The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato

Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume 1: The Spell of Plato - Karl Raimund Popper This book about one of the fundamental thinkers of Western Civilization was written in the shadow of the fascist threat to that civilization, from Popper's first conception of the book in 1938 to its publication in 1943. A blurb on its back cover describes the book as "a survey of Greek philosophy... a history of the rise and fall of Athens, a formal philosophical critique of idealism... and a defense of clarity, scientific method, and democratic procedure." I'm not sure if this should be read before or after having read Plato. It's so lucid, that even in his passionate refutation of Plato's totalitarian tendencies, Popper's book nevertheless makes a good introduction to Platonic ideas. Although personally I've always found Plato among the most lucid, accessible, as well as readable, of philosophers. His dialogues are on the whole brilliant philosophical plays, with plenty of personality and wit. Popper's book however does make sense of a lot that puzzled me in Plato, and I don't mean the content of the ideas themselves, which are far more understandable than, say, Descartes or Kant, but some of their contradictions. Popper suggests that there's a divide between the philosophy of Socrates, Plato's mouthpiece, and that of Plato himself. That especially in the Apology dealing with Socrates trial, after all a recent event in Athens' history, Plato couldn't do much to alter Socrates' expression of belief in the "open society" of free inquiry, debate and democracy. I certainly saw and admired this Socrates and his precepts in such dialogues as Crito, Apology and Gorgias. But then one finds a rather different spirit in for instance Plato's most famous dialogue, The Republic. (The title of which Popper revealingly claims is more accurately translated, The State.) In the end I found Popper's book a stimulating and thought-provoking study of the connections between such abstruse ideas as Plato's Forms and his advocacy of an unchanging, censorious authoritarianism, between the tensions between the individual and society, and trial and error piecemeal reform over utopian schemes.