those at the bottom (those born with the most coarse metal) stay at the bottom. This is morally justified by a specious and arbitrary metaphysical claim.

It is liberating to see Plato taken off his pedestal, not with empty slander, but with intellectual rigour. Nobody should be beyond criticism. I cannot understand why some people have deemed fit to accuse Popper of having deliberately skewed the writings of Plato to suit his ends. On the contrary, Popper has done everything conceivable to substantiate his claims: indeed, the footnotes collected together at the end of the work are nearly as long as the book itself!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class book by a first class thinker, 5 April 2010
By 
Spilsbury (UK, Liverpool) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
This book is a superb adjunct to anyone wishing to understand the Social science of Plato. The central thrust of Poppers thesis is that Plato was for the large part preoccupied with the well being of the ruling Aristocratic classes of Athens, and displayed an often savagely critical and hard view of the Slaves and lower classes. His Republic was not by any modern notions of Democracy an open or just society with equality as its bedrock. A central Platonic theme is the corruption and degeneration of all forms of life including political life, and that change is a corrupting force whereas non-movement preserves in as pristine a state as possible the all that is pure in life. In political and societal terms, the tribal society is eulogised as that most perfect of political states. It does not take a huge leap of understanding to realise that in the laboratory of human history of the last 2000 years, this form of thinking has had a profound influence on the development of racist concepts of societal ordering, particularly by Western Elites. They after all were for centuries reared on Platonic thinking as a primary and most perfect source of Political scientific thinking.
Popper writes clearly and compellingly arguing against the notion that Plato is democratic in the sense we think of democracy and this is a huge intellectual step to take forward in slaying the father so to speak. This book is an exceptionally important book for getting to grips with Platonic theory and challenging some of the overvalued ideas or assumptions about Greek democracy, much of which has filtered down to the modern day with all the paradoxes and inconsistencies which we have witnessed in recent history, as a result of an imperfect understanding of democracy, based as Popper would have it, on a fundamentally flawed understanding of the Platonic standpoint.
Nowhere is it clearer than today that Tribalism and its larger scale form Nationalism are hardly perfect original forms of Governance but are the source of untold human suffering and misery, and that the modern systems of Governance are in many respects the great fruits of positive change, a concept that is an oxymoron to Plato.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Karl Popper: The Open Society and its enemies Vol I: Plato, 7 Jun 2009
By 
Mr. M. F. Stallard (Wisbech, Cambs) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
Before I bought this book, I was worried that I wouldn't understand it. Philosophy is a hard subject and Plato is, despite his excellent Greek, very hard to pin down. I needn't have worried. If you are interested in either politics or political philosophy, then this two volume work is a must and has been for fifty years. The style is clear and the man has read everything that Plato has ever written and then some. Buy it and enjoy!
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly his finest moment..., 2 Nov 2008
This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
This book consists of two volumes, which really demand two different reviews, but as this does not seem to be possible a double review will have to do.

The first volume, "The Spell of Plato", is compellingly written and fairly well researched, but sixty years on from its writing its flaws are easily spotted. Plato, according to Popper, was an anti-democratic, proto-nazi eugenicist - as well as being a great philosopher. Indeed, Plato was openly against the democracy in Athens at the time, but Popper is wrong to consider Plato's arguments an outdated case for totalitarianism. Instead, Plato wanted us to govern wisely, based on knowledge gained through reasoning and experience rather than impulse, be that the impulse of a dictator or the impulse of the masses.

And far from being outdated, Plato's case still resonates strongly - few suggest that the day to day governing of the nation should be returned to the citizenry (limited or not) as it was in Plato's time. Running of the country is left to university educated civil servants and politicians who are rarely subjected to election, at least compared to the monthly/annual elections in Athens or as proposed by Marx, and running of the economy is left to talented CEOs, managers, bank personnel and others who virtually never have to take the whims of the masses into consideration. One wonders what Plato would think of modern society were he alive today - and I believe that he would be perfectly content with its synthesis of good governing based on knowledge and acknowledgement, if not complete adherence to, the will of the people. Plato towards the end of his life began to realise that simple dictatorship was a poor method of governing, revising his ideal state to limit the powers of the monarch. Far from a fascist reacting to his changing world, Plato was a lover of wisdom, and a pursuer of a means to bring wisdom to where it matters most - our rulers.

While the first volume is a fine piece, though wholly wrong, the second volume is frankly embarrassing. The section on Hegel, who I personally have little time for, is essentially an extended ad hominem. Hegel is described as a talentless, nationalistic, racist, proto-nazi anti-semite - I'm ashamed I'm not making this up. The critique of dialectics is brief, uninformative and unconvincing. I would advise you to google at this point, there are some excellent expositions of the dubious tactics and poor scholarship employed in the Hegel section.

