Taking Care of Popper

"May I ask you [Voegelin] to let me know sometime what you think of Mr. Popper. He gave a lecture here [at the New School for Social Research], on the task of social philosophy, that was beneath contempt: it was the most washed-out, lifeless positivism trying to whistle in the dark, linked to a complete inability to think 'rationally,' although it passed itself off as 'rationalism' -- it was very bad. I cannot imagine that such a man ever wrote something worthwhile reading, and yet it appears to be a professional duty to become familiar with his productions." -- Leo Strauss

"This Popper has been for years, not exactly a stone against which one stumbles, but a troublesome pebble that I must continually nudge from the path, in that he is constantly pushed upon me by people who insist that his work on the 'open society and its enemies' is one of the social science masterpieces of our times. This insistence persuaded me to read the work even though I would otherwise not have touched it. You are quite right to say that it is a vocational duty to make ourselves familiar with the ideas of such a work when they lie in our field; I would hold out against this duty the other vocational duty, not to write and to publish such a work. In that Popper violated this elementary vocational duty and stole several hours of my lifetime, which I devoted in fulfilling my vocational duty, I feel completely justified in saying without reservation that this book is impudent, dilettantish crap." -- Eric Voegelin


  1. Where "taking care of" someone means snobbishly insulting them among chum. The exchange reminds me of adolescent status posturing: Popper is a pebble, not a stone. Voegelin is one generation away from reciting the "Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it." line from Billy Madison.

    My real question is why you excerpted the dismissal and not the letter's few paragraphs of criticism.

  2. "snobbishly insulting them"

    They would have been snobbishly insulting him if they had dismissed him for, say, wearing white shoes after Labor Day. But they dismissed him for being a bad philosopher. That, in fact, as Voegelin noted, is an *obligation* good philosophers have; crap like Popper's must be noted as such.

    Why did I excerpt what I did? I don't know: that was just what I felt like doing at that moment.

    1. Oh, and by the way, that Popper was a terrible historian of thought has been noted by many people; just see what any Plato or Hegel scholar says about Popper's cartoon version of those great thinkers.

  3. To clarify, I'm not being partisan. I just don't think the exchange is flattering, and was surprised to see it showcased. It sounds like "my team trashing your team" to me. It's your blog, though. I like your blog.

  4. I completely sympathize with having to read the work of someone now recognized to be horribly naive.

    I detest, however, the tendency to equate "Popper screwed up on a lot of things" with "therefore, falsifiability is completely irrelevant" ... which unfortunately, all to often accompanies the Popper hate.

    1. Hmm, I don't know who would find falsifiability irrelevant! I certainly don't.

    2. Well, I won't try dredge up supposed "gotchas" for you specifically, but I do see exchanges of the following form a lot:

      Elitist: What you don't get is that Equininus was extremely brilliant in establishing that existence PRECEDES essence, and is a PART of essence.

      Skeptic: What does that even mean? See, this is just more proof that your field is a waste. What actual claims are you making? What kind of observations would prove you wrong? Like Popper said, theories need to be falsifiable, and yours clearly isn't.

      E: Oh, great, got another one of these superficial wannabe scholars again. Look, philosophy of science has progressed since Popper! There's [flaunts knowledge of philosophers since Popper] ... thus, your insistence that my theory needs to be falsifiable is just your naivete showing!

    3. Silas, that's a good parody of Skeptic. As we both know, Popper never said "All theories must be falsifiable": since that is a theory which is not falsifiable, it would have been absurd to have said that.

  5. Silas, there's an exchange on the subject between Gene and Jan Lester, a Popperian market anarchist, that google will pull up for you.

    Jan's primary political work was just re-published, finally at a reasonable price. It looks like it's being shipped late, though:



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