The problem of unintended consequences

Eine praktisch verwertbare sozialtechnologische Analyse muß die Beschaffenheit der Ausgangssituation für politisches Handeln, zum Beispiel für die ins Auge gefaßte Gesetzgebung berücksichtigen. Und sie muß dabei auch der Tatsache Rechnung tragen, daß eine solche Gesetzgebung nur bestimmte – meist sehr eng umschriebene – Bestandteile der in­stitutionellen Konstellation in einer Weise ändern kann, die voraussehbare Auswirkungen in der erwünschten Richtung hat. [27]

Politics as a social-technological problem

An die Stelle einer Begründung oder Rechtfertigung im klassischen Sinne tritt hier die komparative Analyse alternativer Vorschläge für die Lösung der betreffenden Probleme auf der Grundlage regulativer Ideen, das heißt: bestimmter Wert­gesichtspunkte, die der Entscheidung – das heißt: der Selektion der im Sinne dieser Ideen besten Lösung – zugrunde­gelegt werden können. Das ordnungspolitische Problem – die Frage nach der Beschaffenheit einer adäquaten Sozial­ordnung – läßt sich unter diesen Voraussetzungen in ein sozialtechnologisches Problem verwandeln, wobei die betref­fen­den Wertgesichtspunkte für diese Formulierung hpothethisch vorausgesetzt werden, wie das ja auch bei der Ana­lyse der Erkenntnispraxis geschehen kann. Es läßt sich nämlich formulieren als Frage anch der Möglichkeit einer sozi­alen Ordnung, die bestimmten Anforderungen genügt, wobei dieser Anforderungen in den Kriterien (Leistungsmerk­malen) zum Ausdruck kommen, an denen sich die vergleichende Untersuchung orientiert. Da es bei solchen Verglei­chen nicht um logische, sondern um reale Möglichkeitne geht, müssen die in Betracht kommenden Gesetzmäßigkeiten berücksichtigt werden. Und da es im konkreten Fall um die jeweils historischen Möglichkeiten geht, das heißt um die Realisierbarkeit in einem bestimmten Raum-Zeit-Gebiet, müssen die in diesem Gebiet vorliegenden tatsächlichen Be­dingungen in die Analyse einbezogen werden.

Es ist selbstverständlich, daß auch die Anforderungen, die an eine adäquate Sozialordnung zu stellen sind, und die ihnen zugrundeliegenden Wertgesichtspunkte keineswegs der Diskussion zu entziehen sind. [24-5]

The invention of enemies

…modern totalitarianism appears to have imperialist tendencies. But this imperialism has no element of a tolerant uni­versalism, and the world-wide ambitions of the modern totalitarians are imposed upon them, as it were, against their will. Two factors are responsible for this. The first is the general tendency of all tyrannies to justify their existence by saving the state (or the people) from its enemies—a tendency which must lead, whenever the old enemies have been successfully subdued, to the creation or invention of new ones. [ch. 10, 199]

Churchill on Brexit

Democracy…does not mean, “We have got our majority, never mind how, and we have our lease of office for five years, so what are you going to do about it?” That is not democracy, that is only small party patter …

The object of the Parliament Act, and the spirit of that Act, were to give effect, not to spasmodic emotions of the electorate, but to the settled, persistent will of the people. What they wanted to do they could do, and what they did not want to do they could stop. All this idea of a handful of men getting hold of the State machine, having the right to make the people do what suits their party and personal interests or doctrines, is completely contrary to every conception of surviving Western democracy. “Some reverence for the laws ourselves have made,” “Some patient force to change them when we will.” We accept in the fullest sense of the word the settled and persistent will of the people. All this idea of a group of super men and super-planners, such as we see before us, “playing the angel,” as the French call it, and making the masses of the people do what they think is good for them, without any check or correction, is a violation of democracy. Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.

The precondition for coexistence in dignity and peace

The age of totalitarian ideologies in Europe is drawing to a close. The belief in the historic mission of one race or class has proved to be the most devastating fallacy of this century: millions of innocent people fell victim to its sway. Karl Popper ceaselessly fought this fallacy. He is among the most significant champions of the open society; his arguments contradicting his enemies retain their validity and power of conviction.

His strongest weapons are utmost intellectual clarity and integrity. The conviction of the basic fallibility of human insight is expressed not least in his great personal modesty: mankind must never give up the quest for truth, but must beware the illusion of ever being able to possess the truth.

A commitment to such convictions requires courage – the inner strength to swim against the tide and resists the “Zeitgeist”. The triumph of freedom and democracy in Europe demonstrates that Karl Popper was right. His message for the future is that we must remain alert; critical rationality is the precondition for the coexistence of people and nations in dignity and peace.

