For nerds. Parvin on Popper

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.

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6 Responses to For nerds. Parvin on Popper

  1. Elon Musk has put his manifesto on the future for spaceflight up online. While it’s the same speech he gave last year as the keynote speaker at the 67th International Astronautical Congress, its online publication in the journal New Space allows for easy searching and a way to hold Musk and SpaceX accountable.

    “In my view, publishing this paper provides not only an opportunity for the spacefaring community to read the SpaceX vision in print with all the charts in context, but also serves as a valuable archival reference for future studies and planning,” New Space editor-in-chief Scott Hubbard said in a statement.

    If you don’t recall the details of Musk’s vision for space flight and Martian cities, titled “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species,” it revolves around reusable rockets and spaceships. A rocket would take tankers of rocket fuel into space, where the spaceships that would take people to Mars would be waiting in orbit. “Over time, there were would be many spaceships,” Musk says. “You would ultimately have upwards of 1,000 or more spaceships waiting in orbit. Hence, the Mars Colonial fleet would depart en masse.”

    The speech gets into the details of the Raptor engine, which Musks says will have “the highest chamber pressure engine of any kind ever built, and probably the highest thrust-to-weight.” He talks about rocket boosters, liquid oxygen tanks, propellant plants, and numerous other crucial factors needed to even imagine a flight to Mars. We gave it a close reading at the time.

    He also discusses pricing, which is a good thing to have on paper. “Right now,” he says “we are estimating about $140,000 per ton for the trips to Mars. If a person plus their luggage is less than that, taking into account food consumption and life support, the cost of moving to Mars could ultimately drop below $100,000.”

    Ideally, Musk wants to start making these flights in ten years. SpaceX has delivered on reusable rockets and testing has already begun on the Raptor. There’s a long way left to go before we start naming Martian cities, like figuring out how not to get cancer on the flight. But at least we can measure Musk’s many promises in writing now.

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  2. mark

    ‘conservatism does not have to be merely reactive and libertarianism does not have to be a vehicle for anarchism’
    I am at a loss to know how the term ‘conservative’ can be applied to Mill-style liberals. Liberalism (in this sense) is the most radical mainstream doctrine around. And no, it is not anarchy either. Since the turn of the twentieth century liberals and conservatives have allied against socialism. But liberalism and conservatism should not be confused, and if conservatives want to be considered liberals they probably need to drop the term ‘conservative’. Would a Footscray supporter refer to themselves as a ‘Cat’ and expect to be understood as a Footscray supporter. Why is this difficult?

  3. Warty

    I get the sense that the term ‘liberal’ is going through a transition in meaning here in Australia. It used to be applied to people in favour of free speech, the free flow of thought, an adherent to many of the ideas arising out the Enlightenment.
    Perhaps it is a growing association with the America pejorative usage, that we are seeing it being linked to political correctness. Added to this is the Left’s use of the term ‘progressive’ as ‘forward thinking’, ‘liberal thinking’ and the transition is almost complete. Instead conservatives have turned ‘progressive’ inside out, and use it in a way to poke fun at the radical Left. They are instead seen as progressives, i.e. heads stuffed full of ‘progressive’ ideas; supporters of euthanasia, SSM, open borders, feminism and constitutional recognition of Aboriginals (with a treaty or two thrown in). To my way of thinking they are small ‘l’ liberals to boot.

  4. one old bruce

    Conservatives value good things which developed slowly from out of the past. Sustainable things which have shown their durability like traditional marriage. So they impose limits on freedom, based on tradition.

    The USA is the crucible of modernity. It seems obvious to me that Mills-based liberalism dogma has led to the anarchy and chaos we see in American society. Freedom to extremes, regardless of tradition. ‘as long as you don’t hurt anyone’ has proved an empty guide, because women for example regard words as weapons.

  5. one old bruce

    Mill. Can’t help thinking of ‘satanic mills’ when I think of his name though!

    My grt…grt grandfather Joseph Hum went to school with his father James Mill: Joseph Hume, one of the peripheral founders of liberalism, Jeremy Bentham’s circle and all that rot.

    But he called himself a ‘radical Tory’ and mostly fought to cut spending, typical Scot.

  6. one old bruce

    Yes, can’t even spell Hume: I blame liberal education.

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