Finally there is the section on Marx, which while better than the hilariously bad Hegel section often descends into frivolous argument based on pretty much anything Popper can find to criticise. At one point Popper draws attention to Engel's argument that any revolution should avoid bloodshed, and should only turn to violence if the state began shooting at the masses. A justified statement to any person surely - but Popper spends the next pages arguing that not only was this a foolish statement, but it inadvertently caused the rise of Hitler. You will not be surprised to learn I very nearly gave up reading at this point. The fact that Marx was a great proponent of a revived Athenian style democracy, with the masses rather than an elite citizenry running every aspects of their lives, is ignored by Popper who casts the "conquest of power" by the proletariat in a very negative light - and one hopes this ignorance is due to poor scholarship rather than any attempt at censorship. The few good arguments in the section were on economics, and presumably gifts from Hayek. The rest is for the most part garbage, and a source of the vile myth that Marx and Hegel were ultimately responsible for the atrocities of the Nazi regime.

Popper can be forgiven for some of the problems of this book. The great threat of totalitarianism was far from subsided in the months after the Second World War that Popper wrote this book, and the promises of new, informed "social engineering" as Popper proposes and a strong democracy seemed to be a good one. It is perfectly understandable that Popper would therefore cross the boundaries of good philosophising and good argument occasionally to oppose the former and support the latter. But, particularly in the second volume, the often deceitful tactics and wilful ignorance of the subjects he is discussing becomes too much - and reveals the Open Society as a book not worthy of being written by one of the 20th Centuries great thinkers.
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4.0 out of 5 stars In Which Popper Poops On Plato: Vol I, 24 Mar 2013
This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
In which Popper decries and rails against Plato's totalitarian approach to running society. I especially like the Preface comment: "We must break with the habit of deference to great men". Amen, as long as we don't replace that with deference to the lesser men and women who, today, run our countries and institutions, including religious. I particularly applaud Popper's democratic and scientific approach: "the secret of intellectual excellence is the spirit of criticism". True, and if one listens to the quacks of the American Republican party one would take intellectual excellence for elitism. So what can we do if as Pooper (sorry, Popper) maintains "excellent leaders cannot be produced by rational methods, only by luck"? This is only Volume I so hopefully his answer becomes clear as he goes on but it's certain that he much favours Openness, which history to date shows to be the most successful for the emancipation of the human spirit.

It must be said that Popper protested too much at times and this is one hard book to read but one with fruits.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Malign influences and the Second Wold War, 14 Nov 2012
By 
Mac McAleer (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
I started this book with trepidation as the combination of Karl Popper and Plato was daunting. However, I was surprised at how accessible this book was, at least at first.

The genesis of this book was in the lead-up to the Second World War. It was written during the war and published in 1945. This is Part One and considers Plato. Part Two considers Karl Marx. The subtitle is "The Spell of Plato", the operative word being "spell". It is as much about Plato's influence as his ideas. Plato has seeped into the western culture and due to academic reverence his ideas have often been taken less than critically. The time of writing must be taken in account. Popper, an Austrian living and working in England, watched the rise of totalitarianism in Europe. Presumably Part Two is influenced by the triumph of totalitarianism in Russia.

Plato may not have been a direct influence on western tyrants of the 1930s and 1940s but he did influence western thinkers and they were a direct influence. Plato's Republic plays a big part in this book. Popper maintains that the title is a misnomer. A Greek title was translated to the Latin Res Publica which was in turn translated into the modern Republic. But Plato's work is not about some dynamic, modern, egalitarian Republic but about government by authoritarian aristocratic philosopher guardians in a backward looking, static society. This is more Sparta than Athens.

Popper provides extensive notes but states that they are additional to the text and that the text can be read without them. However, the text of the book is 214 pages and the Notes are 114 pages, so the Notes are extensive, almost another book.

So, what do you get? You do not get a general discussion about the "Open Society and its Enemies" but a specific critique of Plato's social writings and how these are an enemy of an open society. You get an alternative introduction to part of Plato's thought. You may have to plod through it, but it is easier to read than translations of the original writings. And you do not have to plod through it in one reading. It can be revisited over time.

