Phil Parvin, Karl Popper: Volume 14 in the series Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers. Continuum, London.
Reviewed for Quadrant a few years ago. Full review.
Continuum Press is printing a series of 20 books on major conservative and libertarian thinkers. The list includes some of the old suspects, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, Burke and an interesting mix of moderns including Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and The Modern Papacy. The last title is likely to raise some eyebrows and it helps to know that the author, Dr Samuel Gregg did some time at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, working on the compatibility of Roman Catholic social policy with some of the insights of the Austrian school of economics and social thought.
The general editor, John Meadowcroft of Kings College, London, notes that Popper does not fit easily into the category of conservative or libertarian, partly due to the nuances in his thinking and partly due to shifts in his position since The Open Society and Its Enemies appeared in 1945. Others in the series are Hayek and Buchanan who both explicitly rejected the “conservative” label. It seems that one of the aims of the project is to demonstrate that conservatism does not have to be merely reactive and libertarianism does not have to be a vehicle for anarchism.
Phil Parvin has packed a lot into a small book, covering Popper’s intellectual biography; his leading ideas in epistemology, politics and the social sciences; the reception of his ideas on politics; their contemporary relevance. He has adopted a critical stance to avoid hagiography and he may be too receptive to criticism of Popper by the likes of Habermas and the romantic, would-be revolutionary radicals of the 1960s and 1970s. However this approach has helped him to convey a sense of the complexity and also the loose ends in Popper’s contribution.