On piecemeal reform vs revolution

And it is a fact that my social theory (which favours gradual and piecemeal reform, reform controlled by a critical com­parison between expected and achieved results) contrasts with my theory of method, which happens to be a theory of scientific and intellectual revolutions. [68]

Germany’s lack of liberalism

Charakteristisch für die deutsche Szene ist die Tatsache, daß ein breiter philosophischer Hintergrund für liberales Denken zu fehlen scheint oder daß jedenfalls Ideen dieser Art hierzulande kaum auf eine erhebliche Breiten- und Tiefenwirkung rechnen können. Die deutsche Ideologie bewegt sich zwischen Konservativismus und Revolution, zwischen unkritischer Hinnahme von Gegebenheiten und totaler Kritik am Gegebenen.

The continuing relevance of the Open Society

Vielleicht ist an diesen wenigen und sehr verkürzten wie pointierten Beispielen etwas deutlich geworden, dass Karl Popper in seiner Offenen Gesellschaft zeitlose Vorschläge für politische Reformen in Demokratien gemacht hat, die weiterhin große Aktualität haben. Die endgültige Zähmung der dunklen ökonomischen Dämonen, die Marx durch eine „soziale Revolution“ erreichen zu können glaubte, ist nach Popper nur in einer Demokratie möglich. Doch zur Erlan­gung dieser Erkenntnis müssen wir nach seiner Meinung einsehen, „dass die Kontrolle der physischen Macht und der physischen Ausbeutung das zentrale politische Problem ist und bleibt“. [258-9]

What democratic institutions may be expected to do

Seen in this light, the theory of democracy is not based upon the principle that the majority should rule; rather, the various equalitarian methods of democratic control, such as general elections and representative government, are to be considered as no more than well-tried and, in the presence of a widespread traditional distrust of tyranny, reason­ably effective institutional safeguards against tyranny, always open to improvement, and even providing methods for their own improvement.

He who accepts the principle of democracy in this sense is therefore not bound to look upon the result of a democratic vote as an authoritative expression of what is right. Although he will accept a decision of the majority, for the sake of making the democratic institutions work, he will feel free to combat it by democratic means, and to work for its revision. …

Institutions are like fortresses. They must we well designed and manned.

This distinction between the personal and the institutional element in a social situation is a point which is often missed by the critics of democracy. Most of them are dissatisfied with democratic institutions because they find that these do not necessarily prevent a state or a policy from falling short of some moral standards or of some political demands which may be urgent as well as admirable. But these critics misdirect their attacks; they do not understand what democratic institutions may be expected to do, and what the alternative to democratic institutions would be. Democracy (using this label in the sense suggested above) provides the institutional framework for the reform of polit­ical institutions. It makes possible the reform of institutions without using violence, and thereby the use of reason in the designing of new insti­tutions and the adjusting of old ones. It cannot provide reason. The question of the intellectual and moral standard of its citizens is to a large degree a personal problem. (The idea that this problem can be tackled, in turn, by an institutional eugenic and educational control is, I believe, mistaken; some reasons for my belief will be given below.) It is quite wrong to blame democracy for the political shortcomings of a democratic state. We should rather blame ourselves, that is to say, the citizens of the democratic state. In a non-democratic state, the only way to achieve reasonable reforms is by the violent overthrow of the government, and the introduction of a democratic framework. Those who criticize demo­cracy on any ‘moral’ grounds fail to distinguish between personal and institutional problems. It rests with us to improve matters. The democratic institutions cannot improve themselves. The problem of improving them is always a problem for persons rather than for institutions. But if we want improvements, we must make clear which institutions we want to improve. [ch. 7, 137-9]

The duties of a free press in an open society

Laws to safeguard democracy are still in a rather rudimentary state of development. Very much could and should be done. The freedom of the press, for instance, is demanded because of the aim that the public should be given correct information; but viewed from this standpoint, it is a very insufficient institutional guarantee that this aim will be achieved. What good newspapers usually do at present on their own initiative, namely, giving the public all important information available, might be established as their duty, either by carefully framed laws, or by the establishment of a moral code sanctioned by public opinion. Matters such as, for instance, the Zinovief letter, could be perhaps controlled by a law which makes it possible to nullify elections won by improper means, and which makes a publisher who neglects his duty to ascertain as well as possible the truth of published information liable for the damage done; in this case, for the expenses of a fresh election. I cannot go into details here, but it is my firm conviction that we could easily overcome the technological difficulties which may stand in the way of achieving such ends as the conduct of election campaigns largely by appeal to reason instead of passion. I do not see why we should not, for instance, standardize the size, type, etc., of the electioneering pamphlets, and eliminate placards. (This need not endanger freedom, just as reasonable limitations imposed upon those who plead before a court of justice protect freedom rather than endanger it.) The present methods of propaganda are an insult to the public as well as to the candidate. Propaganda of the kind which may be good enough for selling soap should not be used in matters of such consequence. [ch. 17, n27]