Links
Plato The Republic
Plato The Laws
Plato Gorgias
Geldard Remembering Heraclitus
Popper The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 2
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4.0 out of 5 stars brilliant analysis, 25 Jun 2011
By 
Bernd Kotz (Essen, Germany) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
Karl Popper had two different views of the social science. The first view is the historicism view, which included the theory of Heraclitus and Platon. Heraclitus said that everything is in a state of flux and he believed in the law of fate. Platon believed in Heraclitus too. He wanted to stop the declining process by establishing the perfect state. The perfect state is the best in the line of different states. The poisoning of the perfect state shows the process of decline. In which Popper explained the theory of Platon. His forms and ideas are explaining the process. If you want to retain the perfect state, you must establish a pure race. Every form of individuality must be controlled that a degeneration of the perfect state is impossible.
The open society was his second view of social science. His social technique is different from the view of Platon. It is a status quo orientated view. He thinks that every person is his owe fate and that the process of history is not predetermined from a different point in the past. He wants to create a social system which serves the people and gives them the freedom for a liberal state. He showed the differences between the closed society and the open society. The enemy of the open society is the totalitarianism. He showed it in an excellent way.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Volume 1 - Good but a Little Boring, 24 Feb 2010
This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
thing is, if youre not a platonist to begin with theres really no point in reading such a long expose of plato. now of course the book does contain its bold points like the seperation of socrates from plato and the outright denial that the socrates of the repulic has anything to do with the historical socrates
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Another footnote to Plato, 24 Aug 2008
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This review is from: The Open Society and Its Enemies: Volume 1: The Spell of Plato (Routledge Classics): Vol 1 (Paperback)
Somebody once said: "The entire history of philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato". Karl Popper is one of those footnotes.

"The Open Society and its Enemies" was originally published in 1945. The first volume attacks Plato, the second takes on Hegel and Marx. The work is considered to be a classical defense of liberal democracy against Nazi and Communist totalitarianism. In reality, Popper must be one of the most overrated thinkers of the 20th century. His over-simplistic notion of "falsification" is another case in point.

Obviously, it's impossible to fully criticize Popper in a short review. This critique is therefore only a short outline.

First, Poppers interpretation of ancient Greece is deeply flawed, almost hopeless. He claims that a strong abolitionist movement existed in Athens, that slavery was on the verge of dissolution, that a politician like Pericles was egalitarian and humanist, and that Athenian imperialism was essentially benign, devoted to spreading liberal democracy to all corners of Hellas. COME AGAIN?

These ideas are fantasies. True, Athenian democracy was "plebeian" in the sense that all free native-born men were citizens, regardless of their income status. However, the majority of the Athenian population were slaves, many of whom were brutally treated. Athens was also strongly patriarchal: women were not citizens. Thus, Athens was fundamentally a hierarchic, non-egalitarian society, despite the nominal equality between, say, a free farmer and a free aristocrat. Nor was Athens pluralistic in the modern sense: all citizens were expected to worship the same gods. This, of course, is what Poppers hero Socrates was accused of not doing.

Popper rightly points out that Plato was more regressive than Pericles on the subject of democracy. However, on the subject of slavery, Plato was actually more "progressive", since he opposed the enslavement of other Greeks, and called for a code of conduct during armed conflicts between Greek city-states. Pericles most certainly did not.

Unsurprisingly, Popper sees Sparta as the "totalitarian" antithesis to Athens. This, I believe, is another anachronism. To the helots, Sparta was indeed deeply oppressive. But so was Periclean Athens to its slaves! And while Sparta's constitution was more oligarchic than the Periclean, the Spartan system had other traits that were plebeian: common meals, male bonding, harsh military training for all citizens, perhaps even greater gender equality. All free native men regardless of income status were citizens, just like in Athens. Thus, many Spartan citizens were low-income rather than oligarchs. Yet, they must have supported the oligarchic system, since it worked for centuries! Thus, *both* Athens and Sparta had certain "plebeian" and "egalitarian" traits that would have looked quite alien to, say, a Persian or Egyptian observer. Plato apparently regarded the Spartan version as more stable and effective than the Athenian one. Technically speaking, he was quite correct.

It's also curious that Popper constantly accuses Plato of being utopian. True, there are certain utopian elements in Plato's writings. Overall, however, his political ideas were clearly derived from Sparta, and perhaps from Egypt. His last dialogue, "Laws", is quite pragmatic and mostly based on Sparta and Crete. Nor is it serious to accuse Plato of being a pathetic megalomaniac, as Popper does. Both Plato himself and his Academy intervened in Greek politics. There was nothing "megalomaniac" about Plato putting forward his political ideas to those willing to listen, especially not the more realistic proposals in "Laws".

To Popper, the main sin of thinkers like Plato and Marx seems to be their belief in Absolute Truth. But here too, Popper is contradictory. On the one hand, he sounds like a moral relativist. On the other hand, he constantly accuses his opponents of being immoral! Of course, Popper is not alone in this error. It seems to be a common malaise of the 20th century, that philosophers imagine Absolute Morality can exist, even if we embrace relativism. Popper also criticizes essentialism, and yet he is forced to concede that some kind of essence or natural law might exist after all. He admits that humans are bound by certain psychological laws, by economic laws, and that they at least should be bound by conscience. He even comes across as a kind of liberal Christian, speaking highly of the Sermon on the Mount. And yet, he tells us that all morals are just opinions?!

These, then, are some of the objections I have to Poppers "Open Society and its Enemies".
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